Somewhere around 2012 my daughter, who was 18 at the time, told me about this “amazing” band she saw at First Friday, which was her favorite hangout then. It was emphasized heavily, as in, “Oh my God this band is so amazing. Seriously, they are amazing,” for several months, so the name Jared & The Mill was not foreign to me when the opportunity arose to interview the band’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Jared Kolesar.
I wasn’t yet familiar with the band’s sound, which is reminiscent of a young, eager version of Mumford & Sons – but the desert version. I love the fact that a service like Spotify exists, so I could go back and listen to the band’s catalog. There is something very fun about getting a feel for how a band has matured. And in the years that have passed since my daughter was a senior in high school and still falling in love with sensitive artists, Jared & The Mill has come of age.
JAVA: You have such a big sound. Tell me about your band.
Jared Kolesar: So we’re really a bunch of buddies. Myself and my best friend for a long time, Michael Carter (banjo and mandolin), have known each other since seventh grade. We grew up together and started playing music and had some pretty crazy adventures growing up.
Did you grow up in Phoenix?
Yeah, we’re all born and bred from Arizona. Larry Gast (III) is the lead electric guitar player. He and I met through a very cool mutual friend, Emily Tim. I was getting my degree at ASU, at the WP Carey School of Business. I was kind of nervous about entering the real working world, so I figured maybe I should start a band and just play a couple shows and get it out of my system. Then I’d be ready for the real world.
So, I hadn’t really had a band before, but I knew of Larry through Emily, and I kind of cold called him and said, “Hey, I’m starting a band and I’m wondering if you want to be a part of it.”
I’d never really done the whole process of jamming and writing songs, so I got together with him and Mike and his buddy Josh (Morin), who plays drums. We met up in a little room in Tempe in August, so it was hotter than hell. Larry called up a kid he grew up with – their dads were in bands together – and that was Chuck Morris (bass guitar). And that was the original five in the band.
What part of town did you guys grow up in?
Scottsdale. Michael and I went to Chaparral. Larry and Josh actually grew up together, too. They’ve been best buddies their whole life, too, and went to Goldwater High (in North Phoenix). Chuck grew up in Chandler.
So, is everybody around the same age?
Yeah, more or less. Michael is the oldest at 29, and Chuck is the youngest at 24. I’m 28.
I read you guys went to ASU. Was everybody going to ASU when you started?
Yeah, four of us were. Chuck was getting his real estate license. We are all in line with the mighty Sun Devils.
So, around 2011, you had this urge to start a band, but you had never done a band before?
I had played with people here and there, but had never actually done the band thing, where you would play shows, record music and try to sell merch. So, it was definitely a brand-new world for me. I had never really been a part of the scene or anything. I couldn’t name a single local band at the time. I considered the Marquee (Theater in Tempe) to be an intimate venue. I was completely green to the whole idea of playing music and coming up as a band. So maybe that lack of perspective is what helped me drive the band.
That’s one of the most unique perspectives in terms of the musicians I’ve interviewed. Do you think that shaped your way of going about the band? Because you guys are doing everything independently, correct?
Completely independent and pretty proud to be that way. We’re proud of how hard we’ve worked to get where we are, and we’ve done it all pretty much by the sweat of our brows.
How has that helped, not being part of the scene, in deciding to go the do-it-yourself route?
At the time we were coming up, the Phoenix scene had a kind of mythos around it for me that I didn’t fully understand. I figured I’m going to keep my head down and keep on practicing, writing songs, and utilize the advertising and marketing skills that I picked up from my degree. I decided I was going to do my best to make this thing work.
Was it frustrating?
There were a bunch of house shows being put on around Tempe, but whenever I reached out to throw my chips in, I never really heard back. I got turned away by (places like) the Trunk Space and I didn’t really understand what was lacking. I guess, in hindsight, it was because I didn’t have any presence in the scene. So there weren’t a whole lot of reasons for people to want to add us to their shows.
But we kept moving independently and eventually got in just by showing people how hard we worked. We’d go out to First Fridays and play acoustic renditions of our songs. Eventually we landed a show at the Rogue Bar. It was great to actually be in a room with speakers where we could play, and we gained some good fans there.
