When Andrew Jackson Jihad (formed in 2004 by core members Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty) first rose to prominence, they did so on the strength of a very specific style: frenetic acoustic instruments, yelping vocals, and scathing and satirical lyrics. This style was often referred to as “folk-punk” by music critics.
Earlier this year, Andrew Jackson Jihad released “Christmas Island”, an album which ditched the skeletal instrumentation and punk aggression of their earlier work in favor of a fuller, poppier sound, without abandoning the trademark wry humor, cynicism, and self-deprecation of previous efforts.
Andrew Jackson Jihad write folk songs in a traditional sense. That’s not to say they pen stuffy meditations on nature or the countryside or anything like that, but folk songs for the common people: deeply relatable music that is sometimes sad, sometimes mad, and often hilarious and heartbreaking all at once,
Though our email correspondence was brief, earlier this week singer Sean Bonnette lent us some insight on the new album, his bandmates, and his influences.
Dailyer: Originally the band was made up of just two people, but it has since expanded into more of a traditional band lineup. Would you say that Christmas Island was more of a collaborative album than previous efforts?
S: Most definitely. Deacon, Preston and Mark are fantastic musicians, and I am honored to play in a band with them. I would also say that we enjoyed collaborating with John Congleton (the producer) and Suzanne Falk (the painter) on this project.
Dailyer: Where did the title “Christmas Island” come from? It’s a bit cuddlier than “People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In the World” and “Knife Man”.
S: They’re all pretty cuddly, if you ask me. As far as the title of “Christmas Island”, all I can say at this time is that it’s worth a Google.
Dailyer: The album includes the song “Kokopelli Face Tattoo”, a song you’d been performing live for a while prior to the album. Were there any specific goals you had when recording the album version?
S: We really wanted to set it free from the live recording, it’s more fun that way. I’m happy that both versions are out there, I get a kick out of it.
Dailyer: Some of the songwriting in Christmas Island seems more focused on imagery and metaphor, rather than direct emotional experience, compared to previous albums, at least. Did you consciously take a different approach to writing the lyrics for the album?
S: I forgot how to write songs for a while, got a little too much in my head about the whole thing. It was only when I surrendered that I began making real progress. I was trying to write an album when I should have just been writing songs. It’s all personal.
Dailyer: Your songwriting is often very personal and direct. Have you ever written a song that you felt was too personal or revealing to perform live?
S: I don’t think so.
Dailyer: You have a European tour coming up next month. Is that at all daunting for you guys?
S: Every tour has challenges, but I try not to consider any tour to be daunting.
Dailyer: Any notable or ridiculous experiences on this last tour that you’d care to share?
S: I can never remember awesome tour stories on the spot, unfortunately. It’s like going into a record store and forgetting what you were going to look for.
Dailyer: In another interview, you cited author Kurt Vonnegut as a major influence. What are the qualities of his writing that you find appealing? What’s your favorite of his works?
S: I admire his message and the sense of empathy he conveys in his writing. My favorite is Breakfast of Champions.
Dailyer: What music has been inspiring you the most lately?
S: Perfume Genius, The War on Drugs, David Bowie (always and forever). Das Racist, Die Antwoord, Swans, Emperor X, Lana Del Rey, music has been ruling for me lately.
Dailyer: When I saw you guys perform in Omaha, you were wearing a pretty cool Danny Brown t-shirt. Do you have a favorite song of his?
S: At the moment it’s probably Torture.
Dailyer: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where this publication is located, is considered a major school for football. Be honest, how far can you throw a football?
S: Not very far at all. I’m a wimpy wimp.