I have been impressed with Sonny Jim for some time now, so I set out to discover what makes this Welsh trio tick…
Hi guys, thanks for agreeing to chat with me. Sonny Jim’s latest album, ‘M.A.D’ is such an eclectic album, it makes the head spin! No two tracks are the same. Was this a conscious decision? Show as many sides to the band as possible?
Rob (Drums) “As a rock band, we never try to be cool or follow fads. I think our sound and style reflects the rock music we loved as kids growing up, and then later flourishes, such as indie rock. We could add lots of bells and whistles in the final mix, but why bother? It wouldn’t be the truth.”
Jay (Vocals) “In our youth, we were continually told by A&R types to be in engaged in the sound of the time, and as a result we weren’t true to ourselves. As we’ve got older, the joy of composing and playing together has become the driving force. Songs are forged together at that moment. Our experiences and influences are amalgamated at that moment to create the track which develops again when we get together in the studio. We’re not trying to create a sound, just enjoy playing together”
Lloyd (Guitars) “We’re not trying to be fashionable or retro, we’re just trying to be Sonny Jim. In doing so, there’s a real honesty to our music. I also consider myself a songwriter first and a guitarist second. I listen to a lot of music, and enjoy an eclectic taste. I never think about genres when writing, I just write and see what comes out. The fact that no two songs sound the same means we’re doing something right. It’s a massive compliment, so thank you.”
‘Little Miss Valentine’ is quite a bleak subject matter (albeit one with a great groove!). Is it fictional, or based on someone you know?
Lloyd ” ‘LMV’ is complete fiction. It’s a dark tale about a high-class escort who sleeps with ‘the richest philanderers in town’. ‘LMV’ fell pregnant, got greedy so decided to ‘kiss & tell’ in an attempt to blackmail her clients. Sadly, it was only ever going to end one way for ‘LMV’. I’m sure there’s a moral in there somewhere! As a songwriter, I tend to write about the world around me, in particular my experiences and observations. Sometimes it’s refreshing to write ‘outside the box’ and dabble in the world of fiction and fantasy.”
Is ‘Real Life’ a cautionary tale of not living your life to the max, or a celebration of someone doing just that?
Lloyd “Good question. For me, the album closer is just as important as the album opener. I wanted to write something different but thought provoking. ‘Real Life’ is more of a reminder than a cautionary tale to live life to the MAX. We’re all in the same boat, life is precious, it’s not a rehearsal… this is it. The problem with living life to the MAX is it’s easier said than done, hence the tension in the track, especially as the track builds to its climax. I guess we’d all like to adopt a more ‘live for today’ attitude, but bills have to be paid, and none of us know what’s around the corner. Is that light at the end of the tunnel, or yet another train?”
People often write about their surroundings. Bridgend is sadly infamous for the amount of young males that have committed suicide there. How big a part does Bridgend play in your songwriting?
Rob “Good point and question.I haven’t lived there for many years, but I wouldn’t want to make songs of Bridgend hangings. As a band and friends, we experienced a lot of good and bad times in Bridgend”
Jay “That’s just a small part of our home town’s history. We grew up and went to school in Bridgend, and played our first gigs there. Bridgend is what we are as our family and friends are there. You can’t run away from yourself no matter how hard you try”
Lloyd “I think Jay sums it up nicely. We’re Bridgend born and bred. Bridgend is in our DNA, so will never leave us. Home is where the heart is, and Bridgend will always be in our hearts. Sadly, Bridgend has changed, and not for the better. Everything that Bridgend once stood for, or represented, has been erased. The town hall knocked down, the cattle market closed, the cinema now a car park… the list goes on. Bridgend has become a ghost town searching for an identity. The town centre can’t compete with the ‘Designer Outlet’, so withers away like a distant memory”
Recent times have given musicians a wealth of gritty subject matter. Can a band remain neutral when it comes to politics for fear of offending half of their fans, or do they have to remain true to themselves?
Jay “Apparently, the only inoffensive colour is magnolia. I fucking hate magnolia it’s dull and lifeless. Who wants to be magnolia. Not Sonny Jim that’s for sure”
Lloyd “Don’t get me started on politics or religion!!!”
Enough of the doom and gloom for now! Opening track on ‘M.A.D’, ‘White Witch’, is a bloody belter, isn’t it!?
Rob “I think we are fond of Pearl Jam, past and present, and sometimes that can show in the final song. ‘White Witch’ being one of them in particular. I think the song has a lot of space and quiet power”
Jay “There’s nothing better than a big stomping rock track to get the blood pumping”
Lloyd “All albums need a killer opening track, a statement of intent to set the scene. I set about doing just that, and the result was ‘The White Witch’ “
The one-two of that along with ‘Memories And Souvenirs’ is the perfect way to kick the album off. When I first heard ‘Memories And Souvenirs’ my mind instantly went back to The Who’s ‘Quadrophenia’ album… a classic “British” sounding track.
Lloyd “If ‘The White Witch’ represents a brutal jab to the jaw, ‘Memories & Souvenirs’ is the hefty haymaker to follow, designed to knock the listener into submission. As you say, it’s the perfect ‘one-two’. Sonny Jim are back, this is ‘M.A.D’ “
Rob “The Who are my favourite band, but I never try and emulate their drumming and rhythm. ‘Memories and Souvenirs’ is one of my favourite Sonny Jim songs, and particularly a favourite vocal from Jay. I’ve always been interested in song listings on albums, and what song should go where. What is the big opener, and usually the first three tracks are strong and commercial. And of course there is always track 7, which personally, on most albums from other bands, I find the best”
Whereas ‘Crown Of Thorns’ and ‘Rearview Mirror’ have America stamped all over it maybe?
