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Striking Gold

The music of the Orlando band Claimjumper is so tight and businesslike it wouldn’t surprise me if its members wore three-piece suits on stage, listed band rehearsal dates in weekly planners, and kept in touch with beepers and pagers. Their songs are concise, controlled, and impermeable, like the strictest nun or the sternest father. But what’s ironical to Claimjumper is that the machine gun–like rhythms sport a mighty smirk.

Claimjumper comprises gentlemanly jokesters who enjoyably write incredibly complicated songs, making it thoroughly impossible to keep a foot tapping a steady beat for any length of time. It’s an aural assault, much like having two wrecking balls hitting opposite sides of the head or pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks down a few flights of stairs. The instrumentation is sickeningly meticulous, yet drunkenly sloppy at the same time. I’d most likely compare it to cowboys taking on the wild bull at the rodeo: it takes hours and hours of discipline and practice and training, but the ride still ends up crazed and unpredictable.

Ken Aguilar’s guitar is jagged and scratchy. The growling bass of Todd Elliott (also of Adventures in Immortality) will make your head swim with his seamless, flawless precision. And definitely a distinguishing feature of Claimjumper is Crystal Costello, whose painful, drowning lullabies and earsplitting shrill will leave listeners’ hearing ringing for days, Replacing the drum machine is Pat Wood, who debuted with the band last November at the Fur Is Dead concert at the Station by playing a cover of Scratch Acid’s “Mary Had a Little Drug Problem.” Present for this interview was the core of Claimjumper, Ken Aguilar and Todd Elliott.

How long has Claimjumper been together?

Ken: I’ve known Todd since about seventh grade and we started talking about starting a band since about then.

Were you playing instruments back then?

Ken: No.... Actually we both did, really, but Todd didn’t play bass then. He was too much of a ninnie. He played piano. Claimjumper officially started a little after Halloween of ’92.

How was Crystal picked or found to be the singer?

Ken: I was drunk one night and we were looking for girls to funk and she looked like the one, and we said, “Maybe we can rope her in to get into the band so we can both funk her.”

And … did it work?

Ken: Yeah, no. You want the real story? I was drunk. It was at Club Nowhere.

Todd: I said, “Those girls over there, ask them if they sing.” I was with my girlfriend at the time so I didn’t want to have to. [Ken] was drunk and I knew he was. I figured, what the hell, he won’t care. That was the second….

Ken: That was the second girl I asked that night. That was the second girl we asked ever. We were going to have a girl guitarist and I was going to be the singer at one point, but she never actually played with us. She was into metal and had a pink flying star Carvin or something. She liked what we played her. It [the original idea] wouldn’t have been a good choice, plus I can’t sing very well at all.

Why the change from your previous band, Autumn Dog, which had a very loose sound, to the super tightness of Claimjumper?

Todd: We had a drum machine.

Ken: And before we had a very bad drummer. You can print that. [Laughter] Please do.

Todd: With a drum machine obviously it sounds really tight, and we really didn’t know anyone to ask. It was kind of a nice change, a complete opposite. We had total control of the drums, total, you know—completely tight. It was really nice.

Ken: Let’s just face it, three is an unstable number.

Why did you switch from a machine to having Pat play drums?

Todd: We were drunk again and we really didn’t know what we were doing.

Ken: It’s a bad mistake and we regret it now. From what I understand he is one of the better kissers in Orlando. That is the truth; from God’s mouth to my ears. His overall playing is very cohesive with our overall … band.

Did he want to play or did you ask him?

Ken: Well, I let him ask. We were thinking about getting a drummer for a little while. Actually Pat was drunk when he told me that he’d like to play.

Todd: And once we realized there wasn’t really anyone out there, and then once we realized there wasn’t anyone out there good, and anyone who was out there that was good probably wouldn’t want to play with us.

Ken: Or was just criminally insane

Todd: We figured, well, Pat’s real good and he really wants to play with us, so….

Ken: We gave him a go.

Your songs are pretty intricate. When you write them, do you plan them, using charts or something, or do you just jam?

Ken: We write charts. I don’t know if “charts” would be the correct word for it, maybe “bar graph” instead. We figure out our genealogy first. Todd, your mom has blue eyes? What does that make me? No, I don’t know. We were very slow at writing songs and it’s kind of a burden.

