SONG PREMIERE: Jono Manson Lets His Troubadour Fly On “I’m Ready” (INTERVIEW)

With a career spanning four-plus decades in the music industry as a songwriter, performer, sideman, recording engineer and producer—Jono Manson tells his story brilliantly and unforgettably on his new record that literally has been a lifetime in the makingJono Manson will release The Slight Variations  on October 14, 2016.

At its core, Variations is an amalgamation of ideas and genres that span Manson’s four-plus decades in the music industry, a time that’s seen the musician lauded equally as a songwriter, performer, sideman, recording engineer and producer—as well as a godfather of the New York music scene of the mid-1980s that produced the likes of Joan Osborne, Blues Traveler, The Holmes Brothers and the Spin Doctors.

While he’s already forty-some years into the music biz, Manson thinks Variations shows he’s only now reaching his peak. “I feel like I have more in me now than I ever have,”  he says. “I managed to survive and tell the tale. With this record, I get to recount some of those stories—about what I’ve learned, and what I hope to see in the future.”

Glide Magazine is premiering “I’m Ready” (below) off The Slight Variations, a track wrapped in sincere directness and topped with stunning melodies. Manson’s knack of delivering simple pop pleasures via a troubadour’s insight, is a rare treat in today’s crowded music environment. Glide also had a chance to talk with Manson (below) via an interview below to grab further appreciation of his process and thoughts…

You wrote that many threads of your life have come together upon the release of this new album – I noticed songs like “Footprints on the Moon” come from inspiration of reading to your daughter. How have most specifically your age and experience in life transformed you into the songwriter you are today?

Well, I tend to believe that, whether consciously or not, our cumulative life experiences come to bear in everything we create. But now that I am far enough down the road to be able to look back with some perspective, I also see that certain key life events can shift the focus and nature of my work. The decision to start a family at age 50 would certainly qualify as one of those. My daughter is now six years old. Such a move implies a sense of optimism about life, which I do my best to maintain, even while living through a period in history when there is definitely much going on to make us all feel otherwise. That duality, if you will, definitely found its way into some of the writing on this album. There are also a number of songs on this record which I co-wrote with my wife, who has a way with words in her own right. Those songs in particular, speak to our feelings about parenthood in these interesting times. It might sound strange, but I really feel like I’m only just getting the hang of this thing, of plying my trade. So, I have a genuine sense of excitement about what’s in store, around the next curve in the road.

Looking back on your earlier recordings which ones still stand out to you today as something you can draw upon and still find poignant and relevant?

I think that I look back on most of my past work with healthy degree of dissatisfaction. That is to say, I’ve never stopped striving to do new things and move forward, to leave the past behind. Having said that, I still often find joy in rediscovering recordings that I’ve made in the past. Sometimes upon completion of a project, particularly because in my case I am also often the engineer/producer, I have trouble hearing a given body of work for what it truly is. It can take years before I am able to listen again with any kind of genuine objectivity. They are all relevant as milestones in my career and as reminders of different phases of my life thus far, and within all of them i’m able to find gems that I particularly cherish. Just one example: I recently listened to my album “Under the Stone” which I recorded back in 1999. The title track is a song that came to me in one piece, all at once, and I never changed a single word. Listening to that song brought back the exhilaration of that blast of creativity which happened on a winter night almost 20 years ago. Those things are worth holding onto, to be sure. I could point to many others, but I don’t want to bore your readers!

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Maintaining a career in music at any level is a huge achievement if at least only for a few years but you’ve done it for a long time while always maintaining artistic integrity.. What allowed you to always stay true to yourself and keep it real?

Because I never had much formal training, my musical experience, even from the very beginning, came from a place of improvisation, collaboration, and trying to express my own voice, whatever that was at a given time. I formed my first band when I was seven years old with two of my classmates, and we played exclusively songs that we wrote ourselves. Back then my “voice” was pretty squeaky! I never had the experience of playing in a teenage cover band and, unlike many of my peers, didn’t spend much time trying to copy licks off of my favorite records. Of course I was greatly influenced by all of the music I heard as a kid, but I always tried to do my own thing. I was fortunate enough to begin my career as a performer during a time when, even in dive bars, original music was not only welcomed, but required. This allowed me to grow, flourish, and continue to hone my craft – night after night, hour after sweat-drenched hour. I suppose that once I set out on this path there was really no turning back. There have surely been ups and downs but thankfully I have always managed to find acceptance for what I do, enough to survive and thrive.

