By O’Hara Shipe
As the enigmatic frontman for Anchorage-based indie rockers, The Jephries, Sid Conklin is equal parts crust kid and eccentric philosopher. Rarely seen without a hat covering his tangle of shoulder-length blonde hair, Conklin’s salt-of-the-earth appearance flows seamlessly with his seemingly relaxed demeanor. But with one look into Conklin’s piercing eyes, it’s clear that he is constantly observing and cataloguing his surroundings.
“I’m always writing—even when the words don’t make sense. It’s about capturing a feeling and I am inspired by what my friends and bandmates do and say,” explains Conklin in his characteristically muffled voice. “I’ve never seen any differences between what Bob Dylan was doing in 1965 and what Eminem was doing (in the early 2000s). I always saw parallels between the two because they’re constant observers—they are peeping Toms. They don’t hold back and just kind of say what they see. It was almost like they could get inside someone’s mind and I that’s what I want to do with my music.”
But Conklin is only one piece of the puzzle. His bandmates, bassist Jay Straw and drummer Logan Rooney are the perfect foils that keep The Jephries even-keeled.
An Alaskan transplant by way of Pennsylvania, Straw’s effervescent personality is the yang to Conklin’s yin. A testament to his gregariousness, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere in the Anchorage music scene and not hear Straw’s name brought up. Granted, working as the booking manager at Anchorage’s fastest-rising music scene Van’s Dive Bar has helped bolster his name recognition. But at the end of the day, it’s Straw’s infectious laugh and constantly smiling face that has earned him his reputation.
The band’s youngest member, Rooney, has the laid-back chill of Straw mixed with the bridled intensity of Conklin and it shows through in his meticulous, well-executed drumming. The result is an unrivaled rhythm section that fans go absolutely apeshit for.
“We like to play loud and we like to have fun,” drummer Rooney says. “I think because we are throwing down so hard, the audience likes to react by giving that energy back to us.”
That may be an understatement. At the band’s most recent show at the Trapper Creek music festival, one audience member clambered his way on stage—not once, but twice—and backflipped into a rabid mosh pit who sent him crowd surfing.
“Oh yeah, that was pretty fucking cool,” laughs Straw. “Like I thought it was cool he was going to crowd surf but then the flip! That was epic!”
Crowd surfing may not be the standard at a Jephries show but pandemonium is. Arguably, The Jephries don’t play the kind of music one would typically associate with moshing but that’s exactly what their fans love to do. It’s as if the odd-ball combination of a metal influenced rhythm section and raspy, soulful vocals inspires an impulse to physically feel the music by whatever means possible.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to make of myself or of our sound,” explains Conklin. “Like, I don’t even remember why I started singing that way.”
“I remember! You started listening to a lot of Tom Waits,” adds Rooney.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I just started singing with that rasp and realized how fun it was to do.”
But Conklin’s signature rasp hasn’t come without a price to his vocal cords.
“We were doing a show up in Fairbanks and Sid just went completely hoarse. I tried covering some of the vocals for him, but he wanted to push through. It was painful, like bloody painful, to listen to him trying to gut it out,” recalls Straw. “I’m glad he’s not doing shit like that anymore and he’s taking better care of his voice.”
Of course, gutting it out is just a part of the music business these days and The Jephries know that all too well. In 2016 the band packed up a van and hit the open road in search of making a nationally known name for themselves.
“I don’t think you could even call it a tour. It was more like a road trip where we took our music with us. We booked a lot of shows on the go and worked odd jobs here and there for the money. But living in a car with two other people for that long can really wear you down,” explains Conklin. “For the past couple of years, we’ve had to take a different approach and really think about how we’re all doing so we can make an effort to not push each other too hard.”
In theory, a more relaxed approach has been a welcomed change but finding the sweet spot of perfect timing has been a challenge.
“I’m not going to lie, sometimes it’s really tedious because some of us are ready to write and ready to practice and others are kind of off doing their own thing,” Conklin says.
“Oh yeah, it really sucks when you’re ready to play and someone else has no interest in playing. It makes you feel helpless but like, there’s not much you can do about it except just kind of deal with it,” adds Rooney.
Despite the ups and downs associated with trying to launch a sustainable band, Conklin asserts that he and his bandmates are in it for the long haul.
“I don’t know how Logan and Jay feel but for me timing isn’t really a factor—I don’t care about time. I just want to keep writing songs, recording and playing because that’s what we love to do. I’m honestly not in a hurry. I know a lot of musicians measure success as you know, playing Madison Square Garden or something. But for me, staying hungry but appreciating where you’re at is making it. Honestly, this very minute is ‘making it’ as far as I’m concerned.”
You can catch The Jephries live with Ayla Ray at Van’s Dive Bar on Friday at 9pm. Also be sure to check out the latest Basement Tape featuring The Jephries on our social media channels or AnchoragePress.com. Special thanks to Kurt Reimann at Surreal Studios for providing a studio and expert sound engineering!