AJJ is a band whose lyrics “often convey themes of social anxiety, poverty, humanity, religion, addiction, existentialism, and politics,” according to Wikipedia, a description that AJJ frontman and principle lyricist Sean Bonnette finds adequate. “Hell yeah,” he says. “It’s like reading the inside cover of a book.” In anticipation of their upcoming Feb. 9 concert with Tacocat at The Vanguard (222 N. Main St.) and in the wake of the release of their latest album, “Good Luck Everybody,” Bonnette discusses sadness, optimism and the enigma of genre.
Have you ever read AJJ’s Wikipedia page? I have read it. Yeah.
What is that like? Is that weird to have this encyclopedia entry that will outlive you and everyone you know, on the Internet forever, about you and your work? That’s a pretty bold assumption that the Internet’s going to live forever.
But to answer the other question: It’s super weird. I’m not sure when the Wikipedia page was started, but now it’s normal. That makes it even more frightening. It’s funny with Wikipedia because the information is democratized.
That Wikipedia page was the source of, like, a weird kind of inside joke. I think, like, a kid … and his friends just kept vandalizing our Wikipedia page saying that the band was started because of him, or that he was, like, the sole songwriter in the band. It was cute. [Laughs.]
I’m sure you get this sort of sentiment a lot: people telling you that this or that song of yours totally changed their perspective and made them better people. How does that affect you? How do you respond to that? I just try to think about what it would be like for me when I was a teenager or a music fan, when I am a music fan. [Laughs.] And try to be cool. Try to be cool the way that, like, Lou Barlow from Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. was to me when I would, like, approach him all nervously.
I’m a music fan, too, and a lot of the times if I have the opportunity to meet someone whose work I admire, a lot of the times I kind of get shy now. But if I had the boldness to approach one of my heroes, I would hope that they’d be decent to me. Because there is a connection when you listen to someone’s music, and you do connect with that person. Even if you don’t really know them, there’s some kind of knowledge there. It’s recognition.
Yeah. Well, thank you for the decency. I appreciate it. F— you. [Laughs.] Just kidding!
You’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, putting out a record every few years or so. Has the feeling of releasing new material changed. Is it like anxiety-inducing or exciting? Or both? All of the above. It’s anxious. It’s vulnerable. Especially when you decide to look at the reception, which, you try not to, and you can’t help but do it sometimes.
I don’t think I could bring myself to read album reviews if I ever released an album. Wise, very wise.
But I don’t know, maybe morbid curiosity would send me there. It does. That’s kind of what sent me there. I feel like, with this record, we accomplished what we set out to do … It’s been done for a while, so I’ve had a long time to kind of make my peace with it. But some of the some of the criticisms I actually would agree with, and some of them I agree with because it was intentional. I feel pretty confident with this record — enough to be able to look at a couple of reviews.
Could you give me any insight into how your emotional process in writing music has changed since “The Bible 2” or even “Knife Man” and “People Who Can Eat People [Are the Luckiest People in the World]”? It changes every time. It has a different theme, and those themes are influenced by the art that one’s doing at the time, the daily activities outside of music that we’re up to at the time and emotional development … I mean, if we’re going from “People Who Can Eat People” to now, that is like 15, 16 years. Like, it’s definitely jumped like, at least one, maybe two Eriksonian Developmental Stages: “intimacy versus isolation” to, uh, f—king “solitude versus community,” or whatever.
On your last track [of the new record], “A Big Day for Grimley,” you’ve got the line, “You can bet it’s gonna be a bunch of bulls— too out in sweet 2020, / Or whenever this album’s released.” How do you feel about posterity with this record? How are lines like this going to land in 2045, or have you been thinking about that? Well, we’re going to have to play that song today. It’s no longer 2019. Playing it live will obviously keep it fresh to whomever we’re playing it for, whenever we’re playing it for. As far as that line goes, I’m happy with the choice to date it … We made it knowing that it was tied to a time and place that will hopefully not exist the next time we make a record.
That’s a nice little optimistic undercurrent. Yeah! It was meant to be optimistic. Although that’s not what a lot of people are reading into it, so that means that I probably could have done a slightly better job conveying that. [Laughs.]
Approaching some of the lyrical content of “Good Luck Everybody,” I don’t want to use the word pessimism, but there’s certainly, lack of optimism in the new record. So, is there room for hope amidst the politics and disasters of today? And if not— Always. Always, OK. There’s a lot of anger and disappointment [in the lyrics]. If there’s always room for hope, why doesn’t it appear more often on “Good Luck Everybody”? Because I was depressed when I wrote it. I was deeply overwhelmed and saddened by all of the kind of cavalcade of bulls— that kept happening to people in the country and in the world. And it overwhelmed me to the point where I needed to purge it by writing songs.
In an interview with The Young Folks a few years back, you said something to the effect of that, when you’re feeling down, you write a song to give yourself a message of hope. Is that sort of what was going on with “Good Luck Everybody”? I think so. Although, like I said, the message of hope is pretty hard to find. But it definitely made me feel better to get those songs out of me. I mean, I think probably the biggest perpetrator of dourness is “No Justice, No Peace, No Hope.” Which is just, uh, yeah — that’s a f—king sad song. But yeah, I definitely felt better writing that. I felt like now was kind of the best time to draw your line in the sand and take a stand for how horrible things are. I mean, I do know that a lot of that has to do with one’s mindset. There’s a lot of other factors that play into how people perceive 2016. Or, you know, post-2016 … I feel better knowing that I said something now. I wasn’t silent. Even if it was sad, we got our name on the board and we’re on record.
So, speaking of 2016, or post-2016 anyway, the mantra of “The Bible 2” was “No more shame, no more fear, no more dread.” And — you just mentioned it — you’ve got a track on “Good Luck, Everybody” called “No justice. No Peace. No Hope.” Is that a purposeful connection between the titles there? [Laughs.] It actually isn’t. It was subconscious … I hope this record doesn’t give everyone the wrong impression. It’s not a giving-up record. It’s a fight record. But it’s gentle.
In an interview with Paste a few years ago, you described yourself as a “beginning old man.” It’s been three or four years since then. Are you still a “beginning old man” or have you transferred into “full old man”? [Laughs.] Probably, yeah, “full old man,” although I’m more physically active than I’ve been. … Than I’ve ever been. Yeah, I’m like one of those old men that skateboards.
It’s been four years since “The Bible 2,” and I know you all had an EP in the interim, but I’m curious what you’ve been up to since “The Bible 2” and why it’s been four years until we got “Good Luck Everybody.” The process was just the slower this time. I mean, I probably could have goosed it by doing more [Julia Cameron] artist pages, but I kept getting discouraged trying to write about things, because — I don’t know, when something’s on your mind, you can’t really ignore it and try to write about something else … I really did not want to write about politics and the 2016 election, but every time I would think that, I’d think, “Well, you need to say something,” and so I’d try to write about it, and then a new thing would happen. And that would kind of just derail me and discourage me. You know, you can’t hit a moving target.
You told the Phoenix New Times a few years ago that you identified less and less with the term “folk punk.” But you (probably facetiously) opted for “garbage pop” as a better descriptor of AJJ’s music. Oh, yeah. It’s a total garbage pop record.
So do you still identify with that self-identified label? If you’re even thinking in terms of labels? I’m not. [Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve softened up a lot on folk punk. You know, the older I get, the less I really care about how people choose to talk about music, so folk punk is fine … Yeah, we’re doing our best work. As an indie rock band or a garbage pop band or a folk punk band. I’m glad people have words to describe the music they like.