Madison Donnelly’s cymbals crash like breaking whitecaps, smashing nonstop above a circling dark mass that cuts single-mindedly through the sea, following Chris Copelin’s bass rhythm. Manic guitar hooks filter through the seething roil beneath the restless surf, with Chaz Costello’s drowning croon echoing in the barrel of the passing wave. His cry can be heard with each rush of foam lapping at the tide’s edge: “… party … PARTY … PARRTTYY!!”
When I meet up with JAWWZZ!! at a sidewalk café table, the band is talking about Degrassi. Costello, the guitarist and singer, is saying how weird it is that at least two characters in Degrassi contracted gonorrhea. Donnelly is distracted by her tea, which she insists tastes likea metal pipe. We indulge in more ’90s nostalgia—me binge-reading Goosebumps books as a kid, Costello’s Goosebumps book collection acquired in part by teenage dumpster diving. The conversation touches on Full House, of course, and we eventually start talking about the band.
Donnelly and Costello played together in the now-defunct band Broken Spells, a local garage rock n’ roll outfit. The two formed JAWWZZ!! in March of 2012 as a fast, raw, heavily effected party-punk two-piece, hell bent on noise and good times. After releasing a full-length album on cassette (Chummzz), touring the West Coast and recording a 7” (Party Problems EP), JAWWZZ!! added Copelin to the band in March of this year and embarked on another West Coast tour. To say that Costello (who also plays in Bears on Parade and Fossil Arms) and Donnelly (who plays alongside Robin Banks, Dyana Durfee and Korey Martin in Foster Body) have had a busy couple of years would be an understatement. This February alone, Donnelly counted a total of eight shows and Costello tallied nine, in each of their respective bands, including JAWWZZ!!
I ask Costello if the band will add another member in March 2014, since JAWWZZ!! was started in March 2012 and Copelin joined in March 2013. “The only other person we’re gonna add is John Stamos. Oh, and Andrew W.K.,” he says. “And then we’ll just tour with Jesse Knife and the Rippers for the rest of our days.” Apparently, the band’s ’90s nostalgia runs deep. I ask everyone where they get off using so much beach imagery––from their name and album covers to their surf-inspired sound—in the middle of a damn desert. “I’m from Southern California, born and raised, so suck it sideways,” says Costello. “I don’t think we planned on it sounding like anything.” Their only two goals were to be productive and to put on killer live shows—the beach-party tinge to their pop punk just seeped in naturally. “I’ve grown up surfing—I’ve just got that waterlogged brain,” Costello says.
Their Party Problems EP, released digitally this last July, is in the process of a rerelease. They’re making an actual 7” of Party Problems, pressed by Graboid Records in a run of 200 copies, and JAWWZZ!! are all anxious to record another full-length now that Copelin has joined on bass. The cassette tape seems to be their preferred format, though. “It’s cheap and you can get it super fast, and you still get a digital download for it. I think it looks a lot nicer than a CD,” says Costello, who self-released their Chummzz tape, “and you can record over it if you don’t like it,” says Copelin. I ask them what they would say to people (like me) who claim that tapes are an obsolete format. Costello says, “They’re right, but it doesn’t make it any less cool. It’s like people saying books are obsolete. Just because you can get it on a Kindle doesn’t make it cooler.” I retract my opinion about tapes.
Tapes, records and CDs are important to the band, but the essence of JAWWZZ!! is best experienced firsthand at one of their raucous shows. “We bring the party,” says Copelin. “But we always clean up afterward,” adds Donnelly. Costello says that they don’t have a band vacuum, but they’re thinking about it. He tells me what they do have, though: “a laser light, a fog machine. We have CO2-compressed confetti cannons, streamers, balloons. We have a multicolored disco ball thing, a strobe light. We have piñatas from time to time,” says Costello. “We wanna get sponsored by Zurchers so we can stop spending all the band money there. Plus, ‘Zurchers’ fits across your knucks,” he says. Despite their aspirations of party rock prominence, JAWWZZ!! are partying just fine without Andrew W.K.—and they’re probably having more fun, too. Check them out at jawwzz.bandcamp.com.