Artist interview with Jayson Kramer and Dan Zima (California Wives)

From left: Joe O'Connor, Dan Zima, Jayson Kramer and Hans Michel.

Indie rock-poppers California Wives are set to play a show tonight at Bottom Lounge. What better way to prep for it than a chat with Jayson Kramer (vocals/guitar/keys) and Dan Zima (vocals/guitar/bass), eh?

Eric Hughes: From your record release show at Schubas in September until now, what have you guys been up to?

Dan Zima: Oh, well we’ve been doing some writing. We knew after the show we were going to take a month or two off in Chicago, so we figured we’d use that time to do some writing. We also did some shows out of town. We did a show in Milwaukee and Minneapolis last week on Friday and Saturday.

EH: Alright yeah, anything to add Jayson?

Jayson Kramer: Yeah, we’ve been doing that. We also filmed a music video for “Blood Red Youth.”

EH: Oh nice.

JK: Yeah, which was cool because we had someone come in, my friend who’s a film major at University of Florida came in and did it. And there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in that video. It should be done in the next couple weeks. I don’t want to push him too hard, but you know, he’s working on it. It should be out in the next couple weeks.

EH: Awesome, is that your first music video?

JK: Yeah, that would be the first music video. I think as far as music goes, this is definitely the product that we wanted–the first product we have that we could say to ourselves, “yeah, like this is something we want to make a music video for.”

EH: And even non-musically, what are you guys into? What have you guys been doing since the fall started?

JK: Well non-musically, it’s kinda–tough question, that’s a good question because actually there isn’t like as far as California Wives go, there isn’t a whole lot else that we do other than music because we go see a lot of shows. Um, that’s a good question actually. Let’s see… well, there was Halloween. We celebrated Halloween. I’ve been reading a couple books. I just picked up A People’s History of the United States. It’s pretty good. I think I’ve been kind of, you know with the new songs, trying to find some new influences. Trying to find some new forms of influence. I went to the museum a couple times, looked at some things. So, that’s pretty much been it. We really revolve our lives around the music industry and the music scene and everything like that so that’s a tough question.

EH: I’m sure it is. So I’m familiar with Affair and I’ve heard some songs from your other EP. I think it’s called No. 8. Is that all that you have in your history as a band?

DZ: Well there’s a really early EP, but that was like early last summer and yeah I don’t think we have it. We like we tried to like expunge it from the Internet, so.

EH: I gotcha.

DZ: I think you’ll probably have a hard time hearing it even if you tried.

EH: And if I’m not mistaken, Jason, you went to Boston and Dan you were at Northern Illinois, is that right?

DZ: Yep, that’s right.

EH: So did you guys meet like after college was over or are you friends from before then? Or how did you guys form as a band?

JK: Well, I came back from college and I studied biology and pre-medicine in school and I’d taken the MCAT and I was preparing to get ready. At that point in time I kind of decided it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I’ve done music my whole life. I’ve taken composition classes and stuff, so it wasn’t like this was my first foray into music, but I decided I wanted to do something else and at that point they wanted a fourth member for this new project that they had. And I had known Hans [Michel], the lead guitarist, through my roommate. They went to college together. And every time Hans and Joe [O’Connor] and Dan came over we would talk about music, and a lot of electronic music, and we shared that stuff. Eventually it got out that I did my own music. I did my own stuff and they thought that it would be nice to have a keyboard player, so I initially joined the band to be the keyboard player. But then, you know, we kind of thought it would be cool if we sequenced a lot of the keyboards and we could add another guitar and then it was like having five people in a band, just one of which is–one of whom is always on time and always perfect [Laughs].

EH [Laughs]

JK: So yeah, that’s how we formed.

EH: OK, and so as far as your album’s concerned. I mean I’ve read a couple reviews. I just feel like it’s really been well received by pretty much everybody. You know, what’s it like to have released an album that basically everyone likes? The most common complaint I’ve seen is that it’s too short. I mean that’s just–

DZ: [Laughs] Um, I feel like to some degree people wouldn’t write about us if they didn’t–I don’t know if we’re at the point where anybody would take a shot at us. You know, we’re not, like, Coldplay or something. We’re not huge. But yeah, positive interest is really great. For me and my musical career it’s unusual. I’ve never really had this happen before. I don’t quite know how to react to it.

JK: Yeah, I’d have to agree with that as well. It’s definitely as far as my projects go, it’s the first time I’ve had any sort of exposure. It’s interesting to me to see our music in places like all across the world. That’s really, really neat. To have somebody post on our Facebook from Germany and then the person right after will be from [inaudible] or what have you. I mean it’s kind of–I wish there was an easier way of getting out there, but there isn’t.

EH: I think another thing I appreciate about you guys other than just the music is I feel like you have really good, um–you put a lot of thought into the design and the artwork and those promotional considerations. I just wonder, who’s behind all of that? Do you have people helping you out or is that someone in the band that designs everything for ya?

