Logo by Chris Dellorco (1981)
Second Language was formed by Jessie Jacobson (lead vocals and guitar) and Jerome Faulkner (keyboards and vocals) in 1981 as a reaction to our previous new wave-oriented original band, The Trend, which had broken up in September of that year after two years playing the club scene in L.A. Jessie and Jerome first collaborated in 1978 and played together through 1986.
With Second Language, Jessie and Jerome wanted to stretch themselves as vocalists, composers, musicians and improvisers. By the end of 1981, they were joined by teenaged wunderkinds bassist Chris Hutchinson (later of What Is This) and drummer Rick Winward (later of Electric Peace), greatly expanding the band’s musical and textural palette. During 1982, the band recorded three 4-track or 8-track demo sessions and while they were most decidedly of less than optimal fidelity (courtesy of stoned or amateur engineers and crappy equipment), the band’s sound began to truly take shape for the first time.
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While Second Language was certainly influenced by post-punk bands such as Magazine, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode and Wire (from whose song French Film Blurred, they took their name); they also incorporated earlier influences ranging from The Beatles, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, The Doors, Velvet Underground and Jefferson Airplane through Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, King Crimson (1969-74) and Van Der Graaf Generator. Of course the band wanted to be successful, yet they demonstrated very little interest in deliberately fashioning commercial music - a mostly art-for-art’s-sake approach that didn’t always sit well with record company A&R men or producers.
As all four members were multi-instrumentalists and each kept a keyboard at hand for rehearsals (and shows), a large percentage of the band’s material was created out of extensive improvisation in various configurations to which Jessie would add melodies and lyrics for the band to hone into songs. Rick played bass and keyboard, Chris, guitar and keyboard, and Jessie, bass and keyboard, while Jerome introduced clarinet, flute and recorders to the band’s arsenal, thus ensuring a band sound that morphed dramatically from improvisation to improvisation and song to song and helped distinguish them from their contemporaries. Percussion of all sorts also featured prominently in the band’s style. It all made for an extended game of musical chairs onstage, keeping the band and its fans on their toes at all times.
In early 1983, Toni Zeto (lead vocals and percussion) joined the band, bringing with her a host of new influences and lyrical input, thus ensuring the further diversification of material. The band’s stage show began to grow in leaps and bounds, both literally and figuratively, as they honed their material in clubs such as Madame Wong’s, Cathay De Grande, Music Machine, Troubadour, Club 88 and others throughout L.A. and Southern California.
Second Language’s first true professional studio recording experience was with Earle Mankey (ex-Sparks, produced The Runaways, Concrete Blonde, The Pop, Three O' Clock) in March 1983 in Thousand Oaks in his converted garage that the band subsequently dubbed Shock The Mankey studio. Three original songs were completed in addition to a radical reworking of Rodger & Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things which received a fair amount of local airplay on college and local stations KXLU, KROQ and KNAC. This resulted in the first record label interest in the band which may have resulted in destabilizing rather than galvanizing the group (“there’s a snake loose, in the garden he will lie” - from the lyrics of Forbidden Fruit).
Later in the year, 2L (short for Second Language) recorded three new songs with producer Ron Fair (A&R at Chrysalis & RCA during that period, who later produced Christine Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Fergie, Pussycat Dolls). However, Chris Hutchinson left the band in September just before the band opened for Howard Devoto (ex-Magazine) at the Palace in Hollywood. Scott Bledsoe deputized on bass for the gig, which was a tremendous success, resulting in an unexpected encore for the band.
Deon Vozov, an accomplished solo performer on the L.A. club circuit then graciously filled in on bass and additional keyboards while Second Language searched for a new bassist. By February of 1984, the band had located a permanent replacement on bass, native Angeleno, Jarrett Lesko. Rick Winward left shortly thereafter and was swiftly replaced with drummer Brian Bielski, fresh off the boat (train?) from Gary, Indiana. As with the original lineup, both newcomers were multi-instrumentalists, Brian on keyboard and Jarrett on guitar and keyboard.
Shortly after this lineup coalesced, under the auspices of producer Ron Fair, 2L overdubbed, remixed and released the Souvenirs EP featuring songs from both the Earle Mankey and Ron Fair sessions. The title track was aired extensively on KROQ, KNAC, KXLU and other college radio stations but still failed to secure the band a label deal, which left them scratching their heads while conversely strengthening their resolve.
