Former Planets, a Gainesville-based rock band made up of Jason Small (lead vocals), Evan Johnson (guitar and vocals), Korkut Genc (bass) and Brook Stermer (drums), have been making music around town for the last two years. I sat down with Small before the band’s Friday night show at the Hardback Cafe, located at 211 W. University Ave.
Kirsten Chuba: How did Former Planets get started?
Jason Small: Former Planets started in July of 2014 when our guitarist, Evan, decided to step down from being the lead singer of “We the Invader” and focus on playing guitar. I was singing and playing guitar in “The Upside” at the time, but things were slowing down due to members moving away from Gainesville, so I joined up with Evan. The other three original members had grown up with Evan in Keystone Heights. We decided to start fresh with a new name and Former Planets was born.
KC: How would you describe your sound?
JS: When we started, we liked to joke that we sounded like a cross between Taking Back Sunday and the Gin Blossoms. That melding of the poppier side of ‘90s alternative rock and the energy and intense vocals of early 2000s “emo” formed the basis of our songwriting, at least at the beginning. Our bassist, Korkut, joined after most of the first album was written, but before it was recorded. His influences were definitely outside the realm of punk and emo, and our writing has branched out significantly in the last year and a half. We try not to dictate the style of our songs as long as they sound like “us.” We have metal-tinged rock songs, bouncy pop songs and tunes that wouldn’t sound out of place in the parking lot of a mid-’80s Bon Jovi concert. Sometimes people at punk shows don’t get it, but at the end of the day we spend our time and energy on this to make ourselves happy, and that’s all that really matters.
KC: Where has the band performed?
JS: We’ve had the opportunity to play a lot of great shows in the last year and a half. Here in Gainesville, we’ve played with some great national artists like Art Alexakis of “Everclear,” Brian Bell of “Weezer” and just last week with “Rehasher,” the side-project from “Less than Jake’s” bassist/singer Roger Lima. We’ve also been able to play in a bunch of cities around Florida. If the right opportunity arose we’d gladly take some longer trips, but nothing is in the works at the moment.
KC: What can people expect from your show at the Hardback?
JS: It’s going to be a very fun, “incestuous” show. The other local band, “Southpaw,” features our former bass player who grew up with Evan, and the touring band, “Hans Gruber and the Die Hards,” hails from Austin, Texas, where I am from. A previous band of mine even played some shows with some of Hans’ members years ago in Austin. The Hardback is a very cool, laid-back venue that books bands from out of town many nights of the week, so it’s always fun for us to get to help support DIY bands from around the country. The Die Hards are a very fast punk band, and Southpaw self-identifies as “emo,” so there should be a good variety of music over the course of the evening.
KC: Can you talk about your album, which you released last summer?
JS: We had originally planned to write, record and release an album before we ever announced that we existed, but after writing and rehearsing for several months, we decided we couldn’t wait that long to start playing shows. Those early performances helped us refine our chops and allowed us to reproduce that live energy on our first album. We recorded with Rob McGregor at Goldentone — a place that many now-famous Gainesville bands made albums in their early years, like “Hot Water Music” and “Against Me!” It was a bit of a piecemeal process, recorded over many evenings last spring, but it turned out great and really captured the spirit of the band at the time. We’ve since had a lineup shift, losing two members (amicably) to personal issues, but we’ve already written more than an album’s worth of new material with our new drummer, Brook, and will be starting work on our second album later this summer.
KC: What do you guys think about the Gainesville music scene, particularly for local bands?
JS: There were a few lean years for local music, but it seems like the scene is slowly repairing itself. The biggest thing we notice is that many bands in town are making it a point to support each other and come out to shows. Part of it is networking, for sure, but it helps build a sense of camaraderie between the many musicians all trying to get their songs heard in Gainesville. We’ve been able to make some good friends in bands from across the state as well who are always willing to help trade shows and build a statewide scene for “punk” music and its hundreds of offshoots and subsidiary genres.
Former Planets will be playing at the Hardback with “Hans Gruber and the Die Hards,” “Southpaw” and “Jason Guy Smiley.” Doors open at 9 p.m. for the 10 p.m. show, and tickets are $5 at the door.
Know of any other local bands? Send Kirsten an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.