Andrew Jackson Jihad's Sean Bonnette and I discuss teenaged Jesus, drawings of dicks, and his songwriting inspiration while smoking cigarettes on a curb in front of a dumpster before their show at West Hollywood's Troubadour theater.
How did the band initially get together?
Me and the bass player, Ben, started working at a coffee shop in 2004 together and we started the band after we became friends that way. We were a band for a long time; we switched out a lot of members. Most of the time it was just me and him, just bass and guitar, but for our last record Knife Man, we decided to take a band on the road to have some of the more fleshed out songs sound actually fleshed out live. Sometimes we still tour just us two but this is the band we toured with last time, plus the guy that sells our t-shirts, Mark, also now plays cello.
Did you write the songs with cello in mind or did you add it in afterwards?
This new record is the first record where we actually got to practice the record as a band and work on arrangements together. It was very collaborative this time.
So I have a few questions not quite related to anything in particular...
Sure! I love those kinds of questions.
Cool! There are a couple themes that I've noticed. So the song "Jesus"... I was wondering if you had any insight as to why it's just so great when people add the work 'baby' in front of it. It just makes everything so much better, like in Talladega Nights, and a couple of months ago when I met a guy who, living "off the grid", likely hasn't seen this movie but said, "What? You don't think baby Jesus smokes pot?"
Well it brings a certain image to mind of a baby, and babies doing adult things are funny. You know, the idea that the savior of the human race is a baby is pretty cool. If you take a step back, regardless of what your religion is, I think that's kind of silly and funny. It's kind of like... yeah, I don't know, it's not really like that. It just brings babies to mind and yeah, it's super funny. That Talladega Nights conversation, or scene is really awesome. That scene reminds me of my grandma because my grandma thanks the baby Jesus for everything. She doesn't thank adult Jesus or teenage Jesus.
No one thanks teenage Jesus. You have quite a few songs about Jesus or with Jesus in it. Do you have some special feelings towards Jesus? Or just what is your view on that?
My view on Jesus is that the historical Jesus is a pretty awesome guy. If the texts are correct, he sounds kind of like a guy I'd want to hang out with and a guy that I'd admire. He took care of people in need and is a pretty solid dude. The unfortunate thing is that since then, many religions have taken different perceptions of him and have used his name and image to do things that are not really in line with what Jesus would be into.
Is that kind of what you're reflecting in your songs?
I guess so, yeah, I would say.
The song off this album, "Temple Grandin Too"...
Is it the line "the world was born to kill all the Jesuses?"
Yeah! That whole little stanza there.
That line I put in mostly because I thought that was a funny pluralization of the term Jesus. How does that line go?
"A Jesus that doesn't want to be a Jesus"
Yeah well if you're born Jesus, you have to be a martyr and that sucks. And I guess that's just me thinking about Jesus and not making a big statement about it or anything.
Yeah, I guess all art does that thing where you don't want a certain meaning to come out of it but it does. That part and the line "like a god wanting to be murdered" just reminded me of your song "Jesus Saves", where it talked about being our own God, and I guess you just have to be Jesus sometimes, so yeah, I don't really know. I was wondering if they were connected in any way?
I mean they're connected in the way that I wrote them both, and I think that they both have the same kind of vibe for sure. You mentioned perceiving art differently than what was intended and that's kind of the best things about art: that it can be really open to interpretation, and that's cool
Especially your lyrics. I'm sure that there's a lot of meaning that you purposefully put there but they're definitely open to interpretation.
Yeah, especially since I like interpreting songs. I write some songs with that idea in mind: keeping it purposefully vague so that it can more just explain my feeling rather than something I want to tell people. This way people can get that feeling and morph it into whatever they want to.
So I hope you don't take this the wrong way, and I'd like to explain myself after I say this, but in a certain way, your songs remind me of early Bling-182 lyrics...
How fucking dare you! No, I'm just kidding.
BECAUSE, because, there's a lot of grotesque, like poop jokes, something like that.
There's only one poop joke!
The dog shitting one?
Yeah, I don't really like poop jokes.
Okay, but there's like, the line about drawing dicks in notebooks.
There's definitely a grotesque quality to it, a teenage quality for sure.
At the same time though, there's this universal feeling that they put across. Theirs is like the high school version and for angsty teens. Who didn't feel that in 11th grade?
Yeah totally. Who doesn't feel that now sometimes?
I feel like these have the feeling of some of those lyrics put through liberal arts school. You get to these central kinds of truths that a bunch of people who have nothing in common can identify with. To me, a lot of your songs seem like they're telling some aspect of life that maybe isn't so good, but in a way where it's easier to accept it.
I like using humor like that. I don't like overusing humor because then people just take you for a joke band. That was a hurdle when we started as a band- was figuring out how I can use humor to my advantage to make something that I thought was more than a joke. I definitely listened to Blink-182 when I was a kid, and unfortunately- I don't consider myself too cool for them or anything but- I don't really listen to them much now. I still really admire artists like Bill Callahan and David Berman from the Silver Jews, who are people that integrate humor into their music really well to a really powerful effect. There's also authors like Mark Twain, Haruki Marukami, Kurt Vonnegut... they all use humor in a really effective way too. So I try to do that.
I was wondering how your lyrics go from those notebooks covered in dicks to Cody, who has no friends with a terrible family. Just how does your mind work that way? Is it ok if I ask that question?
I can answer that! Both of those things, if you go to the right town you can find a kid named Cody who has a notebook covered in dicks. I mean, Cody draws dicks. Cody's a raw kid. He draws horrible things.
What are some other things that would be in Cody's notebook?
Band logos for bands that exist and bands that don't exist, probably some really bad poetry that's helping him work through his problems, some amateur drawings of other nudity, probably boobs too.
