Focus: Jonny Kearney | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Who are you and where are you from? 
My name is Jonny and I come from Hexham.

What is it you do?
I mostly work and grow increasingly tired, wizened and old. My sense of taste, smell, hearing and humour diminishes, year upon year. I see death on the horizon, winking at me. I feel lucky to be alive.

I am a songwriter and a musician. Not professionally but in my head. Over the last number of years, I have been caught in a quandary of confusion, disillusionment, inertia and self-doubt. I am trying to break the spell via some form of positive action. I am trying to remember my happy thoughts. 

How long have you been doing it?
Since I was quite young, but I stopped for quite some time. I am trying to get something going again.

What inspires you?
Other music mostly. I’m a huge fan of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and John Lennon. I love most of Dylan’s stuff. The album John Wesley Harding is one of favourites of his, which I think is a bit overlooked. I like the strange worlds that Tom Waits conjures, like some incantation. I like his humour. His early stuff is great, but Alice, Blood Money, Mule Variations, Bastards, Bawlers and Brawlers are probably my favourites.  I like how eclectic he is. John Lennon always sounded like he was singing for his life. He probably was. 

I like all the usual suspects, I love the National, Rufus Wainwright, Television, Pavement, Django Reinhardt, Schoenberg, John Williams, Talking Heads, Can, Devo, Pixies, Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman, Thelonius Monk, Bing Crosby, Alan Lomax, Scott Joplin, Bill Hicks, Townes Van Zandt. Francis Bacon, The Fall, The Beatles, Billie Holiday, Gershwin, George Formby, Nick Drake, Eminem, Louis Armstrong, Chopin, Beach Boys, Beach House, The Pogues, Big Thief, Beethoven, Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, Portishead, Bon Iver, Jeffrey Lewis, Elliott Smith, Jacques Brel, The Smiths Nina Simone, Fontaines DC, Hank Williams, Odetta, Scott Walker, The Amazing Snakeheads, Young Fathers, Sleaford mods, The National, The Beatles, Sam Cooke, Dave Van Ronk, Bert Jansch,  Daniel Johnson, James Yorkston, Mississippi John hurt, the Unthanks, Robert Johnson. I like some of the 90s bands, Blur, Pulp. Of Montreal. Tim Dalling, The Handsome Family, Woody Guthrie, Richard Dawson, Hot Chip. Recently I’ve been enjoying Grian Chatten’s solo album, the band Squid, Wesley Gonzales, Bill Callahan and Smog. I like the Drag City stuff. I got pretty obsessed with what Father John Misty did in bored in the USA with the canned laughter, I thought that was pretty meta.

I enjoy moments of euphoria in songs, tension and release. Such as the last verse of Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead, the final chorus of In The Back Seat by Arcade Fire, the crescendo in If I Can Dream or Unchained Melody by Elvis. The scene where he is hunched over the piano, drenched in sweat, just a few weeks before he died. Heartbreaking, sublime. Such moments transcend and have an almost religious quality to them.

Tell us about your music.
I used to play a bit when I was younger. We did semi-ok in a small way. Some decent writeups in the national press, played some festivals and got played a bit on radio. I was too uptight, I couldn’t handle the pressure. I suppose I lost the plot. Music went from something I loved, to something that felt like a drag and super stressful. I lost all sense of self, I forgot what I liked and felt alienated from what I was making. I became too suggestible to external voices. I was confused. No heart or guts. No fun. I became disillusioned. I stopped listening to music altogether. The joy disappeared and creativity became like a ball and chain rather than something which was playful and free. I had a bit of a meltdown. Hallucinogens and other substances probably didn’t help. You beat yourself up. No one else cares about your mistakes as much as you do. Spotlight effect. This is public therapy. It is difficult when you’re young and eager. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We all make mistakes. Redemption awaits. 

Now I have resolved to write more, complete more, be less perfectionist and to release stuff I like, on my own terms. It’s not too much to ask, is it?

I’m 37 now. The years in between have been mostly me scratching my head, gazing into the void with a puzzled expression on my face. Perhaps I will be a late bloomer. Perhaps I will fail. Such lofty resolutions are consistently thwarted by overthinking, self-doubt and by a stark realisation of how completely vain and self-indulgent the whole creative process can be. 

I think I’m quite diverse in my approach to music. I’m fairly open to different styles, possibly too open.  I like the idea of blending different song styles and forms, white album style. Arthur Russell is an influence in this regard. I’ve got a bluesy grungy, groove-based sort of side that I would like to explore. I like the idea of dream-like eerie ballads building up to a crescendo. I would like to find a sweet spot between cliche and chaos. I like cathartic, animalistic stuff. Wailing guitars and folk songs. Or perhaps a stream-of-consciousness splurge over a drum machine. I shouldn’t talk too much or think too much before I do. Hopefully, I do. I like to think of music as painting pictures. I like the idea of incorporating lightness and humour. I don’t really know what I’m doing and that’s quite liberating. One can be anything and everything, although this may be the same as being nothing. 

As you can probably tell, I may take things and myself too seriously, it quickly becomes parody. It’s comedy, it’s tragedy. I’ve made a serious resolution not to take it all so seriously. One can inadvertently slide into Spinal Tap or Flight Of The Conchords. Like some struggling, pantomime actor with notions of grandeur, frequently referencing Beckett and Shakespeare. It doesn’t add up. It’s funny really. It’s all just one big joke. 

What have you got coming up in the future?
I’ve just released an EP,  which I recorded when I was 19, called The Ticketman EP. It’s quite folky. That was where I was at, at the time. The song takes a dip into the mind of a somewhat warped antagonist who is teetering on the edge and projecting his fury onto any poor soul who passes. He desperately attempts to rationalise what is probably rather irrational. It’s out now on streaming platforms. Check it out, if you so please.

I’m hoping to start releasing more stuff. An egotistical exercise in reclaiming my identity sort of thing. It’s hard to fit in around work. But the structure of work is good for me. I will see what I do next. I find the prospect of creating a series of EPs quite exciting. I imagine any new material will sound rather different to this EP. This is hopefully the beginning of a period of activity for me. Either that or a false start. Probably one of the two. Perhaps I will gig again at some point.

Where can people find out more about you?
I am currently a socially awkward, ostentatious hermit. A self-proclaimed riddle wrapped inside of an enigma. A self-absorbed, self-important,  ‘Do you know who I think I am?’ sort of guy. It’s not clever, it’s not attractive. 

One can always ask.

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