Interview: Jonny Polonsky
Jonny Polonsky has been a part of the music world as a solo act since the release of American Recordings debut Hi My Name is Jonny in 1996, but his instrumentation can be heard on several different artists ranging from Johnny Cash and The Dixie Chicks, to Neil Diamond, Tom Morello, Pete Yorn, and more. On the heels of the release of his latest single “Sign In The Window,” we had the chance to catch up with Jonny and talk about the song, the accompanying music video that was directed by iconic photographer Paul Elledge, his latest album Kingdom of Sleep, and much more!
Photo by: Jason Robinette
1. You’ve recently released “Sign In The Window” from your latest albumKingdom of Sleep. Tell us a little bit about the song and what we can expect to hear from it.
I wrote this song a few years back when I was living in Los Angeles. It just sort of appeared, as I was strumming my guitar in bed one night. Some songs I record right away, and some songs lie around in wait for a number of years. Sometimes the lyrics aren’t right (or finished), or more often I can’t get the feel correct. It’ll sound good, but not RIGHT, you dig? The song was ready to go years ago, but it took as long as it took for whatever reason. I’m happy with the way this one ended up.
2. This song follows the release of “The Weeping Souls” and “Ghost Like Soul.” In what ways to you feel that “Sign In The Window” showcases a different side of your music in comparison to those two singles?
I don’t really write or record music to showcase anything. I do like to explore different moods, genres, instrumentation…that’s more to keep me from getting bored. Plus, I love lots of different kinds of music, different artists and bands, I like to move around and try new things. And again, something can sound good but it’s just not thrilling to me. Lately I’ve gotten into adding instruments that are more known for being used orchestrally, than rock bandily; Harps, string bass. That said, “Sign In The Window” has none of those instruments. It does, however, have a drum sample from a formerly celebrated, now much maligned glam rock singer.
3. “Sign In The Window” features Katie Burden (bass) and Matt Hankle (drums). How did you come to choose these two players for this song and what did they offer to your vision of it?
I had a few different bands when I lived in LA, and they were the last version of it. Katie had played bass with me for a few years, she’s on my previous record, Fresh Flesh. I also played guitar and keyboards in her solo project. Matt, I had met through a mutual friend. We ended up playing a handful of shows as that trio.I thought they both nailed it, did exactly what the song needed.
4. You’ve stated that the song is an older one from several years ago. Why did you feel that now was the best time to unearth it and how has it changed over the years to become the song it is today?
The song itself never changed. Not one iota. Not one jot. Before I moved to New York, Katie and Matt and I recorded about a dozen songs. When I got to NYC, “Sign In The Window” sounded the best out of everything we did, so I chose to work on that.
5. There is an accompanying video for the song that was directed by iconic photographer Paul Elledge. Why did you feel that Elledge was the proper person to bring the visual aspect of the song to life?
Paul and I have known each other 25 years. He has photographed several of my albums, done a few videos, and is an old friend. He’s absolutely brilliant and he is someone I have total faith in. He is someone who responds to the song, the ideas spring forth from the music, he’s not really someone who has a “style,” although his work is always identifiable, if that makes any sense. I love all sorts of artists, but I find myself drawn to people who like lots of different stuff, and just sort of follow their noses, rather than have a preconceived notion of how things will look or sound. I love artists who have a real “thing” that they're known for. I just can’t really do that, I’ve tried.
6. Switching from the song to the album; how do these three songs best accomplish giving the listeners the overall vibe ofKingdom of Sleep?
The album is pretty dreamy, kind of subdued and introspective, melodic, lyrics that paint a picture, lots of synthesizer soundscapes…still a rock record, in my eyes, anyway. But sonically leans more towards Enya than AC/DC, if ya know what I mean. I guess these three songs are a pretty good cross section.
7. When looking down the track list of the album, what songs do you feel are the must listens for anyone on the fence about buying/downloading the album that will ultimately make them buy it?
People seem to enjoy “The Weeping Souls,” “Sign In The Window,” and “Aenerone.”
8. What is your personal favorite song from the album and why?
I don’t really have favorites. But I always enjoy listening to “Aenerone” if it comes on. That one was me pressing record and just messing around with the first thing that came to my head. The entire song just appeared. I did a couple overdubs and it was done. Most songs take a bit of work and sometimes I don’t really like to listen to them because I hear all the work that went into it. This one I seem to be able to enjoy as if I wasn’t really responsible for its creation.
9. You have collaborated with a bunch of legendary artists, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Tom Morello, etc. With each collaboration you are part of, what do you take away most that you find yourself applying to your own material going forward?
In my experience, the artists I’ve worked with who were really famous and really great were super easy to deal with, musically and socially. Maybe it’s a confidence thing. They know who they are, what they’re good at, what their limitations are. You just get in a room and play. Just like we all did when we were kids. No ego bullshit or second guessing. I guess the lesson I learned was just try your best, be good at what you do, be a nice person and have fun. It sounds trite but those can be difficult qualities to maintain and stay in touch with, as you get through this thing called life. Anyone who’s good at what they do are generally really playful and have a great sense of humor, famous or not.
10. We’re all about helping the next generation at allageszine.com, so we always end all our Q&A’s with this question. What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with their music today?
Make the music you want to hear. Stay true to the things you find exciting and interesting, the things that move you. You can listen to other people and take their opinions into consideration but remember that’s all they are—someone’s opinion. Make the music for yourself, then share it, if you feel compelled to. Don’t doubt yourself or try to guess what people want from you. Trust yourself above anyone else. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid!
Bandcamp pre-order https://jonnypolonsky.bandcamp.com/album/kingdom-of-sleep