Definitely boobs. I always found it funny how guys have this fixation on drawing dicks. Of course there are always boobs in the mix, but I remember in middle school how guys would take a kids backpack and turn it inside out, zip tie it with the stiff back inside, and draw dicks all over the outside of it. Or in the Spanish textbooks- those were targets.
That's awesome. There must be some kind of weird male impulse to draw dicks. You know young men see their own dicks way more than they see boobs, so they're much better at drawing dicks than boobs. The other reason if you're asking why, is that most young men thinks dicks are funny.
Dicks are funny. They're hilarious.
They are hilarious. I'm on the funny bandwagon, but I don't draw dicks on greenroom walls anymore.
That's good. Did you actually at a point?
So the song "Linda Ronstadt" is about you losing your shit in a museum, and a line about how you like your "pretty pretty ugly"...
I like my pretty pretty ugly. I like grotesque art.
There was another line about how you find a certain type of beauty overwhelming...
Oh want me to quote it?
"I can't handle astounding works of beauty
I think I like my pretty pretty ugly
But the beautiful soul that I witnessed in that movie
Was an entirely different kind of overwhelming
It was a dog that won't start barking
It was the cut that won't stop bleeding
An Arizona sunset in the early evening
Or a grown man inconsolably weeping"
Yeah that whole part was powerful, and I guess you liking your pretty pretty ugly works in with that in the way you write your songs. If every single one of your songs were as intense as that part it would just be so overwhelming. It would be like a grown man inconsolably weeping.
I think it's a better way to get it across to people. It makes doing it much more enjoyable. I wouldn't wan't to listen to me saying a constant stream of heavy stuff. There's plenty of other bands that I would love to hear do that, but I think that the stuff I want to say comes across better with humor. But I guess- don't quote me on that- because I might just go dark, and do that dark dude thing and make really heavy music. But yeah, it makes it easier and funner. I like that line because it has an anti-simile in it: the grown man inconsolably weeping.
What do you mea... Oh because it's actually happening, in the song.
Yeah. I changed the dog's asshole line on this tour to another anti-simile: "Coming out from the teeth-filled sky with eyes as red as a person's eyes when you see them crying".
I liked that line! I like this one too.
That line was kind of one of the things that the press lead with when the record first came out. It's probably the best known line on the record, so I can't say it.
I want to start saying that to people when they're really high.
I ended up stealing that from Pineapple Express when the lady comes up to those dudes and says they have eyes as red as the devil's dick. I liked that expression a lot and I tried to, you know, I tried to take it.
What do you put on your rider? Any weird things?
Iced coffee. That's probably the weirdest thing. Iced coffee, Naked juice, water, a little bit of cheap beer and enough money to eat food.
(Some youths arrive and ask for autographs on merch including AJJ posters and snuggies that their record label, SideOneDummy, hid around the area. Sean draws a fetus creature)
So I was wondering, has your fan base changed in general?
I don't know if it's changed demographically, but it's definitely gotten bigger.
That's great. Congrats!
Did this type of thing not happen a lot, or is it happening more now?
It's been a gradual build. Kind of everything for our band has happened gradually from the size of clubs that we used to play to how many people follow us on Twitter to how many people come to our shows. It's been pretty slow and steady.
What's the demographic usually like?
About 16 to 30. It's mostly a lot of young people. There are a couple older people that are getting hip to the music, which is neat. And the people that started listening to us ten years ago, if they're still fans of ours, they're ten years older.
Do you have nay fans that come up to you and are like, "i've been listening to you since day one!"?
That's sweet. Oh! And you're doing a cover album of skate songs?
Because you got a whole van.
Yeah totally. I looked at it and they needed a $7 thing because they went from the $1 to the $10, and if you have something in between $1 and $10, it's just a good thing to have on your Indigogo campaign. So I on the spot thought of it and was like, "What do you guys think about doing this?" So we stayed up really late watching some skate videos and listening to the music and finding songs I wanted to cover.
I definitely know a bunch of friends that discovered a lot of music watching skate videos.
That's how a lot of kids get into their music. That's how I got into Modest Mouse.
So I was wondering, do you actually think the best movie ever is Bad Lieutenant 2?
I think Trevor does. I think it's one of the best. It's one of my favorites. The best movie ever is probably Star Wars.
What's the last book you read?
I think it was a Haruki Murakami book. I'm really bad at remembering the names of them because they're really fast reads. I've actually accidentally bought multiple copies of the same book.
So you mentioned that you really admire Bill Callahan and other artists for the way that they incorporate humor into their music. I was wondering what you would say were your major influences for Andrew Jackson Jihad?
I can't say I really have any at this point. I mean we've been a band for ten years, so what I could have considered my major influences over the course of that ten years has changed so much that I kind of just have to like it all. There's a lot of artists that I'm listening to right now and discovering and rediscovering.
What are some of those?
Like I said before, Bill Callahan, David Berman, Perfume Genius is a newer artist that's really amazing, Haruki Murakami... I've been getting into drawing a lot more lately and I think that's not an influence, but something that's shaping the way I'm writing songs. It's cool doing multiple mediums at the same time. I used to think that you could only focus on visual art or only focus on music. You can actually focus on it all and it makes everything easier. If you tire yourself out working on a song, you can go and draw a picture and that helps unlock things in your brain. Visual artists, like I saw a documentary called Beauty is Embarrassing about this guy, Wayne White, who's a really cool visual artist in LA, and Suzanne Falk, the woman who painted the cover of our album, have been inspiration for me right now.
Inspiration in your drawing or in a musical sense as well?
In a musical sense. She makes art that I absorb and appreciate.
One last thing, what's this whole Christmas Island about? There are two of them?
It's worth a Google.
-Paige Schwimer, General Manager, Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements