Andrew Jackson Jihad's Sean Bonnette on Knife Man and Gawker

Well, he's done it.

Sean Bonnette, one half of Valley mainstays Andrew Jackson Jihad, lover of hip-hop, passionate defender of all things Phoenix, has moved away.

But don't get up in arms. "This is just a temporary thing," Bonnette says of his recent move to Chicago to be with his girlfriend. "I was going to do a big Facebook post joking, I'm moving to Chicago, so our band can blow up now. There's no opportunity in Phoenix."

Bonnette and his band prove that the "no opportunity in Phoenix" thing is laughable. The band's new record, Knife Man, set for release on September 20, flies in the face of that reasoning. It's a snapshot of the Phoenix scene, and a powerful collection of amped up folk and indie rock.

Bonnette took some time to speak with Up on the Sun about his move, Gawker declaring Arizona the worst state in the country, and the band's new record (which we've got a song from beyond the break). Andrew Jackson Jihad is scheduled to perform with Frank Turner on Monday, October 10, at the Rhythm Room.

Up on the Sun: Sean, how have you been?

Sean Bonnette: I've been good. Kind of the same, except, I moved to Chicago, and I don't have a job. So basically, my job is to get as much attention for our new album as possible, which is something I've never done. It's pretty fun.

Is it?

Yeah, it's a lot like booking a tour, which we haven't done for the past couple tours. It's nice to get to bring my obsessive tendencies to that, instead of what I usually do, which is play video games and watch Netflix and write songs.

I really love the new record. I think its the best thing you guys have done.

I think so too. I'm super proud of it. It turned out perfectly.

Anytime a member moves away -- in this case, half the band moves away -- you're like 'Do they still count as a local band?' And in this case, it's like, this record has everybody "Phoenix" on this record. It's not just a great new AJJ album, but it's also a snapshot of the Phoenix community. Your records have always done that, but this one it really feels like that.

Yeah, that was intentional. With Can't Maintain, we didn't have that many Arizona musicians playing on it. We had a pretty good amount, as much as any band from Phoenix does, but all the extra stuff we would outsource. The internet allowed us to get Jeff Rosenstock [Bomb the Music Industry] from New York to play some horns and theremin. [But with] this one we recorded everything at the same studio. We wanted all Phoenix/Arizona musicians, because it's an album about Phoenix.

And just so you know-- I'm moving back in June. This is just temporary thing. I was going to do a big Facebook post joking, 'I'm moving to Chicago, so our band can blow up now. There's no opportunity in Phoenix.'

You guys have been Phoenix boosters, and a lot of people bitch about how there's no opportunity here, but you guys fly in the face of that.

It's bullshit.

When I first posted about this record, I just posted the track list. Rarely does that mean anything for a band, but just reading your song titles is enjoyable. It really works as its own thing. You know, "The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving?"

I wrote that song because I thought that was the funniest song title ever.

So you came up with that title and decided you were going to write a song about? It's not about a specific guy?

It's about anybody that's drunk driven.

So, unfortunately, about a lot of people.


But even though the songs are funny, this doesn't feel like a joke record or joke songs. Well, I mean, "Sad Songs" might be a joke.

I wrote that song with idea of creating a character, telling everybody, 'This is a cover of a guy no one has ever heard of,' like, a super obscure outlaw country guy. It didn't end up working. I was going to credit the song to somebody else, but then we forgot.

So you would up admitting you wrote it.

I was going to name the singer Steve Chavez, unless there's already a Steve Chavez. I was going to Google some names, to see if there's any cool names that weren't taken. Guys that play outlaw country.

You went full on with that.

It was really cool to get Preston [Bryant, French Quarter, and what feels like a dozen other local bands] to play the honky-tonk piano on that. We didn't know would could play that kind of a piano, but it turns out Preston can play every type of music.

The record is very collaborative, it seems.

Most of the songs on this album turned out even cooler than we [expected]. "Big Bird" is the most obvious example of that. On "Big Bird," Owen [Evans, The Roar] took the most control over.

It's so huge.

Yeah [laughs.] That song is pretty much pieced together. The lyrics of the song "Distance" were supposed to be the lyrics for "Big Bird." When we heard the music, how big it was, I took those lyrics over to that, and it turned out amazingly. "No One" is another example of that. I recorded a demo of that, and I gave it to Ben [Gallaty, bassist and other full-time member]. I wanted it to be a slow piano dirge, that didn't' sound bluesy at all. We actually recorded that, but then Ben had another arrangement for it, that sounded like "I Put a Spell on You," the Creedence version of that. That turned out fucking crazy.

I would ask what you miss most about Phoenix. But how do you even approach that.

That's a big question.

When I was a kid, we moved away from Phoenix when I was six. We lived in a couple places in California, and Minnesota, and Connecticut. My step-dad was in the navy, so we moved around a whole bunch. When I was 12 or something, the option came up for me to move back to Phoenix, and live with my grandparents, and that's one of my favorite decisions I've ever made.

It doesn't really matter where you live. It's all in your head. If you choose to be happy, in whatever town you live in, then you are going to be happy. If you choose not to be happy with what you have, you'll never be happy anywhere. If you move to more...artistically desirable towns, I guess that is the best way to put it...Some people become happier there, which is a good thing, but they could have done that in Phoenix, too.

So I assume you read the Gawker thing.

What a fucking joke. Out of all the states I the country, I know that there are worse states. I know there are shittier states. I don't want to name them, because that's just as bad as Gawker, but I don't know. My girlfriend asked me, 'Guess what they named the number one state?' Hmmm...New York. It was super predictable.

I read it. It was pretty funny, but part of loving Arizona is also recognizing the things worth making fun of here. There are a lot of ass-backward racists rednecks, and we are a sprawling mess...

It's kind of like a no one hits my little brother but me thing.

Totally. Exactly.

You live in New York and you're going to call my state bad? Fuck you, I'll call my state bad [laughs].

When I read it, I had just moved. I was extra puffy chested and I was like, 'Waaah, fuck this guy. If I was in Arizona, I could have read it and I got it a little better. I do now, too. I'm not as homesick as I was.

Andrew Jackson Jihad - People II 2 Still Peoplin' by SecretServicePublicity

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.