Justin Jones has had quite a year. After almost a decade of steadily playing bigger and bigger DC shows, in 2010, his particular brand of whiskey-soaked folk got several signs of serious cred attached to it: his “Little Fox” EP is the first record ever released on 9:30 Club records, and Justin himself spent the better part of the year feeling out the national stage waters as the opening act on the kind of tours people dream of being part of: Drive By Truckers, Badly Drawn Boy etc….
Now, this Friday, he plays his first ever headlining show @ 930 Club (Jason Isbell and American Aquarium round out the A-list-Americana round up) the place which over the years of both working there and working with them, has become sort of a DC home with him. We caught up with him, and his two beautiful little girls Stella and Georgia (spending maximum quality time with their Dad now that he is back in town) just hanging out on the big, empty stage a couple of days a go. This is how he’s been doing:
all editorial photos: Shauna Alexander
all live photos: Rachel Eisley
BYT: Is this kind of the official release show coming up or do the previous ones count?
Justin Jones: The previous ones kind of counted, this is just the first time I have headlined here. We will see how it goes
BYT: So it is not a part of the previous tour the one you JUST did with Badly Drawn Boy…
Justin Jones: Nah…
BYT: How was that?
Justin Jones: It was really good I had a great time and really enjoyed it. I don’t know if you herd about the way it ended.
BYT: I heard that there was a blow up? A meltdown, a breakdown….
Justin Jones: Yeah, and you know its funny the first night at the Troubadour I almost had a night like that where the sound was really bad and the staff was really mean and I was really angry and it was funny to see it end that way. I mean it was sad because people got a really bad idea of how Damon really was and who he really is, but it was just interesting to see it go that way. Other than that the tour was pretty great you know? That was the only thing.
BYT: And now of course that is the thing that everyone is remembering….
Justin Jones: Yeah… and that stinks too. That (one incident) gets all the attention instead of you know, the show which is unfortunate but it’s just the way it goes…
BYT: It IS just the way it goes, that’s the Internet for you…
Justin Jones: Maybe at my next show I will just start calling everyone dirty names.
BYT: You’ve obviously done a lot of touring this year right?
Justin Jones: Yeah
BYT: You did that tour with Drive By Truckers, opened for Sheryl Crow a couple of times, and now this with Badly Drawn Boy. Was that kind of a conscious decision to become more of a touring artist because before you. obviously, were much more of a mainstay at a lot of venues in DC and in 2010 was the year you were gone a lot.
Justin Jones: Well I got a new booking agent and I think that really facilitated a lot of the traveling you know? Before that I was just kind of booking my own shows so it was much easier for me to book in the area.
Justin Jones: I mean I did book a few tours down to Texas and back but they were financially unsuccessful and so once our agent became involved it got a little easier to travel. It is also a conscious effort and I feel like it was a natural progression of trying to make a career out of playing music instead of making a party out of it.
BYT: And is it still the big live band like it was before?
Justin Jones: There is five guys because of the traveling touring with a 10 piece band is pretty much impossible between getting everyone’s schedule together and its impossible to pay everybody. So we did a few of those, and the band has kind of evolved and changed because people drop out and get replaced. I mean, that usually happens over time regardless just because I think at first it is something to be excited about….
BYT: As in, touring?
Justin Jones: Yeah at first it seems very romantic, and then.. then it actually happens. My wife thinks I have the best time and, don’t get me wrong, I do have fun but she thinks its like one big party but really all it is just a drive….
BYT: Yeah, ha-ha
Justin Jones: We play music for like an hour and a half the rest is driving and carrying stuff around and sleeping in uncomfortable situations….
BYT: Has your family been coming along to any of the dates or any of the shows you’ve done because (obviously) the girls are little and has that must been hard?
Justin Jones: It’s been hard to be away from them. I do end up missing them quite a bit. Its weird, it’s a lot harder to be away from the kids than it is my wife because I can talk to my wife on the phone and actually have conversations and stuff. I can talk to my three year old on the phone but its not filled with conversation you know ha-ha. Its kind of just like ‘hey how are you?’ and she’s like I’m watching this! She can never really focus on the topic that we are discussing she always just goes somewhere else
BYT: So, I assume you are spending the most time you can with them now obviously….
