“I wanted every single day to wake up and for it to ignite my boyhood sense of wonder.” Jonas Bonnetta, who makes music as Evening Hymns, is sharing the story of moving out to the country. Since 2009, Bonnetta has been releasing emotionally weighty, atmospheric indie rock with an ever-changing lineup of bandmates. On Wednesday night they play St. Alban’s Church as part of Arboretum Music Festival.
For a few years now he’s made his home in Mountain Grove, west of Perth, where he runs a recording studio and creates to his heart’s content. “Since I moved to the country I just make stuff all the time. What else am I going to do? I read a bunch, listen to records, eat some food, that takes a couple of hours a day but other than that it’s hanging with my dog and making stuff.”
From the sounds of it he’s on a creative roll these days. The next year will see the release of a bunch of records he worked to produce, including the second album from Anishinaabe writer Leanne Simpson, and a new Jim Bryson record. Then there’s the Evening Hymns 7’’ coming out next month and an ambient record he made in Newfoundland sometime later. Just to mix things up, Bonetta got into pottery. “It’s my favourite thing to do right now,” he says. “I’ll go down in my studio and work for six hours making stuff and I’ll be so engaged with what I’m doing that I won’t think of everything else that’s going on. It’s super meditative.”
“It’s making me love my band more because it’s not me. It’s like drawing with your left hand.”
Evening Hymns fans, be prepared to be unprepared. Bonnetta will be introducing the latest incarnation of the band, featuring Caylie Runciman (Boyhood) on drums and vocals and Phil Charbonneau (Scattered Clouds) on bass, keys and samples. Of the new band, Jonas says, “it’s making me love my band more because it’s not me. It’s like drawing with your left hand.” The new group will bring out new songs for Wednesday’s show. Expect some throwback piano pop and slow dance jams fit for a disco ball dancefloor. Yes, this means there’s already a new record in the works.
On his second album, the emotionally stirring Spectral Dusk, Bonnetta confronted the loss of his father. After two years of touring – reliving the intense feelings tied up in these songs, night after night – Bonnetta felt sapped and ready for a change. “There was a huge weight to carry following up the record about my Dad because I thought I’ll never make anything as important as this record. I almost feel like that’s still true but I also feel like that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now I can just try and make some records that are really enjoyable for me to make and tour and play. I’m always going to write about stuff I care about. It’s great to not feel this weight that every time I sit down at the piano or my guitar that I have to do something that will change the world.”
The result was Quiet Energies, a more rockin’ record about moving on, with nods to the easy vibes of Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and the Eagles. “I think Quiet Energies is such a hopeful record,” says Jonas. “I know there’s a bunch of heavy shit in there, ‘Rescue Teams’ in particular but those songs to me, they feel hopeful. It’s someone hopefully having some years left in their life having an epiphany about life and asking really important questions we all need to ask ourselves all the time. What does this life mean and what is important?”
I caught up with Bonnetta to talk about heavy music, creative antennae and groundhogs on dirt bikes. Here is an excerpt form our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: You’re very good at cutting to the bone of a situation and disarming the listener. Where does that come from? Have you always been attracted to this kind of emotional weightiness in music?
Jonas Bonetta: It’s frustrating in a sense. I don’t really get inspired by feeling good. I’ve tried to write happy songs when I’m feeling up. And I’m a pretty happy go lucky guy but I also always have my eyes open for things that are impactful. I’m constantly trying to see why things are happening the way they’re happening and the tiny things that are the catalyst for those things. I use my music for therapy. My music is super personal, it’s cathartic for me to write and it’s the only way I can make sense of my world. I realized I don’t have to process what’s making me feel good because I don’t really care. When I’m feeling really good I’m just like this is great, awesome. But when someone passes away or I’m going through relationship problems or I’m stuck in a funk about my artistic pursuit I have to write to explore those things to understand what they mean and how they fit into my life and how to navigate those waters.
