Andrew Jackson Jihad: Google Chatting About Optimism and Hipsterism
Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty
Carolina Nava Photography
Folk punk heroes Andrew Jackson Jihad are one of the most recognizable fixtures in the Valley's independent music scene, and Sean Bonnette, the band's frontman, is one of the most down-to-earth, friendly musicians I've ever met. I've often bumped into Bonnette at local dive bars or kickass shows and he's always been amiable and willing to talk about just about anything. He deals with his fans with a striking humility and reps Arizona with a brotherly-like love, as does bassist Ben Gallaty.
But Andrew Jackson Jihad doesn't play in the Valley as much as they used to. Part of the reason is that Bonnette divides his time in Lansing, Michigan, with his sweetheart, and part of it's that the band spends a lot of time touring.
That tour winds his way back to the band's hometown this weekend at Crescent Ballroom, where the duo is joined by Future of the Left, Jeff Rosenstock of Bomb the Music Industry, and local video game enthusiasts, Minibosses are also gonna rock you silly.
While driving through Utah, we caught up with Bonnette on GChat (that explains the emoticons, OK?) and GChatted about suicide hotlines, repping the Valley of the Sun, and Jihad's latest album, Knife Man, released last year.
Up On The Sun: First, on behalf of my friend Levi, I want to know what the word you yell at the end of "Big Bird" is.
Sean Bonnette: "I'm walkin' on sunshine." Wait, you mean like at the END end?
Yeah. He said it's either "knife" or "alive."
That's what I thought, but he just wanted to ask. Levi is probably your biggest fan (that I know) and you both have a lot in common. You both seem to have this painfully optimistic viewpoint on life. How would you explain your disposition on life?
Is it painful because it's annoying to be around? I would say I am a positive person, but not necessarily an optimist. The glass for me is half empty, but I'm still happy there's liquid in the glass. My default reaction to things going wrong is to find something to laugh about.
I say painful, like you're really struggling to always see the optimistic side. It's not a bad thing. For me, I like to indulge in bitching and complaining, even though I know it's more healthy (is that the right word?) to look at things positively or as you say, laugh about it.
I get a lot of complaining done while laughing. Sometimes the level of how fucked something is the funniest thing in the world, and by laughing about it, you can kill two birds with one stone (complaint and humor).
Nice. You have fans all over the world. Where are some of the most surprising places you've heard your music getting airplay?
I've heard from listeners in Indonesia and Brazil, which is awesome! Hmm... we have listeners in South Africa, and we send lots of mail order to Australia. I really hope we can go to these places one day.
I remember you saying once that you are tired of playing "I Love You." You got some strong hate mail for that song, correct? How do you deal with all the hatred?
We didn't get any hate mail from that. We actually hardly ever get hate mail. Message boards are where all the hate goes these days, it's more public and totally anonymous. I don't read the boards.
Oh, ok. Probably for the best. Do you read much of your press at all or go the Gandhi route, where you don't read negative or positive press?
Nothing good ever comes from reading a review of one's stuff, favorable or not, but I do indulge from time to time.
Do you still work at the suicide hotline?
When I'm in AZ I do! It's the best job ever. I can't believe they're cool with keeping me on with all my traveling and living other places.
Suicide is a very important issue to me after two friends and a teacher took their lives, so I have to say thank you. What is the job like?
It's a lot of fun. There's a foosball table, board games and my old VHS collection for when there's downtime. The hotline is staffed by teens mostly, where my job is to train and supervise. I know some of the coolest, most talented and compassionate teenagers in AZ.
You don't work the phones?
I'm sorry for your losses by the way. I work the phones when there is no peer staff. When I was a teen volunteer, I worked the phones a lot.
It was a while ago and the plus side is it made me realize the consequences of suicide aren't for me. As a teen, I was pretty suicidal. Never attempted though, but got pretty close. I've tried to be a mentor to people who are kind of depressed like that. What was working the phones like?
It's fine. Everyone working the phones is trained to the point that the counseling style is second nature.
Alright, switching gears here: do you consider yourself a hipster?
Sure, why not? I play in a band, have tattoos, wear glasses, etc...
Yeah, I don't think it's such a bad label. What does hipster even mean?
Full disclosure, I was an angry young man when I was 17, but for me these days "hipster" is just a mean word to discredit and devalue people. Also, to generalize. That's all I got for that.
Do you feel the song "Scenesters" needs an update? You mention the Marquee and other venues, but Phoenix is way different 7 years from now, don't you think?
We just don't play it now. Phoenix is way different, and I am way different. If I hadn't written that song and heard it today I would absolutely hate it.
Do you feel like you've contributed to the growth of culture in this city? If so, how?
I hope we contribute to Phoenix culture. We proudly represent PHX when we go on tour. We tell people about our favorite Phoenix bands, restaurants, DJs, coffee shops, etc... We make sure people know that Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio don't represent the people of AZ.
Awesome. :) Why do you think Phoenix is so misrepresented as a cool place to live?
I think a big part of it is how young Phoenix is. It's too young to have a super strong rep. Also, most people who visit Phoenix aren't looking for cool, they're visiting their grandparents in Scottsdale or Sun City. Wouldn't that leave a horrible impression?
You're right. Knife Man was produced so differently than your previous recordings. Now that it's been over a year since the release, what changes has this turn brought to your band?
We've been touring as a full band a lot with Deacon Batchelor (Malakai) and Preston Bryant (French Quarter). Also, on this tour Jeff Rosenstock from Bomb the Music Industry is playing keyboards and saxophone with us. We've been embracing volume and space a lot more this year.
Are you working on a new album?
Yup! writing stuff now. We're still in very early stages, we've been playing some new stuff on this tour
That's awesome. I'm looking forward to hear it. What are you reading?
The Family by Ed Sanders. It chronicles the Manson murders and trial from the perspective of the counterculture. Great read. Ben got it for me for my birthday last year :-)
That sounds awesome. Well, those are all my questions. Do you have anything else you'd like to tell me?
I would like to say that Future of the Left and Jeff Rosenstock are really fun to tour with, even though Hurricane Sandy and our dead van didn't want this tour to happen. R.I.P. Van. Thank you for interviewing me Troy! See you at Crescent, hopefully.
Andrew Jackson Jihad is scheduled to perform Sunday, November 18, at Crescent Ballroom.
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