It has been five years since Jonathan Tyler and his band (formerly known as The Northern Lights) released the well received Pardon Me. On August 7th, Tyler's long awaited, and eagerly anticipated, new album, Holy Smokes was released in partnership with Thirty Tigers. Brimming with a funky, bluesy, rocky vibe, the album is Tyler sonically unfiltered and lyrically personal. In advance of the release, Tyler kindly took the time to talk about the album, it's varied and personal nature, and more.
We last spoke prior to the tour with Butch Walker. Now that is has concluded, how did it go?
It was very cool. His fans were very welcoming. There were nights where it felt tough though; playing acoustic for forty-five minutes for an audience, where most of the people had never heard of me, could be brutal, but I think they were pretty cool to me. I remember New York, it felt good, but because of the size of the room I didn’t feel like I connected with the audience as much as some of the other places. It was still a really good show……and sometimes my interpretation of how things are going and how the show is really going is based upon things happening in my own head as opposed to things that are really happening, if you know what I mean.
Yep, I can totally relate that.
So, the record. Holy Smokes, what an appropriate title. It is a mighty fine album. Is that why you named it that, because you knew that’s what people would say when they listened?
(Laughing) Well, I think anything that’s good poetry has several interpretations. The record has multiple aspects for me. I felt like Holy Smokes is how it felt to finally get the record finished and out, because making a record is such a process. On top of that, I also like the spiritual reference, the holy part. It sticks out in a visual way for me too. It’s one of those things that I felt like you don’t really forget. I like it.
It’s definitely memorable, as is the record, it has such an atmosphere, it swallows you up, in a good way.
That’s great, I mean, I definitely wanted it to be one of those things where people could take one song and listen to it, but then if you’re like me, I like to pop in a cd or a put on a vinyl and listen to it all the way through. So yeah, I’m glad it works that way for you too.
Previously, you mentioned that you were listening to a lot of ambient meditational music. That influence can be heard on the record, but there is also rock, blues and others as well. Was there anything else that you were listening to that influenced the record's varied sound?
J.J. Cale was a big influence on this album and ZZ Top on the tunes that are more rock. Townes van Zandt too, not necessarily his sound, but the themes in his songs. Also Ennio Morricone, who does the music for Sergio Leoni movies and Spacemen 3, who are a more spiritualized psychedelic blues band. I listen to so many bands and a lot of obscure ones, but when I go into the studio I try and be open minded about what a song needs. I don’t want to be too much like anybody, but I definitely learn things from other people.
The record definitely has a distinct sound.
What, if anything, do you want people take away from the record when they listen?
Well, I think this is just the "not from concentrate" version of what we do. There was nobody there to tell us how to be or what to do. We had experience and were able to make the decisions we wanted to make and the record we wanted to make. I’m happy those other two records came out, but this feels like the base of my sound. This is us uncut, so it feels like it’s the first one.
We wanted to be able to listen to it and be proud of it. We wanted to be able to look our friends in the eye when we handed the record to them and be proud of it. A lot of times we give them a record and say “sorry about this or that, we didn’t have the budget for it.” This is first one where there are no excuses and we’re really happy about it.
Are all of the songs fairly new or ones you had in your pocket?
All of the songs are new. There were a few riffs I had for a long time that I hadn’t found a song for, like the song with Ray Wylie Hubbard, but all of them were written since Pardon Me was put out. Some I wrote myself, others were co-writes with friends of mine.
So where do you draw from when you are writing? Is it personal experience, from those around you or something totally different?
They’re all personal songs, some are heavier and some are lighter, but they’re all personal. The easiest way for me to write is to write about myself. I want to get into writing stories with characters that aren’t necessarily real, but haven’t done that at this point.
In a piece in Rolling Stone, you mentioned that the duet with Nikki Lane, “To Love Is To Fly” is the only love song on the album. The album though does have quite a few songs that deal with love, but they seem to be more about the search for love and the good and bad aspects of relationships.
When I think of a true love song I think of something like “Someday” by George Harrison; songs like that, beautiful and uplifting. That song [with Nikki] is about two people together; it’s a love song, but still is shrouded by something dark. The other songs are more about the division between two people, falling out of love, rather than people connecting. Love is a big part of life in general, it’s everything. Relationships are where life becomes colorful.
That’s the truth.
One other song I wanted to touch on is, “Hallelujah,” which, as the opening track, seems to give a glimpse into how you feel about music and releasing this record independently.
I had just seen Cool Hand Luke for the first time, so the song started out being about an old school prison chain gang, but it’s about my life too. I studied business in college and felt like a corporate environment was not for me; then being with the label felt like the same thing. I have nothing against a corporate environment, I have a lot of friends that work in one, but it is just not for me; it’s just not a nurturing environment for creative ideas. The song is about busting free and finding salvation in this rat race. Let’s get rich on purpose seems to be so common in the everyday, and there’s nothing wrong with making and having money, but I wanted to find and do the thing that made me happy. If you don’t do what makes you happy, I’d rather be poor. I feel very satisfied and fulfilled doing what I love and chasing my dreams.
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