Ten Foot Pole – ‘I was testing new songs on random people in the streets’

Words: Miljan Milekić

For years, Ten Foot Pole was a staple in the American skate punk scene. The band was accepted by the punk rock and skateboarding community alike and delivered some memorable releases in the genre, but after the mid-2000s, we haven’t heard much of them. However, that changed. This Spring, Ten Foot Pole released their brand new album ‘Escalating Quickly,’ which was more than enough for us to reach out to the mastermind behind the band, Dennis Jagard, for an interview. Check it out below.

It’s been forever since the last Ten Foot Pole record. How does it feel to finally hold the new one in your hands and know you finally did it?
Dennis: I’m very proud of it! Glad that one is done! But also, with that priority checked off, I have a whole list of other jobs, goals, and projects that now demand attention. So, I kind of, always feel a bit overwhelmed knowing all the work I should be doing – there’s never enough hours in the day… I’m amazed there are so many bands that put out music, keep up with social media, and have real jobs on the side.

So, how come that you made such a long break from the new material? Can we now expect a more active Ten Foot Pole than in the past years?
Dennis: My main career is mixing sound, mostly on concert tours. I cut way back on Ten Foot Pole when I was working at over a thousand shows for artists such as Prince, Jimmy Eat World, AFI, and “Weird Al” Yankovic. In the last few years, I tried to do more Ten Foot Pole, like making the record ‘Setlist,’ and also carrying an acoustic guitar while on my jobs, writing and playing songs. Those acoustic guitar songs ended up being ‘Escalating Quickly.’ I’ve tried to be more active with Ten Foot Pole, but the band costs me money, rather than making money. So at the moment, I need to get back to working audio, so I can pay off the debts I incurred making and touring ‘Escalating Quickly.’ In September I’m going out as the sound engineer for Man With a Mission, an amazing band from Japan.

And how do you see Ten Foot Pole crowd at this point? Is it mainly older fans, or you see some fresh blood in there too?
Dennis: At our small shows, it has been mostly older fans and their kids. At some of the festivals, it has been a wide range of people. We found that all ages react very well when they hear ‘Escalating Quickly,’ but I don’t have the budget or haven’t figured out a great way to get the new songs heard by lots of new people. For example, getting a song on a big movie that lots of kids see…

Or a video game, like Mat Hoffman’s back in the day…
Dennis: Exactly. I finally have music that all sorts of people would love, compared to the albums of the past that were in a small niche, but I don’t have the budget or connections to get the songs placed. But that’s the challenge of being a DIY band. We aren’t “connected” as they say. I mean, not in the big world. Thousand Islands Records has done an amazing job getting our vinyl and CDs out in the world and getting us publicity in the punk world. Teaming up with Morning Wood Records out there, as well as Disconnect Disconnect Records in the UK, and Pee Records in Australia.​​

The first Ten Foot Pole song I’ve heard was ‘Racer X,’ which appeared in ‘Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX’ video game, a game which along with ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ is pretty much how I got into punk music. Do you remember it happening, and how crazy was it to find your work in such a massive piece of pop culture?
Dennis: To be honest, I didn’t realize how big those games were in pop culture. There were a lot of companies and record labels that wanted songs for compilations, games, or projects, and we were excited to be wanted.

Yeah, I recently spoke with Rick Thorne, a BMX rider who was in some of those games, and he wasn’t aware either. And maybe not in the US, but I grew up in Serbia, in Eastern Europe, where pretty much nobody had an internet connection at the time, and it was impossible to hear any music apart from the mainstream radio. And those games pretty much opened the doors for quite a few people who didn’t even know something like that even exists.
Dennis: Nice! I suppose real marketing people know about the trends and exposure of things like that. But basic artists and DIY musicians like me don’t tend to do the research to see what products are being seen by people, especially around the world. It’s amazing when something new explodes, like how Billie Eilish built a massive fanbase through Soundcloud, I guess.

