Jesse Smith used to drive past the same sign every day, posted smack dab in the middle of his commute from Atlanta to neighboring town Decatur and back. The Gentleman Jesse frontman remembers thinking its inscription on one side, ‘LEAVING ATLANTA,’ would make a fitting title for the band’s sophomore effort — though mainly, as a loose tribute to the Ramones’ Leave Home.
Then one night, Smith woke up in an ambulance. He last remembered standing in a parking lot, before three teenaged muggers approached and swiped his then-girlfriend’s purse. One of them even smacked Jesse’s face with a table leg.
In parts, Leaving Atlanta recalls how victimized Smith felt after that mugging. It’s also dedicated to friends who’ve since passed, including Jay Reatard. And its last words, repeated over and over, are, “Ooh, we gotta get outta here.” But as Leaving Atlanta jitters and shimmers in its own power-pop restlessness, with a nod to Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, it makes clear that Smith isn’t fleeing the city — he’s trying to move on.
Hive spoke with Smith about five reasons why he’d miss Atlanta. That is, if he was to actually leave.
1. Crazy Nights Where it Snows PBR Cans
Die Slaughterhaus [Black Lips, the Lids, the Coathangers] had a festival, Die Slaughterfest, for two nights. It was at this place called the Neutron Bomb, off Dekalb Avenue. Carbonas headlined the first night, and Deerhunter headlined the second night, before they had even released a record. There were fights in the parking lot; people were very punk back then. And I just remember the entire time we were playing, everybody liked to throw stuff — that was the big thing to do at the time. Literally, it looked like it was snowing PBR cans. There were so many in the air the entire evening, just being chucked at bands and people throwing them at each other. At one point the lead singer of the Carbonas got hit on the head with a bottle — and was like, “Hey! Too far!”
2. Lenny’s, a Great Place You Could Get Drunk
The old Lenny’s used to be off Memorial Drive, and that place was amazing. Old rednecks were hanging out there getting drunk, and then all of us and our rowdy friends would come out there. It was basically our weird little playground, where we thought we could do anything we wanted — and we did. They’re going to close it down soon and do this Beltline thing — because, you know, progress — so they closed it down, because it was going to be right in the way. Now that building is just sitting there, with nothing in it. It was amazing. Atlanta’s weird. We got our weird kitschy places. All the out-of-towners and all the tourists want to go to the Clermont Lounge because of the David Lynch-esque atmosphere. And it was great to have an old-timer redneck bar where they didn’t bat an eyelash when a bunch of weirdos came in.
3. A Place Called Zonerz
Zonerz. Z-O-N-E-R-Z. That’s just what my guitar player [Adrian Barrera] named the bar at his house. So if it was after a show and we wanted to keep raging after the bars close, we got back to Zonerz and party. Wonderful place, great music, good drinks, real cozy, Zonerz. Come on over.
4. Wax n’ Facts Records
Since I was a teenager I would go to Wax n’ Facts. I don’t even know how many hours I’ve fucked around inside that building, digging through dusty old records. But I have a very sweet spot for that place. I probably go there three times a week to check in, so I love that place. It’s been funny, watching so much around it change. You used to go see shows at what’s now the Clothing Warehouse. It used to be a club called the Point, and I used to see all kinds of shows there, from freaking hardcore shows to freaking Modest Mouse. That was in the ’90s though.
You can do whatever you want. There’s bars you can hang out in, there’s record stores you can shop in, there clothing stores to shop in. The neighborhood has gotten a little bit claustrophobic over the past couple of years, a little mall-esque at times, but there’s still the key places: Star Bar, Wax n’ Facts, Criminal Records, Variety Playhouse, El Myr, Aurora Coffee. There’s definitely some history here, even though it’s been a little trampled on because of the mall-ness of it. But hey, that’s any city.
Leaving Atlanta is out now on Douchemaster Records.