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June 17, 2003

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ONELINEDRAWING INTERVIEW

Recently Last Life Media had a chance to sit down with Jonah of onelinedrawing over some burritos in New Haven, CT. Jonah has been regarded as one of the pioneers of 'emotional rock' as a member of the legendary Far. For years, onlinedrawing has created quite the reputation by not following the standard rock and roll operating procedure. From releasing records out of his house, playing shows where ever, and applying a unique pricing system for merch, onelinedrawing is truly a pioneer. Onelinedrawing's latest release, Visitor, is out now on Jade Tree Records, and he'll more than likely been on tour near you soon.



LLM:
You're on Jade Tree now. It's an actual label releasing your records as opposed to putting it all out yourself. How is that better or worse for you?

Jonah:
Better in that help is great. It's great to have help, but it's good to have the right kind of help. Jade Tree are great people. In most business there are people that are really nice and well meaning, but don't have their shit together, or there are people who are capable but don't have much ethics. Jade Tree is a really good mix of both of those. There not smart, capable or ethical. ::laughs:: They've obviously done this amazing label for so long and treated bands right. I think treated listeners right. They never shuttled off crap. I think they just say what they mean and just do it. I love every band on there and they're awesome. There's no down side to them as far as I can tell. You do lose a little bit of the idiosyncrocy the more people you have involved. There's more people that have to understand exactly what's happening. It's sort of the thing of democracy. Its great, but there's sometimes a watering down of ideals and of weird little concepts. But it's not in a bad way.

I think there's a real difference in doing that because of natural societal forces and doing that because of pressure from a label. And there's obviously none of that there. On balance, I love it. And the cool thing is, I still do tons stuff out of my house. It kind of just left the stuff out of my house to be that.

LLM:
So the Visitor full length was recorded out of your house too?

Jonah:
Oh yeah, I'm still going to release stuff myself too. I bought a CD Duplicator and I'm going to release tiny short runs of weird things and live stuff. Jade Tree won't do that. They're going to handle the more official 'get in the store' releases. You can always do the little stuff, unless you get some really bad contract. They're totally psyched for me to do weird little things, splits and all that other stuff, so it doesn't impede on my goofy ideas and I get all this help.

Steve (Thursday):
You're a lucky guy. ::laughs::

Jonah:
Yeah, my advance was also two thousand dollars. :: Steve and Jonah laugh::

Steve:
Actually that beats our prior deal.

Jonah:
Yeah well, anything beats your fucking prior deal.

LLM:
Why do you sell your CDs and merch on a sliding scale, and why is it important to you?

Jonah:
It's funny because that's one of those things...

LLM:
I'm sure you get asked that a lot.

Jonah:
A lot of people do, but a lot of the stuff I deal with, like sliding scale, and no set list and Are-Too I didn't sit down and go "what is my ideal blah blah." It's kind of been a study in "that will be fun, lets try it."

LLM:
And that works pretty well?

Jonah:
It does work well, and the larger the scale gets, you know the bigger the show gets, the more the kid comes and has no idea what the hell is going on. He's never seen anyone do anything other than 'here's the price.' You know, people are like 'huh, of course I'll pay the lowest' which is totally fine. I have no problem with that. But people are confused and sometimes they get sort of nervous and don't really know what to do, which is kind of part of the reason I do it in a way. If business can get more awkward and more interactive that's not a bad side effect. But none of those did I sit down and talk with a philosophy major about my money ethic. I just thought it was fun and I'm always the guy that if the kid walked with six bucks and wants a shirt it's just no question in my mind, it's just 'of course.' So I just kind of like built it into the thing and spurred that conversation. So there are tons of things I can think of after the fact of what I enjoy about it. But none of those things are what justify it to me as an idea. It needs no justification; it's just a goofy idea.

LLM:
What is the status of New End Original. Is it still going on or was it just a one-time thing?

Jonah:
We don't really know. Daniel, the guy that's playing on this tour, is also the bassist in New End. The first New End record in hindsight is kind of a onelinedrawing record. And the whole plan was to do more records that were more collaborative. And a few things happened, two of the guys left which really hurt a lot and also Norman [Arenas. Texas is the Reason] and I got busy doing other stuff. So it all kind of worked out okay in a strange way. I'd love to play with Norman again, he's one of my favorite musicians and one of my favorite people. I love that record. I play those songs at onelinedrawing shows all the time. There's a couple that feel like they belong to that band, so I wouldn't mess with them, but they're all songs I wrote way before that record was recorded. So I don't feel that weird about it. I don't know whether we'll do stuff again, but I do know that I love [Daniel] and the two guys that did join after the other guys left are awesome people.

LLM:
I've seen you play in 2 different types of venues. A Small coffee house and a large club setting. Onelinedrawing seemed to start as this small intimate thing and now its been brought to these larger settings. How do you find it working on that new level?