It also seems like the Ten Foot Pole has always had a great following in the skateboarding community, and that’s something that stands to this day. On the other hand, you showed your love to the community too, by playing various skate events and festivals. Are you personally involved in the skateboarding culture, and do you feel like the skateboarding community helped you grow as a band in the past?
Dennis: For sure the skating community helped us, and we tried to return the love by playing at skateparks, being on compilations, supporting skating through our graphics, etc. I don’t skate anymore, as when I was 14, I broke my wrist in a pool and I couldn’t play guitar most of the summer. Our last show was in Bend, Oregon, at Avid Cider, where they set up a little skate park and had us play a party in the parking lot. The path of their skate ramps went in and out of their building. Rad skating while we played!

Sounds fun! They do something similar at Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia…
Dennis: Yeah, Punk Rock Holiday looked amazing this year! I hope someday we can play it. We played the day after a few years ago, I think around 2014. I was out with Jimmy Eat World, and then had a little break, so I brought Ten Foot Pole to Europe, and we did 21 shows in 22 days.

That’s insane! I actually wanted to ask you about coming back to Europe with the new album. I was going to save it for the end, but since you mentioned it… Do you have any plans on coming back here anytime soon?
Dennis: We had two possible trips to Europe that fell through. First, we confirmed a November tour as a part of a big package, but the headliner canceled. They are still doing a few festivals, but not the whole tour. Then I almost got on the Zebrahead tour at the last minute, in September, as Dan Palmer played a bunch on ‘Escalating Quickly,’ but the air tickets were so expensive, and I got a job opportunity. So for me, it was like I would be paying $10,000 from my pocket for us to play all over Europe. We have submitted to be support on a few tours, but no takers so far.

But as I mentioned, I really need to focus on audio for a while to recover financially from my previous “investments” in the band, so I have to be careful about my commitments. There has been some interest in Spring 2020, but anything I plan now might block a big audio job. If I get a call from a customer that is touring for a year or so, I can’t tell them I’m available except for May. I took a huge risk on my new job with Prince, when I denied his request that I stay and work when Ten Foot Pole had a commitment to play in Japan, in 2006. And I lost an Alice in Chains job when I had to decline a tour offer due to a couple of Ten Foot Pole shows that conflicted with their schedule. But still, if Groezrock calls on us to play in 2020, I won’t be mad! (laughs)

Ten Foot Pole / Photo: Gabrielle Guite

I’ll put this in the title! (laughs)
Dennis: (laughs) And maybe add Hans, check this out!” The last time I was in Belgium, I think with Jimmy Eat World, after my work, I met some people in a park in the city, while Blink-182 was playing. I did one of my random acoustic shows for them in the park. Maybe 30 people ended up there, people brought their kids. I was an unannounced meeting in a park, that a Ten Foot Pole fan arranged, then told his friends, and these people left Blink to watch me!

That’s amazing! Can’t wait to have you here sometime. And now back to the album talk! For this album, you recruited producer Ryan Greene, but also an all-star lineup including Dan Palmer, Dan Jacobs, Joe Raposo, and Sean Sellers. Can you tell me more about studio time with those guys and the writing process?
Dennis: The writing process for ‘Escalating Quickly’ started as me playing acoustic guitar every day while I was on tour with Jimmy Eat World. I made a commitment to play every day. I started in private, but eventually moved a little bit out into the open, a little at a time. I got some positive reinforcement, like people telling me it was good and throwing money at me. So I started playing closer to people, like on sidewalks. Meanwhile, I was writing new songs a lot, so I was testing them on random people in the street. And I thought it was a great way to tell how people liked the songs, but also how I felt about them if I was proud or ashamed to sing them in public.

