With Rewind, KEXP digs out beloved albums, giving them another look on the anniversary of its release. Writer Ian King reflects on Juno's This is the Way it Goes and Goes and Goes, which was released on this day, March 30, 1999.
“We have definitely been through a lot together,” said Juno guitarist Jason Guyer to Punk Planet in an early 2000 interview. He characterized the Seattle band as being united in dedication to their music, if not in an identical creative vision. “Maybe we share a general sort of direction, but when it comes to writing music, there’s a lot of friction involved — a lot of taking things apart and putting them back together again. One of the things I really enjoy about our band is that we all want different things out of the music.”
Both Guyer and singer/guitarist Arlie Carstens spoke with Punk Planet, and on the page, it seemed the individuals in Juno could want different things out of an interview as well. Carstens’ responses came from a broad, fervid frame of mind (“Art and commerce are at war, as they should be and as they always will be”), while Guyer provided a practical balance (“I know for certain we’ll continue to do things on record that we can’t necessarily pull off live”). This element of the band’s nature manifested in different ways. One evening in the early 2000s, in the middle of a sweaty show at the Vera Project’s old space downtown on 4th Avenue (before it moved to the Seattle Center), Carstens firmly reminded the audience to be civil with the water bottles they had handed out, after which Guyer leaned over to a mic with a half-smile to humbly thank everyone for being there. It looked like a familiar situation to him.
Juno may not have the largest back catalog, but every record they released – from their first 7” single put out by Sub Pop in 1996, to their second and final album in 2001 – is defined by a serious and consuming passion. Carstens’ lyrics were a collision of punk diatribe and a poetry of anguish. The unstable chemistry that Guyer described between the then-current line-up of himself, Carstens, guitarist Gabe Carter, bassist Travis Saunders, and drummer Greg Ferguson, assured that every song they wrote would have its own scars and story to tell. No two were quite alike. This was especially true on their debut album, This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes.
The official release date for This Is the Way It Goes... was set for the end of March in 1999, but the rollout was delayed by a brush with mortality. In Tahoe that February, Carstens, who at the time was also a professional snowboarder, broke his neck completing a difficult trick. He survived by miracle and modern medicine, but the surgeries and rehabilitation required time and took a lot out of him. A US tour in support of the album planned for March and April had to be postponed until later in the summer. They couldn’t celebrate its release with any local shows until around that time either, but the fact that they would play again at all, let alone within a matter of months, showed their determination.
It wasn’t until June that the promotion cycle would really begin when the band was featured on the cover of The Rocket that month. The interview was conducted by writer Michael Hukin at the Cyclops Cafe in Belltown and centered around Carstens’ injury and recovery. The accident would come up time and again whenever Juno was in the music press. There had even been a mention of it in the March 22, 1999, issue of the CMJ New Music Report which noted the address for the band’s PR where get-well cards could be sent (and also reported that supposedly the album was being pushed back). In a way emblematic of their intensity, the story soon became a central part of Juno lore, but it did not overshadow This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes.
Creatively and emotionally, the stakes are high from beginning to end. The urgency is tangible even in the opening seconds of the album, as the guitar comes in eager a touch faster than the rhythm it settles into. Shortened to “The Great Salt Lake” when a version first appeared as the B-side of the band’s “All Your Friends Are Comedians” 7”, the full, cryptic, mildly absurd title of that opening track is “The Great Salt Lake / Into the Lavender Crevices of Evening the Otters Have Been Pushed.” Instrumental through the middle stretch, the song is framed by what sounds like a lonely late night CB radio dispatch from Carstens, delivered in a drowsy spoken-word tone that belies the longing and disappointment in his story.
“He awakes to the dull light trying to force its way in around the edges of the blanket,” Carstens begins, describing the depressing bedroom of a drug addict, an exiled lover, or both. “A disaster of clothes, books, papers, food, and blankets greet him wherever he moves/It makes him nervous/He’s only ever comfortable in his car, and he hates driving/‘Rock and roll will never die,’ he thinks/‘Rock and roll will never die,’ he thinks...‘but my God, it deserves to.’” No less of an opening declaration would have suited This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes.
They brought gut emotion to art rock. They applied art instincts to emocore. They added another “post-” to post-hardcore.
This was where Juno was determined to push that perennially dying music at the end of the 1990s. They brought gut emotion to art rock. They applied art instincts to emocore. They added another “post-” to post-hardcore. They stretched punk into ambiance and crammed ambiance into punk. The physical and the intellectual were inseparable. Even the album’s languid moments thrummed with tension.
These internalized rock transmutations made Juno versatile both on record and in a live setting. At one memorable show in the late 1990s at the Velvet Elvis in Pioneer Square, they were third on a four-band bill with three East Side hardcore bands. Carstens wore his Minor Threat T-shirt for the occasion, and they played all of their hardest stuff. Other times they would open with all ten minutes of the nearly wordless rave-up “Leave A Clean Camp and a Dead Fire,” or the gradually unfolding multi-part “January Arms.” No doubt at one time or another they opened shows with each of the album’s nine songs.
The range and depth of This Is the Way It Goes... is unusual for a first album, and that is no doubt in part because of its prolonged gestation period. Nearly four years passed between Juno’s formation and the album’s arrival, and in that time Juno was more focused on developing their methods and logging miles than they were on pressing records. “We’ve done six tours on two singles,” Carter told The Rocket. Releasing one 7” single per year is not typically a great way to get noticed, but Juno built a solid underground reputation.
