An innovative local musician and his band stay dedicated to chasing their musical dreams.
By Steve Houk
Steven Rubin has always just wanted to play his music and have people dig it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Rocking along years ago in DC bands like Girl Loves Distortion, The Corvids and Circle Six, Rubin was like many aspiring local musicians, just trying to find that niche, that groove, that magical place where the music he wrote would be appreciated. He even thought creating a character might be the answer, so one night back when, largely on a whim, Jackie and The Treehorns was born.
“I’m a big movie and TV buff and we were always coming up with goofy band names and stupid things like that,” Rubin told me recently. “One day I told my friend, ‘Hey, book me as Jackie and the Treehorns, book it as if a band is playing tonight.’ So it kind of started almost like a tongue and cheek joke, I showed up there, people are like who, what, and I’m like, ‘Sorry, this is Jackie and the Treehorns but my band got detained in Denmark on customs and it’s just me now, so it’s just Jackie.’ ”
And it didn’t stop there. Rubin as Jackie would even go on to make a short film featuring the character, and the perpetuation would continue until Rubin realized one day that playing a cocky, arrogant role, a sort of Tony Clifton of rock and roll, is fine unless you have others in your immediate musical hemisphere who could be adversely affected.
“It has changed quite a bit, musically and sort of aesthetically and sort of what Jackie has meant, from where it started,” Rubin said. “Everything (Jackie did) was really purposely edgy and cocky and arrogant and stupid and self-debasing. The problem, quite honestly, is when it was just me, I can answer for myself, but now if I do something stupid, Pat has to answer for it, Kirk had to answer for it, and now Brian has to. I have to represent other people now.”
Fast forward to today, and yes, for the good of the gander, Jackie is a bit tamer now, and he and his Treehorns — Rubin’s deep end muse Pat Kehs on bass and new drummer Brian Gibson — are hitting a good stride that includes their new record released this month simply titled J. and consistent local touring including a high profile gig at DC9 with Nah. and Don Zientara on Wednesday May 30th.
Like it can often be in the trajectory of a local band, right now is a transitional yet exciting time for the bit-mellower Jackie and his Treehorns, recently replacing a drummer and continuing to find ways to musically please both themselves and their burgeoning fan base.
“It’s kind of one of those exciting transitional moments in the Jackie and the Treehorns history,” Rubin, 45, said enthusiastically. “I feel like we’re at this fork — we’re putting out the (J.) album, which is obviously current, but immediately right after that, we’re getting ready to take the step towards what I would say is the next album. It’s like half wanting to promote and play all the songs that we’re pushing right now, while also continuing to grow with another musician in the band now and keep moving forward. I think that Pat can attest that one of the ethos of the band is to keep writing music, instead of just getting nine songs, playing them to death for a couple years and writing more. We’re constantly trying to create new songs. We’re kind of in this interesting little cross path, if you will, the next couple months and it’s kind of exciting in that regard.”
“We’re just trying to get the music out to as many people as possible,” bassist Kehs concurs. “It seems like sometimes people just need to know it’s there to discover it. That’s the hardest thing, to get somebody to give it that first listen. Then they go, ‘Oh, wow this is cool…’ ”
By day, Rubin is a web developer/designer and Kehs is in TV production, so the striking look and feel of Jackie and the Treehorns’ marketing, from website to video and beyond, is in their wheelhouse and has proven to be a big positive for the band’s evolution.
“Alot of the skills that I’m doing during the day come in extremely handy for the band,” said Rubin. “I think we all take it for granted, I know a lot of other bands I talk to struggle with ‘oh I can’t get a really cool website’ or ‘we can’t do our own graphics’ so we kind of lucked out in that. Some of our past drummers have had video editing experience, and even with Pat too, we all kind of work in media or multimedia or online media, so it does help translate and does help promote the band more. I get to know more people who know social media and websites, it does add that aspect.”
Rubin has been at the music game for close to 30 years and has a sizable musical palette, so the sound of Jackie and the Treehorns can weave between genres, but will always be rock and roll at its center.
“I do find that when it first started it was acoustic and mellow, and then it sort of transformed back into what it is now, which I think is probably just me falling back to what I truly am at my core, and that’s a rock guy. But I do like to experiment a little bit and move out there, like I wish I was like PJ Harvey and I can say, well now I wanna go record a synthesizer record, and oh now I wanna do my folk record, and oh now I wanna do a rock record. But I do think it all kind of in the end finds its way into the Treehorns. Even though we have always been three or four different people, every band likes to say we’re all from different musical backgrounds, we truly are from different backgrounds, and sort of overlap in certain places. Where the overlap is is where I find it interesting. It is a constant wanting to think as a creative artist, you’re always growing and everything’s different, but my friends tell me, ‘oh I just heard the J album, it sounds like a Jackie album.”
“I’ve never seen anybody as prolific as Steven is,” Kehs adds. “He’s always coming up with songs, like we’ve got three or four new songs already we were working on even before the J. album dropped. It’s great, because it keeps me interested.”
When it all comes down to it, Rubin, still aka Jackie, wants one thing more than anything — the respect of his fellow musicians and fans for the music he and his band pour their soul into.
“Honestly for me, it’s about peer respect,” Rubin confides. “Just people liking the music is enough for me. My ambition truly is to hear somebody like you say, ‘I heard your album, and I really like it,” that truly does make my day. It’s when a stranger I don’t know on any sort of personal level at a show is like, ‘Hey man, I like your music” or ‘My friend turned me on and I genuinely like it,” I know that way that they do genuinely like it because they have no reason to bullshit me. My goal is just to continue to make…I know it’s such a cliché thing that everybody says…but it really is about the music for me. I just want to continue writing great songs.”
Jackie And The Treehorns along with Nah. and Don Zientara perform Wednesday May 30th at DC9 Nightclub, 1940 9th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20001. For info, click here.