JK: Originally, we had–it was like an in-house project, you know, for some of the earlier stuff. And, I think, when we recorded the record, we were very into completing our own “role” on the record, which was to write and record the music or to play the music. And we kind of let other people do what they’re good at. Like, we had a producer come in and produce the record, and engineer the record. And we also had a person come in and do the art properly. I think that was a really key thing. I always–I think I picked it up from Prince somewhere in an interview. He said, “let the bakers make the bread.” You know, and it was kind of the same thing. So we have a girl named Maria Surawska who did all the designs for it. I mean the conception of it was guided by us. I think we wanted something very simplistic. But, it was very much like I said, all the art is done by her and the web design is as well. It helps to have friends in these areas as well.

EH: Yeah, you have a very clean website. You’d think it’d be, it’s actually .net. ‘Cause someone has I don’t even know how that’s possible.

JK: Yeah, they took that. We knew–I think if you look at how much that domain is it’s like $1,600. So we were just like, “we’ll take the .net.”

EH: So an interesting name. Where does it come from?

DZ: Um, the exact time when we came up with it I’m not sure of. I just know that it was something that our guitarist, Hans, said. He put those two words together. I thought, “that’s cool. That’s probably a good band name.” I can’t remember what we were called before that. Hans and I had been playing before that and we had some other name, but I can’t remember what it was.

EH: I was always kind of curious about that. I mean no one’s from California… there’s really no connection. It just kind of happened.

DZ: Right.

JK: It’s kind of interesting to me because I think about like a lot of times people, even with the name and they make these comparisons to all these reality TV shows. And I think to myself, “man, that’s like really unfortunate, because it has nothing to do with that whatsoever.” And then I think to myself, “OK, well Vampire Weekend probably came around right when all this vampire craze was starting to catch on, so they probably dealt with a lot of the same issues [Laughs] we’re dealing with right now.

EH: Right, true. And now I think the new thing is zombies. So we’ll have to look out for that as well.

JK: Yeah, right there will probably be a band named Zombieland or something [Laughs].

EH: Exactly. So you have a show coming up at Bottom Lounge this weekend, on Friday. What do you want to say about it? What do we have to look forward to?

DZ: The last time we played Bottom Lounge I think it was last year, like pretty early on into our career. And we really had a good time there. It’s like a very large room. But we really enjoyed when we were there last and it should be fun. Maybe have it look a little more full than the last time we played it.

JK: Definitely, Dan’s spot on. It’s a very large room. They do a great job with the sound. So we’re really looking forward to that. The guys are always really respective there to your needs as a musician. So they’ve been great as far as helping us promote the show. They’ve printed out fliers for us. And there’s a deal where if you bring in a flier–I don’t know if you’ve seen this–but we posted a flier on our Facebook and we kind of put out these fliers around town. So if you go to our Facebook and you print out this flier, it has our picture on it, and you come from 8 to 9 with that flier, and you get in for free. So, I mean that was completely their idea, and it was a great idea.

EH: Nice, yeah I wasn’t aware of that. And as far as other people you’re playing with that night. Are they friends of yours? Did you help assemble the bill or was that all Bottom Lounge?

JK: That was all Bottom Lounge. What they did was they presented to us like a bill and we took a look at the bands and I took a listen to Elephant Stone. I think it drew me in because I’m such a big Stone Roses fan and “Elephant Stone” is probably my favorite Stone Roses song, so I was like, “alright, well, it’s starting off well.” And I like the music. I liked what I heard. They’re all from out of town, which will be cool. I know one of the bands is from Minneapolis and we were just there last weekend, so it’ll be good to talk to them about it. And I don’t know, it’s just the excitement before playing a show. I think we’re going to see a lot of people there we haven’t seen before and I’m just excited to play a show again. It’s been awhile.

EH: Last question for you because I know that you guys are probably busy and all that. So after the show’s over–and this year is actually coming quickly to a close–what are your plans for next year?

JK: Well first and foremost I think we’re really excited about plans–we have plans to go to South By Southwest in March. So we’re getting things filled out. The way that that works is, you know, it’s tough to get all the showcases in. It takes awhile for everything to get fleshed out, so we’re kind of figuring things out. But we’ve got some–we’re going to be playing St. Louis a couple times. And we’re playing with some really great bands from around here. So that band Santah–I don’t know if you’ve heard of them– but we’re going to play a couple shows with them, and they’re really great. I’m looking forward to that. And I’ll pass it along to Dan.

DZ: We’ve got some new material, and we’re still interested in writing. We talked about the possibility–we’ll probably just do another EP or possibly like a digital single. You may see some new music out there on the Internet from us, maybe something early next year, maybe around spring if I had to guess.


  • Check out my review of Affair.
  • Check out Josh’s review of their show at the Apple Store in August.
  • Affair is available for $5 on the group’s Bandcamp page. You can also freely stream it below!
  • California Wives plays Bottom Lounge tonight. Tickets are $8.

Enjoy this interview? Check out other Artist Interviews on Chicago Tunes!
Hey! Like Chicago Tunes on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.


About Eric

Hello there. Email your things to chicagotunes[at]gmail[dot]com.
This entry was posted in Artist Interview, California Wives. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s