Uphill to Purgatory
'Music was total escapism for me. I remember listening to Rubber Soul when I was 3 and, I'd swear I was in the music.' To say that JJ Appleton came from a musical family may be a bit of a cliché, but in his case, it's also an understatement. For the most part, he grew up in the small town of Norwich, VT, not far from Dartmouth University where his dad Jon Appleton has taught the offbeat subject of Electronic Music since 1967. A pioneer in the field, Mr. Appleton was an accomplished composer, not to mention one of the developers of the Synclavier, the now-legendary top shelf synthesizer. As a result, the family traveled all over the globe. Wherever the Appletons went, Jon had a musical agenda, which afforded JJ the rare opportunity to immerse himself in the indigenous music of such exotic places as Tonga, Sweden, Israel and Turkey. Growing up in this musical incubator, JJ's home was a revolving door of the noteworthy artists of the day. The Appleton household had a constant stream of musical guests as disparate as Don Cherry and Wang Chung. But, JJ's older sister, who listened to a lot of Elton John and Doobie Bros, was mostly responsible for introducing him to rock. Dad would play just about everything from the music of Astor Piazzola to Fats Waller to the West Side Story soundtrack. JJ studied classical piano and essentially tried to mimic everything he heard, especially the blues. 'For me,' he says, 'when you want to develop into an original, you have to imitate the masters.' But JJ had the most fun copping from his first loves - the Beatles and The Band. It wasn't too long before he realized that it's a good pop tune that always gets the girls. When you first meet JJ Appleton, what is likely to occur to you is the striking resemblance to comedic actor Ben Stiller. JJ actually had a chance meeting with Stiller at the Nantucket Film Festival. In true form, JJ had attended the island festival to participate in a storytelling event whose theme was, 'Love... What Was I Thinking?' A better premise could not have been found for our hero, who would perform a tune called, 'Someone Else's Problem.' JJ says with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, 'Someone Ele's Problem' was written with an amalgam of ex-girlfriends in mind, but it's mainly about snapping out of that sentimental state of reminiscing and, like a flash of light, you remember the hell they put you through.' The chorus refrain JJ maintains, is clearly, 'about relief, not anger.' And so it goes with Appleton's second full-length offering, which he has chosen, for reasons beyond his own knowledge, to call Uphill to Purgatory. Surely, there are no religious themes running through the record, which for the most part, was written over the past 2 years in New York City, where JJ now lives. But, the image of going up to sit in the waiting room may be interpreted as being about humility, which can be essentially spiritual...can't it? This is perhaps best illustrated in the song, 'There Is No Pill'. Inspired by some of JJ's friends who were visiting from the UK, they noticed how 'pill-obsessed' this country is. JJ took it one step further relating the 'you' in the lyric, 'there is no pill that can ever bring me closer to you,' to God, the Universe, the Collective Unconscious, etc... and explaining, without getting too trippy, that, 'if something feels wrong in your life, the first place you need to look is at yourself and your relationship with the world.' The song features the beautiful accompaniment of cellist Dave Eggar who also plays on 'We Always Say Goodbye.' Introspection is definitely a theme, ironically, since Uphill To Purgatory was produced in New York by the notable Stephen Lironi (Altered Images, Black Grape and Hansen, among others) in June/July 2005 around the omnipresent din of a city that never sleeps, and moves way too fast to think about anything for too long. Unlike JJ's first record, 500 Moments, recorded in 2002 in Los Angeles, Uphill... is clearly an edgier offering. 'Anyone,' taps into the sadness and desperation of a breakup and is seen through both parties. 'Picture This' is a 'wooing song,' says JJ, confessing that he was busted trying to write a George Harrison song. 'It's kind of about creative visualization. Things just don't happen in your life unless you can picture them in your head. And so many times things fail because you're not keeping the right picture in mind.' The 11 songs on the record, half of which are co-writes with ubiquitous composer David Wolfert who has worked with Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and Eddie Murphy to name a few, offer moments of Matthew Sweet and Fountains Of Wayne, flashes of Tom Petty and the occasional channeling of Jeff Buckley (if one is really in need of comparisons). However, there is often artful meandering into other worlds, such as in the case of 'Because I Do' that JJ says was the result of 'my wanting to write a Leonard Cohen song sung by Johnny Cash. The problem is my vocal range is, like, 8 octaves too high', but the point comes across. 'It's kind of a zen love song about not having to explain your feelings and just letting what is, be,' says the Man. Likewise, 'If I Can't Have You' may conjure the Stones and the Faces and 'Downloader's Blues' is a smart-ass neo-folk tune with an obviously mod theme. With Uphill to Purgatory, to be released in mid-October 2005, JJ remains clearly in the music, whether he wants to be or not. He can't get away from it. And that's a very good thing for all of us.