AJ Jump vividly remembers his first time playing with Underground Saints, and for good reason.
Lead vocalist and guitarist John Smith, lead guitarist and vocalist Pat Flynn, and bassist Mark Kiesinger formed the Northeast Penn.-based alternative rock group in 2007, but they were without a drummer by their second gig. Jump was at the Pocono Raceway drumming for The Five Percent when he got the call.
“On the break, I'm listening to my voicemail and Mark Kiesinger calls me and said, 'AJ, you've got to help us out. The new drummer canceled last minute and you've got to help us out.' So I called him back and I'm like, 'Man, I can't do it. I'm up here at this gig. By the time I'm done with this, I'm going to literally have to just go home, get my other s—t, and come there.' He said, 'No, you've got to do it.' I'm like, 'OK, fine,'” Jump recalled, already knowing the band's songs but never practicing them live.
“The gig was great. It was the first time I ever played with John. I played with Pat and Mark before… It was just kind of a magical thing, so then they're like, 'Do you want to play?'”
After that impromptu night at Mert's in Scranton, the answer was obvious. The Saints had instant chemistry, which Jump feels was at its peak when they were writing songs over the course of a year for their first and only album, “Broken Machines,” released in 2010.
“We all feel that we made a great album together. The album felt really great. It was great working with (producers) Bret Alexander, Aaron Fink, and even Justin King produced one of the tracks on that record, and that's who me and Mark are working with now. We know that we made a great album,” he proudly stated.
Influenced by The Who, Pearl Jam, U2, The Smiths, The Doors, and Radiohead, they also covered these bands often, most memorably when they played the latter's hit record “OK Computer” straight through at a special tribute show at the end of 2010, which included a second set of additional Radiohead tunes.
“The mission was to recreate 'OK Computer' start to finish, and we did. We did just that. We had three other people that we asked to join us…because that album is very, very dense. There are a ton of parts,” he explained.
“That was a really cool thing to do just because it's not easy. It's one thing to do a cover show and cover a group, but it's another thing to specifically cover an album note for note, verbatim, and that's what that was. And we had a great time.”
What may have impressed him most about the band was that in a “dying, bad economy and dying music scene in this area,” people were still coming to see them play. They were even received warmly in Ireland on a tour with Farley last summer.
“We got to go over there and play for a totally different set of people that didn't know us, didn't know who we were, and they completely embraced us and accepted us like they'd see us for years. Some of our friends here knew Mark, Pat, and John from Bent Blue or knew Pat and Mark from the Mere Mortals days, and then we go over there and these people embraced us like that. It was pretty awesome,” Jump said.
His favorite memories, however, may have nothing to do with the group's music.
“There was a push-up contest that went down in the hotel room in Cincinnati, technically Kentucky, right over the river in Kentucky,” he related with a laugh.
“That and we got into a fight with a couple Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders outside of Pat's and Geno's Cheesesteaks. That was a pretty hilarious set of events.”
Times like these make the last Underground Saints show, set for Saturday, March 23 at The Rattler (137 N. Main St., Pittston), bittersweet, as Smith prepares to move to Nashville, Tenn. Jump stressed how tough it is to make it in the music business these days, so he was thankful that he had such “great musicians” to work with as they all move on to other musical projects.
“I just really love playing with this band, through and though, and I'll always remember it. I'll always talk about this band… It's like moving on from an old girlfriend,” he said.
“We never phoned it in, and it never felt like we were doing a job, ever. There was something about the chemistry with this band that we always talk about. It's undeniable.
“We really enjoyed playing with each other; there's no doubt about that.”