So the favorites from those writing days, along with songs my bandmates submitted, I made demos. Programming drums, me playing bass and guitars, singing, then sending them to the other guys to embellish if they had ideas. Then eventually, I had enough good sounding demos that I thought it was worth making a record, and I discussed with producers and selected Ryan Greene, which was awesome since we had worked a lot together in the ’90s. Ryan and I discussed the parameters, which included being more experimental, developing the songs more from my simple ideas, and how we could bring in some guest stars for fun. The vibe/goal was to unleash the potential of the musicians, giving them the freedom to have fun and experiment beyond what their usual gigs allowed. And they gave us great performances, giggling and doing outlandish parts sometimes. Ryan even added some 80’s keyboard parts and directed me to do some complex harmonies, resulting in some very dense and different sounds than the previous nine records I made.​

So, you weren’t really bossing them around, but let them do their thing, and just had the final say?
Dennis: Yeah, I wasn’t bossing them around, Ryan was! (laughs) I think a combination of direction and freedom. Especially with drums, Ryan had a very clear idea of what he wanted. With bass, Lil Joe is a monster, capable of playing mind-blowing runs like Iron Maiden on crack – so we let him run loose a bit, but he still kept it very tasteful – if you listen closely the bass is changing a lot, but it’s not noticeable to a casual listener. It just gives the music some movement/variety.

The guitar guests were brought in with the idea of playing one solo, or maybe one song. But they had so much fun, and kicked so much ass, that it turned into a lot more than just a solo or a song. It became sometimes dueling solos or mountains of riffs, and Ryan kept it in focus, mostly, with editing and mixing to bring out the best stuff. Plus it doesn’t hurt with the marketing to have these charismatic rock stars from great bands like Atreyu, Good Riddance, Lagwagon, Zebrahead, and Death by Stereo helping out! (laughs)

Ten Foot Pole / Gabrielle Guite

The one thing I especially like about it is the contrast between your lyrics and the music. It’s like you’re playing around with irony by giving the most upbeat instrumentals to some of the darkest lyrics you wrote. And we don’t have to go far to see it, it’s enough to listen to ‘Everything Dies.’ Is it something you do on purpose?
Dennis: I feel most inclined to write lyrics when I’m bummed out. And I feel like a lot of people are regularly faced with the challenge of putting on a happy face and just keeping going. But if I go all the way dark, we’d have to be a goth band, and I can’t imagine putting on makeup every show (laughs) I guess my acoustic shows sound darker since there aren’t all the peppy drums and riffs. I like to share enough of my dark side to reach out to other people who share those feelings to see that we aren’t alone, but not go so dark that the music makes people feel worse.

Did you ever feel like you’ve gone too far and given away more than you’d like to?
Dennis: Yes, sometimes I’m a bit too specific, I guess. It’s difficult because I like punk music because of specificity because you can tell it’s about real things, rather than some vague pop lyrics. But I also understand how there are art and skill to songwriting where we are specific enough to draw people in, but not so specific as to make people uncomfortable. And sometimes I probably accidentally go into the uncomfortable zone. But, I hope, that is part of the charm of being a one-person lyricist, rather than many artists that are helped by pro writers. I mean, a pro writer probably wouldn’t have let me include “The years will go by, your puppies will die,” in a lyric (laughs) And I LOVE my doggies, but still, it made me giggle to get soooo dark.

So, I have one more. We talked about your job as a live sound engineer, but is there anyone whose shows you enjoyed, day in, day out?
Dennis: I really love working with all my long term customers. I think part of it is that familiarity with their music makes it even more fun, as I can do effects and things like boosting parts and solos very effectively the more I know the music. Jimmy Eat World, I did over 500 shows, and loved it! AFI, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Man With a Mission, Beck, and Prince… really some amazing performances. Maybe I’m telling too much, but it’s not unusual for me to get chills on certain parts, dance a bit, or maybe my eyes overflow a bit during songs like ‘Purple Rain.’ I really feel the music and songs, whether I’m the sound guy or the singer.

Follow Ten Foot Pole:

You can support Ten Foot Pole on Patreon and get subscriber benefits – HERE.

Similar Articles

Don't miss