INTERVIEW: Andrew Jackson Jihad | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Despite an impressive back catalogue spanning over 11 years, Andrew Jackson Jihad have managed to avoid being attached to any specific musical genre, and have remained fiercely faithful to their DIY ethics and influences. With a catchy way around an often bizarre turn of phrase that happens to both hit an emotional nerve and be instantly quotable, Andrew Jackson Jihad are the epitome of a band who are admirably true to themselves. Ahead of their impending and extensive tour of the UK, including a stop off at Think Tank? in Newcastle on Friday 12th June, Sean Bonnette is gearing up to “play the frontman”, which may or may not include a few somersaults, high kicks, and “rocking really hard”.

“I think our band has been around for a pretty long time now, and we’ve outlasted a couple of different genres that people have identified us with,” the band’s chief singer, songwriter and sometime painter, drawer and skateboarder states. “Well, not outlasted, but the popularity of folk punk already had an arc, and now it’s back a little more underground than it was in, what, 2005, 2006? Now I guess there’s some controversy about whether or not we are an emo band!”

Often drawing comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel and early Mountain Goats, this ongoing commentary on where exactly Andrew Jackson Jihad’s eclectic take on guitar music fits is something that Bonnette has made a kind of peace with. “I think the best thing bands can do is just try to sound like themselves. The fact that we’ve existed kind of between many different genres has definitely helped us, and has kind of liberated us to just try our very hardest to sound like ourselves with every record.”

This natural sense of spontaneity in relation to their sound is something that has driven the band through extensive touring, varying set ups and severe writer’s block. “I keep trying to remind myself, when I’m writing songs, to stop before it gets too precise and too exact, and to kind of leave room for collaboration to take effect.”

The band’s newest release, the decidedly calmer Christmas Island, is a testament to this. “I live away from the rest of the guys now,” Bonnette explains, “so I have to stop the songs before I feel like they’re totally done, otherwise I’ll just finish them and be a fascist! And I wouldn’t want to have the same kind of emotional overtones on every record, because that would mean that I’m not growing, as a person or as a songwriter.”

andrew jackson jihad

Andrew Jackson Jihad are the epitome of a band who are admirably true to themselves

Bonnette’s shift from sometime social worker in his home base of Phoenix, Arizona, to full time musician also had an impact on his response to music. “Hobbies are so important! Drawing pictures is my new writing songs. That’s my new catharsis. It’s how I blow off steam from my day job of playing music!” Bonnette is also an avid skateboarder. “When I go skating, it forces me to be in the moment of not worrying about anything else besides what’s under my feet and in front of me. But there’s also great elements of friendship and camaraderie with the people you skate with. You can relate to them on a level that’s completely foreign to anyone who doesn’t know how to skate.” Making your own family, in a sense, is something that is obviously important to Andrew Jackson Jihad’s band/fan relationship, especially during their live shows. “People come to shows to be entertained, and ideally the show always ends with that big bang. I do think it is cathartic for a lot of the people who come,” Bonnette agrees. “Live, it’s a totally different aspect of our band. When you make a record you try to kind of capture the feeling of whatever that record is, but when you play live, you’re trying to sum up an entire career in like, an hour and 15 minutes. We usually try to be a different beast.”

As a kind of testament to their integrity, the band don’t always take influence from the most expected sources, citing Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster as a source of inspiration. “What I like is that it’s a pretty raw portrayal of these rock star guys at the top of the world, and they can’t really hold it together when it comes time to make their next record.” The lines of comparison between Metallica and AJJ should probably stop there, but Bonnette’s ongoing appreciation for the slightly off kilter doesn’t. “There are so many great one liners in that movie, but the one that reminded me of this conversation is when drummer Lars Ulrich is talking about a riff James Hetfield is playing. And he’s like, ‘I’m just telling you dude, it’s fucking STOCK…that riff is stock.’ The riff sounds too much like what Metallica is supposed to sound like, and they’re trying to make an effort to change and move on. Before we make any record, we watch that movie,” explains Bonnette. “In the simplest sense, I guess it’s just to remind ourselves to have fun!”

Andrew Jackson Jihad play Think Tank?, Newcastle on Friday 12th June.

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