Justin Jones: When I am here I spend a lot of time with them yeah…as much as I possibly can.
BYT: So obviously we have to talk a little bit about how you are about to headline the 9:30 club, you are the first person that got signed with their label and, inevitably, a lot of people were curious about how that came about you know you and the motley crue with all the other shows over the years but do you want to tell us how that came about?
Justin Jones: You know, well, we recorded The Little Fox EP and took it to SXSW festival last year to just kind of pass around to people and I guess somebody got it from the company, 30 tigers and wanted to distribute that EP along with a full length and we kind of needed to start a record label to make that happen. So after talking about it a lot with Seth we wanted to get other labels interested but there are not a lot of labels that are interested in breaking artists recently, certainly not interested in investing money in anybody. Seth, my manager, who owns this place (Gestures around the club-ed)- he felt strongly enough about it that he was like ‘well I will start a record label and I will put out your first release and I will put out your next record and as far as other releases go we are just going to play it be year or whatever. That’s kind of how it went down. I don’t think there was any big plan to start a record label – it just kind of happened.
BYT: The opportunity just presented itself and somebody had to do something.
Justin Jones: Exactly. Somebody with a bank account had to do something.
BYT: Yeah but its great, that there is kind of a lot of soul behind Seth and a lot of urban lord behind the club and the whole experience. So- a lot of qualities come with that.
Justin Jones: You know I think a lot of people where upset that I wasn’t like a DC hardcore artist or that I wasn’t really from DC, but I’ve been working here for nine years and playing for nine years in the city. I mean we are from out of town but I always say we are from DC, I just kind of claimed it as my own, and that seems good enough for me…
BYT: ….your world and your urban family are in this club.
Justin Jones: Yeah, exactly
BYT: So what are some plans that you have, I mean it is a pretty great way to start a year – you have Jason Isbell opening for you…
Justin Jones: Yeah, I mean Seth figured that out and I don’t know how that happened BUT I love Jason Isbell so I was excited about it and I love American Aquarium too. So, I think the plan really is to get on a few more support tours in the spring and record something late spring and hopefully release something by the of the summer. At least that’s my plan. You know it’s not really easy these days to do any of that stuff.
BYT: I mean, it’s almost impossible to tour and record at the same time…
Justin Jones: True, I mean you could record a live album maybe…
BYT: Yeah ha-ha
Justin Jones: Yeah and that’s not going to happen, so hopefully we can record. I have a bunch of songs I’ve been working on and the band is really involved and this is one of the first times its been like that where it is has been a little bit of a group effort, you know, and we are all kind of working together to make the songs as powerful as possible and I think everyone is excited to record…
BYT: That’s great…
Justin Jones: It’s more trying to justify the financial investment and I guess everyone wants to feel some momentum and that kind of thing. Of course in my mind it is already so much bigger than it was.
BYT: Well, I feel like it has a lot more momentum than it has had, say, a year ago…
Justin Jones: Yeah, it does to me so hopefully everyone else will start feeling that way as well
BYT: Jump on it
Justin Jones: Get it to really work I guess
BYT: So, we always ask these sort of questions about you know you obviously have been here for nine years and how do you feel about playing in DC and the bands that are playing in DC now have changed on the past decade to look back on you’ve seen the whole 2000s….
Justin Jones: Oh, yeah.
BYT: I mean I’ve personally been here since 2003 and I have felt like some interesting things have been touched upon. What with all these young people, new bands showing around I mean I know you have played with a number of local bands over the years.
Justin Jones: True
BYT: I think I mean people are always kind of curious to hear the certain combination of people they like themselves ya know?
Justin Jones: I have met some friends really early into living here that I really enjoyed their song writing like Josh Reed and John Bustine, and Brandon Butler and that whole sort of Gypsy Eyes scene….
BYT: Yes, the Federal Reserve….
Justin Jones: Absolutely…and These United States totally. So, I guess when people ask me about the DC I always tend to think of them because to me that is the DC scene. I mean I know there are other bands form here, like there is that one band U.S. Royalty and The Dance Party or whatever but I don’t know anything about those bands, I mean I have seen both of the bands before but only once and I was bartending so I couldn’t really, like, soak it in or anything.
