Very few bands have the nerve to describe their music something as self-deprecating as ‘garbage-pop’, but then again, there are also very few bands like AJJ.
AJJ, or Andrew Jackson Jihad as they were known up until last year, are a quirky folk-punk band who hail from Phoenix, Arizona. Now in their thirteenth year together, the group’s initial acoustic duo format, that was founded by guitarist and vocalist Sean Bonnette, and bassist Ben Gallaty, has evolved into a full band as the years have gone by. With the group set to descend upon Australia in just a few weeks for their second Australian tour, we had a chat with Sean Bonnette about songwriting, the group’s relationship with Australia, and their love of The Wiggles.
AJJ first touched down in Australia back in September 2015 for their long-awaited debut Aussie tour. In addition to their support slot for Aussie legends The Smith Street Band, which included a spot on their I Love Life Festival lineup, they also performed a headline show in Melbourne, supported by the then up-and-coming Camp Cope, and performed at Poison City’s beloved Weekender Fest. As Bonnette explains, the much-anticipated maiden Aussie tour came about through a chance meeting with The Smith Street Band.
“We met The Smith Street Band through Jeff Rosenstock, our mutual friend, and he was the link through which we heard of The Smith Street Band,” Bonnette says fondly. “We’d heard plenty of good things, and then we met them in Belgium, of all places, it was Antwerp, Belgium. They were playing with The Menzingers and they let us hop on the show.”
“We were on tour with the band Caves at the time. We shared a green room, and we soon became best friends. We hosted them in the US, took them on tour with the aforementioned Jeff Rosenstock, and then they returned the favour and bought us over to Australia two Septembers ago.”
Since their Australian tour which saw them support their Christmas Island record, the band went through a period of metamorphosis, in which they parted ways with their previous drummer, adopted a new moniker, and released their new album, The Bible 2. Sadly though, the group’s transformation was met with hesitation from fans, who either accused the band of selling out – a cardinal sin for a punk band, or believed that the band changed their name for the sake of political correctness.
“I can say that the most important thing about the band, to me, the songwriter of the band, is that the band keeps changing and we just do what we want,” explains Bonnette. “We try to keep what other people are going to think about it out of our process, and I think that’s what’s helped us connect with people ultimately.”
“And as far as people that are unhappy about that, we sort of expect that whenever do something new. Y’know, it’s unfortunate, but we expect that it happens. That said, it’s perfectly fine to like a band for a certain period of their career, to like a few of a band’s records, and its perfectly reasonable to… Y’know, at the end of the day, people are welcome back. We’re not going to make the same record twice.”
The group’s new record, The Bible 2, was supported by the release of the single ‘Goodbye, Oh Goodbye’. The single was backed by a music video which parodied those classic one-take videos, made especially famous by artists such as OK Go. Most notably, the video featured the band members dressed in colours that looked remarkably similar to the skivvies worn by The Wiggles.
In fact, this perceived tribute became quite well known in the last month, with The Wiggles even reaching out to AJJ. The legendary Aussie band went so fat as to congratulate AJJ on their style in the film clip, prompting a very shocked (and concise) reaction from the group’s cellist and tour manager, Mark Glick.
— mark glick (@anxietymachine) July 19, 2017
But was the video in question a tribute to a beloved Aussie group, or was it all just a complete coincidence? “I hate to say it, but it was coincidental,” says Bonnette with a chuckle. “I think we just chose the primary colours, they’re just classic. It was definitely an OK Go parody, that was what we were aiming for, and they tend to use those primary colours in their filmclips.
“That said, I love The Wiggles, I think they’re awesome, and I love what they do. I respect any children’s entertainers.”
But now, the question remains, will there be a collaboration from The Wiggles & AJJ in the future? “Oh that would be the best,” says Bonnette, with a hearty laugh. “We’d love to.” At this stage though, we might be waiting a while before the groups team up for something like ‘Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Small Red Boy’.
Throughout the group’s thirteen-year career, they’ve released six records, ranging from 2004’s predominantly acoustic Candy, Cigarettes And Capguns, which Bonnette has notably distanced himself from in recent years, to 2016’s raucous The Bible 2. As the band has matured, so has Bonnette’s songwriting, with each album becoming more introspective with its lyrics, and more surreal with its imagery. However, as Bonnette points out, the increasing maturity and surrealism in the group’s lyrics doesn’t come from a forced place, but rather represents a natural shift in his songwriting.
