Premiere: Discus “Watch the Milk Turn Dry”, Jake and Paul Stolz on Fulfilling Creative Voids Through Multiple Projects
written by colin smith
You may have seen the Stolz brothers before, they make up the rhythm section in both indie-pop outfit Varsity and art-rockers Pool Holograph. As seasoned musicians of Chicago, their band Discus scratches a different itch for them. This time they’re at the helm of their jangle-pop project, steering the wheel and writing the songs together.
Discus is getting ready to release their debut album, Something Has Happened (off of Balaclava Records in Brazil), later this year. In anticipation of the record, they are premiering the music video to “Watch the Milk Turn Dry,” which Clare Byrne created with Jake, off of POND today. We spoke in the very same park as the one they used in the video, except this time the trees were in bloom. Enjoy this conversation with the Stolz brothers.
The track was recorded and mixed by Dave Vettraino, and mastered by Mikey Young.
Colin Smith: I'm interested because you said that you came back from the Peace Corps to pursue music with your brother. When did you guys start playing music together?
Jake Stolz: Probably when I was in middle school.
Colin: Were you always a drummer?
Jake: No, I started off on guitar and Paul started off on bass. A year or two later I started playing the guitar, Paul essentially taught me the basics. And then we self-taught a lot and immediately started writing songs. I think the very first day we wrote a really simple number. I still know how it goes.
Colin: How much older are you than Jake?
Paul Stolz: I’m three and a half years.
Colin: You guys look very young, in a good way. You look younger than your actual age.
Jake: That's good. How old are you?
Colin: I turned 27 this year, earlier in the Spring.
Jake: I’m 27 as well. It's definitely a transition year. You’re not in your mid twenties or upper twenties.
Colin: It’s weird too because I'm the youngest of three and I have two older brothers. So I've always been the youngest person in the room. It's such a weird shift to not be the youngest person in the room anymore. I feel like now in some cases at shows I am almost ten years older.
Jake: Yeah definitely, I don't actually go to many DIY shows anymore so I don't have that feeling as much.
Colin: Yeah it’s crazy - just being in different spaces, with music in particular, where you're like wow I'm actually older than I thought, older than I’m used to.
Paul: Yeah. You've always been that way. In all three of our bands you’re the youngest person.
Jake: Right, three years minimum.
Colin: Gotcha, so I take it a lot of people were in Paul’s year in school?
Paul: Yeah I mean I guess they were mostly my friends in high school who were playing in bands together, or church friends.
Jake: I had one band with kids the same age as me called Buffalo Crossing. It was just based on a sign that my friend Joe had in his basement. Pretty uninventive.
Colin: As far as a high school band name though it’s not bad. You could do much worse.
Jake: Yeah we did. We did do much worse. Did you have any bad band names?
Colin: I feel like we're all confessing here. Yeah one of my friends wanted our high school band to be called the “Hollow Men” because we were juniors in high school and we had read T.S. Eliot for honors English or whatever. We were just like no way immediately. And so my other friend, the one who was visiting last night, he's a goofy guy and he was like how about let's just name it “Cyborg Smith and the Mutant Seven” but there were only four of us.
Jake: That's so great.
Colin: We did a variety show once and he was wearing a flag I believe as a cape and not only that, but he brought on a standing fan that blew the cape as he played bass.
Jake: That's incredible.
Colin: How about you guys, any variety shows or high school band moments?
Jake: We played a talent show one time and we had some lady from our church sing a Nirvana B side with us.
Colin: What B side was it?
Jake: It was Sappy. Do you remember that? She sang that song, right?
Paul: I try to forget about it.
Jake: I think we got second place which is cool.
Colin: That's cool. Do you remember the first place band?
Paul: It was actually Neil O’hara band. They actually just came out with a couple of singles. He's doing really well for himself.
Colin: So Nirvana, speaking of them, were they your gateway drug so to speak to other bands?
Jake: Kind of. Yeah. I'd say Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age. Radiohead.
Colin: So starting out with some of the more grungier stuff.
Jake: Yeah and Trapt, shit like that.
Colin: That was the culture of the time though, with MTV, those music videos were everywhere.
Jake: Yeah. I wish I was into other bands. But yeah they were formative years. My tastes now are based on my early tastes. But I think Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age we're probably the most influential for us.
Colin: Speaking of these formative middle school and high school years, what is a music video you had obsessed over when you were in that age range?
Jake: That's a good question. Did you have any that you obsessed over, Paul? I remember on MTV seeing the Seal Batman ‘Kiss From a Rose’, and how dark and mysterious and sexy it was.
Paul: It was sexy.
Jake: But I don't know, I'm trying to think of other music videos that I would get into. I don't know if I really focused on music videos as a younger kid.
Paul: What was that Radiohead video? The one where he’s got the suit on, and it’s filling up with water?
Colin: Is that “No Surprises”? Wow, it’s been a minute… I feel like with the age of streaming I just don’t listen to older albums that much.
Jake: I feel that.
Colin: It's so geared to new releases and obviously if you're a musician or someone writing about music or whatever you're listening to new shit all the time.
Paul: Yeah, they push it on you a lot.
Jake: Yeah, there's no real choice. I mean, I always forget to search for things, I just go to my Recently Played.
Colin: You can get as specific or as broad as you would like to with this answer—obviously you guys play in several different bands including Varsity and Pool Holograph and you tour a lot and play a lot of shows and record a lot, so how do you manage your time? How do you fucking do it? I feel like you guys are always on the road. If I may ask, do you also have jobs that allow that sort of flexibility?
