Interview: AJJ Groezrock 2017Written by David Marote
AJJ, or as their full name used to be, Andrew Jackson Jihad, have been a full on band since 2004 with a vast number of releases to show it. 2017 has led them to the Groezrock festival where they will be performing for the first time on the Watch Out Stage. RMP sat down with vocalist Sean Bonnette to catch up on their latest release The Bible 2 and future endeavours for the revamped AJJ.
Welcome to Groezrock, your first, any thoughts?
From the little that i walked around so far, there's a killer vibe. Everyone is so friendly.
I'm really excited to see The Deftones, that's my main band here.
Your latest album The Bible 2 has been released a few months ago, how has the response been to the new songs?
It's been really good. It's funny, because everytime we make a new album we always seek to achieve something a little bit different. In doing that we always end up pissing up a few of our hardcore fans. But then also those same fans seem to like our previous album more than they did. It's just wonderfull progress.
So basically you're always one album behind?
Yeah, that's how i feel it's supposed to be. Along with that it has two of my favorite songs that i have ever written. Two songs that i'm most proud of in the bands history.
Which are those songs?
My Brain Is A Human Body and Small Red Boy.
You've made a nicely choreographed video for one of the songs, Goodbye oh Goodbye, that caught some attention on the internet. Did the viral sensation atract a new crowd at shows?
I don't know if we seen a new crowd coming to the shows. A lot of people definitely heard of our band for the first time from that video. Time will have to tell whether that video brought more people to our shows or just drilled a bunch of OK Go fans. I love that video so much.
It was really great, especially the after takes.
A funny thing about that, it kind of mirrors reality. We are actually just as pleased about how that video turned out as we are in that little part afterwards. If you get us a few drinks we just start of getting bloating about how well it turned out. It becomes a third layer to the video.
The band has evolved quite a bit over the years, recently the name change from Andrew Jackson Jihad to the abbreviation AJJ. How do you feel about the current course of the band?
The current album has been my favorite one so far i believe. I think for the next one we are probably are going to make something more spacious. If that makes sense. I feel like that with The Bible 2 we reached a point of maximalism. I feel kind of a like turning to the other direction, something more minimal. Something like quiter, more space, less instruments.
Next to AJJ you and Ben have your respective solo projects, . Ben released music as Wiccan Babysitter recently.
I actually got to play bass on some of those Wiccan Babysitter songs, which was cool returning a favor.
You recorded some amazing covers ranging from Slayer to Bowie. Any plans on pursuing the solo path more?
I have been recording a lot of electronic music, just on my own with no real plans yet to release it.
I wouldn't be surprised if that ended up seeing the light of day at some point. I'm not sure if i would make it a solo project or if i would just call it an AJJ song.. That's kind of the cool thing about our band, we don't have any rules dictating what are band is supposed to sound like. We will always be doing covers. These covers are really fun. It's cool to learn new chords and new devices on how to write a song.
AJJ has been placed in the folkpunk box so many times, although the new album shows some new aspects to the band?
It used to really bother me, i feel like now i kind of don't care. It makes sense for people to have a genre to relate to other people with. There's no real bad stigma that is see in folkpunk these days that i care to avoid. I do find it kind of silly when we have some many songs in so many genres.
You've covered songs from Neutral Milk Hotel to Stone Temple Pilots and of course your AV Club performance with underground hits. Any songs you haven't covered you wanted to do or even ones you wouldn't play?
Nothing that i currently that i have like ambitions toward. Although i downloaded a tablature tab, you can set the chords and it will start scrolling. You can just read and play, it's just like karaoke with guitar. When i get home after this tour i'm going to start learning a bunch of Beatles song. There are some evident tricks worth stealing.
What would be your favorite Beatles song?
Oh, the other Beatles won't like it very much but Maxwells Silver Hammer, the Paul McCartney song of Abbey Road. I've played through it a few times and it's really fun to play, it has a really cool chord in it.
Your merchgame has been strong since the beginning. From sweatpants to snugglie blankets and now glow in the dark shirts and coozies.
We have a coozie design that is designed as a parody on the Monster energy drink logo. We have a member of the band, he plays cello and he also helps oversee a lot of the merch. Mark Glick is a huge fan of Monster Energy Drink. He has a video blog were he reviews different Monster drinks. So he's pretty excited to be at this festival.
My favorite piece is still the salad glove, could you explain this wonderfull state of the art novelty to those we haven't heard of it yet?
Ben and i worked at a coffeeshop and we had gloves when we used to prepare the food. One day we just starting eating salad with our hands and it turned out to be a really good invention. For a long time it was just an inside joke that we had. It mades it way into that song, like a reference, that like no one understood untill we made the infomercial. Then we released the album. And then we released them for mass consumption. Lately we made download codes out of the Salad Gloves.
How are they selling?
We are millionaires now!
Sean, you once said that a constant them in your work is the act of striving and trying to do better. You even said the Jihad in the band name was a representation of that. Could you elaborate on that?
Sure, the purpose of that name, in it's very infancy, was that it was something could be interpreted in a bunch of different ways We wanted people to draw their own conclusion of that name. We weren't super attached it to it, one way or another. We decided to change it with like current political climate and realising that Muslims in America and in Western society at large have a really bad reputation and we were like capitalising on that very complicated word that they use. It didn't make me feel very good knowing that. Kind of in the spirit of that word, strive to be better, we decide to leave that word alone. At the same time i'm not going to be an asshole to anyone wearing an old shirt of ours. I don't really care to engage in any huge debates with anyone over it. It's just kind of a personal preference.
In the songs and artwork religion seems to be an influence, from Catholism to the Devil, the duality in life seems to be a recurring theme in your songs?
It's just such a rich theme to create art from. I'm fascinated by the nature of believe, by the idea of spiritual beings. I'll say that my favorite kind of movie is a horror movie where the devil impregnates a woman and an evil baby is born. I like the idea of a spiritual war being fought that humans aren't aware of. I feel like i kind of derailed and not making much sense any more.
Like in the song Small Red Boy?
Totally, i guess that's kind of what i'm getting at. Angels and devils are very fascinating to me.
I love angels, i think i got that from my grandmother. My grandmother believes stronghearted in
guardian angels and instilled that idea in me ever since i was a very small boy.
So what's next for AJJ?
We are hoping to go to Australia in September. I've been writing songs and making small recordings on my own and with friends. I think we will try to release a mini album at some point this year. Maybe work on even smaller releases, put out more singles and trying to become a more profilic band again. That's something i would like to do.