Artist Profile: Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymn)

One of my favorite new artists is Evening Hymn. I sat down with front man Jonas Bonnetta a couple weeks ago, and talked about his up coming album and his friends in Bellewoods.

I guess the big question is, when is the new album going to be ready?

November 3rd. I'm gonna have copies before. It'll be done in October, I'm gonna be touring the US, so I want to have copies for that. It's going to be finished and mastered right away, and away we go!

You're getting the album art finalized right now, who is working on that?

Well, it's a photograph, an artist from Germany. It's a photo that I found online. It really spoke to me, when I first saw it, I thought, Oh my God, that's what I want for the album. With all the themes that are on the record, it just made a lot of sense. I started a conversation with him, talking about it.

Was it easy to get a hold of the guy?

yeah, it's so cool that the world is like that, you can find someone online and just email them and be like "hey what's up! I'm from Canada and really want to use your photo!" And he seems really nice, I've been talking back and forth with him for the last couple months. But I'm super excited about it.

That's nice that he was pretty open to it

yeah, he's just young, he's a few years younger than I am, an amazing photographer.

And who'd you have producing the album?

The record was produced by myself and James Bunton, who's the drummer from Ohbijou. I've been working on this record forever. Friends of mine were touring out west, the Wooden Sky, and they gave me keys to their apartment, to work in. said "you can have our apartment for free, use the gear and record your record. But you have to have a record done when we get back!" Basically. I was like, this is a great project. I was living in Peterborough, and I'd drive down on Friday night, and I'd be able to work there Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and all my friends in Toronto could play on it. That was the idea. I started working on it, and I found recording the record by myself was really impossible. I can record demo quality stuff, but I didn't have the patients to sit and make the record I wanted to make. I have a hard time telling myself it sounds OK. I have a tough time giving myself the thumbs up that it's time to move on. It's a pretty destructive process for me.

Anyways, I started working on it, was one or two tracks in. I was talking to Casey Mecija (lead singer of Ohbijou), saying "I'm having such a hard time doing this record and she was like "Get James to record it". he'd done the last Forest City Lovers record, and he did a bunch of the Ohbijou stuff. I knew his work was really great, so I sent him an email and he was really ambitious about it.

So me and Casey ended up getting in a bet. I can't remember how much money it was, but more than either of us should be betting! The bet was the two of us had to make a 3 song EP by February. We were both talking about how we didn't have enough output. We'd be out there playing shows, but neither of us... didn't have enough... we weren't releasing enough music. Or at least creating enough. So we spit in our hands and shook hands and decided we'd each release an EP. It could be anything. Casey's songs couldn't be Ohbijou songs, they had to be Casey Mecija songs. My stuff had to be stuff I hadn't done before. It was an awesome goal. I couldn't afford to lose it. That was the original catalyst for making the record. So it turned from him recording a 3 song EP to recording an 8 song album.

We Got together, and I played him the songs, we rehearsed together. We just started talking about how I wanted to sound, the idea behind the record, I didn't want to create a collection of songs, I wanted a theme... not a concept record, but something unified. I wanted it to be one body of music. We discussed all that stuff. I work in a gallery in peterborough, called Artspace. it's a beautiful space, huge ceilings Wood floors, really beautiful. I had booked a show last April called Spirit Spirit Spirit, and I curated it, I had gotten Timber Timbre, and Ohbijou to play the opening, with another local kid named Shawn Conway. It was an awesome night. Jamie was playing drums with Ohbijou, and everyone thought the room sounded great. So when were deciding where to record the album, he said "can we record at the gallery, my drums have never sounded better than there". I was like "Totally, lets do it between Christmas and New Years". So that's what we did. I picked him up on boxing day, and we loaded my car full of all his gear. Stopped at Long and Mcquade rented some gear. We drove up, set up and started banging away. We worked from then till New Years, with the bed tracks done. Now it's August, and still not done! We've worked on it really patiently. I think Jamie really took it on as his own project, it's been amazing. I had an idea how I wanted the album to sound, but I totally love all my friends, and the way they play. I called all my friends, and said, "I don't want to tell you what to play". I feel like i let everybody have their own input on the album, so everyone became a part of Evening Hymns. It really allowed me to have faith in my songs again. Everyone had control over the parts... to an extent...

With your direction

yeah, and jamie. It's pretty 50/50. He really flipped my songs 180 degrees. Without James the record probably wouldn't have been made. He really pushed me to do better takes. He quickly learned what I can do and can't do.

I guess that's the most important part of a producer, to really kick your ass when needed

All of his asskicking was so graceful!

So, who won the bet then? Has that been decided or did you call a truce on it?

I think we called a truce. My record was supposed to be done in February, and it wasn't. And casey's wasn't, but here was Ohbijou releasing this great record, so we can't be down on ourselves! Maybe we were just too hard on ourselves. I think one point Casey said that I won the bet and she'd find a way to pay me. Are you kidding? The only reason this record got made was because of her!