Jonah:
There's nothing that beats a house as far as pure unfettered musical community hang out. You just can't fuck with a house. You can't fuck with the ambiance of a kitchen. That's just so great to me. That said I've had some of the best shows of my life in some very official places. When I toured with [Thursday] last time it was in 1500 seat huge places. And I had a blast. And I'm having a blast [this tour] and I had a blast with Coheed and The Movielife.

LLM:
Do you think the Music and the Message translate as well in larger settings?

Jonah:
I have no idea. I'm sure it's totally different. Whether it's better or worse, it's hard to be qualitative about it. I think the minute you get too attached to a type of venue or a setting to make your music be good its sort of like getting attached to a piece of clothing that makes you look hot. Or a drug to make you feel a certain way. I'm interested in every space I go into. Of course I don't play as many quiet songs on these tours because as much as I'm not one to pander to a crowd I'm also not one to go in and be like 'this is how its going to be for the next 40 minutes.' I'm kind of into what everyone brings, and if people are rowdy and freaking out, lets go there. In my own fucking weirdo way they have to deal with that. That's why I don't have set lists, because when you've got 80 songs to choose from its fun to just improvise. It's kind of the same thing as sliding scale. It's just more interesting for me. To me the more different spaces I can play the more I can be scared and insecure. I love that. To me that teaches me how to keep enjoying this. All that said it's been really nice meeting people on these bigger tours; I'm really excited to go do a headlining tour in smaller places. At a lot of big shows I do sidewalk shows after the show because the sets are shorter and really just cause I feel like it. And that's been a blast too because I've gotten one flavor, and than this whole other thing. It's like putting records out out of your house. You can keep doing all of this stuff. You don't ever have to stop. I don't think I'm ever going to be really big or anything, but if I were, I wouldn't have to stop doing this stuff. It's weird to me that musicians stop if that was really fun for them in the first place. Why would they stop? I just see no reason to.

LLM:
What are your 5 favorite records of the moment? What have you been listening to lately?

Jonah:
You know that band Nada Surf? I used to hate them because of that one song.

LLM:
Popular?

Jonah:
Yeah, I just wrote em off. Weezer rip-off. I just hated them. That new record is so fucking good. I've totally had to eat my words because apparently they are this amazing band and I just didn't figure it out. Maybe they used to suck and now they're great, I don't know what happened, but that new record is killing me. Everyday I listen to it.

That's one. There's this woman Mirah on K records, she's been rocking me for the last year. I found her at the end of her last album cycle and then she put out a new one, and they're both amazing. Cat Power has been pretty great lately. Same thing. I got her at the end of the covers record cycle then I love her new one.

It's funny. I love Rock, but for some reason I've been consciously more interested in finding heavier music again that interests me. It's almost like second nature to me to listen to that kind of music. So I like trying to find different stuff that I wouldn't instinctively go to. But now I've been so into soft weirdo music that I want to go back to heavy shit. So there's been In Flames, I just heard them and they are fucking sick. A lot of the bands like Thursday and From Autumn to Ashes and Coheed and Hopesfall. All these bands are like doing this crazy ass mathy metal thing and its something I never really got and certainly I'm not doing it now. It's cool to check with these songs that I don't understand as songs. There's a lot of influence in the bands I like. There's an amazing disparity of influence going into making hard rock music now. So I'm just having fun as sort of an anthropologist, just checking it out. I just love music so much and listening to people I think are coming from a good place.

LLM:
Was there one record that really set you on the path you're on musically? Something that really opened your eyes to a whole new musical world. For me it was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Devils Night out when I was 11.

Jonah:
I knew them really well at that time. I grew up in Boston and my friend Josh was their original drummer and the drummer on Devils Night Out.

Anyways. I could tell you a dozen records that occurred at a certain point in my life that really. Zeppelin was kind of like the ground that all my other musical influences sit as far as rock goes. The first Suzanne Vega was my first singer songwriter love. There's a comp called This is Boston, Not LA which is an old punk comp put out on Modern Method. I didn't really listen to punk, but that was my little window. Having Gang Green and the Fus and the Freeze. That was huge for me in a weird way. Two records by Joe Jackson, Look Sharp and Be Crazy, the First three Pretenders records. This is all formative musical stuff, all in high school. U2, Boy, War, Live at Red Rocks. All huge. They kind of taught me to sing in a weird way.

Since then other stuff has happened, but something that affects you when you're 5 affects you more than when you're 25. There's lots of new stuff that's pushed and pulled me in different ways, made me excited. Miles Davis was pretty huge as I got a little older and could get with 'un-rock' things. I really think that everything I've listened to since then is probably in some way an extension of one of those things I just said. There are plenty of newer more contemporary things but those are the real life changers that always come to my mind when people ask me that. Public Enemy, Fishbone, the Chili Peppers, like the early records like In Your Face, those records were unspeakably big to me and then Nation of Millions was huge.

To me when people say "what are your ten top records," and a lot of times I find people listing things that were released in the last three years and I think to myself "how is that possible?"

LLM:
All the records I consider my "top records of all time" are not the best records ever written, but are great because they are representative of a certain time in my life.

