JW – Jones Speaks To SonicAbuse

Although, as a reviewer, I often try to set aside time for an album review, there are times when I put a record on, just to check it out, and become so involved that I need to put pen to paper immediately. This was absolutely the case with JW Jones’ amazing ‘High Temperature’ album. From the moment the vintage Stones’ vibe of ‘price to pay’ kicked off the record, I was hooked. All my other chores became secondary to trying to set down on paper the electrifying force that the record exhibited. Better still, as the record progressed, I found myself outsmarted by Jones time and again as he moves restlessly with his muse, darting from hard rocking blues with a razor-sharp edge, to powerful ballads via a joyous take on Moby Grape’s ‘Murder in my heart for the judge’.

JW is out on tour in just over a weeks’ time, and I very much wanted to speak to him about his inspiration, about the challenges of writing songs with such deep personal connections as ‘Who I am’ and about the writing of the record. As electric a personality in interview as he is on stage, JW speaks fast and with obvious passion for his art and it was a genuine pleasure to have had the opportunity to conduct this brief chat. Read on and check out the story behind ‘High Temperature’, easily one of the year’s best blues albums.

 

I’m really interested by the new album, because, although it coherent in terms of tone, it darts across different elements of the blues, so how did you set about sketching out your vision for the album?

Well, for me, when I did this, I just started writing songs. It was one of the first times, in addition to the album before (Belmont Boulevard), where the goal was just to write songs and see how they came out and not try to fit them into a box or some genre which is the “blues”, which I’ve definitely done a lot of in the past. When I think about the great song-writers like Willie Dixon, for example, I don’t think he sat around trying to decide if it sounded bluesy enough or if the chords were close enough to a 12 bar form or whatever. I think he just wrote the songs the best he could with the lyrics and the melodies and whatever chord changes fit the song, so I pretty much tried to take what I think he probably did back in the day and that’s how I wrote the album.

One of the songs that immediately stood out for me is a cover that you chose, ‘murder in my heart for the judge’, which always puts a smile on my face. How do you go about choosing covers and how do you put your individual stamp on them so they become ‘yours’?

Well, with that tune, it’s actually really funny. It was suggested by the producer, Colin Linden, and it popped up in my inbox and the subject was ‘murder in my heart for the judge’, and I thought “what is going on here?!” So, I opened it up and it said “JW – I just heard this song…” (I mean, he’s known it forever, but it popped up in one of his playlists or something) “… I’d love you to record it -I think you’d be great for this.”

So, I listened to it and my first instinct was that I loved the tune, but can a sknny white boy from Canada get away with singing ‘murder in my heart for the judge’? I don’t know. But it’s just such a fun tune and such a great joy and it’s got a different kind of groove for us – something we’ve never done before, so, I figured we should go for it.

In terms of taking a track, is it difficult to extract your own meaning from the song? How do you approach recording something like that?

Well, meaning-wise, you have to look at it on a different level and try to sing the lyrics in a personal way, but I mean, I’ve never been to prison and…[At this point, unfortunately, some form of analogue distortion wipes the end of the sentence. Fortunately it is short lived].

A couple more highlights on the album for me… I’m going to start with ‘Wham’ which closes the album. For me, it sounds like you’d got to the end and all the musicians were just having an absolute blast. Was that tracked live?

Yeah, absolutely! That was a live track and that was just my touring band with Laura Greenberg on bass, and what was fun about that tune is that you’re absolutely right: it was the end of the session and I had been recording the whole record with my amps completely in a different room to try to get the sound all separated as much as possible; but for that tune I wanted to feel like we feel on stage when we play a live show and I wanted to feel that energy from the band and from the amps and not be wearing headphones and stuff like that. So, we opened the door up to where my amps were and just cranked it and let it bleed into the other mics and just let loose kind of thing. And that’s a tune I’ve been listening to forever; since I was a kid and I discovered it through Stevie Ray Vaughan and then to hear Lonnie Mack record it and then just to dig into Lonnie Mack’s version… and then we added a little tip of the hat to the tune ‘Memphis’ in that as well, that’s a little quote, so, yeah man, that’s definitely kind of a throw-away, go-for-it-at-the-end-of-the-record kind of track.

 

…and then there’s the second track, ‘how many hearts’, where you sing with Jayda as well. When you worked on that, did you have another singer in mind or was it something Colin suggested?

That is something that Colin brought about. He wrote that song with Jaida Dreyer and he played it to me and, the first time I heard it, it was just him on acoustic guitar and him and her singing together, and it sounded a little folky, a bit too acoustic for my liking and I thought, “man, I don’t know how that can fly on my record!” But when we got into the studio and played it with the drummer and bass player and everyone, all the session musicians, to me it felt like a tune that Jimmie Vaughan could have just recorded on his ‘out there’ record or something like that, so it’s kind of got that kind of vibe to it, and yeah that was a fun one and I especially liked the drumming on that, it has all these different percussive devices and we were really messing around with different ideas and I think it turned out really well.

On this album, there seems to be a really good interplay between you and Kevin on keyboards. Was that spontaneous, or something that you worked on before the sessions started?

