All photos by The Funs.
The Funs live in New Douglas, Illinois at Rose Raft, an artist and musician residency and recording studio they started in an abandoned funeral home. The band is Jessee Rose Crane (also a filmmaker, visual artist and sculptor) and Philip Jerome Lesicko (who also records bands and runs the label Manic Static). Next year, The Funs will have existed as a band for ten years. Next week, Sister Polygon Records will release their new album, ALIENATED. Surrounding its release, we asked Jessee and Philip to interview each other. They also have a new music video out today for their song “Enemy.”
Philip: You make a lot of stuff that goes into our videos. What’s up with the “Enemy” video?
Jessee: “DIY” has lost all its meaning in a music media context. Replace DIY with “targeting an audience that is hoping to subscribe some sort of relatable meaning to life”. Bands will tout DIY like some kind of street cred. Eye roll. I still hold onto to the spirit of DIY because I’ve never known anything else. The Funs is a band that makes everything you see. We taught ourselves to do everything to sustain our art. We make all the artwork. We make the music videos. And when we do work with others, we try to make sure they have souls and are good people who are excited about art. It’s not about cool points. It’s who we are as artists. The “Enemy” video was made in our little town. Shot on my phone around an alien head sculpture I made entirely out of glue and food coloring. The video is about everything we’re talking about in this interview. It’s about being a weirdo in a small town. We are outsider artists. It’s about being alienated from the corporate banality of the music industry. And finding ourselves and believing in our voice outside of that rejection. It’s an intense song and it’s the first one off our new record Alienated lovingly put out into the world by Sister Polygon records.
Jessee: How has recording evolved for you since starting on a cassette four-track as a kid?
Philip: My perception of recording has drastically changed over the past 15 years. When I was a kid, 15 and 16, I would record everything all the time: random acoustic songs, keyboard parts, shit off the radio and TV. That part of my life was so new and undiscovered. That’s all I cared about. I dropped out of high school at 15. I went to a school of roughly 60 people total and it was bleak. I never thought about fidelity or trends in recording then. I had a cassette four-track and tape recorders I used - whatever didn’t eat the tape. I loved all the SYR records and A Ghost Is Born but I didn’t think about the process, I just thought about the sounds and how much it vibrated my skull.
When I heard Sic Alps and Times New Viking for the first time, i didn’t think about “THE LO FI” part of it. I loved all the lyrics and the power behind it. It’s so fascinating how that became a popular thing. So many bands purposely fucking up their songs. It’s absurd to think about now. There were a lot of really goods bands to come out of that haze but it’s just another thing that became trendy and destroyed very quickly. It wasn’t about making your shit sound bad initially. It was about making something with what you had.
Skateboarding had a HUGE impact on me when I was really young. I found community with the weirdo misfits hanging out at the basketball court and building ramps, and making rails in welding class. Only to be destroyed and stolen by the jock jerks who I can only guess were intimidated by our freedom. It wasn’t long before communities like this all over the world were exploited by commercial capitalism, placing army, body spray, energy drink ads into that culture as much as they could. Making skateboarding a “sport”. I find that to be very prominent now more than ever in the music industry. Everyone wants to fit in. It’s a struggle to be an independent band or artist but it’s worth it because all of that is fleeting.
I think there is room for everyone to be celebrated, not just the “sellable”, “whatever is in right now”, “how can we make a profit?”, “is this going to be popular?” bands. All the labels and publicist are scrambling to figure it out because at the end of the day it’s a business. And it’s drowning. But the real shit will always exist in some form and if you really care, it’s there to find and support.
This was a huge motivation for starting Rose Raft. I still love recording more than anything. It took awhile for The Funs to find what we were looking for. We had all these songs and ideas in our heads and it was hard to find someone to capture it. You have to find someone who cares about what you are doing. Someone who will dive with you. That person for us is Dave Vettraino. He is a huge piece of that puzzle. We spent a week recording ALIENATED in our house (Rose Raft). His patience and skill is unmatched. It’s a week in my life I cherish. We recorded all day and all night. When we weren’t recording, we were eating meals together, making bonfires and having intense conversations about everything.
