Global Bass Online August/September 2001
If you want it done right, do it yourself
From the moment it began the conversation immediately skated in a multitude of directions all at once. We talked about the oddest and most diverse of things: plagues, cell phones, overcrowded streets, an overcrowded planet, the economy of warfare and the connection between the two, teenagers, you name it, but eventually it wound itself around to conspiracy theories and Project 814, the name of Jon's newest CD release. So, why conspiracy theories?
Global Bass: One can't help but wonder sometimes whether there is a kernel or a ton of truth behind some of the things we hear, for example, the connectedness between the world economy and war.
Jon: I wrote a song for the CD that kind of touches on that. It's become a corporate tool almost. That's what so scary about it. That's why I don't read the newspapers and I don't watch the news. I've got enough problems of my own to deal with, I don't need to read about everybody else's.
There was a line in the movie, The Matrix, the main character is being interrogated by the computer guy, and he's equating what he thought the human race was. "I've done extensive research, you consider yourselves mammals, but there is one life form on the planet that is most representative of mankind and that...is a virus. You move into a place, you use up all the natural resources, and then you move on." That was a cool movie, but that was kind of accurate too, I thought.
GB: funny you should say that, I was thinking about the disease Cancer the other day and how ultimately unintelligent a disease it is. It's success means it kills it host, hence it own death. So in a parallel way, you are saying we are killing the host, the host of course being this planet.
Jon: Um-hmmm. I grew up on Georgia and I used to go up into the mountains every summer. Here in St. Charles (Illinois), I go down the street here where there used to be nothing but beautiful woods. They have turned all this beautiful land into strip malls. How many strip malls do we need?
GB: In looking at the liner notes of Project 814 here and there is almost a look, an element, of the X Files in the artwork. Looking at the complete artwork package, am I right in saying that one of the messages you are trying to convey with this album is that you are questioning the way the music industry has been carrying on this last little while? There is an allusion to that in this package.
Jon: Oh yeah, without a doubt. That's kind of what led me into doing this whole thing. I do all the marketing for this CD and in fact I do a lot of the marketing for the record label itself. We are constantly being inundated by all this crap coming out of the major record labels. You watch the Grammies even though you already know who's won. The whole model has become diluted, to me. It's an era of manufactured boy bands and sexually enhanced teenyboppers...
Though I think the whole model of the independent musician is cool, unfortunately equipment now is so easy to come by, that we end up being swamped by garbage. There's a lot of people out there saying "Well, I'm an Indie artist", I hate to break it to `em, but they suck.
GB: Where is the drive to get better, what is the motivation to evolve?
Jon: That's kind of why I am taking the stance I am taking. The music has got to change!
GB: It also has to be mentioned that many a good band has been destroyed by a record labels demand for radio friendly pop music, when in fact that was never some bands forte.
Jon: It all comes down to the corporate philosophy and the all mighty dollar. The music suffered, the industry on the whole has suffered especially in the last 20 years because of that mentality. There's still some people that will stand up to them and say "Hey, we're gonna do it our way, like YES". When they came out with THE LADDER, what a refreshing album that was. These guys have been calling their own shots for 30 years! (And they've changed record labels more than once to do it~ Editor)
The enemy isn't necessarily the record company, it's the decision makers within the record company.
GB: So tying this whole thing back to you, you've tried to do something about this. You are involved with a mid sized record label, you're involved in the management/marketing end of things...whether by intent or circumstance, you are involved in the way the thing is run. So you have direct control over how your own album is going to be handled. You'll be able to act as overseer on how things are done. Is that correct?
Jon: Yes and I like that. I'm not so much of a control freak as I was years ago. I was the most incredible control freak, I had to have my hands on everything! But this now allows me to try out some new ideas and if they work on my album, I can use them with some of the other artists we work with.
Todd Joos (vocals, producer) and I both hit if off the day we met. We both think alike, ...that's why he asked me to take over these tasks. It allowed him to focus more on production and the day to day business. I get to try out some of these 'quirky ideas' I've got for marketing. Especially the internet. The Internet I still think is the wave of the future.
GB: I think it is too. In spite of the negative propaganda going on out there, it hasn't been given it's proper chance yet. It has been run one way that proved successful for a few. There is a way to run it where everyone wins. The key is to remove the core idea that everything on the internet should be free. The 'new economy' can still work, but it has to contain elements of the old ways of doing things, by putting value on effort. Ultimately I think it is going to be the saving grace for a lot of musicians.
Jon: It's a very exciting thing. I built the Cellar Records website
myself. I did it for free and I had no problem with that. It's kinda fun to have
my finger on the pulse of what's happening in the Indie industry via the web.
Jon: Well, actually Mark Summers (guitar) called me up the other day. He is up driving truck in the upper peninsula of Michigan and he is getting 'the itch'. A lot of the guys have got the itch. Unfortunately, Todd is so busy with the record label, being able to take the time away and go out and do a real tour could prove disastrous for the label.
