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Interview: Jonny Two Bags brings "Salvation Town" to O-Town on April 29th

Salvation Town
Salvation Town
Salvation Town, Jonny Two Bags

"Salvation Town" might be the most honest album you hear this year. It is likely to be labeled "Americana," a clear misunderstanding of the musical range Jonny Two bags shows he is capable. Pianos, organs, and lap steel are prevalent, adorning a familiar guitar tone that gives the songs that bar band, country-rock vibe with a hint of R & B you might expect, like Tom Petty with the amp cranked up louder, and big choruses that beg a sing-along like the ones in "One Foot in the Gutter", "The Way it Goes", and "Hope Dies Hard." "The Avenues" features an accordion, guest vocals in Spanish, and a snare driven beat reminiscing of a Mexican corrido. Jonny's lyrics are smart, personal, honest, and his vocals are the perfect fit, especially on "Clay Wheels". The music feels at once both fresh and classic, spiritual with the right amount of punk-rock aesthetic. Jonny Two Bags is an act not to be missed on his tour with Chuck Ragan.

1) When did you first get the idea for Salvation Town?
The idea came gradually while I was working on the record. I didn't start out with an idea of what the overall vibe of the record would be, what it would be called or anything like that. I did know basically the sound I was looking for but never having done my own record before, I had no reference point or any idea what I was or wasn't capable of. So, I just started recording. In fact, I really didn't realize I would end up making a full-length record at all. For all I knew at the time, I might have just recorded a couple songs. It was almost like an experiment.

2) What is the meaning behind the name?
At first, I wasn't really into the idea of making a solo record. I thought that I would like to put together a band, then make a record. So I started thinking about players I might approach as well as a name for the band. I was having zero luck finding a name that hadn't already been used. It seemed like every cool, potential band name under the sun had been taken. Steve Soto and Sandy Hanson from The Adolescents, along with Greg Antista and Mike McKnight had a great band called Joyride who we were label mates with on Dr. Dream when I was in the Cadillac Tramps. They had a song called "Salvation Town" and I thought that title would be the perfect name for the band. As the record started shaping up it was becoming apparent that it was a solo record after all, but Salvation Town was now in my head. I was thinking about cover art and I kept going to images of Southern California…the Pacific Ocean, Catalina Island, palm trees, sunsets, a mission, as well as sort of an urban scene…freeways, cars and city skyline. Not necessarily Downtown Los Angeles per se, but more like an ‘Anytown, SoCal’ vibe. Could be Ventura, L.A., San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano or San Diego. The Latino aspects of our environment also really come into play in the art, cars and fashion. Some of us punk rockers and skaters drew on that style and adopted some of the ‘cholo’ aesthetic. We wore wino shoes and Pendletons and ran around various neighborhoods in Santa Ana and other cities in Orange County copping drugs and boosting from stores. We were in and out of Juvenile Hall and County Jail. Others got into building low-riders. This all went side by side with surfing, skating and playing in bands. This was my environment growing up. Many people were lost and found here…some never found. To me ‘Salvation Town’ is a perfect title for this record.

3) What experiences do you draw upon when it comes to songwriting and how did they shape this album?
For this record, being my first, it seems that I've drawn on experiences that are fairly recent as well as some from way back. I find it a bit difficult to tackle a very specific idea and write a song about it. That's not to say that the end result doesn't wind up being pretty specific. What I find works best for me is to try and allow myself to get lost in my imagination and let my subconscious do the work. The songs I usually end up feeling best about seem like they came out of thin air. I couldn't even tell you what I was thinking at the time. I feel that the songs on this record sort of bring me up to the present and now I'm already looking forward to seeing what the next record might bring.

4) How long did it take you to record the album?
It took about two years. Social Distortion was very busy on the road at the time, so we worked on it during breaks from touring.

5) What are your current musical influences?
That's really very hard to say. I listen to so much music and I tend to go on binges with different artists. I just recently scored the first two E.P.s and first full length "Death Church" by Rudimentary Peni on CD so I was listening to those constantly for awhile. I might get on a Hendrix kick or an Elmore James kick. I think all of it is an influence in one way or another.

6) Who inspired you to become a musician?
My father brought music into my life.

7) How is being on your own different than performing with Social Distortion?
Performing and singing my songs is unlike anything I've ever experienced before. It really is a whole new world. From making the record to getting out on the road, I've always been a sideman. As a sideman you can contribute to the band and the music, but ultimately you don't have to take any of the heat. That all rests on the frontman's shoulders. Critically, financially, emotionally...it's something you really can't realize until you're in that position. I think it has given me a new appreciation for what Mike does for sure.

8) Did you collaborate with anyone on Salvation Town? Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, whom you haven't had the opportunity to as of yet?
I co wrote the song "Ghosts" with David Stucken. He was the singer and primary songwriter for a band called The Strangers that I produced a record for a few years back. It's a super cool record, unfortunately it never saw the light of day as the band broke up before we could get it released. I've never been very comfortable writing with other people unless it's a situation in which I’m writing music and someone else is writing lyrics or vice versa. I had a great experience writing that way with Duane Peters and The Bombs.

9) Do Social Distortion fans come to your shows? Have you gained a different crowd with this style of music?
I see some SD fans out there. I never intended to write a record that was tailor made for fans of Social Distortion or any other band I've been in for that matter, I never shot to ‘win’ any one group over. I set out to make the record I wanted to make for myself. I hope that fans of those bands like the record and come to our shows, but I completely get it if they don't. People like what they like. The important thing is that I'm very happy with Salvation Town and I stand behind it 100%.

10) Any good stories from the road on this tour that you would like to share?
It's still pretty early in the tour so not much to tell. Tonight we all went to an arcade next door to the venue and played video games and pinball till 2am...

Visit: www.thesocial.org for ticket information to see Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie with Jonny Two Bags and Bartender Brian, April 29th.

Doors: 7:30 p.m. Showtime: 8:30 p.m.

Ticket prices: $17-20.