Getting To Know Austin Supergroup The Infinites
Jared Leibowich, singer/lyricist of The Infinites, is eating a veggie burger and fries, and I’m asking him about his influences. We’re sitting at Cenote, an Austin cafe/diner. 2018 is winding down, and the place is bustling. Due to a two-for-one special, Jared has offered me a veggie burger, and I have accepted.
“Grunge was where it started for me,” Jared says. Like many young people who were in 3rd grade in ‘94-95, his first albums (on cassette) were Nevermind, The Blue Album, and The Presidents of the United States of America.
"I started playing guitar in 5th grade cuz I sucked at sports.” For Hanukah his mom bought his cousin’s cheap Hondo guitar for $100. “It made me realize you don’t need a nice guitar. I had a lot of sentimental attachment to that guitar.”
And he played it a lot. At his bar mitzvah— aka “Jared Fest ‘99,”guests walking in were treated to the young man playing “The Wind Cries Mary” on a stage. In 7th grade he was in a Nirvana cover band called Tyler’s Bone. (The drummer’s dog’s name was Tyler.) That project evolved into a ninth grade band called Misbent Youth, later changed to Your Mom (a hit on the Napster circuit for local kids, circa 2000).
It wasn’t until his senior year of college at the University of Chicago that he returned to writing music — during a dark patch when he had mono and was stressed about final exams, he recorded a flurry of demos. When he moved to Austin in 2009, he put together a band, The Zoltars, and started playing around town. (The Zoltars, through several lineup changes, are still an active band, and have received wide critical acclaim.)
In 2014, when Dan Levine posted to Facebook a link to a Bandcamp page containing some guitar loop demos, Jared messaged him right away. He had experienced the struggle of being a perfectionist across several long-extended recording sessions for The Zoltars, and was eager to work on becoming a better collaborator. Jared knew Dan through The Zoltars playing with Dan’s band These Are Words— an early version of local favorite Ghetto Ghouls.
A few days after my veggie burger date with Jared, winding down the evening at a quiet coffee shop, Dan says he initially didn’t know what to think about these demos Jared was sending him— rough, strange phone recordings of himself singing over the loops Dan had just posted online. “I was on tour with Ghetto Ghouls, listening to these recordings he kept sending me, and it honestly took a while to get 100% behind it,” Dan told me. “But that’s what makes what we do so cool— Jared’s approach is more story-based, and mine is more of a Real Estate approach, more repetitive.”
They called the project Dan and Jared. All the songs were named after the fictional people the songs were about. Miniature stories over catchy loops. The first show was November 13, 2015— “a really fun show,” Jared says.
Ian Rundell, who also played in These Are Words and Ghetto Ghouls, started recording their first record in early 2017. Ian happens to have recorded many of the city’s finest punk bands (Xetas, Super Thief, Borzoi, Basketball Shorts, Popper Burns, etc.).
The songs were coming easily, and each one seemed better than the last. The songs were compact, catchy, easily understood— but also full of reverence, pathos, and empathy. Not to mention the types of details that make short stories so powerful. “Nina Segovia,” “Miriam Stein,” “Diane Brown”— they each are vividly, wittily drawn.
By May of 2017 they were done with the record. But by then, Jared had been hatching an idea. They had been practicing with a band because they wanted a full band for the record release show. From the very first practice, Jared secretly knew that he wanted to re-do the record with a full band. When he finally went public with his wishes, It was hard for Dan and Ian to accept Jared’s notion that they re-do the whole record with a full band.
“It was a really hard thing for me and Ian to get behind,” Dan says now. “We had spent a really long time... You have to understand— when Ghetto Ghouls did our first album we recorded the thing in 4 hours.”
Dan and Ian eventually got on board. To recreate the loops, Ian would play guitar. They had already recruited Sam Jordan (drums) and Miles Kelley (bass), two high school friends who had been playing together for years. (Sam started playing Nirvana songs on drums when he was six years old.) They were both self-described “Inner city Austin slackers.”
Jared asked Miles to join The Infinites at a urinal at Cheer Up Charlie’s. It was January 2017. That same night, Dan asked Sam to join standing outside. Sam and Miles had jammed with Dan many times before, especially a spot they fondly referred to as The Earth House, a house on Speedway and 41st that was a font of creativity. Dan had performed many loop sets there under the name Costa Rica; in fact, those loops he posted to Bandcamp that got Jared’s attention were the first time he’d released music under his full name, rather than the Costa Rica moniker.
Sam says Costa Rica was “like Dustin Wong, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, tropical surf stuff. Repetition and catchy riffs. Layering guitar parts, harmonizing.”
“Similar to Atlas Sound,” says Dan.
“The word ‘Infinites’ is a nod to the never-ending nature of the loops,” Jared chimes in, pondering into the reflective windows as darkness falls outside. “And it can also be seen as referring to the infinite universe we were creating, with imaginary unique people.”