Feeling fiery following last night's Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance, Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights are kicking-off a major national tour with the likes of Kid Rock, AC/DC, and ZZ Top, plus hitting Bonnaroo for good measure. This is in support of their brand new album, Pardon Me that will be released on April 27th.
The following is a conversation with their very fearless leader, Jonathan Tyler.
Mike Ragogna: Jonathan, what's the age range of your band?
Jonathan Tyler: We're 24, 25, 26, and 27.
MR: Yet your music evokes The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, and you're going on tour with ZZ Top and AC/DC. What inspired you to make music that wasn't as alternative as your contemporaries?
JT: I think the reason our music harkens back to those other artists is because it's the closest thing that we can find we can relate to. It's the attitude and the energy, it's the feeling those artists give you that's the closest that we can find to what we're trying to do. There's really nothing out that's new that has the style or the attitude that we're going for. We relate more to what was going on back then than what's going on right now.
MR: Do you see the trends in today's music changing anytime soon?
JT: I think that things kind of go in cycles with musical trends. You know, things change and times change, you'll see a swing back to that attitude. I feel that people want what we bring, and that's why things have been going so well for us.
MR: It seems that, more than you'd expect, many kids love classic rock. Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC... It almost seems like the cycle is to go through an alternative period before moving on to the classics. They seem to keep inspiring.
JT: I think the reason why is because we're seeing so much music nowadays. Like at South-by-Southwest, with so many bands, it seems that it's weird for weird's sake. The whole indie scene is so watered-down that there's no just listening to music and making music for music's sake. It just seems like it's a trend right now, like, "I'm gonna make this as experimental as I can so that it can be said it's experimental." Putting on a live show that's fun on a Friday night? You know, that's what was happening in the sixties and the seventies.
MR: Why do you think things changed over the years?
JT: The more that heavily, commercialized marketing has gotten involved with music, the more it's changed and turned into this big monster. I think things that made bands like Derek & The Dominos, The Rolling Stones, The Band, and Bob Dylan back in the day, were these guys playing shows, mixing musicians from other bands. There was a little bit of a jam feel, still revolving around the song.
MR: Right, the song seemed to drive the production and energy for most of those acts.
JT: It just feels a lot more welcoming, inviting, and it's not exclusive to looking like this or that style of music, or whatever. It's just good music and it feels good. It's about the attitude. That's why you can take someone like Leon Russell and you can put him on stage with somebody like George Harrison at The Concert for Bangladesh and you get this sound that is unique to them. That night, each member of that band was doing their own thing, but when it came together, it was the attitude. That's what brings bands together, really, and not so much the styles.
MR: Your new album is a very song-focused project, and your use of producer Jay Joyce--a real "song" guy--was a very wise choice.
JT: Exactly, songwriting is the answer to what people buy music for, really. The masses are going to hear a song that connects to them musically in some way, and it's about the lyrics, what the song is saying. I'm all about the songwriting.
MR: And you recorded the album in that hub of where many songwriters live and work, Nashville. Do you think people might associate your music, beyond the obvious classic rock classification, with country?
JT: I think a lot of people, nowadays, might call it country or something like that. Country music, in the traditional sense, is where songwriting is really the most important part.
MR: What you seem to have in common with country music is also that the best of it is written from real life experiences, or about things one feel very strongly about. Is your songwriting springing from real life experiences? For instance, your song "Young And Free" is basically about how liberating quitting a day job is.
JT: Oh, definitely, every single one of them.
MR: What were your day jobs before the band worked full-time?
JT: Our drummer was working for a lighting company doing production. The bass player and lead guitar player were working landscape jobs, and I was working at a restaurant. But we were working jobs so that we could play music. The jobs weren't careers, we were just doing it for money to be able to play.
MR: The album starts with your slugger-of-a-song "Pardon Me" that seems to be a reaction to the standard issue, Disney-American Idol-saturated pop song.
JT: Yeah. Like I was talking about earlier, I see some of these bands these days and they seem to be watered down. Pop music too. Music seems to not be hitting the mark in my book anymore. I wanted the first track to be in-your-face, and I wanted to challenge the listener to take the time to really listen to something different. Let the soul behind what we're doing open you up to deeper things in music, that was the idea behind that song. We're here on the scene to try and make some changes around here, and we're gonna do something that you're not used to, so you need to listen-up.
MR: This new album's "Gypsy Woman" was a song you originally recorded for your last one, Hot Trottin', right?
MR: It sounds bigger than the version on your earlier album. What did you change when you re-recorded it to differentiate it from the original version?
