Blake Stokes squints against the sun, considering his options. It’s noon and he has an hour break from jury duty to grab a bite to eat near the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. If he’s a bit preoccupied, it’s understandable. His band Jagged Baptist Club just released the third single off their debut record Reptile Super Show, which comes out June 28th, and a lot is going on. His bandmates, drummer Morgan Ponder, keyboardist Josh Boyd and bassist CJ Ramsey have been texting him all morning with logistics, but he doesn’t get service in the courthouse. “It’s a bit of a headache, timing-wise,” Stokes admits. But in his typically unflappable fashion, Stokes clarifies that despite the conflict, jury duty is “something fun I’m doing for the story.”
Using storytelling as a way to get at the larger truths of life is something evident in many of Stoke’s songs. “The Gladiator” is the latest example, a glam-y, post-punk-inspired jam that focuses on the need we all have for fulfillment and validation. The song hums with tension and vitality, see-sawing between terse, tight-lipped verses and an explosive, sing-a-long chorus. The video, premiering below and directed by Styles Wolff Baker, explores ritualistic iconography within a backdrop of fire and brimstone. “There are some strong end-of-the-world vibes happening,” Stokes says of the song. “‘The Gladiator’ has a lot to do with the idea of trying to find love or validation in pleasing others but realizing that it’s impossible to do. Love is a feeling that you don’t need to explain or engineer and can’t force into being, so ‘if you feel love,’ ‘just drag’. In those moments when validation or love or success is so desperately desired, it may truly feel like ‘Judgment Day.’ “
Jagged Baptist Club are firm believers in the power of music to save lives. Originally from Texas, Stokes began coming to LA in 1991 to work as a child actor. “Being a child actor was pretty great for the most part,” says Stokes. “I always felt way older than my actual age, so growing up around adults more than kids was honestly a little more comfortable for me.” Though not a star, Stokes worked steadily throughout the 90s. Then he discovered music, falling in love with guitar revivalists like Blur, Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins and The Libertines.
After a succession of Texas-based bands, Stokes moved to LA in 2009 and settled in Vernon, the tiny industrial enclave notoriously fictionalized in True Detective Season 2. “I love Vernon. Vernon is still the only place I have found in LA where it’s actually quiet sometimes. It feels remote, it feels alien, it is purely industrial. Living and writing there (in our rehearsal space), even recording there, makes me feel like I am off on a remote secret planet, my own world. Vernon feels like this hidden monastery where people come to create their own witchcraft. It was and still is an incredibly inspiring place to work.”
While living at his rehearsal space, Stokes began heavily abusing alcohol. Now sober, Stokes reflects on his sobriety and how music was one factor in helping turn his life around. “A few things led me to stop drinking, but the biggest one was the birth of my daughter 2 years ago. I’d been cutting back on drinking for a year or so before that. It just wasn't fun anymore. What was once something that helped me feel less nervous to get on stage or meeting new people had now become a drag that was effecting my physical health, mental health and starting to blunt my potential. Having a beautiful, tiny little baby that needs you at all times was certainly the strongest motivation for me to actual make the leap, but there were a ton of other factors leading up to it. Since I've been sober I have found that I am for more productive and simply writing better stuff.”
Jagged Baptist Club celebrate the release of Reptile Super Show with a special show at The Factory in dtla on June 28th. “The Gladiator” follows previous singles “Running on Synthetic” and “Change Today (Start Feeling Good)”. All three are now streaming everywhere. You can pre-order the record on vinyl here.