Jump Castle Riot (JRC) may have been seen as a kid band before — and fair enough, considering it began with founding members Asher Dibernardo, Jay Van Raalte, and Nina-Rose Murchison at ages 13, 16, and 17, respectively. But the group has certainly matured into a regular ol' hard-working band with a unique sound, and they’re ready for Charleston to see them as such.
Jump Castle Riot has always been serious — performing regularly at respected venues, adding an English professor as their bassist Richard Hartman, and winning two 2016 City Paper Music Awards (CPMAs) for Up-and-Coming Band and Blues Band of the Year. And Van Raalte says they’ve been even busier since the CPMAs, performing big shows with Stop Light Observations and Atlas Road Crew — and they’ve been writing new, original material.
“In JCR’s earliest days our originals were songs that Nina and I had written previously on our own — at least in terms of lyrics and basic melody/chords. They were sometimes just simple acoustic sketches,” Van Raalte says. “As JCR got more comfortable playing together and began to learn what strengths each JCR member brought to the table JCR began to 'build up' the song from a basic acoustic track into a full band arrangement. So you’ve got songs like 'Tatts & Tanks,' where one of us authored the core song, but the sound of the song was built by the group to become what folks today would recognize on the CD.”
Jump Castle Riot plan to release their first CD as soon as September and are spending all of July in the studio collaborating more and more. “On the most recent songs for the EP, you’ll find instances where Nina might be singing lyrics I wrote, or where Nina wrote lyrics to a chord progression and melody I came up with,” Van Raalte explains. “Once we find an initial seed, we’re back again to the full band hashing it out in practice to build it up and give it the ‘sound’ we’re after.”
But, Van Raalte adds, there is often a third step in the process — she spends a lot of time at what she calls the VRSL — Van Raalte Sonic Laboratory — listening to tape, trying alternate parts and arrangements, and editing to be sure the finished arrangement is right. “This goes on throughout the process from when we’re writing, to getting ready to debut a song, and even after we start playing a song live in early shows,” she says. “In fact, playing songs live is often the best way to develop them. For that reason, we sometimes start playing a song live even before it’s made it to its final form. This lets us find out organically how the song feels for us to play and how the crowd responds to it.”
While the band certainly deserves all the glory for their progressive maturity in performing, songwriting, and arranging tracks, Van Raalte gives credit for their growth to mentors like Scottie Frier of The Travelin’ Kine (“worked with me on guitar for several years now, and his natural musicality, hopefully, rubs off. He’s a musical Yoda, friend, sounding board, and truly a great guy.”), Thomas Champagne (“Thomas has really focused me on the details, the mechanics and craftsmanship of songwriting. He is simply incredible at making the conversion from the spark of an idea to a ‘song.’”), and Elise Testone (“She inspires me with the way she started with incredible natural vocal ability, but then put in effort to truly harness it. Arrangement-wise, Elise also hears a symphony inside the simplest song and manages to capture it on her records. That’s impressive.”).
So where is this studio the band is utilizing this month? Van Raalte says they were inspired by the making of Stop Light’s Toogoodoo, which was created in keyboardist/songwriter John-Keith Culbreth’s family home in Wadmalaw. “We’re going to try to follow suit,” she says. “We’re taking over a marshfront house on James Island in mid-July, bringing in all the recording gear along with Thomas Champagne to engineer and produce, and not leaving until we’ve got our sound captured for these first songs.”
The release party for Jump Castle Riot’s first album will take place at the Windjammer on Wed. Sept. 27. “Last year the Windjammer let us perform for and take the stage with our local music heroes,” Van Raalte says. “We had a blast. The Windjammer has been extremely supportive again this year and given us the green light for a second show. As before, our friends in the Travelin Kine, Atlas Road Crew, and Stop Light have committed to help us spread the word and, hopefully, join the party.”
Van Raalte continues. “It feels like we’ve jammed a million homework assignments, tests, morning practices, job shifts, and 1 a.m. load-outs, alongside our shows during the past year. Through all this I think we’ve come to appreciate even more each other, our fans, mentors, and the opportunity to play music. We’re ‘scarred, but smarter’ in a sense, but we’re even more excited and thankful.”