JT: Initially, we experimented with the guitar, drums and bass tones, and we dialed them in so they would really cut and be massive sounding. We really wanted the sonics of it, this time around, to be better. The first time around, the sonics just weren't there, it didn't come across the way we come across live, not as well. And we spent some time with the bridge of the song, we cut out some of the lagging from the first one mainly by changing a couple of chords and cutting out some sections. But we still tried to maintain the bridge feel that was little ethereal, a little spacey.
MR: "Gypsy Woman" and "She Wears A Smile" are your oldest songs on Pardon Me. What's the story behind them?
JT: Both of those songs came after I was in long, long relationship, before I decided to do music full-time. I had an epiphany in my life, and a lot of things changed really fast. "She Wears A Smile" is one that I wrote about seeing this girl at the places we would always go. When I would see her, I felt that, deep down, she was putting on a complete show. And it was really hard and broke my heart at the time because I didn't believe what I was seeing, and I felt there were things going on inside of her. It just didn't seem real, so I wrote a song about it, and it was one of those that came really fast, really easy to write. It's also one that people react to almost every time we play it.
MR: In "Ladybird," you're talking about your creative muse. But what is your creative muse, what's your process when writing music?
JT: It's always different depending on what we're going through or what I'm feeling at the time. If you take a song like "Young Love" or "Young And Free," they weren't inspired by a specific person or a specific thing. As far as "Ladybird," if you read poetry, a lot of the poets would evoke a muse in their mind. Some people say James Joyce's muse was his daughter when she was really young, during an innocent phase of her life. The muse situation is where, as a writer, you get this idea, and if you dwell on it enough, it evokes feelings for songs. I'd written the song "Ladybird" on acoustic and it was a full song. We went into the studio and I wanted to try and do something different, so we took one verse and did it a cappella which was better than if we had recorded the full song. It makes it feel dreamy and better.
MR: "Hot Sake" is obviously you guys having some fun in the studio. What's the band like in general, are you having some fun on the road? Do y'all get kind of crazy?
JT: I think we have that reputation. There've been numerous stories. We like to let loose, we like to have a good time. The song wasn't about a specific experience, it's the culmination of a bunch.
MR: Isn't there a story about you getting into a fight on tour?
JT: We're a rock band, so we're just doin' our thing. Sometimes it gets crazy. There've been tons of stories like about the first night of our Kid Rock tour, we drank so much of his Jim Bean, we got into a huge band fight. That's kind of an infamous story, how I got into a fight with our bass player, and got knocked-out right in front of the whole Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock crew. That's probably the most infamous party story that we have yet. They were totally making jokes about us, talking about it, and it spread all around. I'm not bragging about it or anything, but we drink and have fun. I've got a really, really big mouth when I drink, it's the Mouth Of The South here. I sort of had it comin'.
MR: What was it like working with Jay Joyce as a producer?
JT: It was really good, I feel like he and I hit it off immediately as soon as I knew that he was the guy. I'd met so many other producers and I was holding out, just waiting for the right one. I have these gut feelings about that. When we met, it was like, "Finally there's somebody who understands how we work, he's actually listening to us, not just making us sound like somebody else." I trusted him a lot in the studio. A few of those songs are first takes, he and I really wanted to get a "live" sounding record. He was the most encouraging person to be around, and his ideas were all good.
MR: So, you're going on tour with AC/DC, Kid Rock, and ZZ Top?
JT: Right now, that's the summer line-up, we'll probably do a tour of our own where we take out some bands that we like. We'll probably hit a lot of the places we've already been at with bigger bands. We're doing Bonnaroo as well, and a couple of other festivals.
MR: What acts do you and the band like these days?
JT: JJ Gray & Mofro. We don't really sound a lot like them, but their attitude is really similar. We gelled really well. Shooter Jennings is another one, and The Black Crowes is another one that we did really well with. There are some newer bands too like Taddy Porter that's out of Oklahoma that we'll be hearing more about in the next couple of years, I'm sure. Other bands are Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, anything Jack White does...
MR: Including the Loretta Lynn album?
JT: That's a GREAT record, actually.
MR: Generally, what is behind your inspiration?
JT: I try to digest new music all the time. I have to be listening to new music or music that inspires me on a regular basis, to kind of feel fresh and feel like there are new things to try.
1. Pardon Me
2. Young & Free
3. Young Love
4. Gypsy Woman
5. Devil's Basement
6. Paint Me A Picture
7. Bright Energy
8. She Wears A Smile
10. Hot Sake
11. Where The Wind Blows
Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights' Jimmy Kimmel performance of "Pardon Me":