What’s the best part about creating an album all on your lonesome? Perfection. You’ll never have to fret over telling your buddy that that guitar riff sucks, the drums are lacking oomf or that the bassist is a lazy bastard who can’t commit to anything. “Get a freakin’ car and stop asking for rides to practice dammit!” You can dream a little dream and if you’re fortunate enough to have a small fortune and have the talent to be able to play all instruments involved, BLAMO! You can Axel Rose-it-up and craft an album to your desire.
Mr, Poe has done it again and created a layered-ass, indie-math rock album for our listening pleasure. It’s honestly getting a little ridiculous now. Can I write just one good song without you stealing all the tight riffs out there?? It’s a mixture of the familiar, epic blast from his past albums and a few new ingredients sprinkled in, including but not limited to a couple trombone solos in “Frozen Windshield” and intriguingly thumping, Meat Puppets-esque bass lines in “10 Miles.”
Jonathan’s A Knock at the Paper Door starts off with “Mantis,” a funky, sometimes chaotic opener that eventually dissolves into his calling; a dreamy landscape of reverberating sounds in the chorus and bridge before restarting again making you check if your Bandcamp player is on repeat. But no, it’s all part of the plan. Standouts include “Charcoal Flower” and the closing number “Sierra,” both Herculean in their own way with the latter being a grandiose display of soaring, reverb-drenched guitar riffs, vocal harmonies that’d make a Deep South church choir jealous and all at an easily digestible seven minutes. I’m not being sarcastic here, at the end of the song, you’re still left wanting more. How do you do it Poe sir?! How? Let the queries begin!
Your band DEKU has been more active recently with Covid winding down in Shanghai. What’s it like playing underground shows in China?
Playing local shows in Shanghai is mostly incredibly satisfying, but can also occasionally be frustrating. There is a truly special and creative group of musicians playing in Shanghai who have welcomed us with open arms from the day we played our first show. I recognize more and more of the faces in the music community every time I go out to see shows these days. Bands like DaHaHa, The Flood, Roundeye, and Hogchoker have consistently inspired me as they’ve pushed the boundaries of their respective genres. The part that can be frustrating is the ever-evolving bureaucratic red tape that is often involved in putting shows together as well as how the ban on foreigners entering the country brought about the end of several great local bands. We lost our lead guitarist Reid Weir during this time as well as circumstances took him back to the US. Since bassist E.J. Swider, drummer Joe Hillman, and myself were all in Shanghai during the entire summer, we were able to tighten up as a band, re-work the songs for a trio, and slide more deeply into a musical comfortability with each other in the live setting. We also recorded a Deku album in July using mostly the same recording techniques that birthed A Knock at the Paper Door. It’s currently in the mixing/mastering stage, but we’re looking forward to releasing it with a bang in November or December. Deku’s currently untitled album will also be mixed and mastered in Athens, Georgia by Ben Hackett, whose production on A Knock at the Paper Door breathed life into the raw recordings of my songs. In addition, we’ve been working hard on a full set of Flaming Lips covers that we’ll be performing at the yearly Halloween tribute show at Yuyintang Park.
Tell us about previous incarnations of live bands playing your music or is this the first?
The first band I played in was called Reckless Oblivion. Let the ridiculousness of that name sink in. Given the fact that I was about fifteen or sixteen years old, you can probably imagine the adolescent emo-clichés and Blink-182 rip-offs that constituted our band. I mean, we took band photos with our best serious faces from the top branches of the trees that lined the suburbs we lived in. Our biggest gig was the high school talent show. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun and I had my first experience playing my own music in a band.
The first band I really felt proud of was called Yakapo. I formed it with my friends John Fentress and Jordan Swafford during university and we played very consistently for about two years. We mostly played around Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as a bit around cities in the Southeast like Nashville and Atlanta. We started playing together around the time that my first solo album, Hypnagogia, was released. At the time, I was constantly inviting people over to jam at my house and throwing regular house shows with my college roommates and a few of those jams turned into that band. I grew so much as a songwriter, dove into experimenting with guitar pedals, and gained a ton of confidence performing live music during those years. However, as George Harrison so wisely said, all things must pass. Yakapo dissolved when I moved to Korea in 2014. Both John and Jordan are still making awesome music in different bands in Nashville.
I played bass in a couple of bands when I lived in Seoul, but never really found an outlet for my own music even though I was writing a lot during that time. I tried a few solo acoustic shows using a loop pedal, but it never felt right. The nail in the coffin of those acoustic shows was a frustrating set at a biannual celebration of local music in Seoul called HBC Music Festival. Extreme and pervasive mic feedback and a guitar battery that died mid-set caused me to yell some embarrassing things into the mic as my horrified friends looked on. The finale was when my friend Matthew came up to me at the end of the set to tell me that it was all okay but that also my fly had been down the entire time.
With China being two steps ahead of the world with Covid, what can the world expect in regards to live music happening again in our neck of the woods?
It’s really heart-breaking to continue to watch the pandemic rage in the US as life has mostly been normal in Shanghai for months. The song “Run” from A Knock at the Paper Door is all about the anxieties I felt as I ran from country to country trying to escape or wait out the virus. I traveled through northern India with my sister for about three weeks as things were beginning to get really bad. Though India was supposed to be my last destination before flying back to China, my path took me from India to Thailand, Korea, Japan, and the US before barely making it back to Shanghai in time. I still remember how timid I was going to the first show I’d been to in over four months. Roundeye, White Ink, and some other bands were playing at LOFAS and I wore my mask the entire time as I looked worriedly around for any signs of coughing.
I’m very optimistic about the return of live music both here in Shanghai and around the world. It’s going to take some time, and there must be a lot of artists hurting right now, but there is something intoxicating and life-affirming about getting together with a group of people to experience vibrations in a shared space. My hopeful prediction is that a deep hunger for live music will bring about a resurgence of live music that will be even greater than before the world knew what Covid-19 was. Music has always been one of the best ways to make it through dark times and one of the best ways to celebrate the end of those dark times.
Any international tours being planned for 2021 and beyond?
As cool as that would be, there are no plans for anything like that currently. We’ve talked about trying to play a few shows in Japan at some point because E.J., the bassist in Deku, has played a few different cities in Japan with a previous band. However, those plans all are all on hold given the pandemic. If the pandemic continues to be controlled here and quarantine restrictions loosen up later this year, we’ve got our eyes on Beijing, Hangzhou, and even Wuhan as places we’d love to play in China.
Jonathan’s new album will be available September 30th on all the major streaming services. If you’re a cheapskate on a budget and with no monthly music subscription, you can always check out his Bandcamp page at: