Jaye Allen Thomas ~ Singer/Guitarist from Conniption Special Guest On 7/11/2022
I was a broken kid from a broken home. Lucky, because my grandparents adopted me and my siblings and gave us a better home, but damaged nonetheless. I would spend countless hours alone in my room listening to punk, metal, and alternative music. It was rage-rock escapism and I loved it.
After seeing some friends cover “born to be wild” at a high school talent show, I had my mind set on forming a band of my own. My dad bought me a cheap guitar for my birthday so I taught myself to play. I formed a short-lived band with a few friends in high school. I had wanted to call it conniption but my mates weren’t having it.
That name, Conniption, still resonated with me and the idea of being “in fits” seemed to match my personality. After high school, I formed another band with friends, Jerame Arnold (drums) and Dave Williams (bass). We called it Conniption.
The sound wasn’t exactly what I had intended. I had started by working with a drum machine and wanted to make a sort of industrial rock sound but what we ended up with had more of a post-grunge vibe. Nevertheless, people loved it.
We were playing out all the time to bigger and bigger crowds. I was a song writing machine and people really seemed to respond to my lyrics. For their part, the words were all angst and bad relationships…and modeled after ad slogans that had wormed their way into my head through the years. “This is my conniption. Come on, have one“.
Our homebase was a little rock club called Scalici‘s. Paul Scalici and the rest of the staff there treated us like kings. That was where we met soundman and recording engineer Pete Bankert.
Pete was a believer and a true friend. He offered to record the Jade fountain for nothing up front and in return, he would recoup what he could from our pay at the Scalici‘s gigs. My friend Harry Taylor came on to help me with sleeve design and web development. We felt unstoppable.
Sadly, my band mates and I were all a little broken. There were power struggles over artistic direction and we couldn’t seem to keep our hands off each other‘s wives and girlfriends. That lineup slowly dissolved through the process of independently releasing three albums: The Stoning (1996), the Jade Fountain (1997), and Tame (1998).
Dave was first to go and he was replaced by bassist, Eric Oliver. Eric played bass on Tame which was also recorded and engineered by Pete Bankert.
Eric had reached out to Chris Dobry who was just getting his Stryker Records label off the ground. In 1998, we met Chris in a hotel in Southfield Michigan and signed a recording contract.
We couldn’t wait to get back in the studio with Pete and start recording our new album. Dave Gaerte came on to play rhythm guitar and give me a little more space to front the band.
I was working on a loose lyrical concept centered around the idea of achieving a perfect niche in society by becoming “simple and small like everybody else”. Essentially, perfection by way of imperfection. The album was to be called Perfect.
We spent more time working on Perfect with Pete than we had ever spent on any other project in the studio. When it was done, we had an album we loved, a label behind us, and a great following.
It was decided that Eric was no longer the best fit for the band as we were being influenced by some of the nu metal bands and shifting our creative direction. While Eric is credited with playing bass on the album in the liner notes, he is not listed as a member of the band. Somehow, Eric and I are still good friends today.
Chris worked hard to get our name out and the buzz around our band kept growing. The Detroit alternative station, 89X used to host a yearly music-festival style “birthday bash”. It would feature several big-name acts as well as some up-and-comers. In 2000, they hosted a battle of the bands. The prize was to be a performance slot at that year‘s “birthday bash”
Our music was selected along with four other bands from over 500 entries. They played tracks from each of the selected bands on air. That was the first time I got to hear my music on commercial radio.
The battle of the bands was held at one of the premier theater venues in our area, the Magic Bag. People really came out for us and while every band was great, when it was all done, it was obvious there were only two choices.
The theater was divided by people chanting Conniption and others chanting the name of Toledo band, Mad Mordigan. We didn’t win. If I’m honest, I thought Mad Mordigan was a little tighter than us.
That didn’t stop our fans from going nuts and practically starting a riot at the venue. People were constantly calling the radio station and complaining about the results until DJ Kelly Brown went on air and gave a heart to heart to the fans. She explained that conniption had come in second place out of over 500 bands and that that was nothing to scoff at. She said it was only the beginning, and that 89x was far from finished with conniption. I’m pretty sure 89x never played our music again.
All in all, it still felt like a win for us. I didn’t hear about Mad Mordigan much after that, but we continued to play sold out shows at the Magic Bag and other venues around the area including the legendary St Andrew’s Hall where I had watched several of my favorite bands play as a kid.
Stryker Records was born in Wisconsin and a lot of Chris’s connections were still there. He was setting up shows for us out there with mixed success. The band was getting more and more irritable about the prospect of traveling to perform for small crowds out of state. Eventually, a couple of the guys absolutely refused to go and play in Wisconsin. It seemed like things were at a breaking point and I had to choose between my band mates and our relationship with Stryker records. I sided with my band mates.
Chris let us off easy as far as our contractual obligations were concerned. I didn’t know it then, but losing Stryker records was the last nail in my first real band’s coffin. It took years for our popularity to wane but without Chris there to push our name, it finally did.
As things were fizzling out, we decided to go on indefinite hiatus. The world was changing. Music was changing. I thought, “fuck music, I’m going to be a painter “ and I was.
As the years have gone by, I’ve been a lot of things. Eventually, I went back to music. My band Rogue Satellites has had great success with our psychedelic and experimental pop sound. My electronic group Rottinghouse dabbles in the industrial rock influence I had wanted to draw from all those years ago. Things are great, but nothing has ever matched the exhilaration of connecting with so many people in such a cool way as I got to with Conniption.
Dave Williams passed away, exemplifying the self-destruction my lyrics often alluded to. The last time I saw him, he didn’t look healthy but he seemed happy.
Jerame Arnold went on to front some really cool heavy rock bands.
Chris Dobry has had great success with Stryker records: some of his bands charting very well.
Pete Bankert sold the recording console we did those albums on to Jack White but we still get together for a drink or to record music on his new console with all the same components as the old one.
I got to meet Jack White, by the way. We were hanging out when Rogue Satellites played an event at his Detroit record shop. We talked about two-piece bands and baseball.
I built a studio in my basement and I’m getting pretty good at recording myself. Life is strange. It always seems like you end up back where you started. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about banging out some new Conniption songs. Why not?
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