Well, he’s one of the session musicians, so actually… the session musicians are on almost the whole record, and then we had the touring band on three tracks. So, those guys, I’d never met them until the day we started recording. I’d known about Kevin forever, because he’s on some great stuff, and so I think that interplay you hear is coming from a very organic, natural place. That’s just how we sounded by playing off of each other and leaving the right spaces and I think that’s part of the thing of working with such high-calibre musicians, they’re always listening. Especially Nashville guys, they’re absolutely incredible in the studio, so most of the things you’re hearing on that record are one or two takes.

The first song, for example, ‘price to pay’, I thought we were just getting the channels set up, so I didn’t even realise we were recording and all of a sudden I realised that I was the only one in the room who didn’t know we were actually recording the track, and you can hear me pick up the guitar at the very beginning of the record! You’ll hear some clicks and pops and then I play a riff and that’s because I was like “what’s going on? Oh! I’m supposed to be playing here! Oh we’re actually recording the song!” and that became the first song on the record. So, you’re hearing everything how it played itself out, on its own, that’s the way it went for most of the tracks.

I love that track, it’s got a real Stones-y feel to it and that spontaneity is key, I guess.

Absolutely!

The other thing is interesting is where you get a bit more personal. The song ‘who I am’, digs deep into your own biography. Is that something that you find difficult… to be that open and honest on record? I know blues is about being honest, but there’s a difference between being open musically and being open lyrically and I wondered if that was challenging for you at all?

Yeah, it was really challenging actually, because the first time I really did a tune that was that deeply personal was on ‘Belmont Boulevard’, which was produced by Tom Hambridge. And, you know, that was my eighth record and ‘high temperature’ is my ninth and, up until that point, I had been singing true stories and things like that, but they were stories about love gone wrong rather than stories about how your childhood might have been a bit different to other people’s. So, on the last record we had a song called ‘Cocaine Boy’ and that was me going to Tom and saying: “Hey, here’s a little story about my childhood and the way I grew up and I’d like to write about it, but I’m a little nervous and I don’t know how to approach this.”

And, after I’d told him the story, he told me that I had to do it, that I shouldn’t worry about it and that we’d write it together in the studio. So, that was my first experience with really letting go and the response from it was absolutely incredible. I was getting messages from people that said… first of all from close friends saying they’d had no idea… and then from people who were just glad I’d shared my story because they’d had a similar experience. And to me it ended up being a really good thing. I was nervous before that. I didn’t want to show… I didn’t want to show that much of myself, I wanted to have a certain appearance because I thought showing where I really came from might actually have a negative effect on my career. So, because it didn’t and it went the other way, and because ‘cocaine boy’ was so popular and well-received, I thought that on this record I needed to continue down that path. Now I know that people respond to that, there are a lot more stories where that came from.

In terms of actually writing the lyrics, is that something that is quick and organic, or is that something you labour of to make sure you say what you want to say in the way you want to say it?

That’s a great question actually because, again, up until the last few records I did most of the writing myself. On the most recent records, I did a bunch of writing with a guy named Dick Cooper from the Cooper Brothers, here in Ottawa, Canada (where I live). I needed him to help me say certain things in a better way, in a more clever way. So, I went to him and asked him if he wanted to write some tunes with me and he said “absolutely!” So, I have to credit him with a lot of the… you know, interesting lines and ways of saying things differently to how I would have said them on my own. So, it was fun and I think co-writing is great because you have someone to bounce ideas off of and make sure your stories are being told exactly how you want to tell them.

It can be difficult, though, I guess, to let go of your songs and allow someone else that power?

Well, I think the key thing is you have to trust the person you’re working with and I wouldn’t write with someone that I didn’t trust in the first place, so I think that’s a really, really key way of starting that whole idea.

And, you know, I’ve changed over the years. If you asked me ten years ago or if you give me advice ten years ago, I might not have taken it the same way I do now.

But now, I can be completely removed from it and I think to myself “what is really the best thing for this song or situation or business decision?”  I just weigh it in a whole different way and I don’t take it personally at all, because I’ve learnt from my years that, if you start taking it personally in the music business, then that’s why you have so many musicians who get into very dark places mentally. I just don’t do that anymore, because I know that for every one person who loves me, there will be a few that don’t and that’s fine. So, I’m totally cool with that now.

I know we’re up against the clock, unfortunately, so just to finish, you’re heading out for a sizeable UK tour – what are your plans for the tour?

Well, we’re bringing the trio over, which is Laura Greenberg on bass; she’s on ‘high temperature’; and our relatively new drummer, Will Laurin. We’re just a trio who work really hard, we put on a great live show. The goal is to just have fun on stage and make it a high-energy experience. I know in the UK you guys have a lot of blues rock acts that are really phenomenal, so you guys over there are used to the idea that there’s an edge to the blues. It’s not like some of the stuff in the US where it’s come to be really, really traditional. We’re not super-traditional, but we like to ride both sides of that, and it’s going to be a long tour. We’ve got eighteen shows in eighteen days, basically, and the goal is just to spread the word and keep developing the name. And what we really need is for people to buy tickets in advance and to share information about the shows on social media and get the word out, because I’m investing a ton of money, to be honest, coming over there and it’s extremely risky, but I know it’s an audience that I really want to build, so we’re excited and we’re ready to kick ass on every show.

