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UNDER PRESSURE 

Going the distance with jump-cut electro rockers Jogger.

Wednesday, Dec 9 2009
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Jonathan Larroquette and Amir Yaghmai sip beverages and talk with friends on the rooftop bar of the Downtown Independent Theater. Streetlights illuminate the late-night party crowd congregated for chill-out drinks and conversation. The pair, who perform under the name Jogger, nonchalantly maintain the appearance that they haven’t just done something amazing, as if the two longtime friends didn’t just execute a mind-bending, genre-obliterating set for L.A.’s most discerning group of beat aficionados.

Earlier that night the duo had stepped onto the Downtown Independent’s stage for an installment of the Brainfeeder Sessions, a gig gathering L.A.’s avant-electro intelligentsia and video artists, curated by hot L.A. beat generator Flying Lotus. Alongside an impressive lineup from the city’s hot experimental electronic scene — including visionary Angelenos Gaslamp Killer and Daedelus — Jogger unleashed the fury of Yaghmai’s guitar melodies and Larroquette’s slice ’n’ dice beat-machine manipulations.

Yaghmai strummed the guitar chords and sang the opening lines of “Biss”: “They say he’s coming back again/he’s coming for the rest of us.” His delicate voice shifted to minor key and wavered like Antony Hegarty’s falsetto as Larroquette looked down, tucked his dark hair behind his ear and triggered a cymbal-smashing beat punctuated by synths. A chopped-up, robotic vocal sample fell away, leaving Yaghmai’s multilayered vocals as a centerpiece.

click to enlarge LAURA DARLINGTON - More electronic artists should pose shirtless: Amir Yaghmai (left) and Jonathan Larroquette of Jogger
  • Laura Darlington
  • More electronic artists should pose shirtless: Amir Yaghmai (left) and Jonathan Larroquette of Jogger

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Jogger’s cut-and-paste aesthetic aligns jagged beats with Yaghmai’s precise harmonies. The latter’s guitar, violin and vocals are fed through Larroquette’s effects pedals, samplers and laptop, where he tweaks the incoming sounds live. In essence, Larroquette helms the digital sphere and Yaghmai handles the organic analog. No two performances are the same, and much is done on the fly as the pair creates songs, some of which are narratives, others musical movements, hulking like icebergs as guitar finger-picking melts away and rolling snares emerge and coalesce into a driving beat. The audience members nod their hats and hoodies, some tapping feet next to backpacks, obviously approving of the relatively new addition to L.A.’s eclectic-electronic underground milieu.

Jogger put in their time in the scene’s crown jewel, the Low End Theory club at Airliner, and developed the complex technology of their live show during a European tour with Daedelus. Their debut full-length album, This Great Pressure, is the first release on Magical Properties, Alfred “Daedelus” Darlington’s new label.

This Great Pressure captures the best of Los Angeles’ sprawling, many-limbed scene,” Darlington says. “It isn’t from anyplace, and yet it whispers, as much as it yells somewhere.”

A few weeks earlier, Larroquette and his cohort were sitting in lawn chairs in Yaghmai’s West L.A. home. Construction workers moved two-by-fours from tables, cleaning up sawdust from the studio-in-progress. Fog rolled in from the ocean, touching the treetops with mist. “Thanks for your help, guys,” Larroquette yelled to the workers as they left for the day.

Both men grew up in L.A., and the musical roots of Jogger were laid down in living rooms, garages and homes across the city over the course of their long friendship. Like Jogger’s dual-digital and analog dynamic, the pair comes from different backgrounds. Larroquette is the outspoken, free-spirited son of actor John Larroquette (best known for his character Dan Fielding on the sitcom Night Court), while Yaghmai is a lifelong instrumentalist with a well-studied, understated demeanor. He’s also a working musician who recently toured Europe with Charlotte Gainsbourg, played with the Bird and the Bee, and has done session work on various film scores. He once had a run-in with pop queen Shakira at the Latin Grammys. “It might have been a Shakira look-alike,” jokes Larroquette.

“It was a Gypsy number,” Yaghmai explains. “There were wagons around and I was lying on these stairs. Then, as she comes down the stairs I would stare at her. I was supposed to serenade her, then salsa away while flames shoot up over my head.”

The gig never happened, though. They canceled the performance because of 9/11. Larroquette explains: “Apparently, they hate us for our freedom, violin serenades and pyrotechnics.”

Since 2005, Larroquette has hosted a successful comedy podcast, Uhh Yeah Dude, with friend Seth Romatelli. The two provide dramatic readings of craigslist casual encounters, hilarious personal stories, and offer, says Larroquette, a “weekly roundup of America through the eyes of two American-Americans.”

Although his musical background involves 100 percent less Shakira than Yaghmai, to Larroquette, music is no joke. He is self-taught (“I was the worst guitar student ever,” he confesses) and gleaned programming and synth experience from working in a keyboard shop with a loose lending policy.

“A lot of our music was driven by the gear we would get from that shop,” Yaghmai says. “We’d get a new piece just to see what it did.”

“Then we were, like, ‘We need this in our lives,’ ” Larroquette adds.

Yaghmai: “For each new segment of a song, we’d essentially create a new band for it.”

Jogger was born from this spirit of experimentation. They perfected the technological aspects of live mixing and guitar integration and began recording material. Larroquette’s meticulous attention to detail helped to create the frenzied beats driving the duo. “Sometimes I’ll even make the beats by programming everything one note at a time,” Larroquette says while pointing to notes on an imaginary musical scale in front of him.

It wasn’t until Yaghmai’s high school friend Daedelus gave them a nudge that they began to get serious. In early 2009 he invited them to put some tracks on Friends of Friends Vol. 1, a compilation of experimental digital sounds, then took them on an international tour. From those beginnings came This Great Pressure.

“They have been making this record (or some version of it) forever, and just needed someone to impose deadlines to force their completion,” Daedelus says.

Jogger isn’t just all over the musical map; the duo redraws it completely, delineating a new sound for a future L.A.

Daedelus sums it up best: “Kids should be growing up with these sounds.”

Reach the writer at drew.tewksbury@gmail.com

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