That first 7”, “Venus on Ninth” b/w “Flies for Travis,” and the 1997 follow-up on Jade Tree Records, “Magnified and Reduced by Inches” b/w “Pablo Y Zelda,” pre-dated drummer Ferguson joining Juno. On the other end of This Is the Way It Goes..., original bassist, Saunders left in 2000, and the band never really found a permanent replacement, though a few notables put in the time, including Nick Harmer of Death Cab for Cutie and Seattle club owner Jason Lajeunesse. Of those four early songs, only the first A-side made it on to the debut album, re-recorded and given the slight retitle of “Venus on 9th Street.” (The raw and jagged “Magnified” retained special esteem among fans, perhaps even more so because it was passed up for the album.) Canadian indie label Mag Wheel put out “All Your Friends Are Comedians” and “The Great Salt Lake” as a 7” not long before This Is the Way It Goes... came out, effectively a teaser for that album on which both songs would appear.
The long delay wasn’t entirely intentional. Juno’s search for the right label to do an album with had lead down a dead end or two before they eventually came to a novel arrangement. This Is the Way It Goes... was co-released by Seattle’s Pacifico Recordings and Washington, D.C.’s DeSoto Records, the label run by Jawbox’s Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot. DeSoto had a noteworthy 1999, also releasing the Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I and Burning Airlines’ Mission: Control! that year. (The label had a solid 2001 as well when they released follow-up LPs from all three bands.)
Finally content with who was handling their first major statement, Juno, in turn, saw reasons to be more content with the statement itself. “If we had put out a record two years ago,” Guyer admitted to The Rocket, “we’d be embarrassed by it now.” Carstens agreed. “I think our record would not be what it is had we not waited so long and been so terribly frustrated,” he added.
This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes is indeed both a patient and frustrated record.
The atmospheric ebb and flow of “The Great Salt Lake” is jolted by “Rodeo Programmers,” an art-punk assault on the insincerities of commercial radio and the music industry, both of which wielded more cultural power in 1999 than they do today. “All Your Friends Are Comedians” is an even fiercer, more righteous attack on a similar, if less defined, adversary: “Everyone here’s either dead or a vulture/Sub-par control commanding a sub-par culture.” No matter who or what came into Carstens’ sights, once he locked eyes on a target it could become the subject of withering scrutiny or, in the case of the deeply personal “The Young Influentials,” elegiac elevation.
The album’s first four songs all clock in at relatively standard lengths, but after that, they swell, save for “Venus on 9th Street.” “Leave a Clean Camp and a Dead Fire” winds shifting guitar lines around one another tighter and tighter, until Carstens finally breaks his silence nearly eight minutes in with an oblique but forceful directive before the final explosion: “You don’t have to be strong, if you don’t want to be free/When you turn off the alarm, I turn on you/And I/I turn on my disease/Go.” “January Arms” is gentle enough in its first half to feature a glockenspiel, but the guitar feedback – with three guitars at their disposal at any given time, Juno were feedback connoisseurs – gradually gathers into a storm and consumes everything around it.
Seattle singer-songwriter Jen Wood duets with Carstens on the creeping, echoing post-rock blues of “A Listening Ear.” The quiet entwinement of their voices lulls into delay the realization that the song isn’t just about failed love, it’s a murder ballad. “Blunt point though it hurts/The knife will always fit,” they agree in fragile unison, right before the cacophonous slide guitar approximates the feeling of plummeting off a cliff over and over again. The finale, “The Sea Looked Like Lead,” is part meditation and part kiss-off: “You must have done something right/You must have done something right...but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.” This Is the Way It Goes... could only come to such a crashing end.
Juno appeared to be driven by an invigorated sense of fate in the months following the release of This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes. Their live performances during that time were never less than compelling. They were a vital part of the redefinition of Seattle’s music scene at the end of the decade that began with grunge, the scene’s most high-profile era. Their music represented the open-ended possibilities not just for Seattle bands, but for all post-hardcore music, which was at its own kind of crossroads as the new millennium approached.
Nothing as dramatic as a near-death experience could stop Juno, but the slow accumulation of those more mundane and pervasive of rock band killers, creative differences and changing priorities, ultimately did. The unstable but unstoppable energy around them continued through the next couple of years, and, arriving in 2001, their second album, A Future Lived in Past Tense, was every bit as instrumentally intricate, sonically dense and lyrically inscrutable as their first. Bass duties on the album were filled by Harmer and Nate Mendel of the Foo Fighters, and such associations seemed, from the outside at least, like they could only help the band’s cause. Even after Juno went on hiatus in 2002, in the wake of touring exhaustion and DeSoto Records’ going on its own hiatus, they returned to playing live in 2003, but that’s about where the story ends.
Juno got back together to play KEXP’s Yule Benefit concerts in 2006. Coming only a few years after their break-up, it may have raised some hopes for a more extended reunion, but that wasn’t meant to be. More recently, in 2014, Carstens released And Nothing Else, a long-in-the-works album he made under the band name Atoms and Void with his friend, audio engineer Eric Fisher. That album has its own long and fraught history and is well worth checking out.
"...above all, we hoped to make albums that could have lives of their own long after we were gone."
Carstens did an interview with a German radio program by the name of Nightseminar in 2008, back when Atoms and Void was called Ghost Wars. “Do you miss Juno?” the interviewer asked. Naturally, the answer was more complicated than the question, but Carstens expressed clear pride in what they had achieved. “We had a very specific vision of who we were and how we did things,” he replied. “We wanted to make progressive music and create art-in-motion. We wanted to play shows that were dynamic, confrontational and unique. And above all, we hoped to make albums that could have lives of their own long after we were gone.” Juno may not have the biggest online footprint in 2019, and copies of their CDs might take a minute or two to track down, but by those deeper, less quantifiable measures that Carstens laid out, they were an unconditional success.
Ian King is the author of Appetite for Definition: An A-Z Guide to Rock Genres, out now via HarperCollins Books. He is also a contributor to websites Stereogum, The Line of Best Fit, Under the Radar, and PopMatters.