Jenny Besetzt: Arrested Development
By Sam Baltes
“Greensboro’s full of oddball bands,” says Jenny Besetzt’s John Wollober about the city’s music scene. “It’s a small scene, but one made up of groups that I feel aren’t looking to each other for inspiration — which makes for a lot of original music.” It’s an apt point coming from the 26-year-old, whose fuzz-fueled pop-rock outfit exemplifies the city’s musical diversity.
Raised in Germany, Wollober chose the band’s name while still in elementary school. To clarify, there’s no Jenny in the band — the name instead stems from an after-school puppet show where Wollober randomly chanted “Jenny Besetzt” in an effort to capture the attention of his older sister. That says something about the frontman’s youth, no doubt, but also foreshadows the prevalence of childhood themes in his songwriting.
“A lot of our songs are about that moment somewhere between 11 and 13 where you realize that the adults you trust most in your life have been lying to you,” he says, in order “to sugarcoat those unpleasant things they didn’t want to, or couldn’t.”
Many key influences in the band’s music have their genesis in Wollober’s adolescence. He and guitarist Brad Morton were childhood friends, and though he doesn’t look the sentimental type — he’s heavily built and sports a fulsome beard — the frontman’s tough guy appearance is leavened by a Beverly Cleary tattoo on his right bicep. His favorite book is The Giver — a novel that centers on a kid growing up in a dystopian society, struggling to reconcile intense emotions with a soulless world. It’s hard not to interpret this struggle in the band’s music, which is cognitive dissonance personified.
“I love the juxtaposition of a strong driving rhythm section and dreamy, spaced-out melodies, something that really soars over something that really grooves, something gentle working in conjunction with something aggressive,” Wollober says.
At its core, the group’s sound boils down to the interplay between Wollober and Morton’s crystalline guitar weavings layered over the urgent drive of bassist Jeff Bechtel and drummer Reed Benjamin. The resulting friction creates kaleidoscopic sparks, which are only intensified by the winsome synths of Kristen Morgan.
Categorizing their sound is a point of amusement for the band’s members. They laugh off any suggestions of dream pop and instead suggest “sparklecore” as more appropriate. It’s understandable, though, as their sound is difficult to pigeonhole. Sure, there are traces of New Order — and halcyon shoegaze — but overall, it isn’t evocative of any one source. This singularity is likely distilled from Wollober’s restless existence.
“I think I was 11 the first time it hit me that music didn’t exist exclusively to express one’s love for Jesus,” he confesses. “I remember getting (Sonic Youth’s) Daydream Nation when I was 13 and being made really uncomfortable by a few of those songs. It just sounded so raw and aggressive, and was one of those epiphanies you have where you’re reminded that you can do whatever the hell you want.”
Despite having existed for less than a year, the group has gathered considerable hype. Their first single, “Teenage Lions,” was featured on a recent DiggUp Tapes compilation protesting Amendment One, and its lush textures make it an excellent representation of the group’s modus operandi. The band’s recently put the finishing touches on its debut LP, Only.
“It took a lot longer than we thought it would,” Wollober says. “It started out as a four- or five-song EP, but a few months in we just decided to go ahead and make it a full length.” The album’s development reflects the band’s consolidation; during the recording process the outfit’s evolved from a haphazard bedroom trio into a road-ready quintet. Sometimes growing up isn’t a bad thing.