Andrew Jackson Jihad (or AJJ) is one of the most influential folk punk bands today, with some of the most wonderfully cynical lyrics ever written. Last September saw the release of their newest album, Can't Maintain, on Asian Man Records. Punknews interviewer Matt talked to Sean Bonnette, singer and guitarist for the Pheonix duo on his internet radio show.
or listen to the audio here.
How do you feel about being grouped into the folk punk genre even though your music is very unique and different?
I think folk punk is never really a term applied by the bands that do it. It's a tool that people use to generalize types of music that they like. Which is totally fine by me, as long as I have the right to say that no folk punk band really ever calls themselves folk punk, ourselves included. I like a lot of bands that are called folk punk.
What caused the shift in sound from People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World to Can't Maintain?
Well, they were different songs, and we felt the best way to record those songs was in a different way. We wanted to make a really different record from People Who Can Eat People, and we wanted to make something really fun. And we decided to set ourselves on a time frame to record it. Like, we gave ourselves 4 months to have all the songs ready and recorded, because we were going on tour and we wanted to have the record. And that ended up being a really fun and wonderful experience, especially since we outsourced a lot of the really hard labor to people who live out of state. We just came up with something that, well, because of the people we asked to record on the record, we came up with something really good. It wasn't any kind of grand statement to reject anything that had been thrust upon us. We wanted to make a new fun record.
I was gonna say, I hear a lot of influence from Bomb the Music Industry!, and then I realized you recorded this fast, just like Bomb The Music Industry! .
Yeah, and we had the members of Bomb The Music Industry! record on it, Jeff Rosenstock and Matt Keegan in particular recorded horns on it. Jeff recorded the theremin part at the end of "White Face, Black Eyes" with his own homemade theremin. That was the first record we had made after touring extensively with Bomb The Music Industry!, and they're definitely a big influence for us in many ways. And, damn, I'm really glad that came through on the record!
You definitely can't put a label on Bomb The Music Industry!
No way, haha. They refuse! They're such an awesome band, my god.
Why did you decide to put "Kazoo Sonata in C Major" on the record?
We bought a bunch of kazoos at the party store, during the time we were recording it. I recorded a demo version of the Kazoo Sonata a couple days before in the same studio, and it sounded good. We wanted to make a playful, fun record, and what's more fun than kazoos, right? They're the most democratic instrument. I like the sound of kazoos. I know a lot of people don't, but I like the buzzing.
You've written a few songs in which you talk about our dad, what's the story of your relationship with your dad?
Well, the guy I'm pretty sure is my dad I talked to once. He called me as a part of his 12 step program, to make amends with people he feels he's wronged. When he found out my mom was pregnant with me he joined the army. Like, his names not on the birth certificate or anything. So, I don't feel like he wronged me by not being there, because he was an alcoholic, or still is, admittedly. But, a lot of the stories about my dad are fictional.
In the song "Randy's House", you sing, "I hope our candles flicker and die, so that our hearts don't burn to the ground. Down, down, just like Randy's house." Is Randy a real person whose house caught fire?
Yeah, my buddy Randy. His house totally burned down. The funny thing is Ben was also living in that house, so I could have just as easily called it Ben's house. But Randy has one more syllable than Ben. I guess I could have called it Benjamin's house. That has a nice ring to it. But, Randy lost most of his possessions in the fire, while Ben's possessions were pretty well kept.
Are people actually buying the AJJ pillowcase?
We sold out of them on tour and Silver Sprocket sold out of all the ones they had, too. So, yeah [laughs]. It was a fun idea; Silver Sprocket's a fun record label/merch maker, I guess. They approached us with that idea and that sounded really fun, especially for people that could buy it as gifts for their friends. And you really have to hate someone to buy them an AJJ pillowcase, because it is not a fun thing to sleep on. I test drove it and I had nightmares like every time I slept on it. It's like, waking up to either my face, which is fucking weird, pardon my French… or Ben's face… ugh! Like, super gross. And the picture was taken right after a show when we were all sweaty and pimply and lame. I don't know why they sold, but they did.
On Asian Man's site, it says you will be releasing a collection of old tracks, B-sides, and other odds and ends sometime in 2010. Can you elaborate on this?
