Sean BonnetteSideOneDummy Records
By Bobby Gorman on August 19th, 2014 at E-Mail
Nearing the end of their Canadian tour last year, we were supposed to sit down with Andrew Jackson Jihad during their Vancouver stop at the Biltmore Cabaret. A series of unfortunate events made our plans fall through – its the risk that comes with driving through the rockies. The band battled through, borrowing Hard Girls‘ equipment, placing the keyboard on an ironing board, and putting on a bouncy, energetic show of folk punk goodness.
Not wanting to forgo the interview completely, we quickly did an email interview after they returned back to the States where frontman Sean Bonnette discussed the tour, their new Christmas Island album and Salad Gloves.
We were hoping to do the interview while you guys were in Vancouver but due to a series of events, it fell through. You told the story partially on stage, but what happened on the way to Vancouver?
SB: We stopped for the evening in Kamloops en route to Vancouver when our serpentine belt snapped and screwed up some other stuff in the van.
Were you able to fix the van?
SB: Yup! We were luckily a mile away from a Dodge dealership, they had the van fixed the day after the show so we drove the rental back to Kamloops and then drove to Seattle!
Your last European tour, you were pulled over 4 times in 1 day in 3 different countries; Once in Germany, twice in the Czech Republic, and once in Austria. How was Canada in comparison?
SB: Didn’t get pulled over once!
Lets get this question out of the way that someone wanted to know: how many salad gloves have you sold?
SB: I’m not sure, but certainly more than we thought we would!
Would you ever recommend re-using a glove or are they are one time deal?
SB: Step 4: Dispose of Salad Glove. Step 5: Buy more Salad Gloves.
This tour is in support of Christmas Island, your debut for SideOneDummy, so let’s talk about it. First – this was your first album with SideOne after years with AsianMan, how did that come about and did it effect the process at all?
SB: We made the album as free agents and paid for the recording ourselves. By the time SideOne contacted us the album had already been mastered and we were working on the artwork. Mike from Asian Man encouraged us to leave the nest, he continues to be one of our best friends and mentors.
Christmas Island. For an album that comes out in the summer, it’s a rather unique name. At first look it sounds happy until you realize Christmas Island is an Australian Territory for Asylum seekers – whats the story behind the name?
SB: It’s worth a google 😉
The title, Christmas Island, has a whimsical sensation to it when you ignore the back story. As does your music: happy, energetic and relatively upbeat and yet lyrically it’s very dark. Do you like having that contrast? Keeping people on their toes?
SB: I enjoy that contrast for sure, and I definitely enjoy keeping people on their toes.
Even down to the fact that at its simplistic form, Christmas Island is an acoustic album; but as you call it yourself, a brutal sounding acoustic album. The irony in that is when you think of acoustic songs, you think of slow dittys and soothing harmonies. Do you enjoy continually breaking expectations?
SB: I’ve always enjoyed the sound an acoustic guitar makes when you strum it hard, it distorts naturally and sounds really ugly and aggressive. I think breaking expectations is great, but for me the best way to write is to suspend all expectations. I try to write with a clear head free of the worry of what AJJ’s listeners will think. It’s harder than it used to be to get into that mindset but it’s still possible and fruitful.
Does it offer the listener a chance to breathe a bit too? When they’re not constantly being berated by dark tones both sonically and lyrically?
SB: I think so.
You’ve always had a dark edge to the songs, but this seems gloomier than ever before. Was that intentional?
SB: Nothing’s really intentional. The songs come out how they come out and if I’m doing it right I have very little control over it.
The album has a fixation of death and I know Sean’s grandfather passed away two weeks before the album was recorded, how many songs were already written before that event? Or was the entire album heavily influenced by that?
SB: Most of the songs were written before my grandfather passed away, and I would say a good chunk of the album touches on the phenomenon of pre-grieving.
Did Sean’s work at a crisis hotline factor into the death themes at all?
SB: Not really, although a persons livelihood always informs their art.
There’s also hopefullness – “A hug without a human is alright” or “Stevie Wonder to the Bullshit” or “I’m a blank page in a notebook waiting to be filled with countless drawings of cocks” has remnants of hope in it – are you more of the dark, brooding type or the hopeful soul?