I was a sponge. I learned so much about myself. Dave gave us the recording console we use every day. And I am eternally grateful to him for sharing so much with us. Another dear friend of ours, Joseph Mault, filmed everything, hours and hours of this process, and our lives. It wasn’t stressful because I trust him and wanted him to be a part of the experience. He has been incredibly supportive of our art and music from the beginning. You need those people in your life to keep pushing. He really cares about us and that feels so good. He has compiled and edited the footage into a film called “MAKE OUT”. It will be out into the world soon enough and I am grateful to have that in my lifetime.
Philip: What impacted your relationship with music growing up?
Jessee: Growing up, my father was a disabled mentally ill felon who worked for the carpenters union. My mom was a nurse that worked the night shift at Saint Louis Children’s Hospital. They are both artists but were stressed supporting our family and making ends meet. When my dad was manic, he played records every day. I grew up listening to The White Album and Abbey Road. The first band I felt personally connected to was The Breeders. My sister showed them to me when I was 10. Title TK came out when I was a sophomore in high school and I listened to that album over and over and over. I was so entranced by the poetry of the lyrics and all the warm tones. It was a surreal experience to grow up and get to tour with them as an independent band. We got a phone call from their manager, and she said in a New Zealand accent, “Yeah I’m sitting here with Kim and we just just watched your ‘Reality’ video and yeah we think It’s really great.” That shit doesn’t happen. It was a total dream.
When I was 15, I got into punk music and I used to look up every lyric I didn’t understand. The Raincoats and Bikini Kill inspired me to educate myself. The Dead Kennedy’s taught me about mass genocide and politics. I went to Agnostic Front and Distillers shows and was always shaving parts of my head. I loved the Beastie Boys and Rancid but it was something I consumed without considering its content. When I look back at the Beastie Boys pouring beer on women in cages on stage it makes my stomach turn. Their lyrics about mixing shit in womens’ drinks and the rape culture that exists around that content is something I can’t stand now. I think Tim Armstrong is a creep.
I think a lot about what I put out into the world. Lyrics matter. Contexts shift around art and it matters to me how an artist presents themselves. Your art needs to age well. It’s got to hold up. I have never been able to separate the art from the artist. My experience in the punk scene in STL was one where I was fighting for space and representation and equality. I’ve always been genderfluid and pansexual even when I didn’t have language or community for it. The girls in my gym classes wouldn’t change in front of me because I had hairy legs and armpit hair and I don’t know what they thought of me but it was hateful. I loved certain parts of the punk identity like DIY and looking out for those that have less than you. I went to two shows a week for years. Punk music made me aware of politics at a young age and inspired me to stick up for myself. I was surrounded by very aggressive sexist white men. I got groped at shows. I got called a bitch and cunt. I got sexually harassed on stage regularly. The first time I crowd surfed someone stuck their hand up my skirt and groped my crotch. The anger I felt both fueled me and tore me up emotionally.
The awful experiences motivated me to get other young women to start bands. Your actions have profound effects on those around you. All the horrible creeps (FUCK YOU) that groped in the pit made me feel like I never wanted to leave my room again. There were a few good older people in the scene that nurtured me and their impact and support kept me going. All the mentors that gave me words of encouragement, even brief conversations, gave me the strength to keep making. Now, with The Funs and everything I do at Rose Raft, I’m the mentor and it’s something I feel success in that no one can take away from me.
Philip: Are you excited about this next tour?
Jessee: Yes. I’m excited to spend my time with you and John. When I’m on tour I think about being alive. I’m looking for real connections when I play shows. Not networking in a soulless fashion but having meaningful conversations with people.
