Recently, Andrew Jackson Jihad played the Owl Sanctuary and it was brilliant. After the show, Ned and myself got talking to Sean Bonnette and gave him a copy of issue 6, asking him if he’d be interested in doing an interview with us. A few days later, I emailed the SideOne Dummy press agent and organised an interview. Ned and I thought up some questions for Sean and I sent them off. Here is the product. The image was taken from AJJ’s facebook.
Firstly, I’d like to say that I’m a huge fan, and that your gig at the Owl Sanctuary was awesome. What would you say is the difference between playing a small, intimate venue like that, compared to a larger venue?
Hey! Thanks! On a technical level I would say that sound is a big difference. In smaller clubs it’s a challenge to be dynamic, to go from a whisper to a cacophony. Banter is funner and easier in smaller rooms. I enjoy both experiences.
How did Andrew Jackson Jihad start?
Ben and I worked together at a coffee shop around the time he got an upright bass from his dad and I started getting confident about my songs.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Wherever I find it and more importantly wherever it finds me. I find some of my favorite influences outside of music; skateboarders like Rodney Mullen and Ari Shiffrin, visual artists like Suzanne Falk and Wayne White, authors like Haruki Murakami and Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve become more observant of the processes of others over the past couple years. Thematically I am inspired by childhood, mental health, violence, faith, etc…
Given that your lyrics are so emotive, there must have been times when fans have told you how much they have been affected by them. Have any of these stories ever stuck with you, or changed the way you see your own songs? If so, what was it?
All of the stories stick with me, but out of respect I’d rather not divulge any of them.
What have you found the reception of the new album (Christmas Island) to be, and why did you choose to expand the band?
I feel like it went over really well! I think it really helped people understand us. We expanded the band for the knife man tours to do justice to some of the electric songs, and we kept rolling with it because it’s very very fun and Preston, Deacon and Mark are brilliant.
Given that Knife Man seems to have the overarching concept of fear and Can’t Maintain deals largely with depression, would you say that Christmas Island has a single concept? If so, what is it?
You often write songs that are very explicitly personal, but you also sometimes write songs that seem to be written in the persona of someone prone to extreme, senseless violence, like “Getting Naked and Playing with Guns” and “Bad Bad Things”. Where do these songs come from? What inspires them, what do they represent?
I wrote Bad Bad Things when I was really happy, no clue why. “Getting Naked” was an empathy experiment, for in real life I am the neighbor kid.
With songs like “Temple Grandin”, “Do, Re, And Me” and “Angel Of Death”, Christmas Island seems to be a lot more surreal than previous albums. Did the larger band offer more creative freedom, or were they just the lyrics that came to you?
The larger band does offer more creative freedom, but they’re not the source of the surrealism. The lyrics come out the way they come out, the less control I have over it, the better. My favorite state to write in is one of feverish abandon; control relinquished, mind clear, without any awareness or care of what anyone will think about the songs.
The song “Linda Ronstadt” seems particularly emotive and personal. Would you say that the song deals with stoicism in the face of depression, and was it inspired by your personal reaction to a piece of art?
That song is the truest one I’ve ever written, and you nailed it. It’s about the stoicism breaking down and giving way to validation.
Did Randy’s House [as Referenced in the song “Randy’s House”] actually burn down? Is he doing okay now?
Yes and yes!
How did the European tour go? What made you choose to do a separate solo tour in Europe, then meet up with the band for the UK?
Mainly it was for the dynamics. I love playing solo every once in a while, it gives me a chance to do whatever I want with complete autonomy. I like not having to adhere to a set list every couple tours. It was perfect to do the solo tour before the UK run because I got to “center my chi” and immediately reconnect with AJJ with a clear head and a hunger for volume.
What are your plans for the future? Got any tours and releases lined up?
We have a mess of US festivals this summer, in September the almighty Smith Street Band is bringing us and the Sidekicks to Australia, then I’m hoping to record a new album around the beginning of next year.
Finally, can you think of any new bands that really stand out and that you think we should check out?
I’d recommend Rozwell Kid, they’re possibly the most flawless rock band I’ve ever heard. R. Ariel is awesome, she rides vibes really hard and touches on many unspeakable emotions. Hard Girls, as I’m sure you just saw at the Owl Sanctuary, are incredible. Dogbreth and Diners are a sweet pair of sister bands, really beautiful pop music.
Thanks for doing this!
Thanks for having me!!
[interview conducted by Karl Howarth, with questions contributed by Ned Samuel, originally published in No More Gigs issue 7 in a slightly different form, July 2015]