Music fans may remember Cody Votolato as the firebrand guitarist whose contributions to such maniacal post-everything bands as the Blood Brothers and Head Wound City pushed the realm of hardcore a couple of parsecs into the future. Having returned to his nom de plume JR Slayer, he’s back stirring up some emotions—without a stack of amps.
On “I’ll Never Leave U,” Votolato/Slayer dials down his fury significantly, playing acoustic while joined by co-vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg of post-punk outfit Warpaint. The track will appear on his new album, You Found Me, slated for release Feb. 1. AP welcomes the opportunity to premiere the track.
“To me, it’s a little bit of an R&B song,” Votolato says. “I thought about how an R&B song that I would make [would] turn out. Obviously, it sounds like one that doesn’t sound like R&B at all. That one came together pretty quick. Jenny Lee is singing with me, and I think she’s great.”
The song’s feeling of loving someone so much that you’re miserable was something Votolato willingly explored.
“The song is full of love. There is some misery that comes with missing someone, when you physically have no control over proximity with them. Situationally, your hands are tied, and that can create certain restrictions and limitations on how things play out. To me, [the song] is about being in a place where you have resigned yourself to not really adhering to conventional love. You may leave that person physically, but you will never leave them emotionally. It’s something that can be out of your control and really wonderful.”
Votolato came up with the moniker/character JR Slayer because he didn’t want to release music, create remixes or production work under his own name. When told the alias sounds like a heavy-metal attorney advertising after late-night TV shows, he laughs.
“It’s definitely polarizing in terms of the imagery the name [might convey] and the music that I am making. I just really liked it, and it fit. I know that a lot of people call it ‘Junior Slayer,’ and I’m OK with that,” he says. “People ask me, ‘Why don’t you use dots?’ I tell them it doesn’t look as good with dots so I don’t do it. Oh, and the J and the R don’t mean anything.”
His disdain of specialized punctuation aside, Votolato’s muse is an ever-evolving one. On You Found Me, he’s kept the proceedings minimal, steering clear of the vicious guitar algebra of the Bloods and HWC, as well as the heavily synthesized, textural atmospheres from his debut album, 2017’s Time Out, Crystal Heart. These days, Votolato is exploring a singer/songwriter realm that doesn’t require stacks of amps or a suitcase full of effects pedals. “You Found Me was just [a scene of] I have a microphone in my bedroom and my recording equipment. It was intimate, and I wrote and recorded it at the same time.”
Things took a turn when Votolato, currently based in Los Angeles, invited his friend Moon Honey guitarist Andrew Martin to play on some of the tracks. “After we were done playing, he said, ‘You have some cool songs. You should put a band together.’ And I was like, ‘No. I don’t want to start playing out.’ He kept pressuring me for months, and I’d be like, ‘Well maybe, but we don’t have a band.’ And he said he would book a show and then we’d put the band together. I told him that wasn’t going to work for me. And then one day, he was like, ‘Hey, I booked us a show. It’s in a month-and-a-half.’” [Laughs.]
The live band making Votolato’s bedroom recordings come alive onstage consists of Votolato, Martin, drummer Logan Baudean (also of Moon Honey), bassist Seth Mankoski, synth op/vocalist Ihui Cherise Wu (Polartropica) and Votolato’s sister Brandy, who does backing vocals. (“When I was putting the band together, I was like, ‘Brandi! You need to come sing with me.’”)
“The live show is really intense,” he says. “There are electric guitars and distortion. It’s intense in a different kind of way. Touring is a daunting experience, and I’m not sure how I can tour with it. I don’t want to go too far too fast and burn out on this thing. I want to keep it sweet and something that’s special to me.”
Right now, Votolato is in a good place, letting chapters of his creative life unfold in a way that’s neither contrived or forced (well, outside the early cajoling of Martin). He says he “misses playing hardcore” and feels optimistic he will one day reconvene with his buds in Head Wound City. He says there won’t ever be a hardcore album under the JR Slayer imprint, but reveals the next album (featuring the band and near completion) has some songs he describes as “fuckin’ heavy.” But if you know anything about his aesthetic mindset, you’ll discover that everything Votolato does has both psychic and sonic threads.
“I obviously cut my teeth on hardcore, and all my guitar playing is very distinct,” he begins. “But what’s funny is when I was coming up as a teenager, Elliott Smith was my hero, alongside Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu. Obviously, my brother Rocky has always played folk music. That singer-songwriter vibe has always been present in my life.
“To be honest, I’ve been fearful about these kinds of songs. I don’t know: Who wants to hear the guitarist from the Blood Brothers play folk songs, you know? [Laughs.] When the Blood Brothers broke up, I think I had 10 or 15 songs that were written on acoustic guitar that I was tinkering with, prior to Jaguar Love [Votolato’s band with Bloods vocalist Johnny Whitney] starting. This kind of music is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and out of necessity, I have to create it on my own—it’s a simpler world in that way.”
“I’ll Never Leave U” appears on You Found Me, which drops Feb. 1. Preorders are available here, and you can check out the new track below.