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To Mensch or Not to Mensch - An Interview With Jet Lag Gemini - 06/2009
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Not every American rock band has three members who were born in eastern Europe. Not every American rock band’s lead singer dares to stand on top of an audience of 15-year old girls at least once during every set. Not every American rock band somehow managed to find a way to work the word “mensch” into their lyrics. Then again, Jet Lag Gemini is not every American rock band.

Jet Lag Gemini
Misha Safanov crowd walks
Jet Lag Gemini has always done things their own way. “Even when we first started out as a local band, we were the odd band out,” recalls Vlad Gheorghiu, JLG’s lead guitarist.
Mahwah, New Jersey was the setting for the birth of JLG. “We all met at Mahwah High School,” remembers lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Misha Safanov referring to himself, Vlad, Vlad’s brother Matt and Dan DiLiberto, the only member of the band born in the USA. The four decided to start a rock band, but didn’t want to follow any trend, be it pop-punk or screamo, which was riding a wave of popularity when the guys came together. “We always wanted to do something different,” says Vlad.
Vlad shreds
Vlad Shreds

One difference that is apparent when the band performs is that at some point in every JLG song, Vlad’s bandmates step aside to let him shred. When Vlad, a self-taught guitarist, first picked up the instrument seven years ago, he not only immersed himself in bands like Green Day and blink-182, but was an avid student of classic rock and the blues. Vlad cites the late, great blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn and Brian May of Queen as two of his early influences. He quickly found that his musical ear and nimble fingers served him well in his quest to become a lead guitarist.

Lyrically, JLG’s songs on past albums seem to have shown the cynical side of the band’s outlook, but always done with intelligence and a poetic flair.

In the song “Bittersweet,” the narrator seems to be asking for a reconciliation through the use of strong, tangible images:

On a lighter note is the story of how the word mensch, a Yiddish word meaning nice guy came to have a place in the JLG song “Fit to be Tied.” When Vlad first saw the line Misha had written, “I’m such a mensch in my clothes,” he was sure Misha had written the line as a joke. The band debated using the word, but Misha wasn’t about to let his “awesome” word go. “Eventually it stuck with us,” recalls Vlad. Apparently, fans must have agreed with Misha, as “Fit to Be Tied” became one of JLG’s most popular singles.

Matt Gheorghiu
Matt Gheorghiu
Dan DiLiberto
Dan DiLiberto

Another thing the song “Fit to Be Tied” is known for in concert is Misha’s crowd walk, or more accurately, crowd stand. “The first time it happened my friend just threw me into the crowd.” After that, Misha decided to make it a tradition. But he doesn’t venture into the audience until he has determined if the group standing in front of him looks strong enough to bear his weight. Once in a while his judgment fails him and he tumbles to the floor. Watching Misha balance on top of a sea of teenagers makes an observer wonder whether Misha’s ancestors include circus performers as well as musicians.

“Fire the Cannons” was released in January 2008, and the band is currently writing songs for their sophomore effort. Not that the material on their first record was without hope, but the band has decided to go in an even more inspirational direction for their next record. “We’re trying to write a record that people will listen to and feel better, one that will speak to them about what’s going on in their lives,” Misha states. According to Vlad, the band hopes to begin recording the new album in November of this year.

Where do the members of JLG see the band several years down the road? While Misha would be happy if they were simply able to tour, put out albums and make a living, Vlad has a grander vision. “We want to be the ultimate arena band with crazy fireworks going off [on stage] and every song a hit.”

Check Jet Lag Gemini out this summer on the Vans Warped Tour ’09.

You can view the entire Jet Lag Gemini gallery here.

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