INTERVIEW: Talking with Bombardier Jones about 'Great Idea'

Bombardier Jones
Credit: Orbet Garrelson

Bombardier Jones recently released the music video, “Great Idea,” a song from his latest album, Dare To Hope. Jones’ sound blends British psychedelia with post-punk and alt-rock elements, resulting in a sound vaguely reminiscent of The Kinks, even to the lyrics.

“Let’s go lie out in the sun / Purple haze with your cool shades on / Let’s go lie out in the sun / Turn me over when I’m half done / She said yeah  yeah  yeah / She said yeah  yeah  yeah / She said yeah  yeah  yeah / She said yeah  yeah  yeah.”

The video, directed by Lone Resident, is not only innovative but charming, using children’s toys and a phone rather than some actor jumping out of a plane or something, surrounded by the latest hi-tech cameras. That’s a great idea! So is the message of the video – get out and have some fun. Live a little.

That’s a great idea, too!

Appearing on Dare To Hope are Dave Mattacks, drummer for Fairport Convention; John Carrol on piano; and Kevin Barry on guitar. Along with Bombardier Jones, the music they push out is vibrant, contagious, and just plain old good.

XS Noize thought it would be a great idea to speak with Bombardier Jones and find out more about how he got started in music, his influences, and the origin of the name Bombardier Jones.

What inspired your new single/music video, “Great Idea?”

The video came about when I reconnected with a childhood friend after an epic number of years: Doug Hudson, known as Lone Resident. It turned out he makes wildly creative experimental stop-motion films using vintage toys, his kids’ finger paintings, natural phenomena and his sense of the absurd. He dug the song, so I conned him into making a video for his long-lost pal. As a challenge, he did the whole thing on his phone, and I was amazed by the result: To me, his visuals enhance the feel of the song and draw out its meaning, and both the song and the video are meant to leave you feeling better than when you started. He says we had unfinished business from grade school.

A cartoon best describes the song’s inspiration I drew in the physical album: A woman is walking her dog across a field with her face glued to her phone, oblivious to the elaborate sunset over the psychedelic wonderland behind her. Her dog is watching it, but she’s missing the whole thing. That pretty much sums up the song: Go outside and play!

What’s the story behind the name Bombardier Jones?

Bombardier Jones was the guy in those old black-and-white English war movies who had two days left on the frontline, and his wife just had a kid. You knew before his plane took off that he was about to get strafed by Nazi anti-aircraft fire. He was the hopeless case, doomed by fate but still making one last run against the odds. I guess getting on stage is kind of like that – will you survive the mission or go down in flames?

Bombardier Jones was also incredibly bombastic in its early years – our first single was called “This is the King of Suck,” if that gives you an idea. On stage, we liked to go for maximum volume, raw energy and unhinged craziness. So, the name reflects that too. Since then, I’ve calmed down a bit, but I still find it impossible to act restrained on stage.

What got you into music?

There was always music around our house as a kid - my parents are of the pre-rock generation, so it was big band, Dixieland, classical, music hall, Irish, blues, folk, standards… a whole mix of styles. Then when I was 11, something got into me, and I just wanted to play rock guitar. I can’t pinpoint what exactly. We didn’t have a guitar in the house, so I took lessons on my grandfather’s banjo – I remember convincing my banjo teacher to show me how to play “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s a lot easier on the guitar!

I started writing and recording music right away, and I still can’t seem to stop doing it. David Minehan, the guy who recorded our latest album Dare To Hope, explained to me that I’m a “lifer.” I love putting two sounds together to create a third thing – it never gets old.

Which musicians/singers influenced you the most?

Mostly British rock - there’s a nexus of ‘60’s psych-pop and ’80’s post-punk that seems to turn into that third sound in my brain. Another element is all the traditional music we were exposed to growing up – I have been in bands since high school, but I have also played a lot of coffeehouse shows in my time. So, if you think of somebody like Neil Young, who has the raucous big-guitar side and the acoustic side, that was kind of my model for how I approach music. The song has to come first and work on its own, and then you can augment it with production or put it over backed by a big noise.

What’s weird is the way all the influences come out on the other side. The “Great Idea” single gets compared to The Kinks, which wasn’t intentional, and I can’t particularly hear it myself. While we were mixing another song on the album, “Take Your Time,” it suddenly struck me that it sounded a lot like Graham Parsons – I used to love him but haven’t listened to him in years, yet that came through clearly in the song. It’s all there in the mental blender.

Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you push it in a deliberate direction?

Definitely natural – when I try to push it, it doesn’t work. If it did, I would have purple hair, platform shoes and a wall of synthesizers. Definitely, maybe I’ll do that next time.

I feel like I’ve had the same sound in my head the whole time. Maybe you get better at making that sound out loud? I remember standing at the mixing board listening to “Great Idea” playback and being startled by how much the record sounds like what’s in my head. That’s rare, but it’s a real treat when it happens.

