Jolly’s Anthony Rondinone Speaks To SonicAbuse

When it comes to first impressions, what does the name ‘Jolly’ say to you? Does it suggest a leaning towards a psychedelic, a penchant for the unnervingly heavy? A taste for tool-esque art rock? It’s a strangely anonymous sounding name – one that can certainly be chanted by the band’s rapidly expanding, and utterly devoted fan-base (part of the test when it comes to choosing a good name apparently) and it hides a multitude of musical delights, as the stunning two-part set ‘the audio guide to happiness’ has more than competently displayed. Progressive, multi-faceted and beautifully constructed the aforementioned album is a work that is notable not just for its exemplary musicianship but also for the band’s cunning use of ‘binaural tones’ – tones which are shown to heighten (and even generate) certain moods and feelings – and there is no doubt that the band are ahead of the curve when it comes to developing a unique concept with which to work. Yet, despite the optimism which pervades both the album and the band, Jolly are no strangers to tragedy. Personally and deeply affected by Hurricane Sandy, when the band’s studio was utterly destroyed, a lesser band could well have thrown in the towel at this point and yet, buoyed by the support of their fans, Jolly emerged, blinking into the sunlight, stronger and more focused than ever. With ‘the audio guide to happiness part two’ complete it was the perfect time to get on the phone to Jolly bassist Anthony and quiz him about the band’s use of binaural tones, the process of recovery after a major disaster and the impetus behind ‘the audio guide to happiness’. Read on and meet Jolly:

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Can you tell us about how you arrived at the name Jolly and how much thought you gave to the name of the band?

Quite a lot actually. We went through a lot of different names. We wanted something that was short and catchy and the chant test was a big part of it – you chant along at a live gig, so the chant test was a pretty big deal for us as well. It sort of sums us up because you just don’t know what to expect when you hear the name Jolly and that’s how the music is and how we want our writing to be. There’s a certain strangeness and quirkiness that comes with the name Jolly as well and in our music there’s something strange and quirky about that too and we felt it was a very fitting name.

Much has been made of this idea of binaural tones which are designed to create specific feelings – isn’t all music, to some extent, mood music however?

Yeah – I guess so – I mean music, certainly for me, does that. I’ll put on one thing and it puts me in a certain mood – rock definitely puts you in a certain mood but it’s sort of an underlying thing . Our music works with these binaural tones, you know our music has a certain mood, but then we use these tones to illicit certain feelings or certain things in your brain like happiness or creativity so it’s just another element. It’s nothing… we’re not scientists and we don’t know everything about it, but it works with the music and it goes in a specific order that is part of the two-part album.

To what extent, by having a very specific aim within ‘the audio guide to happiness’, are you painting yourselves into a corner by trying to engender a specific mood within your audience?

I don’t think so. The album, ‘the audio guide to happiness’ that’s the end result, I think in our music,  if you listen to both our albums we have a wide range of styles and feelings and moods and I think if anything we’re doing the opposite. If you just listen to our music… if you look into the binaural tones and look at the name of the album I can see how you might think that, but if you listen to the music you’ll see how we sort of create a lot of different kinds of moods, atmosphere or textures and, especially on part two (it just worked out that way), there are a lot of different moods, feelings and textures and, if anything, we have sort of put ourselves in a position when you just don’t know what’s going to come from us next.

You said earlier that you’re not scientists, but how does a band even come up with the idea of binaural tones. It’s a fascinating concept – what was the genesis of the idea?

Actually Anadale, the guitarist and singer, he found these binaural tones on an app three or four years ago, so when ‘46/12’ was being written and being recorded we all wound up getting really interested in it and we thought it might be an interesting element to add to music. So we actually worked with someone who still works at the university and we were working with someone that she worked with, who got interested in what we were doing, so he actually helped us out with conducting some surveys and interviewing a lot of people and just seeing how different people reacted to certain tones. So for us it was just a different element of music that we didn’t see anyone else doing and we thought it would be interesting and it would work with what we wanted to do in music. Our end goal was this ‘audio guide to happiness’ and it worked so well with these binaural tones that it sort of just worked itself out really well and the binaural tones lend themselves really well to what we wanted to do with music.