What was your first big show or, more accurately, when do you think the band began to get noticed?
We had the opportunity to open for a band at the Crescent Ballroom. That was when we started to establish ourselves. It was kind of this weird integration into the scene after we had already gotten started – rather than coming up in the scene. We realized if we worked hard, had good songs and played them well, then we could succeed. And that’s kind of been our model this whole time.
Once we’d played in Phoenix a bunch and we had a little money – we never put money from the band in our own pockets. We always put it back into the machine, so if we needed to rent a van and buy food on the road, we could do that – (we) were able to go to California for a week or two. Then we went to Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. We started making the rounds, and it hasn’t really stopped. We just kept on the road and have basically ridden it as far as we could because that’s what we do.
Nice. Have you ever toured the whole country at this point?
Oh yeah. We’re out like seven to nine months of the year. We live on the road in our van. Her name is Tamata.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that since you’re on the road so much, you guys are all doing the band full time.
Yes, this is something that we all focus on, but we all have side hustles that we work.
Oh cool. What’s your side hustle?
I’m involved with an app that comes from Phoenix called Bravo Tip And Pay. It’s a really fantastic disruptor for the PayPal market where you are able to send money to a service professional and to friends and family. It’s essentially safer and easier to use than any of the competition.
So, you guys have been doing this for a bit now. I assume you’ve got things down, but what’s the toughest part about doing it on your own?
One thing that comes with the political clout of being on a label is getting to play the king of all festivals, Coachella, for example. Coachella gets booked up pretty fast because they’ll book a band like 21 Pilots, and their label, Fueled By Ramen, will be like, “Okay, you can have 21 Pilots, but you also have to book these other bands that we just picked up this year.”
Everything we’ve done is essentially built on friendships we’ve made with people who believe in us and are willing to pull strings. For whatever reason, they believe in what we have going on and are willing to put their neck out for us. That’s how we were able to play the Life Is Beautiful (Fest) a couple of years ago, and we played Firefly last year. We get our opportunities here and there.
I got a chance to listen to your new record, This Story Is No Longer Available, and it’s really good. I especially like “Dark Highways.” Tell me about that one.
That song was actually written by Michael Carter. He’s been in a relationship with a girl named Ashley for several years now. The song is very true to the vibe of being a musician with a loved one back home. You just miss the hell out of that person and you would do just about anything to just get a couple of minutes with them. That’s the place the song comes from.
How do you guys write?
I usually write the chorus, melody and the words to a song. Then we build our parts around them. I do the majority of the writing. That was the model we started with. Then Larry and Michael started writing songs. They bring them to the band and we do the same thing, where everyone just writes their parts around them.
It’s invigorating and exciting to hear a song that you really love that isn’t necessarily inspired by your own mind. We get to have that different perspective and it’s pretty cool.
I’m curious, since you do so much touring, how has that changed your perspective on the music scene here in Phoenix?
Everything we’ve come across in this nation is unique in its own way. I think Phoenix is growing and developing in a direction that is actually really community based. I feel a lot of really aggressive competition between bands in places like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, where people don’t really seem to work together. Whereas, a lot of people in Phoenix really seem to like working together, and it’s been awesome to see the music scene develop in the past five or six years.
Do you have anything coming up locally when you guys get back in town?
On December 15th, we have our fourth annual Holiday Extravaganza, which will be at the Van Buren. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We work with Toys for Tots to help kids whose families aren’t able to afford Christmas.
You talk about truly loving your audience. Were you conscious of this from the beginning, or has it developed with the band’s evolution?
We definitely discovered that part of ourselves while we were out on the road. In the last couple of years in particular, seeing the division that we have in this country and realizing how people are so quick to judge one another. We try to create a space where people feel special and gain a sense of contentedness. I think that’s when we started really realizing our responsibility to make people feel like they belong and how important this is.
Excellent. Not the easiest work.
It can be very stressful at times. But it has moments that are really special.
You have a single coming out soon, correct?
Yeah, on August 31st we’ll be releasing a song called “Feels Like,” and we’re really excited about it. We’re also doing a live video for “Feels Like” on the 14th of September.