I’m mentally ill and I was raised by mentally ill parents and siblings, so I do my best to take care myself and protect my body and mental health. We try to eat from one grocery store to the next. It’s expensive to eat right. It’s much easier and seems cheaper to get a “meal” handed to you for four dollars through a window… Yuppies will tell you to eat organic, don’t smoke and do yoga, and it’s easy for them to say but when you are driving across America, you are essentially traveling between one strip mall to the next, and it’s hard to avoid fast food. It’s ingrained in our contemporary landscape. I hope that changes. People deserves access to nutritious food.
Jessee: Who, what, where, when, why did you start Manic Static?
Philip: I started Manic Static initially as an outlet for creativity. At the time, I was working a labor job all over Chicago but mostly on the south south side of Chicago. Tearing out peoples’ dated décor and rebuilding in an ever-evolving open concept HGTV fashion. I also cleaned up my boss’s dogs shit in her backyard. So coming home from a mostly toxic environment, I needed somewhere to put the positive part of my energy. The part that I thought about every second of the day. I started it for the love of music and art and keeping that burning, tingling feeling alive. For me it’s always been about the creativity - taking an instrument, or a piece of paper and watching a human manipulate it to make it unique to them. You can see someone’s brain coming out through whatever they are touching. At least real artists who make because it’s so much a part of there being.
The first thing I put out was a tape by my dear friend Peter Breakfast (Brian Musclewhite). Jessee and I met him at a weird party on a rooftop somewhere on the Northside of Chicago. I feel so much nostalgia for that time. It was so feral and wide-eyed. We all were. I connected with Brian so quickly. We started hanging out every day until I moved back to where I grew up to try and figure out where I left my head. He has always made these beautiful, bizarre recordings - collage folk freak fucked up. He had this recording called “WHY DO YOU THINK I WANT THIS BOAT” [that] I believe was inspired by his father who he didn’t really know giving him a boat when he died. A fucked up boat if I remember right. But it’s an amazing tape. In 2009ish, he was living down the street from me in Chicago. He lived on 18th and I lived on 19th. I decided on the Name MANIC STATIC and he let me make 50 copies of that “album”.
It’s been almost a decade and I continue to be inspired by artist like Brian. People who don’t give a fuck about an industry or blog hype, making music and art because it fulfills them. With that said, there are a few bands I have released that have definitely strayed from that. I believe in everyone at first until they give me a reason not to, I guess. I’m always initially attracted to the pureness of something before it gets chewed up and changed. There is always a negative side to reality. You can’t have a positive without it. I’ve learned the hard way over the years on which to focus on. I feel that I’ve got a good hold on what I need to survive now.
Manic Static has never made money and never will. It’s not about that. It’s about curating artists that I feel have something worth sharing. It’s inspiring to me and I hope it’s inspiring to other people.
Philip: What it like existing as an artist in the internet age?
Jessee: Millennials are more open minded accepting to diversity. They are less gender conforming and more openly queer than any generation. And that is good, but guess what? Marketing corporations know this. They are all too aware of social movements. So what do you get? Vogue and Gucci making obtuse statements about gender fluidity trying to sell you shit you absolutely don’t need and that will not sustain your dopamine for more than three seconds. It’s no secret and it’s nothing new. I always think of ads in the 70s where some men in a boardroom got together and were thinking, “Man, there’s a lot of women out there wearing pants these days, and they keep yelling in the streets about some kind of liberation and having jobs. Let’s make ads that target her.” So Virginia Slims came up with their independent, career women ads. Images of women smoking, dressed in suits and as superheroes. It’s fucking nauseating. Because that shit is everywhere, and it’s subliminal, and by just going to the grocery store you’ve got to swim through it. Kool cigarettes used rappers to target young black teens. This shit works. It works on masses of people every day. Facebook has perfected it and we willingly subscribe to it. It’s hilarious. What a time to be alive. “Feeling lonely? Want to connect to someone? Or something? YOUR CONNECTION WILL PROCEED AFTER THIS AD.” So, you got keep your head up. Use the internet for good. Use your brain.