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Does it change the way you think about writing music?

As far as writing goes – yeah we sort of changed some lyrical ideas that go with this whole storyline, this whole guide that we wrote, and in some parts we might edit bits to make them a little bit more extreme or ambient or whatever. But as far as writing songs, for the most part, it’s just a lot of organic jamming and we’ll come in and jam on something and then take that and it see where it goes naturally. We don’t really try to force anything in our music – a lot of things come naturally and it works itself out kind of strangely because there are a lot of different kinds of styles in our music but to us we’re not trying to write in a progressive kind of way or a certain kind of way –we’re just doing whatever feels right. We let the song lead us.

Given that both these albums have this strong overarching concept, are there songs that you put to one side because they didn’t fit with what you were doing right now?

Oh yeah. We came into this project with some ideas already written, but there were some things that we used because they worked better with this concept and with the feeling we were going for, so those songs, either we’ll save them for another time or they’ll just be left as a little bit of music that is just for ourselves and that no-one will ever get to hear unfortunately. It depends, you know, the next album we could have some ideas that we originally came up with… or not. Two or three of them, you know, will have those ideas, but yeah there were definitely some things that we wrote that didn’t seem fitting for this album and some things that just worked way better for this album.

One of the things that happened to you as a band is that your drummer’s house was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.

Right, yeah it was his house, which doubles as our recording and practice studio and basically where everything happens Jolly. We’ve been meeting there for years and years and it’s like a second home to all of us.

So it must have been a huge blow, not just to you as people but also to the recording process.

Yeah it was pretty terrible. Pretty much all of the recording was done by then, we were finalising some things and tweaking some bits because we had time before we had to hand the album in, but we got the call that… it’s in a basement… and we got the call that the basement was flooded and that pretty much all of our stuff was under water and none of us knew how bad it was until two days later the town that he was in re-opened and we got to go there. That was the first time that we saw the basement and the water was up to the ceiling, and by the time we got there it was about half way, so it was a pretty traumatising sight to see. I thought that there was just going to be water in the basement, but basically the walls were ripped down and just seeing our equipment floating around and the couch that we sat on, and their TV, the kitchen area, everything just floating about in sewerage. It was really disgusting and it hurt at first and then we see this stuff and it was hard for us to be upset about our things because we’re standing next to our drummer, Lewis, and that was his and his fiancé’s house and, especially the way the rest of Rockway was, people losing kids and stuff and seeing their homes destroyed. But, something that stayed with us was that we had finished the album so we had our minds on that and we didn’t get distracted by or go into a rut of negativity.

The biggest thing was probably seeing the reaction from our fans and that was probably the greatest thing that I have ever been a part of – we were getting emails from people… even before the fundraiser thing… we got emails form people offering up their guitars or to send drums or whatever they could. They were offering their equipment so that we could continue to make music and that will always stay with me. So the story about what happened and to see people contributing money so that we could keep making music – that meant a lot to us – especially that it’s not like we know a lot of these people, it’s just that through our music they got to know us and so it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of and, outside of the money (which definitely helped), the comments that people were leaving were just… there was such positivity being thrown our way. That was probably the only thing that got us through, if we didn’t have that I am sure it would have been so much harder to get through that, or even impossible to get through that, so it definitely helped and we’re still thankful.

That is the sort of experience that could really destroy a band…

Well, yeah, that was what we were thinking at first, it was like, we lost almost all of our equipment. We had no amps, no keyboards – they were all ruined, and if we had a show the next day we had nothing to play and no way to record anything, so it would have been so easy to just give up for a while and not do anything. But the fact is that we had this album we needed to finish and we were excited about it and we know people we were excited to hear it, so between all these different things and with all these people sending such positivity our way and offering all the help and support we carried on.