I hope Asian Man releases that. It's gonna be a double vinyl album, which contains our first album, Candy Cigarettes And Cap Guns and then our first EP, Issue Problems. Every song that was on Issue Problems was re-released either on our split with Ghost Mice or on People Who Can Eat People, but it was recorded all on one take, on the first take at our friendâs house where all the recording equipment was at. For a long time, that was the one that people enjoyed most of the recordings we've done. So we decided to rerelease it because people enjoyed it. And then it's also got some other random things we've recorded, like the material from our Art Of The Underground 7" we did, some selective tracks off of our split with Golden Boots and Flaspar. And then some home recording stuff, however don't quote me on that because I can't remember.
Do you have any idea when it's coming out?
No. We've got the layout done. Jeff Rosenstock from Bomb The Music Industry! did the layout. I think Asian Man wants to do it around the time we're not releasing the [other stuff]. To spread our output out evenly. It would be cool if it was put out like September of this year, but we're going to have to talk to Mike [Park] about that.
Why do you think folk and acoustic punk has become so popular lately? Do you feel that it's becoming trendy at all?
Uh, maybe. I see a lot of awesome young people coming to our shows and talking about their bands and I get their demos. I'm pretty sure that folk punk is becoming popular because you can understand the words.
Seriously, that's it?
[laughing] Yeah! That's the only thing I could come up with.
That's the secret to making music? Make sure people can hear the words?
Yup. If they can hear the words, they can hear what you're saying and if what you're saying comes from your heart, then they can connect with that.
Also, I know you're from Pheonix. Did you go to Wrestlemania?
No, but I heard about it. My boss was stuck in traffic for like an hour. And I heard there was more of a turn-out for Wrestlemania then for the Superbowl.
Yeah, at least when Pheonix hosted the Superbowl. Mike Park really likes Wrestling.
I would not have guessed that, with his whole Plea For Peace.
Well, yeah… yeah! Come to think of it, Mike Park's a weird guy. He likes a lot of contradictory things.
[Laughing] No, no. I'm joking. Well, actually, Mike Park says that he runs a record label. But what he really does is he takes all the money from his record label earnings and pays skinheads to keep being skinheads. That's what I heard. They don't have to do anything other than continue being skinheads.
Okay, let me ask if anyone in the chat room has anything to ask because I'm out of questions. [consults chat room] When are you coming back to Asbury Lanes?
I'm really hoping we're coming back sometime this year. We don't have any tour plans set up for the East Coast right now. Knowing us, though, we'll probably schedule it the last second before we come. So, yeah, I wish I could answer that question. It'll be sometime this year.
What do you like on your pizza?
I really like mushrooms and onions. And sometimes, I also enjoy sausage.
Do you like pineapple on your pizza?
Yeah, totally. That's Ben's favorite pizza actually, ham and pineapple.
Largemouth bass VS smallmouth bass and why?
Me and Ben were broke down in Eureka, Missouri once at the start of our tour with The Queers and Bomb The Music Industry!, Lemuria and Kepi [Ghoulie]. And at the mechanic shop we were at, we had a lot of bass fishing magazines to look through. And we found out that some of the lures they use have the best names ever. Like, you can catch a bass with a twin pork trailer. So I'd say whatever bass you can catch with a twin pork trailer is my favorite one. Either that or large mouth, because that reminds me of a Smithssong I really like called "Big Mouth Strikes Again".
I'm sure we all pick our fishing equipment based on Smiths songs. It's the most logical way.
Hell yeah. And Pork Trailers. Twin Pork Trailers.
What is your favorite skate park?
Desert West skate park in Pheonix, Arizona. It's the first one I ever went to. In the AP magazine we got a page interview in there's a shot of me ollying over Ben on this new gap they built. I love that park. But I also really like Santa Rosa skate park in California, The Channel 3 skate park in San Pedro and Tempe 3 in Tempe, Arizona.
Do you think it would be worse to be labeled as a skate punk band or a folk punk band?
I'll rephrase that. I think it would be better for us to be labeled as a skate-punk band, because we're definitely more skateboarding oriented than folk oriented.
Do you ever whistle just for the fun of it?
Every day of my life.
Any particular songs?
"When The Saints Go Marching In." Um, sometimes I can whistle songs I just wrote when I'm trying to figure out better melodies for them. Or some of the songs from that movie Beetle Juice. [Whistles] Day-O, Day-O! You know, that Belafonte jam?
Definitely. Do you have any advice for aspiring folk musicians?