Jarrett (who worked as a contractor and carpenter) and Brian (then employed as a tool-and-die maker) constructed whimsical, visually stunning, remarkable sounding percussion racks out of junkyard brass pipes and scrap wood. Brian continues to play one of those racks to this very day.
Second Language further developed by performing regularly on the L.A. and SoCal club circuit up through May 1985 when they decided to pool their resources and record an entire album’s worth (and then some!) of new material. 2L again chose to work with engineer extraordinaire Earle Mankey, owing to his empathy for their artistic vision and his boundless willingness to experiment with both sounds and musical ideas. These recordings constitute the material found on the Youth Is Not For Pleasure album which was released to the world-at-large November 15th, 2018 (CD coming February 2019 with five additional tracks).
Youth Is Not For Pleasure demonstrates a consolidation of the second lineup’s post-punk artistic ethos and a wild burst of instrumental versatility and interplay. All fifteen songs from the Earle Mankey 1985 sessions are included on the CD version of the album. (Note: the download and streaming versions do not include the bonus tracks). Included is the November 1985 revamp of Words Into Action overseen by producer Tony Berg (Squeeze, Public Image Ltd., Michael Penn, Andrew Bird, Jesca Hoop, X, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians) with Earle Mankey at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood wherein they re-recorded the lead vocals and reworked the bridge. Tony Berg also proved highly effective in bringing out better vocal performances and tighter arrangements on Words Into Action and this led to Second Language continuing to work with him over the next few years.
Working with producers for the most part was an activity fraught with compromise as bands were inevitably dependent upon them for studio time and/or their availability. And most producers tended to think in terms of commercial viability a lot more than 2L ever managed as a band. In choosing to produce their own album, Second Language enjoyed an artistic freedom that few bands experience when working with big-league producers or major labels.
Sadly these recordings failed to garner the band a record deal back in the day. Without management it was hard enough even to get the music listened to by the major labels. The band understood that they didn’t exactly stick to one sound or style on these recordings, opting instead to record each song as a unique experiment/experience with little or no thought paid to commerciality or commerce. In this, they were determined; perhaps a result of growing up in the late 60s and early 70s when music changed so quickly and diversity was valued over formula. So it made perfect sense in the 1980s that the A&R men at the majors felt 2L were probably too rock or too pop for the Goths, too out-there for New Romanticism, too much of a live band for synth-pop, too sophisticated for punk and lacking a true commitment to any fixed musical or visual image by design.
Jessie and Toni wrote lyrics about the impertinence and impermanence of youth and the aging process (Youth Is Not For Pleasure lyric by Toni), nuclear annihilation/winter (This Scorched Earth lyric by Jessie), the interwoven darkness of religion and mankind (Garden Of Delight lyric by Jessie), the problems of language in communication (Words Into Action lyric by Jessie), a screed against drunk driving and the absurd notion of a supreme being (No God In Heaven Tonight lyric by Jessie), the foibles of humankind (Visions Of An Aging Race lyric by Toni), an excavation for love (Excavation lyric by Toni), a woman who can’t love (Caution To The Wind lyric by Jessie), the cutting edge of love (The Edge lyric by Jessie) and an anti-apartheid song regarding South Africa (Long Goodbye lyric by Jessie) - not the bounciest set of lyrics for a 1985 album.
Undeterred by the lack of a record deal, Second Language consistently gigged throughout Los Angeles and Southern California during 1985-6, including opening for acts such as Love & Rockets at The Palace and Blancmange at UC Irvine Crawford Hall. They also continued recording home/garage 4-track and 8-track demos owing to an abundance of material and the burning desire to commit as much of it to tape as possible.
The band recorded four songs with Tony Berg producing in 1986 including an entirely new version of Words Into Action for the soundtrack to the film Welcome To 18. By July, Jerome had left the band despite the increasingly positive record label feedback to the new recordings, a significant loss that resulted in a streamlined four-piece Second Language. Frankie 'Blue' Sposato (who's worked with Garbage, Jamiroquai, the Rembrandts, Remy Zero) engineered and/or mixed The Game, Land Of The Living and Love's Not Lost, another feather in the band's cap. It took until the end of that year for the major labels to finally come calling.
In December, Island Records, the first label for whom the band showcased, offered 2L (represented by then-manager Len Fico and Tony Berg) lucrative record and publishing deals. The band were convinced they were finally on their way to fame and fortune or at least a living playing music. All four members agreed a plan to contact Jerome in the new year and try to persuade him to rejoin as he’d struggled so hard with the band over the years without much tangible reward. Regrettably, however, the big bucks deal was voided by a purge by Island of artists and staff over the Christmas holidays, and, somehow, none of the other thirteen labels 2L showcased for ended up signing them.
