Ruby and I took the time to interview Sean Bonnette of trailblazing folk punk band AJJ. We talk about Phoenix v. Tucson, the Tucson DIY scene and grocery shopping:
Bennett: Hi, we’re from KAMP Student Radio, I’m a big fan of AJJ, since highschool, I’m from Phoenix, and I went to highschool five minutes down the road from Audioconfusion.
Sean Bonnette: Oh, Mesa?
B: Yes, my school was on Brown and Power road. I found that out while researching for this interview, and it was very touching as a lot of the albums I listened to and loved in high school were recorded right down the road from where I was listening to them. I wanted to ask you, I came down from Phoenix to Tucson for school, and I love it here. So from one Phoenix expatriate to another, why did you guys move to Tucson?
SB: The reason I moved is that since I can do my job anywhere, my partner, my wife gets to decide where we live and we follow her career. For the six years before we lived in Tucson we were living in Lansing, Michigan, because she was going to MSU there, and a great opportunity came up for her to do an internship at an agency here—she’s a therapist and we jumped at the chance to move back to the Sonoran desert. I’ve always really loved Tucson, there’s a whole lot of really cool stuff going in a very small amount of space, contrasted with Phoenix, which is a very sprawled out metro area that’s kind of more like Los Angeles. I’m not trying to say anything bad about Phoenix, I actually really love Phoenix, I don’t think there’s actually a feud between the two towns.
Ruby: Maybe a bit more on the college level,
SB: Yeah, yeah I can see that. So I moved here because my wife got a job and then Ben [Gallaty] followed suit because his dad and sister live here and they were always thinking about moving out of Phoenix, so I think I was the last straw.
R: I just moved to Tucson, I really like it so far, like you said there’s a lot of stuff concentrated in a smaller area.
SB: It’s really easy to get around. Where are you from?
R: I’m from the Seattle area.
SB: Oh so you know Tacocat?
R: Yes, I’m really excited to see them!
B: So, “Body Terror Song” is one of my favorite songs off of Good Luck Everybody because I relate so well to the experience of being trapped in a flesh suit where you don’t have any idea of what consciousness would be like outside of one, there’s no way to escape it,
SB: Oh we know a way
B: So I’d like to ask, what is your least favorite place to remember that you have a body?
SB: My least favorite moment of ever having a body was in the year 2002, on April 1st, I was riding my bike across an intersection on my way to school, and I was hit by the third lane of a truck, getting off of the night shift, and just plowed right through and broke my leg. Then I didn’t walk for six months. Having a body was hard at that point.
B: That’s interesting to hear because a little over a year ago, I was also on my bike, T-boned by a truck at an intersection on my bike on UA campus.
SB: Yeah, the T-bone! Right on your leg?
B: Yeah, my left one.
SB: How many bones did you break?
B: I didn’t break anything, which was awesome, but I couldn’t use it much for a week.
SB: Well that’s good. Still hurts like hell, you’re bruised!
R: Well, something I really like about AJJ’s music, I’ve noticed on Good Luck Everybody, is that you mix lyrics that are very poetic and eloquent with lyrics that are on the nose and humorous, so I was wondering where your ideas for lyrics come from and if you find that different experiences lead to different writing styles in your music?
SB: One of the overarching ideas behind the writing of this record was writing it in the language of our time, which is a like a bop on the nose, very unsubtle. Because that’s how I see people communicating these days, it’s not particularly meaningful. That’s why we put a gravestone, for subtlety!
R: I also noticed that you guys aren’t afraid of being explicitly political and address the mess that’s going on in this world.
SB: It’s really important these days!
R: I agree it is really important and I wanted to talk about what your mindset is like when you address important issues in your music and how your mindset changes when the sociopolitical climate changes.
SB: Sometimes I feel nervous while writing a political song. The song “Psychic Warfare” for example, I bounce a lot of ideas off of my wife, and that one she said made her uncomfortable but that was probably a good thing. Some of the songs I do wonder if they cross a line. The whole writing of that record I had to overcome the idea that I shouldn’t write a political record. My mindset, at first, was that it’s too despairing and hard because there’s so much going all the time and you can’t specifically write about stuff. And that’s why you go a little vaguer, a little bigger.
R: I imagine it would be difficult to have a balance where you say what you want to say, but not cross a line.
SB: That’s definitely a sign that you should cross that line and go further.
B: I wanted to ask, I’m curious, what do you think of the burgeoning Tucson DIY scene with the new Groundworks space being opened, Blacklidge Community Center, and if you’ve heard of any of the up-and-coming local bands such as the Limes, Rough Draft, and Stripes?
SB: I know the singer of Stripes a little bit, I see her at the record store sometimes. Groundworks, that’s our friends Logan and Sophie and a couple of other folks.
R: I met them at Comic-con actually. In a little booth.
SB: Good nerds! Logan Greene has been our lifeline to Tucson for pretty much this entire band’s history. He set up shows for us at Dry River Company. I’m assuming that’s what Blacklidge Community is like. Is it run by the friendly anarchists?
B: Yes, there’s a lot of zines, a lot of anticapitalist reading nights. I asked about Rough Draft specifically because they’re a local band that’s experiencing a lot of popularity right now and they list AJJ as their biggest influence.
SB: Oh, cool!
B: The first time I saw them, without even knowing that, you’re able to hear it in their music. So you should definitely check them out.
SB: Aww, that’s sweet.
R: As my final question, I wanted to ask, if there’s one message you wanted people to take away from Good Luck Everybody, what would it be?
SB: If there are people in your life you are estranged from due to, I don’t know, current problems? I’m talking politically but also people you love very much, that you see what they’re doing because of social media and you’re keeping tabs on them but you haven’t talked to them in a long time and you think you might want to, give them a call. Give them a call or write them an email and make some direct contact instead of just double tapping it.
B: Last few, how many times do you think in interviews you’ve been asked about the parasympathetic nervous system line?
SB: I can’t count that. It’s not just interviews, it’s people yelling it at shows, it’s people commenting on our social media. We issued a sticker that had a formal apology for the factual error in that song. When I play it live I change the lyrics so that they’re more correct. I hear about it a lot.
B: My other question, do you like to buy organic produce, and if you do why is at the Whole Foods on Country Club and Speedway?
SB: Usually I buy my organic produce at Fried, the Fry’s on Grant and First. But every once in a while, for specialty items I’ll go to Whole Foods. Also, Ryan, who played in the great Tucson band, the Tip, works there. And it’s also near the Bookmans. Usually if I’m picking up some specialty items at Whole Foods, you know I’m going to Bookmans.
B: Alright, thank you so much.
R: Thank you so much for meeting with us!
SB: Thank you guys!