Interview : A.A. Bondy, Playing Tonight at the Gargoyle
By Jaime Lees
Fri., Nov. 20 2009
From television to the radio to the internet, indie-folk newcomer A.A. Bondy has been popping up everywhere lately. In addition to touring with Bon Iver, the Felice Brothers and Conor Oberst, he’s appeared at Bonnaroo, recorded a session for Daytrotter.com and performed for Conan O’Brien (to name a few). Furthermore, his music has been roundly praised by influential tastemakers such as Brooklynvegan, Pitchfork, Stereogum and– ahem– the Riverfront Times.
Yep, Bondy seems to be steadily climbing the ladder of success, but it’s not for nothin’. His debut album, 2007’s American Hearts, was so warm, so hauntingly beautiful, that audiences immediately took notice. His glowing arrangements carry just the right amount of magic to induce fuzzy, slow-motion Winnie-Cooper-standing-in-the-sunshine Wonder Years-type moments.
Critics frequently describe him as “the next Bob Dylan,” but this weighty comparison doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. For all of his musical intensity, Bondy comes off like a normal dude. We caught up with him on the road last week while he was en route to an Atlanta gig and he was both humble and humorous. (Bondy is currently on the road with Elvis Perkins in support of his sophomore release, When the Devil’s Loose.)
Well, what has been happening with your career since then because your shit has been blowing up!
Don’t play. I have a list here in front of me. Uh… NPR. Conan. Good Morning America… I could go on.
Oh. I mean, I guess so? I just keep my head down and try to do my job. And if there’s money to be collected, I certainly get it. But, um, I don’t know. I’m all right with what’s going on. I mean, it’s not, like, to the point where it’s like drastically life-changing. [It] feels good, you know, when you go to a town and people show up or people buy records. I like all that stuff.
Do you feel like you’re doing pretty well? Are you getting stuff done that you wanna get done?
It depends on what you mean by that. I mean, I’m able to make records and live off of it. That’s pretty, uh, a big thing, I think. If anybody gets to do what they really feel like doing and make a living off of it — one should sleep well at night, I guess.
How are you doing on your tour? You’ve been touring pretty much non-stop for two years and you’ve got tons more dates scheduled still, right?
Yeah, we’re hitting it pretty hard right now. We’ve crossed the month line and we have five weeks to go. [We have] one month off for Christmas, then we get to go back out. Yeah, I mean, right now I’m alright. It feels pretty good. Some times are better than others, but that’s to be expected in anything.
What’s up after the tour stuff?
Uh, probably looking at what another record is going to be like.
Do you know where you’re going to record it?
Probably in Mississippi, but I don’t know yet. I don’t know. I’ll start there, and then, I don’t know. I don’t know. I can rarely think about it. I just listen to this little box that tells me where to go.
The “little box” being the dude that tells you where to drive? [OnStar]
Yeah. I wish he would tell me everything else to do like, “Pull over in 2.1 miles because you’re having fried chicken.” That would be great. [laughs]
[laughs] Do you know what I think is weird? You’re funny, but because your music is so serious nobody would suspect it. I mean, all of the press I read about you has this ultra-romanticized old-timey stuff in it like, “Oh, he’s a lone troubadour,” and “He probably rides from gig to gig on a horse,” and stuff like that.
Fuck that. Fuck. That. [groans, laughs quietly] You know what I mean? Whatever. I have no answer for why anybody says what they say, you know? Like, you go to a movie and you get sad at the things other people think are funny and vice versa. [adopts a hyper-Southern country accent] Yeah, let me cut this interview short because a train is about to come by and I’ve gotta jump onto it.
Exactly! That’s what I’m saying!
Yeah, [they say] I’m basically a fucking hobo, you know. Whatever.
So, I imagine that when you’re on the road you’re talking to people all day, you’re doing interviews, you’re shakin’ hands and kissin’ babies and whatever. How do you get writing done on the road? Do you have to find quiet time?
Uh, sort of. I mean, when you do get time it seems like better things come out. You don’t have to work as hard to get to them. You just have less time to work things out. And my brain works more slowly at home, so it takes a lot to get to a place where I can get anything done [at home]. I do a lot of laying around in the grass and smoke cigarettes. Ride my motorcycle. I’d like to have more time out here to get stuff done cause I feel like I could get better things done but, you know, really you just do what you can.
Now that there’s more people paying attention to your work, do you feel like more under pressure to be good or– more to the point– are you ever intimidated by all the stuff that’s happening now?
Not at all. Nuh-uh. I mean, I’m too old for that. Like, I just wanna do my job, you know. That’s all I care about. It’s like a series of absurd situations. But I don’t know, I feel more capable now than before. And hopefully that’s how it goes with anything. So of course you get into situations where… I usually just beat myself up. I don’t need anybody else to do it for me.
Aw. That’s sad.
Well, no, it’s not like that. Anybody who makes anything has to go through that.
I’ve got one more question for you and I’ll let you get back to driving. It’s a question that I ask everyone I know. And it’s very serious.
Who do you think is a bigger alien? Prince or David Bowie?
[laughs] Prince or David Bowie? [laughs] Hmmm… I think there’s equal amounts of alien in both of those guys. Maybe from different planets. I mean, if I had to pick… I don’t know… they’re both just… I’m going to call it a draw. Hmmm… But David Bowie had that eye thing going for him and when he was taking all of the coke he definitely appeared much more Close Encounters than Prince but… Prince is weird as fuck, too, so…
And he’s so tiny!
I know! But I say Tyra Banks is more alien than both of them.
TV Blinded Me With Science
My favorite major release of 2008 was TV on the Radio’s Dear Science. Holy crap, was I unprepared to deal with the magnetic, schizophrenic brilliance of that album. I tried to listen casually — you know, in the car, while doing the dishes, etc. — but I soon found myself up late at night, incapacitated by the weight of big-ass headphones, wide-eyed in wonderment and smiling in the dark.
After bumping hip-hop newcomer Kid Sister’s tune “Beeper” on the daily, I spent an unprecedented amount of time — and a sickening level of ass-kissing — trying to scam an advance copy of her debut LP, Dream Date, from better-connected industry friends. Though it won’t be released until March 2009, Kid Sister’s playful, fly girl charisma permeates every song on the debut, and this hip-hop cutie has the skills to back up her Next Big Thing hype.
There were some hot reissues this year, including R.E.M.’s Murmur, Verbena’s Souls for Sale, A.A. Bondy’s American Hearts and the remastered Replacements discography. All were greatly appreciated — and rocked accordingly.
The best concert I saw in town was Sharon Jones at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room in January. I knew she would be good, but I had no idea how good. The sold-out, sticky, sweaty, shoes-off, swinging hair, soul-filled basement show had me jumpin’ and forced my booty to do things heretofore unthinkable. Hallelujah.
Locally, I still crush on Bunnygrunt, the Humanoids, Sex Robots, Rum Drum Ramblers and Pokey LaFarge. I’ve seen each about 27,856 times this year and I’m still amazed at the spirit and passion their performances ignite. In addition, I can’t say enough good things about the Livers. This extraordinary rock duo is relatively new, but it consistently churns out one of the most exceptional live acts in the city.
— Jaime Lees
[“the RFT’s music writers weighed in on what they liked this year” – HERE]
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