Jonny Two Bags has had a big year with the release of Salvation Town on April 1 as well as a tour with Chuck Ragan and a long string of shows following. Before heading out on the road to open for one of his other bands, Social Distortion; Jonny Two Bags and his band played Twentywonder. This unique event is called a “Carnival of the Mind” and mixes all sorts of comedy, science, wrestling, roller derby and music into a unique benefit making a difference in the lives of those living with Down Syndrome in Los Angeles. Jonny and his band were the final act on a very full night, but played an engaging set for those that hung on. By the Barricade was privileged to catch Jonny before his set to learn more about his influences and views on music.
By the Barricade: Music listeners associate musicians with the particular genre they most frequently play. A good portion of your career has been in punk. In your free time, what types of music or bands to you enjoy listening to?
Jonny: There are so many it is really difficult to narrow it down to anything specific but for the last couple of days I’ve been listening to the first two Fabulous Thunderbirds records which are lifelong favorites of mine. I guess a lot of the stuff I listen to are staples like the first Pretenders record or a lot of blues, Elmore James. I have various tangents or kicks at different times. I went on a Rudimentary Peni thing a while back. I like music, in all honesty I don’t really seek out as much new music as I once did. I have such a huge catalog of music at home and I’ve never really been the kind of person that searched for music just for the sake of it. I have come across things and if it is something that I like, then I become a fan. When I first got into punk was the time that I would search out record stores. I still like all the bands I grew up on and I will listen to those records.
By the Barricade It seems that many punk icons such as yourself have moved through the years from a punk angry sound to a more smooth reflective Americana sound. What caused this evolution for you?
Jonny: No, in most of the bands I have been in there has been a thread of Americana. Even Youth Brigade, the guys in that band Mark and Adam Stearn started Royal Crown Review. Youth Brigade is Youth Brigade but in my world of punk, there has always been a lot of Americana music and in LA that was really strong in X and Los Lobos, the Blasters …
By the Barricade: Even Social D.
Jonny: Yes Social D and Cadillac Tramps. We wrote songs onacoustic guitars and there was a strong roots sound in that band. It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to me to be doing what I am doing. I know that it is different than Social D but it feels really completely natural.
By the Barricade: This style seems more reflective as though you are out there revealing your thoughts and some of yourself through your music. Is there something that made you want to do that? I’ve read that you were encouraged over the years to get out there and do it yourself.
Jonny: I guess so, the nature of some of these songs is reflective. This is just were I was at. They weren’t all written at the same time, that’s just the batch of songs that made it onto this record. I would like to challenge myself to do something a little different next time maybe in terms of what I am writing about.
By the Barricade Shifting gears and going way back, when did you know you wanted to be a musician? Do you have any regrets?
Jonny: I’ve had regrets before, but currently I am enjoying it. It kind of happened by accident. As I young kid I don’t think I really wanted to be a musician. I don’t know what I wanted to be but I always loved rock n roll but when I was very young if you had asked me if I wanted to be a musician, I would have said no. My father was a musician. When we started the Cadillac Tramps it just gradually became a serious band. We took it serious. You start recording records and you start touring, obviously your ambitions change up a little bit. It went from something we’ll just play at parties at our friend’s house or get some gigs around town and thing like that to having to decide to get some merchandise, take it serious and eventually we will get a new record label, managers and everything so we wanted to try to take it as far as we could.
By the Barricade Having made it through the journey from being a young person sort of falling into music to where you are now, what advice do you have for a musician in an up and coming band?
Jonny: The only thing I can say is to maintain that connection with why you started doing it in the first place. Hopefully you want to play music and be in a band and make records and stuff out of the love of doing it. You get joy out of creating that way and writing and performing music before and above everything else. As soon as things shift into the business, success and the drive for success take over and it is lost. You have to get serious if you are looking to have a career in music, you better enjoy it. The chances of having a career are so slim. I’ve been up and down with this stuff so many times and I’m still by no means guaranteed a career for the rest of my life in music. None of us are so that is why you have to remember why you are doing it.
By the Barricade: As a side note, what is nice for fans like us is that you are still an accessible, real person. You are not like an arena filling superstar who doesn’t talk to anyone anymore. Not that you can’t fill arenas but there is truly a different vibe with the people and type of music you are involved with.
Jonny: We come from a music culture that was designed to not be that kind of stuff. Even though a lot of people did experience that type of success along the way, it initially was about. A lot of artists and a lot of bands really struggle to keep it real and stay connected with their fans in a more personal way to not get separated. A lot of people reach that and really don’t care any more.
By the Barricade: Obviously there is a very fine line because you need to be successful and you need to make a living.
Jonny: I’ve seen how people operate who are hugely famous and become jaded and numb. Human beings become spoiled very easy. If you want to maintain your humanity through it all, you’ve got to try hard I guess. Maybe not everybody tries hard.
By the Barricade Anything else you would like to say to the By the Barricade readers?
Jonny: I got a big kick learning about music and the history of the musicians that I love. I don’t know if that happens still or not, but it must be because the information is right there in your hand literally (referring to smart phones). It wasn’t for me, but look back in history and check out some of the old music that was happening.