You were such a mainstay in the NYC scene 30 + years ago and now you’re such a pivotal part of the Santa Fe/New Mexico community. What do you take from your NYC years that have helped you become an established musician in Santa Fe?

By the time I moved to Santa Fe, I had already been playing professionally for the better part of two decades and had clocked a lifetime’s worth of hours playing in bars and beyond. My decision to move to New Mexico had much less to do with my career than with overall quality of life. The music scene in Santa Fe is cool but fairly small, so it was easy for someone of my experience to find work right away and begin to carve out a niche. Also, having cut my teeth in what was arguably the largest music scene in the world, I came into this new situation with a healthy view of the big picture, which certainly helped me keep things in perspective. Smaller music scenes can sometimes tend to be more closed and competitive, but I brought with me my sense that through cooperation and collaboration, all of us do better. I believe that was an outgrowth of my experiences in filthy old New York.

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What are some of your favorite venues and cafes to play in Santa Fe?

For the past several years, I have been asked to play the grand finale of the Santa Fe Bandstand summer concert series, a large outdoor venue in the center of the city. Each year I’ve put something special together involving musical guests from within our community and from my larger, global community. This has given me great satisfaction. To be honest I don’t perform locally as much as I used to, but I do play periodically and a handful of local venues around town, such as The Second Street Brewery.  We have also begun hosting periodic house concert style shows at my studio. These feature touring musicians, paired with local performers in a great listening environment.

Your name is always connected to Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors and that early 90’s neo hippie movement that went huge for a bit of time. Do you see those as accolades and do they serve as a vital reminder about some accomplishments from your earlier days?


Yes, I’m very much aware of the fact that I’m considered by some to have been a godfather of the scene that spawned the acts you mentioned, among others.

And, yes, those of us who have been in the trenches for as long as I have are always happy to be reminded of accomplishments from earlier days, especially when some of those days would be otherwise hard to remember at all! I’d like to think that I continue to engage in similar behavior even to this day, and that I continue to do everything I can to help out younger musicians and my peers alike.


Kitchen Sink Recording Studio has played host to Amanda Palmer, T Bone Burnett and others – where you serve as chief engineer. What does the studio side provide for you that performing doesn’t and how has it made you a stronger musician?

Recording bands, and producing albums, is something that I’ve been doing since the mid-1980s. And while generally speaking, these projects provide source of inspiration for my own music, it can still be a precarious balancing act. Some days I leave the studio feeling completely energized, while at other times I feel as if all the creative juices been sucked out of me. I suppose the same could be said for live performances too. But thankfully, the vast majority of my studio projects fall on the creatively gratifying side of the spectrum. My new studio is a truly beautiful facility in the heart of downtown Santa Fe and so much great music comes right to me from all over the country, and the world for that matter, from places like Italy and even Pakistan. So I consider myself to be very lucky to be in the midst of all of this creativity, especially in a town where, on most weeknights, the sidewalks tend to roll up around 10:00 PM. Also, I do a lot of playing on the records that I produce and this forces my out of my box and pushes at the barriers of my own musicality, which is never a bad thing, ever.

What singer-songwriters today most inspire you to keep on creating, writing and singing?

It’s really difficult for me to single out anyone in particular, because I find inspiration in so many, sometimes unexpected, places. For example, I recently produced an album for an amazing husband-and-wife duo called “ordinary elephant”, and a few of their songs inspired me greatly. My friend Eric “Roscoe” Ambel recently put out a new album that I found particularly inspiring on many levels. I’m working on a duo project with my old friend, percussionist Wally Ingram – one of his songs which we recently recorded also gave me great inspiration, not to mention faith in humanity.  Then, there are tons artists, like Steve Earle to name just one, who I go back to time and again. The digital age has transformed the face of our industry in ways too numerous to go into right now, today. Trust me, you don’t want to get me started! I think that these changes are even more apparent to those of us who set forth long before the advent of these new technologies. But, one of the very positive aspects of our brave new world is that we can access so much music that we’d otherwise likely be unaware of. So, I’m always open to being blown away, be it at the corner bar, or with a click of a mouse.

 

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