Did she work on any solo stuff? Get anything recorded?

We played a show together at Central, that would have been Feb. that was mostly new stuff. I think some of the stuff ended up on Beacons, the Ohbijou record. And on the Bellwoods comp, the Ohbijou song is one of the songs she played that night. I mean, i think she's constantly writing.

How'd you hook up with that crowd?

They toured through Peterborough. I used to live in Orno, which is between Peterorough and Oshawa, and there was this amazing club in Oshawa called the Velvet Elvis. It's not around anymore, and it's a shame. It was one of my favorite places to play. Ohbijou was playing there with Forest City Lovers. I opened that show for them, and we met that night. They were like "We're playing Peterborough tomorrow night, you should come out and play!" Which I did. Then, "We're playing Kingston tomorrow night, you should come on the whole tour!" I was working, I couldn't at the time, but I became instantly good friends with them, they're the sweetest people in the world. You see the cover of Exclaim right now, and it talks about community and supporting their friends, it couldn't be more true. They're the most supportive graceful people. The whole friends in Bellwoods comp, it's such a nice thing to have, it's like an archive of our times. Those people mean the world to me.

You weren't on the first Friends of Bellwoods were you?

I was, just under my name.

And this one you have an Evening Hymns song, are you on any other tracks?

I play on... my girlfriend has a song. and I play guitar and organ on that. I don't think I'm on anything else... There are so many people playing on every ones songs.

And when's the release party for that?

I'm playing on August 28th. at Lee's Palace. Evening Hymns is opening, then Forest City Lovers, Ohbijou and Bocce closing off the night.

wow, that'll be a great night

Yeah, during our set, we'll be doing Silvie's song. We'll be backing them up. I think everyone will have a few tricks up their sleeves, guest musicians and stuff.

You did the Ohbijou CD release as well, and that was your first show with the band. When I first saw you a year or two ago, you were opening for Barzin, at Tranzac. And you were doing the solo thing, and every time I'd seen you since it was solo. How'd you find the transition from a solo act to a 7 piece band?

it's crazy. We rehearsed a lot for that show. Everybody that plays in my band, plays on the record. A lot of people wrote their own parts, and have been highly involved with the record. so everyone kinda knew the songs. That was a huge bonus. I didn't have to teach them everything. That was an easy thing. Getting together, drinking beers and rehearsing the show with my best friends was a blast. Everybody that's in the band has serious projects on the go. Mike is in the Burning Hell, Gavin and Wyatt are in the Wooden Sky, Jaimie's in Ohbijou, Silvie is in the Magic, Shawn's in The Hidden Cameras. Everyone has their big major project. So I just told everybody from the start, lets just have fun. We don't want it to be a huge stress. So the show was fun. Intense to go from playing and singing through my amp and having total control over everything, to having 7 people on stage, having all that noise happen from everywhere was difficult to feel like we were doing OK on stage, but that'll come in time.

It sounded really great. You were using a lot of visuals in the past, you had the projections before, is that something that really interests up about performing?

I want to at least get back into projecting video. I've been thinking about that more and more. For the upcoming tours. I think that, it helped me to sit back a little bit. Pay more attention to how the performance comes across. I certainly have no interest in being a singer/songwriter anyways. I want to convey something more than just a pretty song. It's part of the reason I use loop pedals too. I can create something a little more soundscape-y. Something to fall into a little more as apposed to just words and music. Which I love and listen to, I write that stuff too, but as far as the performance goes, I want it to be as interesting as possible. Trying to find how to do that with one person, and visuals are something I constantly think about. My brother is a film maker, and I've spent a lot of years, looking at what he does. I've projected his stuff before, and I think that as a solo act it can make it a lot more interesting. It can deter from it as well, if it's done poorly. With the projectionist I worked with before, we rehearsed it a lot. I don't think I'm interested in doing something as playful as that again, but I defiantly would like to create a mood. I used to project this 45 minute film that was shot in Peterborough shot in the winter time. I think I filmed it like, 5 in the morning, and it was the sun coming up. It was an overcast day and the sun never really came up, it just got lighter. It happens over the course of 45 minutes. I used to project that and it's boring. It's the most boring thing in the world! No one wants to watch no sun on a sunrise.

A No Sun sunrise.

yeah it was a no sun sunrise. But it was cool. because at the end of the set people would be like, oh it's light out now. And there was this one seagull that flew trough the scene at like 1:24. Everybody would notice it.

Sometimes you don't want anything too busy. God Speed you Black Emperor always had those video projections, and they were always the simplest static videos of people walking. or power lines and birds... it was like a soundtrack to life.

Yeah, well, I'm not a filmmaker but I'm a fan of a lot of stuff. I'm first and foremost a musician, But if you can project a video that sits an inch behind the music, than that's something I'm interested in doing.

Check in tomorrow for part 2 of my interview with Jonas Bonnetta.