Andrew Jackson Jihad speaks to me like no other band does. They often delve into the most dark and horrible parts of the human experience, but just as quickly present anthems of optimism. They can be simultaneously earnest, sarcastic, and hilarious, and throw in just enough pop culture references to satisfy my nerdiness. It’s awesome to see a band that you love grow creatively while making a bigger name for themselves along the way. Evolving from a minimalist two-man acoustic punk duo to something that more closely resembles the punk rock lovechild of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Mountain Goats, Andrew Jackson Jihad continues to impress with each album. Vocalist/guitarist Sean Bonnette was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new album, Christmas Island, which is currently out now on punk powerhouse SideOneDummy.
B.G.M. – Christmas Island is Andrew Jackson Jihad’s first album with SideOneDummy. How did the relationship with the new label come about?
Sean Bonnette – It’s a tale as old as time, really. We wanted to do something different with this album, label-wise, and SideOne invited us warmly. They’re very playful people with good ideas, and they let help us realize a lot of silly ideas we have.
The new album was recorded by John Congleton, and has a really cool, loud fuzziness to it. What was it like recording with him? Were you looking to capture a specific sound or style?
Thanks! Working with John was great. He’s an American treasure. He wanted us to make a fuzzy, fried, distorted record with mostly acoustic instruments, which I love. Another unsung hero as of yet is Alex Bhore, the assistant engineer on the record. He plays drums in the band This Will Destroy You and is a great engineer and a delightful person.
It was hard for a little bit there. There were a few frustrated periods where I wasn’t happy with anything I was coming up with. Luckily I was able to get out of that headspace after a while and started having a lot of fun writing songs again. In preparing to record we got to play a couple times a week for a month, which is a luxury we’ve never given ourselves before this album, and it was really fun. Preston, Deacon, Mark and John had a huge influence on how the songs developed.
The video for the first track, “Temple Grandin,” was recently released online. I’ve always really liked how AJJ manages to balance humor and seriousness—like naming a song after an autism rights activist and also including a Lil Wayne reference in the lyrics. What inspired the song and the video?
That chorus was inspired by an emerging motif found in hip hop, the “___ to the bullshit” trope. I had been chasing it for a long time. The first two choruses of the song (Stevie Wonder and Hellen Keller) are callbacks to Treasure Mammal and Aaron Cohen songs, the third one (Temple Grandin) was my contribution to that game. The video came entirely from the “high octane” brain of Director Joe Stakun. He had a very clear vision for the video and I’m glad we trusted him.
“Linda Ronstadt” is another really striking song from the album, with the very direct opening line of “Today I lost my shit in a museum.” I’ve read that this is the most personal song that you’ve ever written. Even though you’ve been performing music publicly for a long time now, how did it feel to present yourself so vulnerably?
That song feels really good. That song is about a very rare emotion for me. I feel like I captured it in a jar, now I just need to poke holes in the top and make sure there are enough leaves in there.
You have a very unique lyrical style that can be disarmingly direct and honest, but also utilizes some really interesting metaphors and pop culture references. How does your approach change from song to song?
I like when it feels like I’m writing a song for the first time, with a clear head free of all the burdens of my past, present and future. I tend to get hung up when I try to control anything, but sometimes I need to try so that I can exhaust myself and give up. Other times it’s incredibly easy, it just pops out of nowhere. That’s my favorite.
You guys are typically known for releasing a ton of music via splits, 7”s and EPs between albums, but there wasn’t a whole lot released between Knife Man and Christmas Island. Is there any particular reason for that?
Some of us live in different places now, and I’m sure that has something to do with it. Also, we decided to work harder on our recordings and that’s hard to do while putting out as much as we were.
AJJ recently raised money to buy a new touring van via IndieGoGo, and included some really unique incentives for backers, such as personalized postcards and drawings, a date with the band and even personally requested cover songs and a private concert from you. How did the band come up with these incentives?
We picked out the incentives based on how much much we thought people would like them as well as how much of a time commitment it would be to deliver the goods. Since the point was to get a tour van, we wanted to make sure that the incentives didn’t take up time we could spend on touring. Shirts, keychains and stickers are shipping today, and we’re going on our first round of dates in June on our next tour, they’re gonna be fun.
What kind of things have you been drawing for the backers?
I really love drawing, of all the things I do for fun, I’ve been drawing the longest. Lots of the drawings are grotesque and cute, which I suppose fits the other creative stuff I do.
AJJ has always had ridiculous and awesome merch items, ranging from pillow cases, to sweat pants, to salad gloves and now snuggies. What does the future hold for ridiculous Andrew Jackson Jihad merch items?
Right now we’re awaiting prototypes for Andrew Jackson Jihad: The Gimp Mask and Andrew Jackson Jihad: The Anime Pillow Girlfriend.
Final question: What exactly makes The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Bad Lieutenant 2) the best movie ever, as mentioned in “Angel of Death”?
I actually don’t think it’s the best movie ever, but it is one of my very favorites. I really love the flow of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. It starts off like a cheesy TNT drama and slowly gets stranger and richer until it becomes an all out meditation on the nature of reality. It plays with a lot of classic motifs and subverts them. The cinematography breathes and changes in a really natural way. Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Xibit and Val Kilmer all give stellar performances. I also like the fact that it has absolutely no connection to the first Bad Lieutenant, that Werner Herzog had never even seen the first one.
When we were recording with John he told us that Herzog only made BL:POCNO to have an excuse to be in New Orleans during hurricane season because he wanted to make a documentary about a hurricane! Herzog didn’t give a fuck about Bad Lieutenant, the original or his own.