Alex Jackson and Her Band Saffron
By Lucy F.R.
I found Saffron through a chain of long-term events. Nearly ten years ago, I was obsessed with AC/DC and my parents exposed me to the all-female tribute band, Hell’s/Belles, that is the only tribute act of the hundreds that are out there approved of by AC/DC- Angus Young specifically. After that first Hell’s/Belles show, my life was changed completely. I thought to myself, “if a girl can be as good as Angus Young anything is possible” and the outcome of that made me take music more seriously. From that point on, I would go to every all ages show that Hell’s/Belles played in my town and I quickly became friends with the band, Adrian Conner (who portrays Angus Young) more so than others. As I got older, the reason why I went to Hell’s/Belles shows started to slowly change, I started going so that I could see my friend in person rather than an obsession with a band.
If it weren’t for my friendship with Adrian, I wouldn’t have gone to the Hell’s/Belles show that Saffron opened for in late January of 2015. I vividly remember that gig, I was standing stage right (like I always do at shows) a little disappointed with the first opening band, and I was watching the next opening band. When Alex walked onstage to her amp as if she were on a mission I thought to myself “this better be good.” Usually opening bands have potential to be great but there’s something that you can’t put your finger on that’s holding them back. For as long as I can remember, that has been the case for every opener I’ve seen, and I’ve seen more than I can count. But as soon as Graham started playing his bass, heavily filtered through an effect pedal, I knew that they would be one of the better opening bands I would experience. As soon as Alex sang the first line to their song (that I later found out is called “Alec Baldwin,”) my mind was changed completely. And as their set progressed, my amazement got more and more intense. In all of my years of digging through music, listening to everything from Beethoven to Slayer, I had never come across a band with a sound like theirs.
Saffron, opening for Hell’s/Belles (2015)
When their set ended, I thought to myself “I want to be friends with this girl.” About three days later I was sitting in my bedroom and decided to find Saffron on the Internet. An impossible search commenced and after about two and a half hours I finally found them. They had a link to their Soundcloud and I listened to the three rough demos that they had repeatedly that night. I friended Alex on FaceBook and we soon started talking fairly regularly and eventually we became friends. We both were volunteering for GrrrlJamz (an after school program) so we saw each other once a week and eventually she and I became best friends.
To make things clear, I am not writing this article because my best friend is in this band, I’m writing this because Alex is one of the most miraculous musicians I’ve come across, and now Saffron has released their greatly anticipated debut album. People need to know about this band.
Whiteaker Tattoo Collective (2015), photo by Lucy F.R.
Alex came from Australia in July of 2014. Saffron started in September of 2014. Between then and when I met her, she got married and settled down completely and the band started to get attention. Matrisha (the runner of GrrrlzRock and GrrrlJamz) somewhat coached the band and gave them suggestions on how to improve on their songs. After that, Saffron started to get a good following in Eugene [where Saffron is based] and started playing more and more shows.
Saffron’s debut show (2014), photo by Grace Kaplowitz.
Usually half of the audience at house parties and DIY venues are there to see Saffron, and there’s almost always two or three people who had no idea who Saffron was that walk away and say to a friend “that was amazing” when their set is done. The low key demand for an album became more and more prominent and in October they finished the rough cuts of the songs and raised money for the mixing and mastering stage. I was fortunate enough to a get a sneak peak from Matt in his car. Already it was solid and had great potential to spread around and I knew that the final, finished product would be polished and sound like the lovechild of Hole’s album Live Through This and Alice In Chains’ dark-but-groovy sound. Saffron’s announcement of the album release date caused fans to simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief and immediately shiver with anticipation that was more intense than their announcement of starting the recording process. When they released two songs for an album teaser on their Soundcloud the anticipation only grew bigger.
They scouted out different recording studios all over town and eventually decided to have the producer for Cherry Poppin’ Daddies record them. During their recording period I noticed that their stage presence gradually became more fluid and they made changes to their songs- an entire verse completely rewritten, a short instrumental pause during a breakdown, a lengthened intro. And now that the album is finished they’re working on new material and each song that they’ve added to their set list is tighter and groovier than their first batch of tunes.
I had the opportunity to interview Alex one night about her life as a musician and Saffron.
Sucker: You have been playing music since a young age. What inspired you to be a musician, or was it just the fact that AC/DC was huge in Australia and you wanted to be like them?