More than ever, we are entrenched in consumer culture. That is the era of mankind we live in, in the USA, right now. There are more people on the planet than ever. There are more bands than ever. Everything that is “fed” to us is targeted. It can bum me out if I let it. I hesitate to wax nostalgic about the past in any way because anytime you talk about the past in a romanticized way you are speaking to a time when someone’s rights were worse off, and it’s ignorant. How I discovered music as a teenager was by someone showing it to me. It was like, “I need you to hear this.” And we would go for a drive, and they would turn up loud, and it would feel like a very special ritual that connected you to the universe. When I was 12, my brother gave me a Neutral Milk Hotel cassette tape he’d copied and it felt special and enlightening. You had to dig in and seek music out and there was a beautiful sense of discovery. Now so much music is pumped into your “feed”. I’m not overly nostalgic because the past is never better. It’s just something I’m very conscious of. But it’s crazy the data we have on consumers now. Honestly at the end of day most people probably like seeing ads for things a computer knows they are 90% likely to need, or want, or buy based on search history and their birthday. Spotify is very good at playing me bands related to my tastes and it’s amazing that a computer can send me music I like that I’ve never heard. It feels less emotionally invested for me though. I miss the human part of it. So I’m thoughtful to seek that out by not just passively listening, but engaging with people and using the internet for the strengths it has in fostering a positive community, not just mindless consumption.
Philip: What are some of the challenges you battle staying independent while trying to get songs out into the world?
Jessee: To “make it” as band you have to have so many people working for you. A lot of industry types are searching for an angle that has nothing to do with actually caring about music. The process has zero to do with what music can do in terms of emotion and expression and connectivity. Your band becomes a business with a manager, a booker, a promoter. It’s damn challenging to work with like-minded individuals that are passionate about innovation and actually care about music and actually care about their artists’ wellbeing. So, a lot of musicians end up having meetings with some middle-aged white business dude telling them how their record should sound. Gag me with a wooden spoon. No “golden unicorn” is worth me comprising my voice.
It reminds me of the Little Mermaid selling her voice to the Sea Witch and giving up her whole life to get the prince. No fucking way. That cartoon is a tragedy. I do the extra work to take a different path. For me it’s not a choice. It’s part of being a decent human being. I do think of music as a career. I’m doing this for the long haul. My whole life. It’s not something I’m going to grow out of or let die. I’ll be 50 and 60, being a weirdo with a mustache making music and art. I never stop growing emotionally. I take being in a band seriously and am disciplined. I am vigilant of my values as an artist and only want to work with and support those who value a free ethos above capitalism. It’s a turtle pace but I believe in it. I want to be challenged and critiqued and pushed and inspired by those who believe in art and community.
Don’t be lazy. Make the effort to support marginalized people. There are a lot of things that act as pitfalls along the way. Mental illness, addiction, relationship stress, working a job you hate to pay the bills. Being in a band or being an artist that is able to make what they want is expensive. It’s daunting. That is why alternative networks are always important. There are a lot of rich kids in bands and they get to have more exposure because they can spend the money needed to make money. The wealthy obviously have a lot more opportunity and access in the art/music world. Race/class/gender/sexuality affect us. There are beautiful songwriters who can’t afford cars and schlep themselves around on buses or perform on the street or never leave their bedroom because they just love playing music.
Ultimately, most of what we get exposed to has a ton of money behind it. So, my advice is to pay attention to what is happening in your community even if it doesn’t have any hype. Think for yourself. Fine tune your critical thinking skills. I’m not knocking listening to popular music just a friendly reminder to dig for yourself and support the little fish too because there is rich beauty to found.
Jessee: You have been involved in other bands. What do you think keeps The Funs thriving and alive?
