Sunday, July 4, 2010
A Sunday Conversation with PJ Bond
One listen. That's all it took to infect me with the alt-grungy singer songwriter treat that was PJ Bond's last album, You Didn't Know I was Alphabetical. Riding the crest of some amazing singer-songwriters that we've reviewed here at the Ripple recently like Matt Pond and Cory Case, PJ Bond crafted an album that literally defined the singer/songwriter genre. At times sassy and poppy, at others melancholic and sparse, You Didn't Know I was Alphabetical never failed to captivate.
When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.
What have been your musical epiphany moments?
Beautiful thoughts. Ok, this is a good one. As a young kid Id lay face down in my bedroom drawing comic book characters stopping only to flip cassettes in my little red boombox, soaking in the Beach Boys, Bangels and Bon Jovi. By fifth grade I was fully steeped in Guns n Roses and Metallica but it wasn't until I finally understood Nirvana that I felt musically at home. Music took on a new meaning, moving from obsession to an extension of who I was and how I was made up. Years of absurd amounts of Nirvana led to a love for Smashing Pumpkins, Blind Melon and Janes Addiction. Throughout it all though I couldn't shake this one tape I'd picked up in eighth grade. A local band called the Autopilots who eventually became a band called Penfold. These guys had a sound that seemed to resonate even more deeply than the angst of nirvana. I'd found something darker and sadder but with more hope. This made sense to me.
Penfold gave way to Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, and a slew of what we called "emo" bands and I finally felt found. So, Nirvana when I was 13, Sunny Day and Penfold when I was 16 and eventually Elliott Smith a bit after I finished college. These three movements, along with realizing the genius that is my brother, well a path showed shape and music bloomed and still does.
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
Lately it's been a lot of sitting with a few chords and feeling through them until they start to make sense. A melody slowly shapes in my head and words start to form around those melodies and rhythms. I then hone, reshape, edit, all the while thinking about what the song wants to be about. I sift through the dusty corners of my brain and the scrawlings in journals. I then attempt to write all the lyrics in one sitting and then play it a few times. The next few days find me singing without the aid of the notes and this helps me filter through what works and what doesn't. Hopefully in the end it's something good.
I don't really need to look when I'm walking around or just living. So many people and things interest me and make me want to write. The hard part is when I'm sitting with a guitar and notebook and trying to figure out how I can possibly create songs anywhere as good as previous ones because it's so easy to forget those ones were hard at first too. So I pull from stories in my life or in the ones of people I love or have met during my travels. Being excited or inspired is not hard. Capturing those feelings, well that's a different story altogether.
Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?
This is always a fun question, especially when asked by strangers in a truck stop or by someones parents. Also, I've heard everything from folk punk to alt country to emo. Everyone listens with filtered ears and has their own vocabulary so I can't blame them but it's always interesting. Anyway, I sometimes like to describe my music as folk with teeth. it's personal and thoughtful and follows a line, but has some aggressive aspects, darker tones and an ability to be biting. ultimately though, people will hear what they want to hear.
What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?
My musical intention is to create love and capture emotion. It's a pretty simple concept that I think a lot of people miss, at least in the true senses of the words. I want people to feel. it's that simple. I want people to care and experience emotion, to look deeply into their hearts and heads and it the hearts and heads of others. find the tough stuff and work on it. Life will become as beautiful as it already is, but in our eyes as well.
In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?
After I get the basic skeleton together, i will often play the song as many times as I can over the course of a few weeks, and usually it becomes pretty obvious how the song needs to flow. Sometimes I'll change huge sections, other times it'll stay pretty close to the original version. As far as complexity vs. simplicity, I think that depends a great deal on where I am in my life. In the past I preferred complex songs and in the last year or so have been leaning much more towards simple, traditional structures. However, my newest songs are a mix of both, so I guess I just work with what feels right at the time.
It's probably a bit dangerous, but I pretty much don't consider any of that stuff. I just do what feels right. my hope is to make smart decisions based on being good to the people I love while working really hard. I don't want success based on screwing people over so I'd rather have none than play those games. And some stuff in this business just doesn't make any sense to me. So I try to work in the areas that seem positive and ignore or change the ones that seem negative. If you stick to those paths I think staying motivated is mostly pretty easy. And when it's tough, well, I go have a beer with my brothers and friends. They always help me see the light.
Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
Spinal tap moments? Man, I don't have any of those. Any time I've played Cleveland it's been a house or someplace small, so I never had any trouble finding the stage or floor or whatever. I do have a lot of "R" rated stories that will hopefully be making their way into the book I'm writing, but I'm sure I can think of something for here. I think a better story to tell is one that is less crazy or weird and more just positive. 24 hours before I was supposed to fly out for my first UK tour I got an email from the artist there who was to tour with and drive me. He decided that for certain reasons he did not want to do the tour anymore and pulled out. Here I was, with a flight and shows booked and now no local support/draw, no ride and no tour mate. After some thinking and talking to friends and family I decided to go anyway. So off I flew to the UK with little but hope to get me by. In the end I played every show we had booked, picked up 3 more shows while over there, made amazing friends and had a blast, all while riding trains and buses and bumming rides. I traveled the UK with a backpack and a guitar and even when it sucked I loved every ridiculous moment of it.
What makes a great song?
Wow. I think a great song is one that makes you feel something, anything, intensely. if it burns in some way, it's great.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
I'm not exactly sure which you would consider my first real song. I wrote a ton of lyrics in middle school and I remember a really particularly bad one called "Turtles in the tTub," that was an attempt to write early Nirvana style lyrics but with zero success. The first full song I remember finishing was with my high school alt-rock band. the tune was called "Grandpa," and was a simple four chord rock/punk song in the verse but had a modulated/chromatic type chorus that probably came from Nirvana as well. The lyrics were completely stupid and I forget most of them, though I do remember the nonsensical chorus, "What's it like in England now? I want to go but I don't know how." Rough style.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
I have a song that has yet to be recorded but is on the "pink couch sessions" on ifyoumakeit.com. The song is about my brother and about wanting to be there for someone you love but feeling like you're unable to. I think it's a well written tune and it's stacked with hope and emotion. I'm proud to have written it and to have loved ones in my life that inspire me so much.
Who today, writes great songs? Why?
That's easy, my brother Brian and his band Communipaw. The songs are absolutely beautiful, powerful, incredibly smart, evocative, dark and warm all at the same time. He is my current favorite songwriter and I'm sure will be for some time. Also doing amazing things is Brian Carley of the Waltz. BC is responsible for me hearing amazing music from the time of my youth and has not stopped producing great stuff.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
Currently I am a digital guy, purely because I live out of my car. someday, if I can afford a house of my own, I can't wait to build a huge vinyl collection. I have some choice pieces now to start with, but it's definitely a big goal of mine to someday have the center part of my house be around a record player.
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
Since I don't have a town I'd send you to either Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ or Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ. Two amazing stores that keep our record shelves stocked and my friends digging through for gems. have fun, but please don't take all the good stuff.
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
I hugely appreciate the support and kindness. please know that while I feel incredibly lucky to be traveling around playing songs and having fun, that it is not because I make loads of money. I am able to do what I do both because I have amazing friends and because I got rid of as much of the bullshit in my life as I could. Anyone can reduce what they have and make their lives better. Give up, let go, open up and have fun. Feel love. Take care of each other. I'll see you out there