Alex: I’d probably have to give that one to my dad. My dad played in a band so growing up [I] had the guitar around and I’d watch him- also my uncle […] I just grew up around music so it was kind of the obvious thing to do. In fact, rather than AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix was the first guitar person that I really got into and was very inspired by. Yeah, my dad and Jimi Hendrix.
Sucker: But when you were younger you did play AC/DC.
Alex: I did, yeah; I guess they would have been my favorite band when I was about 9/10/11/12.
Sucker: What inspired you to take being a musician seriously?
Alex: I don’t know, I started playing shows when I was younger and there was a good response, it felt good, and I guess I was good at it so I thought “why not?”
Sucker: As you got older, which bands and/or musicians helped you find and solidify your sound?
Alex: I’d say very much classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and then later rock like Nirvana, Alice In Chains and generally the stuff of the ‘90s grunge movement.
Sucker: When you were 13 you were sponsored by Billabong. How did that affect you and what did you learn from it?
Alex: Well that affected me because it taught me to generally behave as a professional musician. I went on tour with them and there were certain standards of waking up at a certain time, setting up on the beach, playing a show, tearing down, getting back on the bus and I guess it just taught me a level of professionalism and […] appreciation of the people that make these things possible.
Sucker: You’ve been in multiple bands. Talk about your first serious band. Were they anything like Saffron?
Alex: My first serious band was Emison. We called ourselves Emison because the clerk at the 7-11 near our house whose name was Emison […] you could definitely see sort of the beginnings of what I write now, but back then it was a lot more blues-inspired, a lot more White Stripes. I didn’t sing, we had a vocalist who was very inspired by The Doors. A lot more bluesy punk stuff going on at that time.
Sucker: Is Saffron’s sound what you’ve been trying to achieve when you first started? If not, how did you find Saffron’s sound?
Alex: I guess yes and no, I wasn’t really thinking about what I was trying to achieve at the start, but I guess it just kind of evolved naturally, kind of like the raw beginnings of bit of a more direct and articulate sound.
Ant House (2015), photo by Lucy F.R.
Sucker: Which musicians or bands inspire Saffron? A lot of people have said that it’s kind of like Alice In Chains meets Black Sabbath.
Alex: Well, yeah, definitely Sabbath. Me, personally, there’s a lot of Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and Alice In Chains, but then Graham [bassist] brings a lot of math rock feel to it, whereas Matt [drummer] has a lot of metal influence so he’ll use the double kick pedals and stuff. Conveniently these bands are very similar, so it’s a delicate blend of a couple of things that are all kind of related to each other.
Sucker: What’s your overall mission with Saffron? Do you intend to make it your full career, or are you thinking of eventually doing something different later on?
Alex: I guess only time will tell.
Sucker: You’ve recorded albums before, how is Saffron’s debut album different from them?
Alex: Well, I think for one we went to a more professional, expensive studio and had not only a sound engineer but also a producer for the price of one. Whereas the older albums we just recorded them by myself in my home studio or just some random guy with a studio in his house. It’s probably more polished.
Sucker: Is there a particular vibe or aesthetic to this album? Is it telling a story in a certain way?
Alex: Paranoia, alien abduction, occult shit, and dreaming.
Sucker: Do you think the other albums will be different from each other? Kind of like with Ty Segall every album is different, or is it going to be generally the same like Alice In Chains?
Alex: I don’t know, I guess I’ll probably have to say time will tell on that one.
Sucker: How do you think people will react to this album? We know that people in Eugene [where Saffron is based] will buy the shit out of it, but what do you think the general public?
Alex: I hope it’s received well, I think people that are fans of our music will like it, people that are extreme fans of our music will like it no matter what, but I hope it’s received well. But who knows?
Sucker: How has Saffron changed you as a musician?
Alex: I don’t know… [long pause]
Sucker: Do you think that Saffron’s sound has changed the way you write guitar riffs?
Alex: No, probably not.
Sucker: When it comes to song writing, is it lyrics first, music second, or the other way around?
Alex: Other way- music first, lyrics second. Always.
Sucker: Why is the band named Saffron?
Alex: I was sitting in a garden- Dana [Alex’s wife] was working for one of her gardening clients and I was just hanging out, playing guitar and writing lyrics and fleshing out new songs. There was a man varnishing a fence and it smelled good and I like that word, varnish, and I wrote down words that I liked. Among those words were varnish, Chrysler, drinks, truffle pig, and saffron, because there were saffron flowers in the garden, and I thought, “Oh saffron is this expensive thing that people break their backs over and pick little things out of the middle of this flower and sell it”. It’s just this really expensive spice and it just kind of grows out of dirt and shit and I thought that was kind of interesting.
