Cody Votolato first created J.R. Slayer (pronounced jay-arr, not junior) as a character and an illustration, a simple, aimless piece of imagination. Over the years, J.R Slayer grew to become more and more, a part-time creative catch-all for Votolato after decades of working full-time in the music industry. Now, Votolato is proud to present Not Rotten, J.R Slayer’s debut release on Memory Music.
Not Rotten is a five-track indie rock EP that tracks the experience of falling into earth-shattering love—the sort that safeguards its participants from the cruelty and cold of the world around them—and the simultaneous elation and fear that come from inhabiting such bliss. It’s about the possibilities that are unlocked when we care about and show up for others and ourselves in equal measure. Opener and title track “Not Rotten” celebrates this possibility on its bubblegum guitar-pop chorus: “All of the things we thought were rotten/Are suddenly just forgotten,” Votolato croons over a soaring guitar lead.
“There’s so much bad shit in the world, there’s a lot of bad things happening,” says Votolato. “But when you fall in love with someone, you have this feeling that all that stuff can disappear momentarily. Everything goes away but you and this person, and your feelings about them and yourself.”
J.R Slayer comes years after Votolato’s pivot away from full-time music work, on the tail end of decades between bands including beloved Seattle post-hardcore outfit The Blood Brothers, Jaguar Love, Head Wound City, Telekinesis, and Cold Cave. Blood Brothers began when Votolato was 15, and at the time was his main and only source of income. “I got fairly burnt out trying to make money as a musician,” says Votolato. “I was struggling for a very long time to have music make me money and be my career. It turned into this very toxic relationship with music.”
He vowed to leave music industry life behind, but continued to write and play music at his own pace after moving to Los Angeles in 2016. Soon, friend and collaborator Andrew Martin pushed him to solidify J.R Slayer. Another friend booked a show for J.R Slayer at the Hi Hat, and Votolato started performing again. The process solidified the desire to record and release his work. “I really wanted to reconnect with music in the way that I did when I first started playing music, which was more about just needing it to survive in an artistic and soulful way, as opposed to needing it to survive financially,” says Votolato.
Jason Klein (Deaf Club), who plays bass on the record, introduced Votolato to Will Yip, who produced Not Rotten at his Studio 4 in Conshocken, Pennsylvania over two sessions, months apart, in 2021. Votolato credits Yip with many of the album’s melodies, which Yip would hum and Votolato would learn and record. “It was a very traditional producer and artist relationship and process,” says Votolato. Ben Walsh (Tigers Jaw) played drums on the record, and Votolato’s sister Brandi Jo Votolato sings alongside Cody on the record.
After the bright, semi-sweet introduction of “Not Rotten” (“I think the world is gonna die before I do, and if that’s true/I just wanna spend the rest of my time, right here, sitting next to you,” goes Votolato’s opening statements) comes the driving radio rock of “Back When,” soaked with washes of power chords and peaceful nostalgia. “Please put your hands in mine, we’ll walk the stretch of time,” Votolato invites.
“The Only One You Are Left With Will Be You” ratchets up the tempo on a mid-Oughts indie rock banger that wrestles with the difficult work of self-acceptance. “The Fade Out” doubles down with a thrill of Hot Fuss-ready synth-and-guitar rock underneath Votolato’s pleas to keep outrunning the past and old fears: “All time moves slow/Don’t let the tortured days behind you grow,” his voice soars on the chorus.
The piano and acoustic ballad “You Will Never Be Alone” closes the EP with an earnest, desperate pledge to see things through for the long-haul, even as things feel overwhelming: “Take your time to feel it out/I’ll stay right by your side.”
Not Rotten from J.R Slayer is a celebration of the feelings, words and musics that give life color and energy to break through the bleakness. It’s due out September 9th on Memory Music.