Jake: Yeah. Luckily I work in a lab and my boss is really very forgiving with our touring schedules but it's kind of wound down a little bit recently. There's definitely been dicey times where I feel like I was stretching the bounds of what I could do touring wise, but luckily my boss is just an incredibly nice person and supports music endeavors.
Colin: That's really cool. Especially since your recent tour for Sales with Varsity, that must have been at least a few weeks right?
Jake: That was just a week and a half actually. We always do like shorter chunks, I think the longest we've been out was two and a half weeks.
Colin: That sounds pretty grueling. What’s your favorite way to pass the time on tour?
Jake: Probably listening to podcasts.
Paul: I sleep.
Jake: Paul is a bear.
Paul: I just go in the backseat. I can sleep for twelve hours in the van.
Colin: Whenever I'm in a car I just fall asleep. I don't know what it is even if I'm in the passenger seat and we're in the car for only twenty minutes I’m kind of dozing off you know.
Jake: Yeah, sleeping and just listening to music. We play games sometimes and shit like that. I can't read in a car unfortunately.
Colin: Books on tape or podcasts are good for that. Just look out the window and see all the corn.
Jake: And then listen to Conan O'Brien's voice. That podcast is fucking hilarious. I just listened to the entire suite. He’s just a pure comedy genius to me.
Colin: So Pool Holograph, the band, did that come first or did Varsity come first for you guys?
Jake: I joined Varsity I think six months to a year before I joined Pool Holograph. I joined Varsity in the fall of my senior year of college and then in the spring I joined Pool Holograph.
Colin: So whenever you guys are in a band do you come as a package deal?
Jake: Yeah. Well actually Paul was gone and then he came back and then joined Pool Holograph first because we needed a second guitar player and then our first drummer of Varsity left about a year later. Then I switched over to drums and Paul played bass. I played bass for most of the early Varsity recordings.
Colin: In my mind I thought of you only as a drummer.
Jake: I mean I think the main thing with Discus is that we've just been playing together for so long that it doesn't necessarily feel like a new thing. Aside from Arthur and Kevin's contributions obviously, just playing with a full band unlocks so many opportunities. The dynamic between Paul and me feels the same as always. We've written songs consistently for fifteen years or something. I think the reason we kind of wanted to start recording and playing shows in a live format is because we have all these ideas that could just fall away. We just wanted to capture them a little bit more clearly and effortfully.
Colin: So these are sort of ideas that kind of springs from the cracks between both bands? Both Varsity and Pool Holograph?
Jake: Yeah we've just always played guitar together and written. I think the singing is a new addition as well. I don't feel like a singer necessarily but It's been a fun thing to grow as a songwriter and to learn how to be comfortable with my singing voice.
Paul: It's cool because we've written songs and have a lot of ideas and we've played with each for a long time but we've never really brought it to the final conclusion before. I mean the EP and then these songs especially, I feel like it has forced us to go through the whole process of thinking about the song in depth and arriving at those conclusions and what it will be. It's the fluidity of playing a song together every once in a while or writing a song and then forgetting about it. I think this album in particular has really allowed us how to write full songs.
Jake: Yeah it feels like there's a lot more depth to this album. Even compared to the EP, I feel like we were all just handed instruments and we were just like we can be this loud and all play together and bring out a power pop song. But yeah I think this new album is definitely a little bit more of a patchwork sort of thing.
Colin: I guess I was curious with your EP from last year… a short story inspired your song? Who was the writer, the author?
Jake: That was a Salinger. It was Franny from Franny and Zooey. It was kind of like a Spark Notes interpretation of it. A naive interpretation of it. The idea was that I’ve always been self-conscious about writing lyrics because I feel like there's not always a perfect thread or anything. I wanted to sort of have the lyrics be human and be an actual interpretation. The pure feeling of just taking something from reading, finding meaning in something that doesn't necessarily make sense. It’s the personal experience of me reading this specific thing.
Colin: Okay. Yeah, I see.
Jake: It's kind of silly but that whole thread kind of follows in this new album. I felt more comfortable with kind of letting things be as they initially came up in my head or following the sounds of words that I would hear. Just listening back to demos with pretty obscured vocals and stuff like that and just kind of letting that go.
Colin: Are you reading any good short stories currently?
Jake: I'm reading David Berman's Actual Air, I actually have it in my backpack. It's fucking unbelievable… he's definitely a huge inspiration for me lyrically. Can I talk about the Milk lyrics?
Colin: No… just kidding, yeah totally (laughter).
Jake: Sorry I'm a little bit rambling.
Colin: No, I like it.
Jake: It's about a sort of “malocclusion confusion”, this term that I came up with where you have something inside of you that exists for a really long time, that you want to get out. It's something that doesn't necessarily make sense with your surroundings but it's trapped inside of you, trapped inside of your throat and then your jaw slips, and then the words fall out. And when your jaw slips, it's like a “malocclusion”, your jaw is misaligned, it cuts your lip and then you wear that as a scar that is with you forever. And it's not something that you necessarily wanted out in the world or something. But yeah that's the main theme of that song.
Colin: I think that heightens my appreciation for the song.
Jake: Oh cool. Nice. Sometimes I think about if knowing the meaning behind the lyrics is an important thing for people to know before going into it. But it's cool that we're in this park because some of the video was shot here. I got the Super 8 camera and Clare and I walked down our street and ended up here.
I like that we're doing the interview here because it actually ties into the video. It was in the winter rain so it's quite a different scene and it might be confusing for people now that it's really beautiful outside. But just close your eyes and imagine you're in a winter scape.
Colin: Yeah, and don't worry, before we know it it’ll be here.
Jake: Yeah, we’ve got to cherish this for sure.
Keep up with Discus here.