I first heard about AJJ in 2008, from a buddy of mine in high school. “You going to the Andrew Jackson Jihad show later?” he asked. “What the hell is Andrew Jackson Jihad?” I thought. My question was later answered when I found myself on Broadway in Louisville, Kentucky, at the famous (to me and my friends anyway) Skull Alley, watching two dudes belt out some of the catchiest and most honest music I have ever heard. Two dudes with an acoustic guitar and upright bass played at breakneck speed. I was down for their program for sure. Eight years later, now under the simplified abbreviation of AJJ, the Phoenix, Arizona natives have added a few more members to the band, and have moved from jangly, angsty acoustic songs to cool, lo-fi tinged indie rock. They continue to make music that combines an immense urgency and angst with lyrics that are humuorous, witty, sarcastic, and painfully honest. I had a phone conversation with lead singer/songwriter Sean Bonette where topics bounced from Townes Van Sandt’s ability to write songs in his sleep, to skateboarding in the Olympics, to how cool MGMT is. Needless to say, this was a fun conversation.
SP: First off, I just wanna say congrats on the new record! I first heard about the new album, The Bible 2, in June. How long before that were you all working on it?
Sean Bonette: We had it finished up in January. We started it on January 1st and we ended it on the day that David Bowie died (January 10th).
SP: Wow, so just from the 1st through the 10th?
Bonette: Yeah, [John] Congleton (producer of The Bible 2) loves working fast. That’s his preferred mode.
SP: Do you think working so fast came out on the album at all?
Bonette: Definitely. We didn’t give ourselves anytime to over-think. It all came out pretty quickly, and as a whole.
SP: So I have this theory about songwriters: You either have these people that can crank out songs like machines, or you have people that have to work a little harder at songs. Which side do you think you fall on?
Bonette: I definitely have to work at them a little bit more, or like a “lot-le” bit more. [Laughs.] But one thing I’ve noticed about the way I write songs, and through researching the way other people write songs, is there’s always a couple songs in one’s repertoire that come out immediately. “Golden Eagle” off the new album is like that. I like to write in the morning, just kinda fill three pages of quality free writing. So [one morning] when I was finishing up page two I wrote a little note to myself, like I want to write a song right now. On the next page, I wrote “Golden Eagle” really quickly. But like “Small Red Boy” or “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” those songs… I definitely had to work for those.
SP: So I checked out a couple reviews of the new album and they’ve all been very positive. How much do you guys pay attention to reviews and stuff like that?
Bonette: I try not to. It’s hard not to. I’ve definitely read some [about] the new record, and I’m pleased to see that a lot of people actually get it. That’s been kind of a point of frustration for me with this band – I don’t feel like people understand us as well as I want them to, but I also don’t think I should make too much of an effort to do that. Have you ever read the book Songwriters on Songwriting?
SP: No, I haven’t.
Bonette: You write songs right?
SP: Yeah… I try. [Laughs]
Bonette: That’s a book recommendation right there. It’s got a bunch of different songwriters from Leonard Cohen and Neil Young to Steely Dan. It’s killer.
SP: I’ll have to check that out for sure. I was reading in your AJJ’s Consequence of Sound interview where they make reference to your “long, and rocky career.” Would you consider your AJJ career to have been rocky?
Bonette: Not really, no. [Laughs].
SP: They also called the AJJ album Christmas Island a turning point in your career. Would you say that’s true?
Bonette: Once again, not really. Though I can see why they would say that. It was our first album that wasn’t self-produced. It was the first one with a label that was bigger than Asian Man Records, and it did sound a lot different. But I think all of our records sound different. If you try to make the same record twice, you’re gonna fail. If you try to make people happy with whatever your next record is, you’re gonna fail.
AJJ, “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” from The Bible 2
SP: You’ve described yourself as a nerdy skater. Would you say you were also a skate-nerd? Did you follow all the videos and magazines?
Bonette: Oh, for sure! Still Do!
SP: I’m a skateboarder myself. What you think about skateboarding in the olympics?
Bonette: I don’t really mind. I think it’s gonna take skateboarding to this new, higher level. I think a lot of money is gonna come into skateboarding. It’s gonna completely eclipse Street League. I think that means a lot more skateparks are gonna pop up which is a super good thing. I think it will kind of grow the jock mentality that’s always been in skateboarding a little bit that’s kind of been increasing over the years. But I also think the reaction to that is gonna be amazing. There’s gonna be some like super weirdo, druggie park skaters that are gonna come out. But I think Brazil’s gonna win [laughs].
SP: For sure. Go Luan Oliveria!
Bonette: Yeah, he’s incredible.
SP: So back to AJJ – I see you guys are kicking off some extensive touring with your stop at Pygmalion. Have you heard about Pygmalion before? Are there any bands on the bill in particular that you’re excited to see?
Bonette: I had never heard of it, but I checked it out. I’m gonna tell you right now I think Future Islands is a really sick band. That frontman is incredible. I know my bandmates are really pumped to see Alvvays. I’ve heard cool stuff about Car Seat Headrest too.
SP: There’s just so much stuff to see.
Bonette: Yeah, this looks really awesome.
SP: Last question for you: What song/artist/album have you been listening to a lot lately?
Bonette: I’d say “AFC Tower Song” by Amps for Christ. He’s this guy Henry Barnes the who was in that band Man is the Bastard. That song is really beautiful. I’ve also been listening to “Title Tk” by the Breeders a lot. Everything about it is so classy sounding. Third thing is that band MGMT. I avoided them for a long time because of the hype, but now that that’s died down I can take them from what they are which is a pretty brilliant band. I avoided Arcade Fire for that same reason, but I have to say they were pretty worth the wait.
SP: I almost missed out on how awesome that show Archer is because the dude who suggested I watch also would also try to argue with me about how Nickelback is actually tight. Completely unprompted arguments.
Bonette: When some goober tries to recommend you something, it completely nullifies any good that could have come from it.
SP: Well thank you for your time man! Can’t wait to catch you guys at Pygfest!
Bonette: Thank you!
AJJ is playing Pygmalion on Friday, Sept. 23rd, at Memphis on Main, from 11:45-12:45. Visit the website for more information and to purchase tickets.