Philip: Next year, in 2019, The Funs will be a band for a decade. And in a lot of ways, it’s really hard to believe it’s been that long. We have been through everything together in our relationship as people and lovers. And I think that The Funs reflects that 100 percent. It’s more than a band to me. It’s a universe that we have made for ourselves to survive. Despite rejection and exploitation. We can thrive together. We can support each other. We have a telepathy that bonds us. I have no regrets, and I am so grateful to say that. I think we will do it forever. Jessee writes so many beautiful songs, and being able to document them now in our house is very exciting. We do it all the time. To see it through has so much meaning and life to it. Writing the lyrics, writing the instrumentation, recording and listening back is such a spiritual experience for me. We dance, we scream, we chain smoke. It keeps us going. The Funs has had many variations over the years. Most recently, John Birkner has joined as a live guitar player. It has sparked something totally new and creative. He is a very close friend to both Jessee and I and that’s a very important part of making art together. We have known him for 12 years or so. He is solid gold. Our first practice with him, he already knew all the songs and found his way playing them on guitar. He really cares about music in the purest way. It’s a huge part of who he is. He has seen us play so many times and has always had such positive things to say about everything. We leave for tour this Sunday and I cannot wait to travel and perform with him.
Philip: How do trends in music affect you as a writer?
Jessee: I don’t pay attention to trends. That shit fades. I hunker down and push myself. I think it’s harder than ever to be a little band that sticks to their sound these days. There’s so much content overload [pressuring you] to jump on a bandwagon. People will say “but anyone can get discovered now” but the reality is, it’s like finding life on another planet. There’s a media-driven Cinderella story, like if you write great songs and you just work hard and put your music out there for free long enough you will become rich and famous. It feels like the falsity of the American dream on steroids. It’s total bullshit. Most record labels do not give a shit about their artists. My tone may come off as jaded but I’m not. I’m full of naïve hope because otherwise I’d be a depressed sack on the floor. I’m angry and angsty like any decent artist should be. It’s good to be angry when you channel it into love and creation instead of turning it into hate. I’m full of love.
I run a not-for-profit because I get fulfillment from nurturing the creative endeavors of others. I didn’t move to New York or LA because I would be eaten alive. It’s not the life I want. I live in the Midwest, the “fly over zone” and it’s good because I’m not trapped in the rat race. Art is meant to be protected. It is like a tiny flame under a great gust of wind. You have to put your whole body around it to keep it lit. It’s not perfectly instagrammed paper bouquets centerpieces. It’s messy. It’s how I move through the world searching for answers. It communicates rawness and realness across dimensions. Art is meant to charge conversations and break down barriers. It is vehicle for communication and what attracts me most to making. It is not just destined to sell shit to us or only sit above a couch. The commodification of art corrupts its meaning.
Philip: Anything else you wanna say?
Jessee: It is good not to know things sometimes. Never ignorance, no, but just not knowing. Hopeful naïvetés. I never would have started a band had I known all the behind-the-curtain industry scuzz when I was a teenager. I never would have moved to an abandoned, hoarded funeral home had I known how many years it would take to get this place running. I don’t think people realize like, it wasn’t a former funeral home. It WAS a funeral home. It was all set up to have funerals, with candles and curtains and cremains and mountains of junk. I spilled a container of what I can only describe as ten pounds of cherry-scented, red, aquarium pebbles, all over the orange and green fuzzy carpet. The stench was like an ancient-Frankenstein-chemical-cardboard-car air freshener. I’m certain it took years off my life. It is, to put it lightly, an unlikely place to find an artist and musicians residency but that is why it is the perfect place to have one. I find myself here charged with the deliberate purpose to make and use this space as a facilitator for other makers. I pay attention to living outside the echo chamber. It is more important for radical and creative spaces to exist in small and rural communities because of the lack of exposure and access. It’s better that we built this space here as a lifeline to the rural weirdos instead of in Portland or Austin where a lot of alternative spaces already exist.
How did I get here? It feels like an almost out of body experience, and that I watched myself come here from outside of myself. Whatever makes the hands move across a Ouija board is what drew me here and I’m not stopping.