SB: Oh, I’m hopeful for sure.
Stevie Wonder To The Bullshit, is one of three references to Lil Wayne in the opening track Temple Grandin that many people overlook. In fact, the album is covered with symbolic nods to pop culture icons everwhere. There’s overt ones like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, and Temple Grandin but then hidden nods to Pineapple Express jokes, Tosh.0 skits, the long forgotten band Man is the Bastard and Q Lazzarus’ song “Goodbye Horses” from Silence of the Lambs. What inspires you to drop the little references everywhere?
SB: Probably a lifetime of listening to hip hop. I enjoy referencing and appropriating things.
Do you ever fear that people will miss them? I mean, most punk fans who will probably lean towards AJJ probably don’t know Lil Wayne catch phrases.
SB: I don’t mind if people miss them, I’m sure I miss lots of stuff in music I love.
Whats your favourite one that you’ve hidden in there?
SB: The Goodbye Horses bit, for sure.
I’ve read the interpretation of “Stevie Wonder/Helen Keller/Temple Grandin to the bull shit” is supposed to be Blind/Deaf and Dumb to the bullshit. Stevie Wonder was blind. Helen Keller was blind, deaf and dumb (in terms of being unable to speak) . Temple Grandin was incredibly intelligent but autistic – in no way dumb. What does “Temple Grandin to the bullshit” mean?
SB: The thing I like about those choruses is that they rework the original meanings of those hooks to convey a strength-based message as opposed to a handicap; Stevie Wonder’s brilliance as a musician, Helen Keller’s ability to communicate, and Temple Grandin’s capacity for empathy and a unique perspective. If I were approaching Temple Grandin the rappy way it would mean “Be unable to process the bullshit”.
If I’m not mistaken, this is your first album that you didn’t self produce, opting to work instead with John Congleton. How did that come about?
SB: John was introduced to our band by the amazing rapper Astronautalis when they were recording This is our Science. He just emailed us and said he’d love to record us if we wanted. I saw his old band pAper chAse around 2005 and have been a terrified fan ever since. I really love working with John. He really gets off on spontaneity and letting the music happen. He tries to control as little of the music and performance as possible.
How much did that affect the writing process? I read initially you were planning on doing a full electric rock record before meeting with John who wanted an acoustic sound.
SB: It was very liberating. John reminded me of what its like to write songs for the sake of writing songs. It’s a lot funner and easier to write songs than write albums.
Unlike a lot of bands, you’ve gotten fuzzier and less polished in your production quality over the years, why the added layer of fuzz on Christmas Island?
SB: It’s all for brutality’s sake 🙂
The album art is a piece called “everything we were ever looking for was there all along” by Suzanne Falk, was the piece already done or did you hire her to design it specifically for you?
SB: Suzie’s been a friend of ours for over a decade and when we finished the album we knew we had made something worthy of her. We commissioned the piece and Suzie and I made the diorama together one night. She’s an incredible artist, I’ve learned a lot from her process.
You guys have gone on record saying you don’t like Candy Cigarettes and Cap Guns anymore, why is that?
SB: Speaking only for myself, that album is like looking at my high-school yearbook :-).
I Love You, while moronic, is one of my favourite songs by you guys. Will you ever play it live again?
SB: That’s incredibly doubtful, I’m sorry.
In June, Sean announced plans to do a six song cover EP of songs from skate videos. Can you tell is about the Skate After School program it’s helping and how did the EP turn out?
SB: I’m still working on the EP, but I’ve been making some fabulous headway. There’s going to be a lot of electronic stuff and piano stuff when it’s done. Skate After School (http://www.skateafterschool.org/) is a program that teaches young people how to have fun skateboarding. What I love the most about it is that they don’t stress virtuosity. They promote individuality and fun in skating rather than treating it like a sport.
In an interview with PunkNews, you said that Linda Ronstadt- to you – represents Arizona and the true, unabashed joy of singing. Years down the road, when people look back at Andrew Jackson Jihad – what do you hope you’ll represent?
SB: Oof, that’s an incredibly difficult question. Uuuummmm….Something good, hopefully.