GB: Even if you left, as the label marketer, even for a year, it could still be disastrous.
Jon: So Mark and I got to talking the other day. I guess he and Todd had gone out for a couple of 'wobbly pops', and it looks like we are probably going to do a few shows. Nothing's set in stone yet, not everything is decided, not everybody has talked about it. So we are trying to find some sort of a balance. Maybe playing a couple of big shows.
With the contacts that Todd has, we could probably get a couple of opening gigs with a major name. Done more for fun but also to promote the album from a live point of view.
I have found that the best way to promote an album is to play it out live. I am going totally against the grain. You're supposed to do it this way, so I am going to do it that way. Just to see if it can be done. So far, in certain areas, it seems to be working out.
GB: Tell us a bit about the making of Project 814, for example some experiences in the studio. With Mark, your guitarist, having suffered a major accident years prior with his hand and thinking his playing years were over, what was it like in the studio with him once he regained the use of that hand.
Jon: Going into that studio and watching him play the leads that he played on the song 'Cathode Ray Reflection'. There's this incredible lead. All the leads on this album are one takes. Every time he played it, it was different and it was better. I was literally sitting there with my jaw hanging wide open watching this guy play and going, "Yeah, yeah, keep that!!", and he'd say, "No, there's something better coming along".
He would remember little elements and string bends, I mean this guy can bend the crap out of a string, he would integrate the best bits and pieces into his playing. He was just a joy to work with. All the guys were just an incredible amount of fun.
What I think made the album, for me at least, was...though I wrote all the music, I wrote all the lyrics, (well the first song, Todd wrote all the lyrics, but he wanted me to have the copyright for them, don't ask me why), I was the boss, I was the executive producer, I was paying the bills, I had put the whole project together.
BUT, I wanted everybody to have the freedom to create. By allowing these guys to play what they felt instead of playing what I told them, the music was transported far beyond what I ever intended. When you write a song, you first hear it in your head. Especially when I am writing it on my bass. I can hear what I want the guitar to sound like and the vocals and stuff. So I go into the studio with this idea and that idea is completely blown away. It was a beautiful thing.
GB: It's also a reassuring thing, that shows you've chosen the right musicians.
Jon: It took a while to get there. I had some guys I was playing with that for one reason or another, it just didn't work out. We didn't get along, one guitar player, I actually paid to leave!!!
GB: Just to get him out of the loop.
Jon: Exactly, I probably blew $1500 to $2000 in studio time in wasted days with the wrong guy. It turned into a major battle in the studio. Literally a battle.
GB: A game for children.
Jon: I go into the studio to have fun. I feel at home in the studio. When I had to deal with that situation it felt like a job. Here are these guys I had been playing with, doing session work with on other peoples stuff, right here in front of me!! Todd, "Why don't you use the guys you work with all the time, right here in the studio?"
GB: It had never even occurred to you?
Jon: After doing that, it felt so right. In fact, one of the hardest things in going through this, the whole project for me, was not being in the studio for the two or three weeks between sessions. We would do two or three days of sessions and then have to take two to four weeks off. I'm chomping at the bit saying, 'I wanna get back, I wanna get back!'.
GB: So now that the album is finally ready, how is that marketing
machine starting to work?
GB: You're having a ball with this!
Jon: I've been putting that together this week and sending it out to all levels and kinds of media.
GB: As a man of many talents, how did you approach this album from a playing position? From your own experiences, you understand what it takes to succeed, did this shape the way you did things from a players position?
Jon: Not enough people are playing 'in the pocket' and that is what I have tried to turn my playing into. To play for the song and not for the flash.
GB: But at the same time, you also allow yourself to be fairly busy at
various times. You're playing some fairly complex parts here. There have
been comments to similarities in your playing and Jack Bruce's. Are you aware of
that or is it just the way you play?
As I've gotten a little older and slowed down, life-wise, I realized that speed has a place. I write all my songs on bass so there's obviously a lot of running around that goes in there. But I also try to not go overboard with it. I try to make it make it tasty and fit the song.
I like playing on the upbeat too, on the 'ands'. That has come not by any particular thought process, it's just kinda the way my style developed.
I listen to a lot of jazz, but I can't play that stuff!
GB: So the easiest way to get to your album, to hear MP3's of you r songs, is to go to your site?
Jon: Yes. We do have it in local stores here and it actually went to our
distributor. We're looking at the Chicago, Northern Illinois, Southern Wisconsin
area at the Best Buys and those kinds of places. I'm sending promo to local
radio stations, the college radio in this area where I've gotten stuff played
before. I don't see that there's any point in sending out 200 CD's to Best Buys
all over the county when they don't know about it yet.
You can find Jon and Project 814 here:
MP3's are available for 8 songs on the album by going here:
There are also Real Player versions and streaming files of the songs in the media section on the site.
CD Baby and Towers also carries the record.
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