Sucker: Would you say that the band name had affect on the songs?
Alex: Probably not. Not really. It’s kind of night and day juxtaposition because it’s this nice pretty fancy thing and dark heavy music. If anything it’s like an in-congruent name.
Sucker: Is the album going to be available on the Internet or do you have to buy a hard copy?
Alex: There will be tracks on the Internet, of course, there will be stuff streaming and available for download. But I recommend buying the hard copy because it took a really long time for me to write everything down [laughs].
Sucker: Are you going to tour to support the album?
Alex: Maybe. I think it’ll be the chicken before the egg thing. First I want to distribute the album around to different states and just make sure that there would be a draw in other states. But I would like to tour, I think it would be fun.
Sucker: What’s your favorite guitar riff to play?
Alex: Of my songs? “Truffle Pig.”
Sucker: Why do you guys like to end your sets with “Helter Skelter” and will you continue to end your set with it?
Alex: I would like to continue to end the set with “Helter Skelter,” I don’t know if there’s much as to why we do it; it’s just always been my favorite Beatles song. I think it’s the most metal thing that’s ever happened.
I was lucky enough to get a copy of the album before the release date. When my friend picked me up from Alex’s house, we put it in the CD player right away. My prediction of it being the lovechild of Live Through This and Alice In Chains’ sound was correct. What was coming out of the speakers was by far more than what I expected.
When you are listening to this album, you feel like you’re surrounded by a deep, dark blue energy. It’s smooth, it vibrates your bones, some songs make you want to break stuff because you’re so pumped.
It starts off with Alex seamlessly plucking a bluesy riff then it erupts into a step by step, intense riff, and then Alex sings “can you see through with multi-colored speckled eyes” in a soft yet slightly haunting voice, Graham softly singing in the back.
And then the next song, “But Can You Should” creeps through your speakers, like an eerie, unseen horror film monster that you’re interested in, and then suddenly, it bursts into a heavy arrangement. All you can do is bang your head like Layne Staley. All you can do is enjoy the murky, light green vibes that it’s surrounding you with.
And then “Truffle Pig” starts. The incredibly unique guitar riff layered with the deep bass and the intricate drumming mixes together perfectly and makes your body move without you realizing it.
You ride in a UFO during “Pins” (which is intentional as it is about alien abduction); you walk through the woods to take a break from things during “Alter.” “Alec Baldwin” has you swimming through the cosmos.
All in all, the entire album feels like a surreal, Rosemary’s Baby style dream. It takes you on little journeys and you’re sad when it ends (the total running time only 30 minutes- just barely qualifying as an LP). So what do you do? You start the album over. And when you press the play button on your stereo again you’re left to examine the journal style liner notes, all completely hand written by Alex herself and decorated with little doodles that match the lyrics of the songs.
It is a glance in the mind of someone who spends a lot of time looking into the paranormal and all the different branches of aliens. It’s the best $10 that you will spend for some time.
Flier by Lucy F.R.
Saffron released their self-titled album on Friday, February 26th and had a CD release show with two opening bands. It took place at The Boreal, a completely DIY, all-ages local venue that’s ran by volunteers only. I go to Saffron’s shows there all of the time and there’s always a good amount of people there, but never have I seen The Boreal completely filled with people. There were teenagers, young adults, people in their 30’s, and even a handful of seniors (mainly the parents of the band members). I got swept into the mosh pit a couple of times and my friends and I danced until sweat was dripping down our backs.
When Saffron played their song “Pins”, nearly half of the audience was singing the opening verse- and that has never happened at a Saffron show before. There were plenty of beautiful moments that night: Alex being applauded after guitar solos, Matt taking an impressive drum solo between songs, Saffron playing their two newest songs and both being well received, and the amount of CD’s that they sold that night.
This was the first time that they played an 80-minute set. No one in the audience noticed that the set was long- I didn’t notice this. Everyone was too busy having fun. It felt like a 45 minute set. After the show was over, Alex talked to the opening bands and thanked them for bringing so many people, to which they replied, “we don’t know who these people are.” And with that exciting news, the band’s gear got loaded in the van, we went to Taco Bell and got a $30 order, and watched Weird Or What.
The outcome of that night gave everybody involved with the band hope for the near future. Saffron’s rising.
Photo by Grace Kaplowitz