BYT: No, definitely I would say there was that one scene in the mid 2000’s right? That is kind of when BYT started and The Federal Reserve happened and we just hung out all the time and they played their shows and there were obviously people in that who now tour more than they play in DC or have children so I feel that whole movements momentum in DC waned a little….
Justin Jones: There was this crazy Americana roots musical revival thing happening here. I feel like Gypsy Eyes Label really started all of that off, and the work ethic between Mark from Vandaveer and Jesse from These United States were out there working and promoting and getting people interested in the scene here and all those people were so integral in that thing which I was not so involved in that but definitely appreciated what they were trying to do. I mean These United States, they have to be one of the hardest working bands that I know. I mean they are on the road all the time
BYT: I know, I feel like I used to see them all the time and now I haven’t seen them in what feels like years. Its like, they are here for one night… then gone
Justin Jones: Yeah, exactly, always on the road, all the time.
BYT: Do you ever think of some sort of like a DC homegrown touring thing or anything like that?
Justin Jones: I would love to do something like that….
BYT; Yeah a lot of those people that played The Federal Reserve can play at the 9:30 club and play at the main stage of The Black Cat and stuff like that so it would be neat if they all came together and did like a big reunion show…
Justin Jones: Yeah, wouldn’t that be great.
BYT: Yeah, wouldn’t that be fun – DC circa 2005 time machine….
Justin Jones: Yeah ha-ha and maybe BYT can sponsor it
BYT: Sounds like a plan….
Justin Jones: Yeah ha-ha its like – contact the 9:30 club and you tell me how much every band has to make and than you cover the cost ha-ha but yeah that would be a great thing to do. I know that I personally, know that these new acts and bands like Vandaveer they have gone all over the country. I mean it would be who them to have me play in like De Moines, Iowa with them but I just don’t have like any traction there ha-ha but I would certainty love to do it like the East Coast and West Coast
BYT: So, back to Friday’s show… are you going to be playing any new songs or are you going to play old ones to?
Justin Jones: We are playing…. I can actually look (whips out the set list on his iphone); um … we are playing a bunch of new songs
BYT: Because I feel like that is something that people would be interested in knowing….
Justin Jones: Well hopefully it is something that would be interested in.
BYT: Well you know…
Justin Jones: It might all be new to some of them
Justin Jones: But, to answer your questions-yes! We are playing (counts) 1,2,3,4,5,6 new songs in uh a 13 or 14 long set.
BYT: That’s pretty good.
Justin Jones: Yeah we are really trying to work it out so that when its time to record we will know what works and what doesn’t and that is kind of the way I’ve always done it. I am only interested in playing my new songs, as much as it may annoy the five people that have heard my other songs or whatever but you always feel like whatever song you just wrote is the best you’ve ever written so to play something from like five years ago is like
BYT: Well it is always nice to see how people will react to it and like should this be saved or something else and stuff
Justin Jones: Though on a Friday night it’s almost like you want it to be like a seated Tuesday night to find out what works. I mean Friday night everyone is just going to be in here partying and stuff but that’s cool too. It will work out.
BYT: I’m sure it will. And one last question what is going on with some side projects you’ve been working on some side projects like the dead man and I know you’ve done some more of your own like stripped down stuff is that something you are still pursing or is it now like that driving focus and primary focus of Justin Jones?
Justin Jones: Well The Dead Men we just recorded an EP and we are working on finished that off and getting it mixed and releasing it sometime in the spring, I use the word releasing loosely because I am not exactly sure what that really means but we will have a show and they will be available to be purchased um and I love that band and I love being apart of that band and as far as my own music goes I just went on that long tour and did it solo because I hadn’t played acoustic guitar in like a year and I enjoyed that and I forgot how much I loved that instrument and how whole and beautiful it can be. So I have been playing more acoustic guitar with the band during practice and stuff since then so I guess I am kind of mellowing out the set a bit. Instead of beating them over the head with a sledgehammer just trying to finesse them a little more.. Just like massaging them instead of like a beating.
BYT: Can’t wait. See you Friday.
Follow Justin Jones on facebook/twitter/interwebs, and stop by 930 club this Friday to check him and the Driving Rain out.