Please don't write songs for the lowest common denominator. If you're writing songs, I feel the most fulfilling way is to write them for yourself. About your own experiences. If you do that, there's a really good chance that people will be able to connect to it and be able to feel the same things that you're feeling through your songs. On the technical level, make sure they can hear the words, and try to make the best recording you can.
When you write songs, do you write the music first or the lyrics?
I usually write them at the same time. I'll usually sit down with my guitar for a while and just play and play covers and then try to write songs and get frustrated because I can't write songs when I actually want to. That usually goes on for a week until I'm just pissed off and afraid I'm never gonna write a song again and then at that point when I'm exasperated and frustrated, a melody will pop into my head with some lyrics, usually relating to something I'm bummed out about, or something I'm really happy about and it'll just like shit itself out in like three minutes.
[Laughing] Your songs shit themselves out?
Yeah. Haha, I guess that's maybe not the coolest way to put that.
What kind of dog do you have?
She's a Rat-Terrier Chihuahua. She's white and brown and 10 years old. She's not very Chihuahua like, very mellow.
And what do you think about being in AP's 100 Bands You Need To Know? You got a whole page!
Oh yeah, that was a super fun interview. I think Scott Heisel's a pretty stand-up dude. We got full control over the photographs. The last time we did something for AP, they ended up using the prop photo. Have you seen that episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon has to go in to shoot the cover for New Yorker magazine and they said something really wise about photographers there. They said, "Never pick up the prop that they bring, that is the photo they will use." So we made that mistake last time we shot for AP. But not this time. We were like, "Alright, we're going to the skate park. Meet us here. Please." And the photographer was super nice. Scott asked really insightful questions and was just kinda fun to goof around with, a lot like this interview. It was sort of free-forum, we told stories about stuff, and it was a really good conversation. And about 15 years ago, AP reviewed The Frogs, so I'm proud to be in that magazine.
Would you ever or have you ever gone skydiving?
Oh man, that's a deep question. I have never gone skydiving. I've considered it a few times. I think given the right situation, I totally would. Mainly if someone came up to me on a day off and was like, "Hey, we're going skydiving, it'll take about an hour. Wanna do it?" Then I totally would do it. And it would be scary as hell. Then again I might chicken out. I've never been good at rope swings or diving off cliffs into water. That kinda stuff's always excited me, but always terrified me, often to the point where I can't do it.
I know this is an extremely broad question, but what are your political views?
Ah, my political views. There's different things I can appreciate about all the political parties in this really silly system of political parties. I really admire socialism in terms of its ethics about helping out ordinary people that don't have resources. I think Republicans are really fucking this country up. Especially now, with healthcare, they're being big crybabies about it. I respect a lot of the ethic of the libertarians for what they say they do about having their own rights and being extremely protective of civil liberties. I don't know, ya know? That's a wicked broad question, and that's not your fault. I am a very confused guy. My political views are the views of a social worker, because that's what I am. I believe that whatever's going to make things better for social workers to do their jobs, which is to help other people, is the best.
Is your actual job a social worker, or do you just believe your music does the equivalent of that?
Oh man, that would be a really highfalutin thing to say. No, my job's actually a social worker. I work for a homeless shelter. I'm currently doing case management for a youth drop-in center for homeless people under the age of 24. Yeah, music's just a day job.
How about your religious views?
I believe there's something there. But whatever it is, I don't really feel like spoiling the surprise for when I die. Whether it'd be complete nothingness or the Christian view of heaven or whatever, I could give a rat's ass. I'll be pretty much happy with anything when I die. I feel like there's too much coincidence in the world for there not to be some kind of God. Um, I work with a lot of really awesome people at Outreach, where we try to find homeless people, and yesterday I said, "Fuck God," which is a classic Croatian cussword, Jebem Ti Boga. One of the police officers I was with was like, "Whoa, I think I'm going to take a couple steps back from you, don't be offended, just in case you're struck down by lightning." But I thought about it and I said, "No, my God gets it. My God gets the joke, it's funny. He thinks it's funny, it's cool, no worries." I hope that made some kind of sense.
Yes, being religious is saying, "Fuck God" as much as you can, to have a close relationship with the guy.
Yeah, I mean, we're buddies. I say, "fuck my friends" all the time. I don't mean it. And they laugh with me, then they punch me in the arm a little bit.