 

JW JONES
“HIGH TEMPERATURE” 
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017 UK TOUR

BOOK TICKETS FROM www.jw-jones.com

Worthing Pavilion
Thursday 23rd November 2017

Book Tickets: SeeTickets.com 
Book Tickets: 
www.worthingpier.co.uk 
Venue Tel: 01903 366 017
Facebook
Marine Parade, Worthing, BN11 3PX
www.worthingpier.co.uk

Cellar Bar, Bear Hotel, Devizes
Friday 24th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.disorderlysounds.co.uk
Venue: 01380 722 444
Facebook
2-3 The Market Place, Devizes, SN10 1HS 
 www.thebearhotel.net 

The Thunderbolt, Bristol
Saturday 25th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.bristolticketshop.co.uk
Venue Tel: 0117 373 8947
Twitter
124 Bath Road, Totterdown, Bristol, BS4 3ED
www.thethunderbolt.net 

Mr Kyps, Poole
Sunday 26th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.mrkyps.net 
Venue Box Office: 01202 748 945
Facebook / Twitter
8-a Parr Street, Poole, BH14 0JY
www.mrkyps.net 

Marr’s Bar, Worcester
Monday 27th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.marrsbar.co.uk 
Venue Tel: 01905 613 336
Facebook / Twitter / YouTube
12 Pierpoint St, Worcester, WR1 1TA
www.marrsbar.co.uk

Robin 2, Bilston
Tuesday 28th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.therobin.co.uk 
Venue Box Office: 01902 401 211
Facebook / Twitter
20-28 Mount Pleasant, Bilston, WV14 7LJ
www.therobin.co.uk 

Kardomah94, Hull
Wednesday 29th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.hullboxoffice.com
Venue Tel: 01482 317 941
Venue Email: 
Mal@kardomah94.com 
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
94 Alfred Gelder Street, Hull, HU1 2AN
www.kardomah94.com 

The Musician, Leicester
Thursday 30th November 
2017
Book Tickets: www.ticketweb.uk 
Venue Tel: 0116 251 0080
Facebook / Twitter
Clyde Street, Leicester, LE1 2DE
www.themusicianpub.co.uk 

Pizza Express, Maidstone
Friday 1st December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.pizzaexpresslive.com 
Venue Tel: 
01622 683 548
Facebook / Twitter Instagram
Fremlin Walk Shopping Centre,
62 Earl St, Maidstone, ME14 1PS
pizzaexpresslive.com 

Borderline, London
Saturday 2nd December 
2017
With Special Guests Rainbreakers 
Book Tickets: www.seetickets.com
Book Tickets: www.ticketweb.co.uk
Ticket Hotline: 0844 847 1678
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Orange Yard, Manette St, London, W1D 4JB
http://borderline.london/
 

Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms
“Edinburgh Blues Club”
Sunday 3rd December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.ticketweb.co.uk 
Book Tickets: 
https://tickets-scotland.com 
Gig Info: 
JW Jones 
Email contact: 
info@edinburgh-blues.co.uk 
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
19a W Register St, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA
www.edinburgh-blues.uk/events 
The Voodoo Rooms.com

The Cock Inn, Leek
Monday 4th December 2017

Tickets: Free entry – First Come First Served 
Venue Tel: 01538 388 013
Facebook
29 Derby St, Leek ST13 6HN, UK
http://www.joulesbrewery.co.uk/pubs/pub_details.php?id=5

Waterfront, Norwich
Tuesday 5th December 
2017
Book Tickets: http://thewaterfrontstudio.ticketabc.com
Venue Tel: 01603 508 050
Facebook / Twitter
139-141 King St, Norwich, NR1 1QH 
https://thewaterfront.ticketabc.com/venues/thewaterfront/ 

Brighton Komedia
Wednesday 6th December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.komedia.co.uk/brighton 
Venue Box Office: 01273 647 100
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
44-47 Gardner Street, Brighton, BN1 1UN
www.komedia.co.uk/brighton 

Southampton Talking Heads
Thursday 7th December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.thetalkingheads.co.uk 
Venue Tel: 02380 361 970
Facebook / Twitter
16-22 The Polygon, Southampton, SO15 2BN
www.thetalkingheads.co.uk 

Keighley Blues Live
Friday 8th December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.list.co.uk 
Venue Tel: 01274 562 252
Facebook 
Venue: The Octagon, Bradford Road, Sandbeds, 
Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD20 5LY
www.keighleyblueslive.co.uk 

Glasgow Sleazy’s
Saturday 9th December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.pmmusic.co.uk
Facebook / Twitter
421 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow, G2 3LG
www.nicensleazy.com 

Newcastle Cluny 2
Sunday 10th December 
2017
Book Tickets: www.seetickets.com 
Venue Tel: 0191 221 2659
Facebook / Twitter
34 Lime St, Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 2PQ
https://thecluny.com/

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