As long as they have Wi-Fi, Stolen Jars can continue crafting their sharp indie pop indefinitely. Dropbox and emails are how Cody Fitzgerald and Molly Grund collaborate while living in separate states — and how the duo compiled material from the past three years into Kept, their splendid sophomore effort self-released in August.
When trading vocal harmonies, the two sound like the mellower cousins of the Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth and Angel Deradoorian, with Fitzgerald’s bookish baritone smoothly complemented by Grund’s angelic support. But theirs is a whole mosaic of influences; in particular, Fitzgerald cites minimalist composer Steve Reich and Elvis Costello as prominent ingredients in Stolen Jar’s sound, with the latter encouraging a more emotive impact.
“Elvis Costello wrote incredibly catchy and beautiful melodies,” Fitzgerald says. “I feel like I’m constantly checking myself to make sure I want to sing along [with songs I’m writing]. Elvis Costello songs are really about the hook, and the hook is emotional; that’s where it hits me.” Fitzgerald recently celebrated his father’s sixtieth birthday, performing, along with his brother, a cover of Costello’s “Blue Chair” (he’s quick to note that they turned in a rendition of the upbeat, re-recorded version from 1987’s Out of Our Idiot, not the languid original). The song has been in Fitzgerald’s life since an early age. “When I was eight, my dad would dance with us in the living room to that song; that’s like the song,” he says.
Fitzgerald and Grund met while both still in high school in the suburban New Jersey township of Montclair, thirty minutes west of New York City. Together they became associated with the Montclair Student Café Project, a student-run organization that puts on monthly DIY concerts throughout the town in spaces ranging from churches to old meat lockers.
“The point was to have something on weekend nights that kids could go to if they didn’t want to go to a party. It created an environment where people were not afraid to experiment,” says Grund. “And I think it was very important because there were a lot of kids who were excited about music going to support each other.”
Fitzgerald began Stolen Jars as a solo project in the summer of 2009; he would feature friends on songs and enlist their help when performing live. Stolen Jars’ self-titled debut was released in 2011 — the track “Driving” was used in a commercial for iPads — and eventually Grund became a full-time member. To re-create the music on the stage, the duo expands to include Elena Juliano, Matt Marsico, Connor McGuigan, and Grant Meyer.
Stolen Jars’ process consists of Fitzgerald emailing instrumental demos to Grund, Grund sending comments and suggestions to Fitzgerald, and the two bouncing ideas back and forth until the song is complete. It’s a system that has allowed for the two to collaborate remotely (certain tracks on Kept were being composed as far away as Singapore while Grund was traveling), and the band was able to continue as both members attended school: Fitzgerald graduated from Brown University with a degree in computer science last spring; Grund is currently studying studio art at Wesleyan in Connecticut.
Comparing Stolen Jars’ debut with Kept, the immediate difference can be heard in the progression of the sound quality. Eli Crews at Ham Radio Hobby Room in Brooklyn mixed Kept, while Jeff Lipton mastered the tracks in Boston. Lyrically and thematically, too, Kept exhibits commendable growth in the young songwriters.
“The first album was a very fun, childish album. Every song was just major chords in 4/4 [time] and was about excitement and building excitement over and over again,” Fitzgerald says. “In this album, the songs are less about childhood and more about the process of remembering and the relationships with people. I don’t want to say it’s a sadder album, but it’s much more directed. It’s a much more nostalgic album.”
Since graduating, Fitzgerald has relocated to Crown Heights and become a songwriter for the publishing company SONGS. He’s also contributed to the soundtracks of two films: Hard Sell and The Rewrite. Grund is unsure of her plans post-college and admits she’s fearful — but only slightly — when considering a move to New York. “It’s expensive and there are so many people around all the time,” she says. “I think the good and bad thing about New York is it seems you go and throw yourself into things and work very intensely at whatever you’re doing — because you kind of have to. I think my plan is to go anyways, in spite of my fears.”
Stolen Jars were in New York in October for the CMJ Music Marathon, playing a showcase at the Cameo Gallery. Featured on the bill was one of their idols, Deradoorian. Although there were multiple occasions to make an introduction, Grund decided against it and harbors no regret for her decision.
“I think that with some people it’s a little bit too much. Cody kept trying to make me go talk to her, and I don’t think I would have known what to say because I can’t even really talk about that influence — it’s too big,” says Grund. “It was better for me in that situation to just take it in, and that was a very worthwhile experience. In reality if I had talked to her, what I would have said would probably have been incoherent, and in hindsight I would have thought, ‘That was a crazy thing that you said, Molly.’ ”
Stolen Jars hit Le Poisson Rouge on December 5 with Great Caesar and Haybaby. For ticket information, click here.