Jonny Corndawg is his own animal. He’s a charming, softspoken southern gentleman with a sharp wit about him, content to sing about the seemingly mundane with a nod and a wink at Country’s ancestry. He’ll sing about your mom. He’ll sing about the day the trash goes out. But don’t ever underestimate his earnestness–he’s 100% heart with a knack for leathwerwork, cruising across the country on his motorcycle and spreading the gospel of Dad Country, his very own genre.
We were lucky enough to chat with him on a brief stop through the District and walk down to the National Mall to see some dinorsaurs and mummies (he really digs mummies). It was there that BYT got a great look at the history of Country, what tourists in D.C. are really thinking, some brand spankin’ new Corndawg lyrics and the fact that 2012 is all about David Letterman, dancin’ and wireless headsets.
First of all, welcome back to D.C.!
I know you’ve mentioned before that you love this city. What do you love most about coming here?
Well I guess it’s the history of it and all these buildings. I like all these museums. We always try to get here either the night before or super early so we can fart around for a while. And it doesn’t hurt that we’re playing practically in the backyard of the fuckin’ White House so that makes it easy to go see dinosaurs. (Laughs)
Ha, definitely. For all our readers out there who might be just getting into you, we’ve got a few preliminary questions. Where did the name Corndawg come from? You’ve talked about dropping it, right?
Yeah, it’s just a name somebody gave me when I was a little kid, like 15 years old, and I just never got away from it. It never bothered me because nobody ever paid any attention to what I was doin’ until recently and now I’m kinda like, “Shit, I don’t like it.” But it’s like, it comes up every damn day of my life and it’s sort of weird so it has to be talked about. I just decided about a year ago I’m not gonna focus on it, not gonna worry about it and just focus on the music and make sure the music is as good as it can possibly be. You know what? It’s kind of like if the name bothers you, you probably shouldn’t listen to the music because the music’s gonna really bother you. (Laughs)
Well your music definitely has such a distinctive sense of humor and some of it is so wry it’s understated. Is it hard to convey humor and still be taken seriously?
Yes it is, absolutely, without a doubt. And I don’t really know what to say about it ‘cause it is a bummer, it’s a total bummer. But my heroes did it. Every one of my heroes did it—that’s all they did. Most were like, 90% funny as hell and then when they’d pull out a serious card everybody was like, “GodDAMN, how’d you do that?” You know, Roger Miller, Jerry Reed, John Hartford—all these guys just nailed it but I haven’t been able to do it yet. I don’t really care though. I’m not really doing this for anybody but myself. I’m not really worried. And if people don’t get it, it’s like, “Ok. You don’t have to get it.” Though it would be nice if everybody got it. (Laughs) If people went, “It’s sometimes funny but it’s sometimes serious, we love it!” that’d be cool, I guess.
Do you find that Country—or with your own genre of Dad Country—it makes it easier or harder to convey that tone you’re going for?
Well I think historically, country music has been just like this but people kind of lost touch with that. I mean, I’m not doing anything that hasn’t been done a thousand times. It just maybe hasn’t been done in a while and people have forgotten it. This is just real country music. At some point, everybody decided that they hated what was “new” country and they wanted what was “old” country. But that’s everybody except for the people who were livin’ in the country. People who are livin’ in the country do like “new” country. I don’t know. I think that somewhere along the line something slipped off…
Well I do definitely think there’s been a huge divergence in the ‘80s and ’90s between “Pop-Country” and “Folk-Country.”
Yeah, and I think maybe everything in general was forgotten in the ‘80s because it was like, “What? What HAPPENED?” (Laughs) But I think some of the stuff from the ‘90s is some of my favorite country music.
Oh yeah? Like what?
Like Tracy Lawrence and I think Bobby Braddock was writin’ some of the best songs he ever wrote and they were all getting’ cut by some of the best singers. Clint Black made, like, seven incredible albums in the ‘90s. Oh you know I love Keith Whitley even though he died right before the ‘90s. I just think the production value, sonically, it was just kind of the best and really super crisp and smooth and simple. It was kind of a throwback because everyone was embarrassed of the ‘80s, so they kind of just went in and did the roots thing but it was still as clean as possible. I mean, like, Bonnie Raitt! My god.