So having had this experience – do you think that you have become stronger as a band and more determined?

Yeah, I think so, because we’re all living in small apartments and we’re just trying to make whatever money we can to try and pay our rent and then all of our other time gets spent towards writing music, then to go through something like this and be able to come together as a band and as friends and brothers and be able to clean up something that happened to us because of a natural disaster… I think we came out much stronger. It’s just something that brings people together and it’s made us closer with our fans and it really does go along with our whole mentality that no one’s really out to help us, it’s just us and our fans, who love our music, and I think we came out stronger as a band and with a stronger relationship with our fans.

Listening to your music, one of the things that stands out is that the record works very well as a record as opposed to a set of songs. How much time did you spend on sequencing the record and developing that feeling throughout.

Yeah – especially for this album. There are a lot of albums that just work as great songs. There are albums where the songs don’t even make sense against each other but they’re all just amazing songs. Some albums work that way and that’s cool, but others and with this album in particular we were creating something that was supposed to be listened to straight through, the songs on their own, they stand on their own (at least we hope so) but we wanted to build an album. We all really love albums that you put on and you want to hear as an album and you just want to listen to the music straight through or whatever, and it’s something that we paid attention to and we figured out a flow of songs and a felling, and how one song will go to another. Sound is really important to us and we take a lot of time. Even when you listen to one song we take care to make sure that a part is flowing to another part naturally, and different textures in the songs, whether it’s different keyboard sounds, vocals, a bass sound – you know, everything, we make sure everything is in its right place.

It’s wonderful to hear that because there have been pundits and critics who make bold claims like ‘the album is dead’ but then there are still bands, like Jolly, making that kind of record.

Yeah – I can’t speak for the other guys but I personally love an album that you can just put on and listen to form start to finish. In a lot of ways, unfortunately, albums are sort of dead and I think we have to admit that to ourselves because, like you were saying, this whole download thing – people just download the songs they want and then you don’t have to listen to the whole album. Whereas, you know, when I was younger I’d invest twelve dollars, which was a big deal to me, in an album so I made myself like the whole album, but it isn’t like that anymore, I can just s[end a dollar and get whatever song I like from that band and not listen to anything else. Hopefully, we’re trying to make it so that people will put on this album and be interested in whatever else we’re doing and hear the album as a whole because it’s really hard to get the idea of a musician in one song. With us our songs sound nothing like the song before or after, so what we do is very different  so we hope people will take the time to listen to whole albums… well from any band… but especially us… but from any band  to really understand the thought processes of the musician who made the album.

How difficult is it top re-create the sound of your records live?

I guess I can’t say because we’ve gotten better in how we record songs so there are a lot of sounds and samples in our records, but then live we also take real care to be able to play through the song and we’re all giving 110% and just trying to figure out ways to make the songs better live. It takes a lot of time to get that perfected but we’ll do our best to do that without a playback track. We take pride in that every sound you hear is the result of one of us doing something whether it’s hitting a button or playing our instrument or whatever.

With this project completed, do you have any idea about what you want to do next?

 Well obviously we want to tour more – touring is number one for us because it’s practically the only way to get your name out there in the most efficient way. So this thing we’re doing with Riverside in Europe is going to be amazing for us because we’re going to get in front of a lot of people who can hear our music in live performance and really get to know us. In summer we don’t really have anything planned but in the fall. We want to do a couple more videos as well – we just released some today – and maybe another one before we tour and then it’ll just be writing music. We were talking about how, in a strange way, this hurricane helped us out because 46:12 and ‘the audio guide’ were such a big project and the hurricane thing was like a reboot for us, so there have been changes and we hope that’ll come through in our next album. It might have a completely different sound, we’re not sure yet, but we’re excited about writing in a completely different way and just doing everything a little different so it’s going to be exciting to say the least.

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