Jonah:
Yeah. To me if someone says "top ten records of the last few years" okay. Easy. But "top ten records of all time?" There's just not going to be anything new in there because it hasn't made an impact.

LLM:
When you hear a onelinedrawing song you hear a lot of Jonah in it. Was putting so much of yourself in your music something that came natural to you, or was it something you had to really work on?

Jonah:
We all in some way wanna be popular and want to be accepted and when it comes to music and rock dreams we all wanna be on the cover of Rolling Stone and get the girl. It's sort of like when you want to be a fireman when you're little. You don't really know what it is. In the case of rock my whole musical career has been about checking in with those dreams and seeing what still makes sense to me. A lot of them of course are really hollow in the end, and then you have to go, "oh shit, why am I doing this?" In the case of "sincerity", one weird thing right now is that it seems like the look and feel of sincerity is very marketable. In the 80's it seemed like artifice was what was marketable, the big hair and the fantasy. I don't think music is anymore real now by nature. Pop culture's pop culture. It's just selling clothes that are intended to look like they're beat up and they're cheap and you're down. Whether you're doing big hair or Adidas or a studded belt, it's either coming from your heart or its not.

LLM:
It's very easy to pick out what's real and what's not.

Jonah:
I'm no one to say what someone should like and what they shouldn't. It's like Zeppelin and Whitesnake. Its always sad to see bands come along and takes the artificial, superficial elements that made something else beautiful and work it but leave any of the heart behind. It's capitalism and I'm totally fine with it, but I'm a musical idealist. I'm always telling people "think about the decisions the bands you love are making." They say they're down for the kids, but how do they're concert prices reflect that.

LLM:
Kind of like "what have they done for the kids lately?"

Jonah:
Yeah! If you're paying 45 bucks to go see a Honda Civic Tour? I test kids almost jokingly. If they go to a tour with a ton of sponsorship, they should ask the band where their cut is. Because all that sponsorship is paying the band more, but the ticket price isn't going down.

LLM:
You'd think with a big corporation behind a tour, it would be a $5 show.

Jonah:
You'd think. It's one of those things where you don't want to sound like you're talking shit, it's like 'it's fine.' I'm very in touch with 'you've got your ideals and you've got how well you can execute them in the world.' For me it's a huge gap. I try to do things the best I can on whatever level. But I'm a fuck up just like anyone else. I make mistakes and there are things where I'll consciously go 'here's my ideal, and here's where I am right now.' You cant beat yourself up about that too much, or other people for that matter. Then you just start being a self-righteous dork. It's a balance, but I think dialogue about it, and people talking about where we fall short of our ideals, I think that's awesome.

LLM:
What advice do you have for someone who would like to be a musician and follow your lead? By that I mean, your music displays a great deal of sincerity. You seem to portray this feeling of confidence. Do you think a lot of where the sincerity in your material comes from that confidence? You know, you've been making music for so long do you have to worry about 'are people going to like this, is this what I want it to be?' or do you just know where you want to go with it?

Jonah:
I've been doing it long enough, and seen enough scenes come and go, and dealt with my own envy and dreams and jealousy and insecurity enough. I recognize them when I see them coming. "Oh, here comes jealousy again... Lets not get all sucked up into that." I remember in high school a huge thing for me was that I really went inside myself and I realized I couldn't trust my family and friends to tell me if I was good or not. They would just never give me an honest answer. So I really thought for a long time, I remember this very clearly, "I know I like doing this, but do I have a spark, do I have a something?" it wouldn't be that I couldn't play music, but for some reason I had to figure out if I sucked or not. I didn't come out of that period saying, "I'm so great." I came out of that period knowing that there was some little thing there. And that helped me. I'm still very sensitive to criticism. I'm really bad about it. It did help me have a center point where if someone told me I was the best thing ever, I could say "oh, that's sweet, thank you." Or if someone told me I sucked I could say, "well, no I don't because I know" That was huge for me, just that little bit of grounding. And still, I'm not an overly confident person. I have this thing where I'm like "you know what, I do what I do." I'm so clear that a lot of people don't like it, and that's fine with me. Of course I'd want everyone to like me. Who wouldn't want that? But, I'm happy.

A lot of people say "I want to start a band, I want to do this, I want to be a professional musician." You can ask yourself all these "What's your passion in life?" questions, and follow your dreams, and all that shit's great, but more than anything I think lately my thing is this. Figure out how much money you need to live and then take out a calculator and see how many CDs you need to sell, how many shirts, how many shows, really bust down all the little numbers just to see this dream of yours in real numbers. Just look at it and say "am I willing to do this?" It's a pretty simple equation. There aren't that many income streams in rock. Then look and see if it's a commitment that you're willing to make. It's just like a relationship. You talk to the person. You figure out what you like and what they like and then see if it's a match. I think any dream is like that. We love to talk about them in very airy terms, but its neat how you can look at the most logistical boring shit and it can tell you the answer to these emotional questions.

PUBLICATION
Last Life Media

AUTHOR
Greg Khaikin

DIRECT LINK TO ARTICLE
http://www.lastlifemedia.com