I had the pleasure last week of thinking up a bunch of questions to ask Charlotte singer/songwriter Jon Lindsay, who’s in the process of recording his second LP, Summer Wilderness Program, as we speak. Type. Read this on our phones, whatever. Behind the jump, he talks writing, recording, touring, Charlotte, human beings, inspiration, and answers the all-important question: Carolina, Duke, or State?
Jon plays Thursday at Slim’s in Raleigh with Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores. $5, 9:00pm, be there.
You’re working on a new album right now. Can you tell me a little about your writing process, and how you got from Escape From Plaza-Midwood to the stuff you’ve written for this album? In the studio, is it just you, or do you record with a band?
in the studio, it’s just me with one important exception: Chris Walldorf. he’s been in a lot of cool bands, check ‘em/him out. Chris is really the only other human who touches my stuff creatively (that sounds gross, my bad) before it goes out. he’s my hero and a real genuis. to quite Phoenix, he helps me take it all “from a mess to the masses”. i mean, i write/sing/perform everything initially (guitars, keys, bass, crappy demo drums, other) then after some major analysis of ‘what in the shit is happening with these songs’, when we go back and “make it for real”, Chris plays pretty much all the drums, engineers the sessions, co-produces with me at his studio (Sioux Sioux Studios), and has also played vibes/keys/percussion on a few things, made loops with me, all that. we just geek out together and have a good time. he’s the man. the main difference process-wise between LP 1 and LP 2: this new one Summer Wilderness Program was written in an intense burst (gross again!) of inspiration over the course of about a month. then I demoed it entirely before rerecording it for real. i did that only a tiny bit on Escape From Plaza-Midwood. EFPM was largely written in the studio insofar as the arrangements are concerned. i knew very little about that one up front, other than that i wanted it to be kaleidoscopic and adhere to its own logic. which i think it does. i still love that record. on SWP, i was like “ok, this is the song, this is the vocal, this is the bare bones arrangement”. then we still deconstructed the piss outta those initial roadmaps and turned them into something else altogether, but the point is – on this one there were roadmaps.
You tour a lot, I’m guessing, because you do or did have a couple of side projects, and play with other people. Do you write on the road? How much of your life as a musician goes into your songs? How personal do you feel like they start, and how personal do they end up?
i do tour a lot. first of all i love touring. love it to death. it’s a magical, singular experience. and any experience i’d describe that way of course includes all ends of the emotional spectrum from the crappiest to the extreme glories. i will give props to Stu from the Love Language for stringing together the words “dizzy highs, restless lows”. i actually have an mini-homage (prolly nobody will make the connection tho, it’s so mini) to that band/that line/and kinda to their song “This Blood is Our Own” on my new record. i’m an annoying superfan of theirs for sure… we go back to 2007 when my old band The Young Sons would play with TLL and Max Indian (another one of my all time favorite bands). anyway, i don’t know where that line came from or who said it, but it describes my life on the road pretty well. i will also say that touring relentlessly will make you pretty fucking fearless. i don’t scare easy, not that i ever did much, in the past. but i feel like i’ve seen most everything out there in the past 4 years with my JL stuff, Benji and others i’ve rolled with in different bands. i’m not a medicine chest snooper, but i love staying in strangers’ homes, sleeping in their beds or their animals’ beds; i love meeting new friends and not knowing if they’ll change my life forever or if i’ll never see ‘em again. it’s nuts. but awesome. sorry i’m getting off topic, big surprise there. to answer another part of your question, mainly these days, the amount of touring and the thing being supported all the time is the JL thing. i’m still best of friends with Benj, love him to death and see him all the time, but he’s doing his own thing (being a rad scientist and getting super fucking famous), and it’s all we can do to “keep in text” as the kids say, busy as we both are. the last proper show i played in his band was over a year ago now. but that band was the jam. if you missed that classic Benji lineup, i hate it for ya. proud to have been a part of it for two years and change. was like this awesomely weird stadium rock band that would get into psychedelic jams even. hopefully we’ll rock again in public one day. i’m up for it. let me put out a couple a 7 more records first, though.
“Escape From Plaza-Midwood” is a reference to Charlotte, isn’t it? How does place factor into your songwriting?
yes. it’s the neighborhood i live in when i’m not sleeping on your couch. some people call it “cool town”. ha! it’s a rad place to be if you’re gonna be in CLT. i was copping the double entendre vibe with the whole Escape From LA, Escape From New York, Escape From Plant Earth or whatever, you know, all these big iconic places everyone’s heard of. so we thought it was funny that we’d give props to the hood in a context like “everyone is just supposed to know what this place is”. when really, i’ve been asked 87,000 times “what the fuck is a plaza-midwood???” which was kinda the point. so hey, i did my part for the hood. and it’s really a love letter to the hood – only good vibes intended.
I won’t lie: I live in the Triangle, and I’m a kind of snob about Charlotte. I don’t mean any offense, honest, I just landed here and it stuck. Convince me to give Charlotte a chance: what are some of your favorite things about the city? Best places to eat, to see local music, to buy records?
i hear you. i’m not one to convince another to do anything, really. but:
best local records: Lunchbox and Manifest Discs and Tapes
best places to eat: The Diamond, Soul, Krazy Fish Taco
best local music: The Catch Fire, Benji Hughes, Avett Brothers, Nicole Atkins
favorite things about the city: it’s beautiful and conflicted as hell.
also, the democratic national convention is coming here in ’12. i am pumped about that.
What records in your parents’ record collection were your biggest influences as a kid? Have you held on to any of them as you’ve gotten older; who are they?
oh man. i can’t do it right now. too much, too many!
Who (or what, if it’s books or something else) is influencing or inspiring you lately?
i am the most inspired right now and always by those – living and gone – who relentlessly, obsessively, unapologetically pursue their art/dreams/vision. so old skewl examples would be Fred Exley, Bukowski, Henry Miller, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo Chomsky, Zevon, Jackson Browne, Diver Down era Van Halen, Elliott Smith, Morrissey, The RZA, The Fugees, Guided By Voices and on and on. new skewl examples would be Rachel Maddow (yeah, go ahead and unfriend me you fucks, not that i have a public “profile” on the Book of Face anyway), and… shit i gotta do these other questions or i’ll be here all day.
What are your three biggest vices? Three biggest indulgences?
what really gets me off, plain and simple, and this IS evasive of your question, is my friends who make (good) music/writing/whatever. i live to hear their jams, post their songs, booze it up late night and sing together post-show in the corner of the afterparty… have adventures together. my biggest vice is people. i fucking love people. some of ‘em even love me back! i’ve got a blue streak a mile wide.
Carolina, Duke, or State?
Heels all the way, yo! [see ‘unfriend comment’ above, if you’re “like that”. but i hope we can still agree to disagree, partners.] [ed. note: the only unacceptable answer here is ECU.]
What’s your tour van smell like after a month on the road? Please be as descriptive as possible.
the most pervasive smell is stale weed smoke and the smell from the gear. amps and shit…gear fucking stinks. it smells like cigarettes from the clubs around the US they still let people smoke cigs in. i hate cigs.
If you had a time machine and could use it to go back in time and see one concert, any time and any place, who would you see, and where?
probably the Stop Making Sense show by the Talking Heads. totally trite i’m sure, but it doesn’t take away how hard that concert/production/movie moves me.