March 1999
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Jump, Little Children

by Jennifer Coleman

The murmur of people talking and the squeal of instruments being tuned does not distract Matt Bivins as he speaks louder and louder into the microphone.

Bivins, tall, lanky and unconventionally sexy, looks right at home in the Tiger Town Pub in Clemson, SC. The scene is familiar to him. The sounds have become the soundtrack of Bivins' life on the road as a member of the band Jump, Little Children.

Jump, Little Children met at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC.

"We started playing Irish music at NCSA to get away from the strict, confining nature of classical music," Bivins said. "My roommate Christopher was from Dublin, and had some old tune books. I had a tin whistle. Chris liked the blues. I never really did, but how are you going to learn how to play the harmonica if you don't learn how to play the blues?"

So, Jump, Little Children began as a cover band. Not of Grateful Dead songs or 80s favorites, but of old Irish tunes and country blues songs.

Leaving the confines of classical music even farther behind, Bivins, his brother Evan (percussion, songwriter), Jay Clifford (lead vocals, electric/acoustic guitar, songwriter) and Chris left NCSA to spend some time in Ireland.

"Going to Ireland made me fall in love with Irish music and want to play the blues less and less," Bivins said. "Playing in Ireland taught me that you don't have to be famous to be good. The best Irish music players are the ones that no one has ever heard of. Playing music for the hell of it, they are playing the tunes because their fathers and their grandfathers did, and then teaching their children the tunes, too."

From Ireland, Jump, Little Children moved to Boston, and in 1994, Matt, Evan, Jay and Ward Williams (cello, electric guitar, vocals) meandered their way to Charleston, SC. There they claimed the highly trafficked corner of Church and Market Street, located in the heart of downtown and began to play for anyone who would listen. Member Jonathan Gray (upright bass, vocals) joined the band during this time. Soon they were performing original songs along with the Irish and Blues tunes.

"We didn't want to be an Irish band," Bivins said. "We've always wanted to be on Letterman."

With that goal in mind, a year after arriving in Charleston, Jump, Little Children were playing in local clubs and had been added to several major market radio stations. They recorded both the Licorice Tea Demos (1995) and the live EP Buzz (1997) independently. Last spring Jump, Little Children was signed by Breaking Records, an offshoot of Atlantic Records, and began recording Magazine, their first national release.

Magazine takes Jump, Little Children in a different direction from their other albums. Although the band has focused its talent on a more mainstream sound, they have still managed to keep their unique flavor. It is hard to describe their sound, and even harder to find a band to compare their sound to, since they have such a variety of song styles. Magazine's songs range from all out rock and rollers like "Not Today" ("I'm sure someone would hear me if I screamed"), to heart-wrenching slow songs like Cathedrals ("In the cathedrals of New York and Rome / There is a feeling that you should just go home / And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is"), with some pop and poetry thrown in too.

"Magazine is our dream album. It's what we wanted," Bivins said. "I think the two songs on Magazine that are mine are some of the weirdest things I've ever heard. It's going to keep us from selling 15 million albums, but I don't really mind."

In describing Magazine, People said, "A genre-jumping band builds a wall-of-guitars sound here, assays a lo-fi ballad there, and then gets creepy with the ditty 'Body Parts.'"

Bivins' ditties on Magazine, "Body Parts" and "Habit," add a measure of excitement and mystery to the band's repertoire. "Habit" is a clever ode to addictions ("But she's happy as she blows / Down the cafe, through the bar / Pass the hippies and the jars / Of the bean that they drink / Everyday, every week, / They should quit, coffee's bad / Makes you crazy, fucking mad"), while Body Parts asks, "What makes you hot?" Both songs are best described as a mixture of spoken word poetry and rap.

"I don't really feel like I have a great voice, so I can't really consider myself a singer," Bivins said. "I can't really consider myself a rapper in the style of say, Busta' Rhymes, but at the same time, I don't really sound like Beck either. I have a hard time...trying to describe what I'm doing. It's hard to put a finger on it."

Bivins' musical influences include G. Love, Q-Tip and Digable Planets. The first song he ever performed lead vocals on was an old Irish song called "Lannigan's Ball," which remains a concert staple.

"Lannigan's" is traditionally sung in a softer, more melodic way, but Bivins' version is fast-paced and angry. The words come out like a shotgun. One word barely escapes his mouth before the next forms.

When not on the mike, Bivins plays all the instruments that nobody else can play.

"I began playing the recorder, the clarinet, the oboe, then everything else," he said.

Besides having two microphones (one for vocals, one for harmonica), Bivins also has a toolbox of instruments and toys, props if you will. On any given night, he might pull out various hats, glasses, or instruments to entertain the audience with.

With aspirations of one day becoming an actor, Bivins said, "Chief in my mind and at all times is the performance aspect of things. It's what I really wanted to be in a band for."

The enjoyment Bivins gets from performing is well received by the throngs of fans who crowd to the front of the stage during his songs. With lyrics like "Body parts are nice/I can close my eyes/And think about your lips /They quiver to the tips/Of the fingers on my hand/I am the man/With some secret plans/I need to carry out," ("Body Parts"), his songs entice the crowd into a hormone-driven rage.

Despite the projected image of overwhelming sexuality and sinfulness, Jump, Little Children "are bad boys for wholesome people," said Brie Schmitt, a Charleston native and fan since 1995. "They present a bad boy image, but at the same time you know that they are sitting at home drinking their licorice tea. They don't actually do anything bad, but they make you think bad. Every time they perform, they put on a play. You go to shows for the music, but you go for so much more too."

On stage and off, the definite positive chemistry among the bandmembers is apparent.

"We really love each other a lot," Bivins said. "It's not that we're always happy to be around each other, of course not. We know each other really well, and we've learned when to give space, how to be supportive without being in your face or motherly or brotherly."

Jump, Little Children's ability to get along served them well during their days of playing on the corner of Church and Market Street, and is even more important these days, as they tour the country to publicize and build support for Magazine.

When asked what he thinks Jump, Little Children will be doing in 10 years, Bivins said, "Will we last that long? If it keeps being interesting, then yes. We won't do it if it's not fun." For now, it is fun, both for them and the legions of fans who follow their every move.

The Tiger Town Pub has only gotten louder as more people have arrived. Bivins pulls away from the microphone and heads towards the stage to get ready for his night's performance.

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