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Jean Jackets Dig Up Early Rock & Roll Sounds

In Music
The Jean Jackets’ frontman, Ismael ‘Millhows’ Villanueva (left) found inspiration in early soul and doo-wop.

The Jean Jackets’ frontman, Ismael ‘Millhows’ Villanueva (left) found inspiration in early soul and doo-wop.

Like so many creatives living in downtown San Jose, Ismael “Millhows” Villanueva had his epiphany at Cinebar. However, unlike like so many of his less-fortunate peers, the local musician was able to hold on to his inspiration—successfully preventing it from slipping away on a river of ice-cold Olympia and Jamo shots.

Millhows, as he prefers to be called, was DJ-ing at the Cine for a stretch—playing mostly soul, classic rock and garage records—when it hit him.

“I got inspired,” he recalls. As one-half of the garage-rock duo Dirty Pillows, who are currently on an indefinite hiatus, Millhows was no stranger to lo-fi licks. But in that moment, spinning records in the back of the bar, he began to make connections between the music of The Stooges and The Rolling Stones and those many soul, doo-wop and early rock & roll groups who had inspired the likes of Iggy and Jagger.

“It’s not a far walk to get from Otis Redding to Free or the MC5,” Millhows muses. “There’s a very thin line.”

Millhows is clearly having a blast dancing all over that line on his new project, The Jean Jackets, whose debut album, Money, The Hunt & Applause, is currently available for streaming on SoundCloud. His band plays Caravan Lounge on Saturday, along with Cola and Mother’s Worry.

“It’s basically a garage band album,” Millhows says of Money. Indeed, the record is no frills and lo-fi, and does sound as if it could have been recorded in a garage. However, upon repeated listens, it’s hard not to imagine the The Jean Jackets laying down the tracks to Money next to a baby blue ’56 Chevy Bel Air.

“Valentines Day” features wordless, crooning backup vocals, reminiscent of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison while “Morning Light” kicks off with a descending, chromatic surf guitar trill—sounding a bit like a sloppy cover of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou.” And plenty of tracks on the album feature the stutter-step pianos, deliberate arpeggios and snapping guitar punctuation immortalized by ’50s hits, such as “Stand By Me,” “Blue Moon” and “Earth Angel.”

Millhows says any similarity between The Jean Jackets’ music and these quintessential songs from early days of rock & roll are due to his admiration for classic pop tunes.

“I feel like my generation, and the generation under me is not embracing the ‘pop song’ as much,” he explains. “A lot of the music I love are great pop songs. More than anything, I wanted to exercise my pop songwriting chops.”

The Jean Jackets play The Caravan Lounge on Friday, Sept. 5, at 9pm.

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