Todd: It’s much quicker, though, with an actual drummer.

Ken: It’s a lot easier. Well, at least to change things and work on them in general, and we can jam on things a little better. Back to that Pat question, to give you a real answer, an even more real answer: meticulous. It becomes a pain in the ass to come up with all the drum parts [on the machine]. It’s better to have more people with creative influences, if I maybe so bold to use the word creative. I don’t know, just to have more people working on songs, especially people that play the way you like.

Who writes the lyrics?

Ken: Mostly me, Ken Aguilar, lyrical genius. Todd’s written one and a half, and Crystal wrote nine-tenths of one.

Crystal doesn’t have a lot of influence over the songs?

Ken: She puts her pussy into it. She was supposed to be here today but she’s real sick, pneumonia. She’s our voice and the conscience of Claimjumper.

Pat mentioned to me earlier that you guys are going into the studio. How many and what songs will you record?

Ken: That’s kind to be decided still. The people at Vapor [Records] really want us to keep out mouths closed about that because it’s going to be a big, secret release.

Todd: We have about three songs in mind.

Ken: That are definite.

Todd: That are songs we have and are planning to record.

Ken: And we’re working on a new one or two, try and get that by.

What format will the songs be released in?

Ken: I’m guessing seven inch. I don’t think it … actually, yeah, seven inch. I’ll say that, obviously because I don’t want a tape.

Todd: And no one plays those eight tracks anymore.

Why has “Lil Spicy” become such an unpopular song with you guys?

Todd: We don’t hate it. We just don’t like playing it. We don’t actually hate the song. It’s just really, really old. Extremely old.

Ken: That would be an Autumn Dog song, going back to that Autumn Dog question.

Todd: There were about four songs that we kept [from the old band]. We lost one of those early on, and we still play the other two.

Ken: They’re sort of relatively changed, but the basic, powerful motivating riff is still there.

Who has actually experienced the “Private Pain (of Prostate Cancer),” as one of your song titles indicates?

Todd: Many, many Americans suffer every day. We thought it was something we should get out in the open.

Ken: You know how a lot of bands champion causes? That’s pretty much ours.

What’s your remedy? What’s your solution?

Ken: Well, buy the song, when it comes out on the seven inch. We donate all the money to the Private Pain Foundation.

Todd: We had a friend that worked at a rest home, and maybe still does. [He told us] amusing anecdotes from the job.

Ken: But as we all know as we get older, you being a male yourself, Chris, you gotta worry about that prostate stuff. And that’s how we picked the title.

Todd: Actually it’s a chapter in a Reader’s Digest book.

What’s good and what’s bad about being in a band in Orlando?

Ken: I’d like to think of us as a Longwood band. We’ve played in Orlando several times. What’s good about Orlando…. Okay, I can tell you what’s bad about it real quick. What’s bad about it is that there are a lot of people in town and there’s nothing to do as far as entertainment, art, culture, anything. There’s nothing really to do for the amount of people that are here, and it doesn’t seem anybody wants to do anything even if there was something to do. As far as playing out, you see the same people at a lot of the shows. I guess it’s nice that they do come out to all the shows. It turns into a frat party is what I’m getting at. People know everything and it gets really cliquish. It’s a pile of bullshit at the end. What’s good about Orlando….

Todd: Drugs, man.

Ken: Yeah, we get wasted. That’s the best part: good coke.

The interview slowly fizzles as talk turns from the band to racquetball, pawn shop guitars, train robberies with speeding Corvettes, and the “hot bitch ass” waitresses of Janie Lane’s Sunset Strip, downtown Orlando’s newest rock nightclub. Claimjumper’s solo recorded work so far is the track “Lil Spicy” on Central Florida’s Vapor Records first release, Poems of Manhood. The seven-inch single also features other local favorites Bloodlet, the Holsteins, and Adventures in Immortality.

This group’s stated goal is “to be the best goddamn punk rock band east of the Mississippi.” Sounds like they’ve a big task ahead of them, but what’s true for right now is that this group is the best damn band in Orlando.

Originally published in Ink Nineteen in February 1994.