Rob “The core idea for this album, and pushed by Jay, was to do the quiet loud quiet loud style. Like the Pixies and then Nirvana did. ‘Rear view mirror’ is a prime example of this. When I first heard final mix of COT I thought it was the best and most mature thing we had done up to that point. We had really grown up, and it sounds like we really know what we are doing and in complete control of the song”
Jay “I’d been listening to a Bowie, Nirvana, Lou Reed, etc during this period. I knew where I wanted COT to go with the vocal, and in rehearsal the boys weren’t so sure, but they trusted me, and the track came together beautifully and just as I’d imagined. I particularly love the way Kurt Cobain tries to contain his pain until it bursts out, and as we have all been feeling that of recent it was a great way to capture mine and the boys’ emotions.”
Lloyd “Jay emailed me some lyrics entitled ‘Crown Of Thorns’. It was dark and captivating. I loved it instantly, picked up my guitar, and the rest is history. Rearview Mirror was quite an impromptu track I wrote days before a rehearsal with Jay’s ‘Loud/Quiet’ idea resonating loudly. We’re so used to Jay belting out his vocals, it’s a real treat to hear the diversity in his range, which adds an extra dynamic to the band. Jay is a rare talent, and we’re lucky to have him”
I believe you’ve been part of the music scene, in various bands, for some time now? Having seen so many changes in how the “business” operates, what are your views on the current state of it?
Rob “Personally I try not to analyse it too much, as I find part of the magic fades when you look into music as a business. I know it has to be, as everything else does, but I prefer to enjoy the pure 3 to 5 minutes of song that you experience, be it on your iPhone or a gig. Now you have to write and produce a song where the vocal comes in within 5 seconds because people have no time for big intro’s and albums anymore. Entertainment for humans is full to the brim, and everyone is fighting for your money. I believe in buying music, and am disappointed when people expect music for free these days. but the music industry were caught asleep big time and they and the artists are paying for it now.”
Jay “We tried to follow that force in the early years, and it just destroyed us. When you see hungry musicians selling themselves in karaoke TV shows, it makes you despise an industry that wants to take talent and repackage it to make money. Luckily, the majority of the music loving public aren’t fooled. It’s still difficult to get your sound out there, but as long as you remain true to yourselves, and don’t sell out, you’ll carry on enjoying the music”
Lloyd “The music industry is just that. It’s about making money. Sadly, record companies no longer nurture and invest in talent. It’s all about the quick buck. Music is also consumed so differently these days. The ‘Spotify’ generation have so much choice, instantly available to them. Streaming tracks is the way music is consumed these days, and it tends to be singles not albums anymore. I still buy vinyl. The listening experience is so much more personal. You listen to the album in the order intended by the artist/band. You read the cover notes and album sleeve and appreciate the product so much more. Music has sadly become disposable, with listeners expecting their music for free. I’m a massive fan of blues-rock guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor because she’s keeping it real. She’s on her seventh album, and doesn’t stop touring. She’s constantly on the road, taking her music to the people, and has slowly but surely attracted a loyal following in a niche market area with very little radio play. Her success and survival is down to grit and determination. Don’t get me started on The X Factor or The Voice…!”
How important a tool is Bandcamp to a band like Sonny Jim?
Lloyd “Yeah, Bandcamp is one of many digital platforms allowing bands to be discovered; every little helps. Sonny Jim currently have five releases available on Bandcamp courtesy of our label Holier Than Thou Records. ‘Get all 5 Sonny Jim releases on Bandcamp now and save 15%’ Mandatory ‘Plug’ over!”
Will we hear some new music in 2017, and are there and Sonny Jim live dates on the horizon?
Rob “We have only played live once and it was amazing. Would love to do more and who knows. New concept album ready for the autumn of this year with a theme and idea running through it. We want to do something different this time”
Jay “Oh yes there’s plans for a new mini album, and the songs have all been delivered we just need to get together and smash it up”
Lloyd “Jay set me a challenge, to write a conceptual piece, so no pressure then! Rising to the challenge and prolific as ever, mini concept album, ‘Dead Man Walking’ is written, and ready to be brought to life by our collective efforts in the studio. The studio is booked, so watch this space. I desperately miss playing live, so maybe you can have a word with Rob and Jay for me, please?”
Rob? Jay? Are you listening? Lastly, ‘M.A.D’ stands for ‘Middle Aged Debauchery’. Who is the most debauched in the band, and what’s the most fucked up thing that they have done?
Rob “Oh my sweet Lord! I’m very grown up now and couldn’t possibly comment. I am surprised that I am still alive though, and hope to live a little longer. If we had had the big record deal and the fame I think it would have come to a sticky end for me”
Jay “Didn’t Lloyd once table-top dance in a club in just his tanga briefs and a fur coat? There are many stories, many true and to form, as a young rock band we were very debauched. My head swims when I remember all the things we’ve done. But as a father of four, I’m not in a position to recount those tales publicly… but in private …”
Lloyd “I have no idea what you’re talking about Jay – No Comment!!!”
Ha Ha! Nice one guys! Thanks for your time. Rob, Jay… some live dates, please!
Discover more Sonny Jim on bandcamp
Interview: Dave Stott