Jared Mees holds up his cell phone. Out of its tiny speaker comes his voice, singing super-falsetto. He’s sitting outside Caffe D’Italia on the corner of Northwest 17th Avenue, and he’s trying to demonstrate a side effect of long hours spent in the screenprinting studio on the opposite side of the driveway. “I don’t know if this is ever going to turn into a song,” the slender 28-year-old songwriter says over the incomprehensibly tinny recording, “but it might. There’s, like, 90 songs on here, and maybe 10 of them will see the light of day.”
This is the secret behind the songs of Jared Mees and the Grown Children: Before they got stuck in your head during your long day at work, they were stuck in Mees’ head while he was at work.
Mees and his wife, Brianne, moved to Portland in April 2006, following stints in Panama (where Mees wrote most of his proto-Grown Children solo album, the driving, exuberant If You Wanna Swim with the Sharks You’ve Gotta Concentrate), Los Angeles (where Sharks was recorded), and Mees’ native Colorado. Being a solo artist at a Portland rock show didn’t feel right to Mees, and he started Jared Mees and the Grown Children to fill out his sounds—but the group has come into its own enough that Mees is talking about dropping his name from the band’s moniker altogether.
The five-piece Grown Children band underscores Mees’ pop-songwriting superpowers. Live shows are full of head-nodding hooks, and the performers’ energy and sheer enjoyment from being onstage trickles down to the crowd. There, Mees says, “we do whatever we want,” before amending himself with a grin. “Besides the songs being super-complicated and really wordy.”
Through this spectacle shines Mees’ complex, clever lyrics, full of such witty couplets as, “It’s like when Christmas came a thousand times each year/ Once on the 25th, the rest when she was near.” Mees spends most of his days inking screens—and singing songs—at his and his wife’s consignment boutique, record label and custom-screenprinting Frankenbusiness, Tender Loving Empire. The songs that get stuck in his head make it onto his phone and then, perhaps, into a Grown Children set. “It just takes one melody and one line I want to hold onto,” Mees says, still thumbing through the digital collection of fetal Grown Children tunes.
Mees’ songs grow out of the hook, but sheer viral catchiness isn’t what he seeks from them: He wants songs you relate to right off the bat. On “Bees,” the opening track from the Grown Children’s new album, Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money, Mees sings about the sun, “Just making its rounds, and increasing the dread/ That each morning you leave slightly more of yourself in the bed,” singing later, “’Cause it feels like the end, but I now and then overreact/ They’ve been saying that since way back when.” His songs are about “things I’d like to say to you,” Mees says, “that I’d like to communicate about myself and about my life and about the world, [but] that would be boring or just wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for the medium.” His desire to tell truths is the same reason Mees tends to steer clear of irony in his songs. He shares the view of his late inspiration, David Foster Wallace, that being ironic cheapens human interactions and gets in the way of authentic communication between people. Irony is also a form of humor reserved for adults, and though Mees shrugs it off at first as “a name I didn’t hate,” the idea of being Grown Children has become somewhat of a mission statement for him and his band.
“I like the idea of having a childlike approach to music,” Mees says. “Having a free and easy and fun approach, rather than having to be so serious about it all the time.” It means band practices can get a bit rambunctious (“we do end up playing a bunch of Weezer songs, and half the time I’m yelling for everyone to shut up”), but when it comes time for a show, Mees says, “I know whenever we take the stage the shit’s going to come together.”
SEE: Jared Mees and the Grown Children play a CD-release show Oct. 4 with Dirty Mittens, BS4BH, and Andy Combs and the Moth at Berbati’s Pan. $5. 9 pm. All ages.