Well you love country music but you’ve been on bills with a ton of musicians from other genres as well, and I know that you stayed at Willie Nelson’s house at South by Southwest—
Yeah, we did, we played a show at his ranch. He wasn’t there, I mean, we wish he had been, but it was really cool. Yeah, I’ve been really lucky. I don’t know how it’s even happened. It’s pretty cool to be able to play with anybody. I find it kind of funny that it is, like, country music—the music we play—but I think it’s kind of great how any kind of music fan can get it as long as they can acknowledge good music. You know, if they can look past like, “Oh I don’t like country music,” I mean, you only don’t like country music because of what you heard on the radio but I bet you DO like country music, you know what I mean? And that’s why it kind of works with kind of everybody and kind of nobody at the same time. It’s kind of too specific for everybody but it’s good enough for anybody. I sometimes find it to be a real headscratcher, you know? And that really makes my day. It makes me really happy when people hear it and they don’t know where to put it. Well, a lot of people have TOLD me where to put it…. (Laughs)
How do you choose what to write about? I mean, songs like “Trashday” are just SO funny. Are these based off real scenarios?
Well that’s the thing is that I write music like I write emails. It’s like writin’ a text message or somethin’ and when it comes out I like to sing it and I’ll just be singin’ along and somebody’ll say, “Ooh what’s that, what’re you singin’?” There’s a new song we’ve been workin’ on and I was sittin’ in the back of Andrew Cohen’s car—Andrew’s a great singer out of Nashville—and he was talkin’ about bein’ a big dog or somethin’ and I said, “Now don’t you know?” (Singing) “I’M THE BIG MAN ON CAMPUUUSSSS / Like a shark in a goldfish pond / a footlong hotdog in a regular bun.” (Laughs) And he was like, “What the fuck was that?” And I was like, “Oh, I dunno.” That’s usually how most songs start. I was sittin’ in the van in New York like five years ago and my buddy was on the phone with his wife. And god, man, I HATE these conversations when somebody’s like, “Oh! Hi, honey! No, I’m sorry. No, I didn’t—No, I was just—No, I didn’t cut you off. No, you go. Go ahead.” And you’re just like, “Oh, god just get out of the van and go on a walk. Why are you having this conversation in public? This is the WORST.” (Laughs) And so I just started singin’ that “Trashday” song and my friend was like, “What was that song you were singin’?” And I was like, “Oh I dunno, I was just singin’ ‘cause Freddy wouldn’t shut his ass up.” It really just picks me, you know? I’m really inspired by those little sorts of things like the hose in the driveway or the way some people look at other people. I’m a peoplewatcher.
That’s gotta be really interesting here right now on the National Mall.
Oh yeah, it’s the best.
Who are you watching right now?
Well I’m lookin’ over here at this class on a field trip with matching t-shirts and laughin’ because I’m sure there’s somebody stressed as hell because they’ve wandered off from the group and these kids are gonna try and buy some $14 Oakleys when they were really supposed to be back at the goddamn bus 15 minutes ago. (Laughs)
Ok now I’ve gotta ask—the music video for “Chevy Beretta”—where did you get all those photos?
Oh, that’s wasn’t me. That was a guy named Sean Dunne who did a mini documentary on me called Stray Dog when I was tourin’ with Dawes. So anyway he made the music video and compiled it and it took him a long-ass time. I don’t know where he found all those pictures but he SURE did—[Pauses to instruct a wandering group of kids on the Mall, “stay together guys, come on…”]—Yeah, I love it.
And what’s your newest record coming out?
The collaboration I did with the guys from Dawes, the Corndawes record. It’s gonna be called Dad Country.
And when does that come out?
Well I’m not too sure exactly. We recorded it at Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica and we did it and it ruled and Dawes is the band on it. I brought my boys and my peddle steel player and it’s finished and now we’re just lookin’ for a label, though I don’t know if we’re gonna find a label that’s gonna be worthy of it, you know? Nobody cares as much as I do.
If you can’t find a label are you just going to put it out?
Hell, yeah, then I’m just gonna release it myself. Fall is when it’s gonna come out. It’ll be out in fall one way or another.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The only thing I care about in 2012 is David Letterman. I just want to be on TV.
Really? David Letterman? Do you have a spot with him yet?
Nah, I just wanted to say that in case he’s reading. It’s all about Garth Brooks. Garth Brooks and dancin’ and wireless headsets. That’s where I’m headed. That’s where I’d like to see myself.
Well if that’s where you’d like, we’d like it for you too. Thanks so much. Are you ready to go see the Titanoboa?
Yeah, man. Let’s do it.