Sitting in Bayonne’s Little Food Cafe, just a few blocks from the house he grew up in, Jared Hart tells me about his punk rock band, The Scandals. He describes their sound as “Rock and roll that’s a little bit sped up and rough around the edges.”
At 25 years old, Hart has been playing music with The Scandals for more than 10 years. He is soft-spoken and low-key compared to his growly singing voice and charismatic stage presence. If not for the smattering of music-related pins and patches on his jacket, you might not guess that he’s the front man of a punk band.
When I talk to him he’s excited about the band’s March European tour, a first for the band and a big first for Hart, who has never flown before.
In 2004, just before his freshman year at Bayonne High School, Hart went to a battle of the bands at First Street Park. He watched a local band called No Say take the stage that overlooked the bay. They played hard, fast, and loud, so loud that several noise complaints were called in, and the speakers had to be turned to face the water. Their style of punk rock was unlike anything Hart had heard before.
“I felt like I was witnessing something that I wanted to belong to,” Hart recalls. “I wanted to run home and grab a guitar.”
He turned to his friends and said, “Let’s start a band.” Hart dreamed that one day he would have his own band that would play with No Say.
As a high-school band, The Scandals practiced in the basement of a friend’s house on Orient Way. They saw other local bands at the Knights of Columbus, Fratelli’s, VFW halls, and The Arts Factory, which presented live local music. “If it wasn’t for those shows I wouldn’t be doing any of this right now,” Hart says. Bayonne had plenty of local acts in various genres that played every weekend. Young people crowded the stages; there was an energy in town that influenced Hart’s writing today.
Soon, The Scandals were playing alongside No Say and other local bands. Eventually they left town to play bigger punk clubs like Asbury Lanes, one of Hart’s favorite venues. He frequented popular “punk nite” events and eventually asked Kate Hiltz, punk rock mainstay, band manager, and promoter, if his band could play one evening.
“She told me to write her an essay about why we should play,” Hart says, his blue eyes sparkling. Though he knew she was teasing him, he wrote the essay.
“Everyone knows that proper grammar and composition are a quick way to my heart,” laughs Hiltz.
Bayonne High School must have taught Hart well, because his written work won him a spot on the punk nite marquee.
“If a young man is able to articulate why his band should be chosen above the others, so be it,” Hiltz says. “It’s been amazing to watch him grow into an accomplished songwriter and bandleader while still keeping his manners and friends. What a gem.”
Matt Messenger, the bass player of No Say, recorded The Scandals first full-length album in 2010. The band members went to colleges within driving distance of each other. Hart spent weekdays attending classes and student teaching, but he and the guys toured every weekend, playing in DC, Philly, Baltimore, and Boston.
Hart earned his degree at The College of New Jersey and is certified to teach art to kids K-12. An interest in the arts runs in the family. His father, Tom, teaches art at Bayonne High School, and his mother, Kathy, taught art at Holy Family until it closed. They wanted their son to have an education to fall back on, but as artists they understood that playing music full-time was his dream.
The September after college graduation, The Scandals had about a month of dates booked, including a stint on the West Coast. Playing in California would introduce the band to a lot of potential new fans.
Two weeks before the band was to leave, the bass player told Hart he was quitting. He wanted the stability of a full-time job instead of life on the road as part of an aspiring band. Days later the guitarist told Hart the same thing. Finally, the drummer quit for the same reasons, though he said that he would finish the West Coast tour.
Hart started getting in touch with friends, friends of friends, and mere acquaintances. He and his original drummer played the California tour dates with a temporary guitarist and bassist, but Hart had to find musicians to play the second stretch of the tour.
Anthony Iarossi had filled in on guitar a few times. He happily joined as the full-time guitarist.
Sean Carney was a bassist in a Rhode Island punk band that had helped Hart book shows in that area. They had crashed on each other’s couches when their respective bands were playing nearby, but they didn’t know each other well. Hart did know that they had the same music mindset. He called him, and Carney was ready and willing to join the tour. Carney still lives in Rhode Island and takes a bus to New Jersey almost every weekend to practice with Hart.
Paulie Yaremko was an old friend who had filled in on drums for The Scandals in 2009. He had spent time with the band while they were recording and releasing their 2010 album.
“Want to relive your old tour days?” Hart asked him.
“When do we leave?” he responded.
After only one practice that Carney was unable to attend, the new members hit the road. Thus, The Scandals’ current lineup was born.
“It shouldn’t have worked, but it did,” Hart says. The members got along, but that doesn’t mean that their first show went off without a hitch.
“I’ve seen worse shows,” Hart grins, “but it was bad. None of us clicked.”
After that first show they drove until they were too tired to go on and stayed the night at a Connecticut campground. That morning, the band held an impromptu, unplugged practice session at a picnic table.
“I was using a drum pad, the table, and I think someone’s bag to create my makeshift kit,” Yaremko recalls.
“That was when I realized that the four of us, regardless of how short we had known each other, would do what it takes to make this work,” Iarossi says. “Instead of pointing fingers we took out our instruments and played through the set.”
The shows got increasingly better, but, Hart says, “No one is going to go out looking to find my dumb band.” He knew that playing shows and talking to people would take them from a local act to something bigger. That meant a heavy schedule of club dates that eventually included solo acoustic performances for Hart.
“I would load up and head out to do acoustic shows whenever I was bored,” he says. “When playing acoustic, if something goes wrong, whether technical or with your performance, everyone notices.” But if a solo show can “grab the crowd,” Hart says that it can be just as fun as playing with a loud band backing him. The audience might not form a mosh pit, but listeners connect with the lyrics.
Hart believes in the old saw of writing what you know. The band’s lyrics have a nostalgic quality, often recalling events that took place right here in Bayonne.
Hart’s throaty vocals and bittersweet lyrics make for a raw and real performance that can appeal to not only fans of punk, but to anyone who likes singer/songwriters and lyrics-driven music. Hart’s strong writing and acoustic chops led him to release a split EP in 2013 with Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, a New Jersey punk band with the backing of a major record label that has performed with Bruce Springsteen.
The band has also worked with Pete Steinkopf of the Bouncing Souls, an influential New Jersey punk band that has been an important part of the music scene for 25 years. Steinkopf produced The Scandals’ 2012 EP Trenchknife.
Rolling Stone Magazine’s website premiered a video of Hart playing an acoustic version of The Scandals song “All Nighters.” It features Fallon and Steinkopf giving advice to Hart about the band’s European tour, which started in Belgium and covered western and central Europe. “It didn’t feel real until I saw my name on the plane ticket,” Hart says.
The band also teamed up with Red Bull Sound Select, an academy that supports burgeoning artists by widening the scope of their audiences.
Hart has this advice for Bayonne residents who want to follow a dream:
“Just don’t listen to what anyone else tells you that you want. You know what you want. I’ve talked to too many people who have regret.”—BLP
Check these websites for tour dates, videos, and new tracks by The Scandals.