I remember hearing “You and Jake” at one of your shows and just being devastated. It unearthed a lot of stuff I thought I’d got past and it doesn’t matter that the details are different because the songs resonate through all that.
I think that’s just a super cool byproduct that I don’t think about too much. It’s such an innocent act to sit down and write something and have people connect with it but it has to mean something. When you get into it as you’re thinking genuine thoughts about people you love or trying to understand a situation and you can get focused enough to refine what those things means, you’re going to come up with something that’s at least honest and even poorly written, honesty always connects with people.
I wanted to ask about your tweet “holding in the tears is like keeping a groundhog in a backpack while sitting on the back of a dirtbike on a gravel road at 80km/h.”Do you feel like you feel things more than other people?
That’s so egotistical but I mean the answer for sure is yes and I talk to other people that are like me that are like extra feely I guess. It’s not in an emo way. You know what it is? I think it’s like having your antenna up at all times to those experiences. I’m a writer. This is what I do as a living and its important that I have more eyes maybe a little bit more open than other people and as an extension of that my heart and my creative mind. I feel like I can write anything off in my career because everything I do is part of my art practice. It’s all staying open to whatever the world is going to offer me as a muse daily, not to sound like a hippie.
That whole groundhog thing it was a guy I rode on the school bus with growing up south of Peterborough. That happened to me – on the back of a dirtbike with a groundhog in a backpack that this guy got in a groundhog hole and I just remember being on the back of this dirtbike on a gravel road, no helmets on, being so terrified and this creature is chewing through the backpack being like what the fuck is going on? I was probably twelve years old and freaking out. I’ve just split up with my long term partner here and I’m living out in the country and every day it’s like what is going on with my life? And it’s that funny feeling of being completely emotionally overwhelmed. Its kinda fun, in a way, it’s super real and exciting.
“Even poorly written, honesty always connects with people.”
Is there any sort of motto or philosophy that you try to make music or live by?
I think being honest is important and being aware, just trying to ask why am I doing this and is the importance of it and should I be doing it and what are the consequences of it?
Sometimes I’ll be in my truck on the 401 doing 120 km/ h and there’s like a thousand people all doing it in synchronicity and I’m kind of like this is so insane how easily it can all be torn apart. It’s so crazy how fine a line we tread between this state of control and this state of complete unraveling. Your life can change in the blink of an eye is such a cliché but so true and being aware of that is difficult because we’re so distracted by all these things that would necessitate the unraveling. We don’t take enough time to think about what role we play in the potential unravelling. As a writer too it’s important to carry that kind of weight with what you’re doing.
Have your thoughts about music or your relationship with it changed at all over the years?
I feel like I’m a little bit more zen about it now. I still battle with it, I mean the industry is so screwed up. Selling records is kind of non existent and every tour I go on you sell less and less and it makes you feel like you’re playing worse but you’re actual playing better an writing better and your band’s better but people are just buying less.
There’s those things you have to atone for constantly but I’m in a really great spot. Moving to the country and setting up my own studio here, I have 24/7 access to my dream studio. Whenever I want I can make stuff. I can’t really think of a better situation to be in as a creator to have 24 hour day access to all the tools I need to make my greatest record ever so to speak. I’m making a lot of stuff, my perspectives changed, I’m in a way healthier spot than even a year ago just being like music’s fun, let’s just hang out and make music. All these people that are coming out to my house are coming to be creative so they inject my life with creativity vibes. I think the next ten years of Evening Hymns or whatever it’s called is just going to be making a ton of stuff and being less precious about how it’s released. Just releasing more. Probably more singles.
- Evening Hymns perform at Arboretum Music Festival on Wednesday August 17.
- The concert is at St. Alban’s Church (454 King Edward) and doors open at 7pm. Her Harbour and Safia Nolin are on the bill.
- Advance tickets are available for $10 at arboretumfestival.com or for $15 at the door. All ages are welcome.