"I hear it's a religion," joshes 23-year-old guitarist and lead singer Omari Yoshihiru.
"That's a good question, Omari," seconds drummer Matt Murillo, who lists himself as "old." "Where did the name come from?"
Twenty-one-year-old bassist Rebecca Gugarelli pipes in her answer: "It came from God." She follows this with a facial expression -- an eye-rolling, tight-lipped, chin-lifting mug inspired more by Carol Burnett than anything metaphysical. It is the first of many such expressions she'll offer during the interview.
"It's a name, just like any other band needs a name," explains Yoshihiru. "Yeah, but we're punk rock, so there's a what-do-we-care [thing]. It's stupid, and any person who, like, thinks it's serious is stupid."
Welcome to the land of the Jewws. These three kids are jokers, wise guys, cut-ups, malcontents and, occasionally, just pains in the ass. They're also happy agitators, reveling in a form of puckish immaturity that's just cute enough not to be altogether annoying. (You wonder if all three carry slingshots in their back pockets.) As a band, the members don't take themselves seriously, which is always a good thing. But, perhaps because they haven't pondered such a "serious" question, they struggle to explain why their music works. They say they don't have a method, a philosophy, an aesthetic, a mission statement, a message or even a damn plan. They're just two guys and a girl, playing minimalist campy garage rock as though they were a punk Mod Squad.
"So, with the hair, does that make me Linc?" asks Yoshihiru with a chuckle.
"You have to get into -- I mean, the Jewws are kind of like this omelet of crap," says Murillo, eliciting laughs from his bandmates. Murillo carries the brunt of the interview, coming up with acceptable, albeit glib, explanations of his band's eccentricity. Yoshihiru and Gugarelli add the odd quip.
"No, they're really, like, the least chatty people I've ever known," states Murillo, who says he has "diarrhea of the mouth." "I'm just the drummer. I'm trying to hold back in hoping that they'll talk some more."
Almost apologetically, Gugarelli, the least talkative of the trio, comes up with her own simple theory: "We're not interesting."
The Jewws were born in late 1997. The original lineup was Houstonians Yoshihiru, Gugarelli and Yoshihiru's older brother Guy on drums. They began playing around, but Guy wasn't feeling it. "He just wasn't that into it about playing shows," explains Yoshihiru. "Like, you know, being able to have a lot of time to play out of town and stuff like that."
Murillo attended the Jewws' second show and immediately savored this acquired taste of a band. "I was their biggest fan before I joined," says Murillo. "I was their Sid Vicious -- except I'm awake." Murillo became the band's full-time drummer in December 1999 after Guy left, even though he was already the skinsman in the all-too-similar, all-too-flaky trio known as Junior Varsity (see "Graduation Day," by Stephen Gershon, June 11, 1998), which plays what can only be described as peppy sock-hop rock. He simply couldn't pass up the chance to be a Jeww.
"When they came out, there weren't a lot of bands in this town that sounded like they did," Murillo says.
"We didn't want to do the typical punk-rock band," says Yoshihiru. "Because I think there's enough of that in Houston already."
Even if the band members are not aware of it, there appears to be a method to the Jewws' particular madness. Their songs are rowdy and raucous, but they aren't sprawling and untidy. There's even a blues vibe, thanks to Yoshihiru's baby-did-me-wrong lyricism. In fact, songs with such neon-flashing titles as "Bad Lovin' Thang," "Just Blink, She's Gone" and "Girl Gets Around" could be mistaken for barroom-blues numbers if it weren't for Yoshihiru's down-and-dirty guitar skirmishes and the randy, roadhouse rhythm-section work of Gugarelli and Murillo. The result sounds kind of like early Stones or the Cramps (with whom the Jewws performed in Denver).
Yoshihiru's bandmates usually can detect where he gets his ideas for tunes. "I can almost see whatever he's listening to at the time, like Howlin' Wolf We'll have a new song that's kind of like Howlin' Wolf-style," says Murillo.
Other influences range from punk stalwarts such as the Ramones to vintage rockers like the Yardbirds and Buddy Holly to somewhat surprising choices like the Starland Vocal Band, Glen Campbell and Annette Funicello. (Remember, with this band, there's a good chance that someone's chain is being yanked.) Although remnants of those artists are difficult to detect in the Jewws' sound, the group does bring to mind another cult punk band.
"We get compared to the Gories," says Gugarelli, referring to the '90s punk/ garage rock trio that also consisted of a black guy, a white guy and a chick. "We look the same as the Gories," says Yoshihiru, "but musically, we're not that similar at all."
Still, some find the band's multicultural makeup a nice kick in the ass. "I've heard that a lot," says Murillo. "When they first started playing, people in Austin were like, 'Two black guys and a white girl playing garage music-- that's the craziest thing.' "
One question still remains about the Jewws: Is this all some John Waters-esque, tongue-in-cheek homage to '50s/'60s-era greaser rock? Or are these punks real? Murillo is quick to point out just how much the kooky, campy music of yesteryear gets them going. "Nine times out of ten, if you're in my car, you're gonna hear some crappy mix tape that I made of just all these old junk-store 45s that I have," says Murillo. "We're stuck in the past. That's safe to say."
All this, of course, makes the band a worthy companion to Murillo's Junior Varsity, which is still shaking its pom-poms after six years. "Junior Varsity had played shows with the Jewws before," says Murillo. "And we kind of befriended them because Junior Varsity is kind of like the Jewws lite."
There is some truth to that -- the Jewws do sound like Junior Varsity after dark. Remembers Yoshihiru: "When we first started playing shows and I heard Junior Varsity, I was like, 'This is the only band in town that we'll ever be able to play shows with.' " The bond between the groups is so tight that when Junior Varsity guitarist Sean McManus dropped out at the end of 1998, Gugarelli was asked to fill the void.
But the Jewws still enjoy the view from the fringe. A band that has traveled the freeways, highways and byways of Texas, the Jewws declined all the hype and hoopla of this year's South by Southwest to do shows in Japan, where the group cut a seven-inch. The big news is that later this year, the Jewws will release their debut full-length album on Remedial Records, filled with all those aforementioned love-my-woman/hate-my-woman tunes.
Talk of the recording brings a familiar question to Yoshihiru's lips: "What's our operating standard?"
"Good enough," Murillo and Yoshihiru both answer.
They all chuckle.