Toni Zeto left the band in mid-1987 and 2L was whittled down to the three-piece lineup of Jarrett, Brian and Jessie. Jerome and Toni being such difficult talents to replace, the band opted to go in a different, more rock-oriented direction and were soon joined by guitarist/vocalist David ‘Spiggy’ Miller, another fluent improvisational force and songwriter in his own right. During this transitional period, the band recorded Rapture (Capture Me) and Say It in addition to a new version of Long Goodbye with Tony Berg producing and Dan Bates engineering.
Spiggy remained with the band for a year, featuring on two additional studio recordings. In mid-1988, Richard Kaufman directed a video (produced by Christal Curry) for the Tony Berg-produced song Rapture (Capture Me) filmed at the Sepulveda Dam.
Rather than replace Spiggy, 2L decided to utilize a second guitarist for live shows only as both Jarrett and Jessie layered guitars on the band’s studio and 12-track recordings. Jim Novak played a handful of gigs with the band in 1989 and was succeeded by Dan Nolton for the final few gigs.
In late 1989, Second Language, though understandably somewhat demoralized, looked set for a renaissance with the addition of guitarist/vocalist/mandolinist/songwriter Richie Owens. However, the band finally split up at the end of 1989 after only recording two tracks with Richie as a member (Until Yesterday Comes produced by Tony Berg, Jessie and Richie, and Welcome To Paradise [version 2] produced by Jessie and Jarrett) .
Following a year of primarily solo gigs and home recordings, Jessie was invited by producer Frank Wolf (Terence Blanchard, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt) to record four songs at his studio in 1991 and it quickly turned into a Second Language session with both Jarrett and Brian featuring on three songs each, Spiggy and Dan Nolton on one song each and Toni Zeto singing backup on one track. The band then played a handful of successful gigs at Spice and the China Club with a lineup of Jessie, Jarrett, Brian, Toni, Dan Nolton, Katriina Huotari and Kira Vollman and, for the final two performances, F.W. Woody.
Soon, guitarist and producer Michael James (New Radicals, L7, Hole) and F.W. Woody began working as auxiliary members while the band wrote and rehearsed new material. Jarrett, Brian and Jessie then officially reformed Second Language in 1992 with new members Sam Graf (guitar), Katriina Huotari (keyboards) and, later, Chris Fudurich (guitar, keyboards, bass) and, for live performances, Mike Murray (guitar). 2L recorded four songs co-produced with Ken Jordan (Crystal Method) in 1992 before Jessie put together her own recording studio the following year. The band continued gigging and recording up until 1997, culminating in the band’s first full-length CD WrongSpeak (featuring artwork, and guest vocals on one track by Toni Zeto) co-produced by Michael James and Jessie, and released in early 1996.
The members of Second Language went their own ways between 2000 and 2014 (although Jarrett, Brian and Dan Nolton all played with the band Blue). In mid-2014, Jarrett, Brian and Jessie, and on a few occasions, Toni began working together on an intermittent basis to improvise new material just as they had in the old days. Jarrett moved to Virginia as of February 2019 but we're still hoping to continue creating new music in the future.
• In addition to the Youth Is Not For Pleasure album, Second Language are also planning on releasing six further full-length albums representing all the recorded material by the band.
• The Souvenirs EP (1983-1984) will be re-released digitally in 2021 for the band's forty-year anniversary, and will include additional studio and demo recordings from the 1981-1984 lineup.
• WrongSpeak (1996) will also be rereleased on CD as well as digital downloads/streaming also in 2020.
• 2020 will see a further double CD compilation album, A Shadow Across The Moon featuring the 1986-1992 Tony Berg, Frank Wolf and Jessie Jacobson/Ken Jordan-produced tracks amongst others with a second disc featuring additional studio recordings and demos covering the years 1985-1994.
• Also released in 2021 will be Silent Crossing, the band’s 1987-1989 self-produced recordings will comprise a further full-length CD/album release; and GroupThink, a double-CD/album of live Second Language improvisations recorded from 1996-1999.
• Last but not least, Jessie, Jarrett and Brian are recording along with Mike Murray and Chris Fudurich, finishing up Spread It All Around, an album of songs for which the basic tracks were recorded 1995-1997 just before Second Language split up for the second time and left unfinished until now. Look for a release in late 2021.