How do you keep your sound fresh?

The main way it stays fresh is by putting yourself in different situations and working with different people. I was very fortunate on this album to connect with Dave Mattacks, a legendary drummer I have admired since I was at school. He is just great. He brought in the guitarist Kevin Barry and the keyboard player Jon Carroll. At one point, those three backed up Mary Chapin Carpenter, so they already had a shared sensibility. Then me and the bassist Ian Espey, who I play within Baltimore, brought our angle to it. Everybody’s walking in with where they are that day; next time, we’ll all be someplace else, and the music will sound different.

As the songwriter, you have your ideas about a song, but you have to know when to get out of the way - when the band gets ahold of it, it becomes something else. Working with these talented musicians was an honour, and they brought a lot to the songs - we collectively would agree on what worked and what didn’t while cutting the tracks. So, you keep your hand on the tiller, but you have to stay open to where the current wants to take you.

Which artists, in your opinion, are killing it right now?

There is so much good music happening now; I don’t even know where to start. I’m lucky to live in Baltimore, Maryland, which has several free-format radio stations where the DJ’s can play what they want for the most part. So, you get to hear all kinds of things just driving around in the car. That probably sounds incredibly old school, but it’s a great way to hear new music.

Lately, I’m watching to see how my prediction turns out that we’d be seeing a fresh crop of really young, really good bands after a generation of parents sent their 10-year-olds to School of Rock. I think we’re at the beginning of a new era like the early ’60s when teenagers put together all those garage rock bands. That injects a lot of vitality into music, so I hope we will hear more of that.

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, TV, or other media?

It’s mostly people who inspire my songs, but the spark of an idea might come from the news or anywhere. My frustration with what’s been going on in America the past few years shows up on the album a couple of times - I at least tried to approach the topic with humour or encouragement. Times have been so fraught that I wanted to counter all the negativity for myself and anyone who happened to hear the record, and I’ve heard from several people that the music helped them get through lockdowns and things like that.

The song “Unrecorded Time” talks about how time turns tyrants and prophets to dust while regular people keep ploughing through. That’s the story of the ages when you boil it down. It was partly inspired by geneticist Spencer Wells’ TV show about the people who sat out the Ice Age in caves on the West Coast of Africa. We have a huge amount of resiliency in our genes, whether we know it or not. It’s good to remember that when things get weird.

Another one – the second single, “Summer’s Come” – was inspired by my neighbour’s dangerous gardening habits. That’s me trying my hand at writing a Tom Petty song after watching a four-hour documentary about Tom Petty, a guy I knew very little about. You can judge for yourself how I did.

What can you share about your writing process?

It’s usually random and organic at the start – the first pin in the map could be a phrase, feeling, or guitar lick. Then you’re noodling on the guitar, and at some point, a song starts coming out, and you try to get it down as fast as you can before it’s gone. Then tidy it up a bit later. Like many people, I don’t always know what a song means when I’m writing it, they can surprise you later.

“Great Idea” started with the riff, and the riff suggested the lyric, but I’m sure I was also feeling the urge to rail against the status quo of being forever sucked into your phone. There’s also a craft aspect to it – writing a song where chords don’t change, but you don’t notice. The only aberration from the four chords is an extra one stuck in the “yeah yeah yeahs” to indicate her initially blasé response to my “get off your phone” enthusiasm.

Other times it’s a slow process that builds on itself over time. ‘Dare To Hope’ started from a dark mood, what became the verses about feeling frozen. I didn’t know what to do with this half-finished, downbeat thing until that lilting, Pink Floyd-y chorus cropped up, and I joined the two together. That gave the song the arc from dark to light that I was looking for. Then right before we recorded, I had this bridge melody and lyric in my head that seemed to finish the story the song was trying to tell. The recording itself was another story altogether that fulfilled the vision of huge rolling waves of uplifting sound I heard in my head. We did our best to capture that, anyway. Kevin Barry’s one-take slide solo sealed the deal – he blew us all away in the studio.

‘Dare To Hope’ sort of encapsulates what I need to be reminded of in my own life and what I want to pass on to people. Whatever is going on in life, life keeps going on – so keep going.

What can your fans expect from you over the next six months?

There’s definitely a lot of pent-up energy to play live - I hope we get there soon. Meantime we’re working on a couple more music videos, so if people enjoy this one, I encourage them to subscribe to the Sun King Records YouTube channel to keep up with that. There’s also new music in the works for next Spring that might roll out more casually since this is the era of working from home.

Bombardier Jones launched in 1996. That makes this year the 25th anniversary of our first recordings and shows, so we’re going to have some fun with that. During the pandemic, I’ve been digitizing old VHS tapes and reel-to-reels – it’s surprising what ended up on tape in the pre-cellphone era: the band’s first live performance was taped, for good or ill. So, we’re going to roll out some video clips and music that people might not have been around to hear back then.

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