“I feel like it’s been a natural progression, but one that is rooted in trying to advance,” Bonnette explains. “If you want to liken it to skateboarding, you always want to keep learning tricks. Y’know, I wouldn’t be happy if I could only ollie, that would be fun, but I’d get bored. That’s kind of how I feel about songwriting, and how I write songs.“
“I will add an addendum though, when we play live, we definitely try to cover a pretty broad scope of our catalogue. I like the famous story of how one time, Neil Young, he played a record front and back on a tour, but the record wasn’t out yet. It was cool, and it’s a funny to tell, but that’s not what we try to do, at least not right now, or we haven’t yet.”
As the conversation shifts to the band’s love of Australia, Sean Bonnette can’t help but to espouse his love for the other Australian acts that he’s been enjoying lately. “I really love Darren Hanlon,” he says with eager joy. “I saw him open up for Tim Kasher a while ago, I think he’s really cool. Obviously Tame Impala is also friggin’ awesome. Oh and I love Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds even though they’re based in England for the most part. But you guys should definitely make sure you continue to claim him, he’s a man to be proud of, and an absolutely angelic performer.”
Now, with the group set to tour Australia next month for a series of headline shows, as well as an appearance at Wollongong’s Yours & Owls festival, alongside bands such as At The Drive-In, The Presets, Dune Rats, and Bad//Dreems, and Hobart’s Hobofopo festival, AJJ’s shows are set to see the band cover greater ground than their previous tour of Australia in 2015 did.
“For one thing, we’ll definitely play longer, that’s for sure,” Bonnette states excitedly. “We’ll playing for an hour and more every night, and we’ll be paying a lot of stuff from The Bible 2, and the last four albums; Christmas Island, Knife Man, Can’t Maintain, and Candy Cigarettes An-, wait, no, not that one. Y’know, I’d like to play a song from that record and revisit it, but I’d probably have to listen to the album again and try to work out what song I’d want to play. I’m 31 now, and I wrote all those when I was 17, so I’ve grown up a bit.”
“Oh, and we will be playing a lot of stuff off of People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World,” Bonnette explains, referencing their second record which has recently turned ten, and arguably bought the group to a more widespread fame. The group’s Aussie tour actually lies in between a number of North American tour dates which is seeing Sean Bonnette and co-founder Ben Gallaty teaming up as an acoustic duo, harking back to the group’s early days.
With just over a month until the group land in Australia for what is certain to be another very well-received series of concert, AJJ have now revealed the acts that will be supporting them on their gigs. With a wide variety of up-and-coming Aussie acts on the bill, including Sydney’s phenomenal Antonia & The Lazy Susans, AJJ will also be finishing up their tour by reuniting with The Smith Street Band’s Wil Wagner, who is set to support them for their final show of the tour at Melbourne’s Gasometer Hotel.
AJJ Australian tour 2017
Wednesday, September 27th
Crowbar, Brisbane, QLD
(With Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Muddy Chanter)
Thursday, September 28th
Hamilton Station Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
(With Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Scumdrops)
Friday, September 29th
The Lair, Sydney, NSW
(With Pinch Hitter, Antonia & The Lazy Susans)
Saturday, September 30th
Transit Bar, Canberra, ACT
(With Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Helana Pop)
Sunday, October 1st
Yours & Owls Festival, Wollongong, NSW
Wednesday, October 4th
Ed Castle, Adelaide, SA
(With Bec Stevens, Antonia & The Lazy Susans)
Thursday, October 5th
Club 54, Launceston, TAS
(With The Sleepyheads, Squid Fishing, Art of Surviving)
Friday, October 6th
The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart, TAS
Saturday, October 7th
The Reverence Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
(With Teenage Bottlerocket (USA), Blister, Jess Locke, The Sugarcanes,
Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Blind Man Death Stare, The Berkeley Hunts)
Sunday, October 8th
(All ages matinee show)
Wrangler Studios, Melbourne, VIC
(With Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Watercolour, Alex Ratiu)
Sunday, October 8th
The Gasometer Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
(With Wil Wagner, Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Hanny J)
Tickets available from Pool House Records