Jonathan Brown is close to living his ideal life: spending half his time on the road and the other half at home, creating art. A former high school English teacher, he left his full-time job to pursue his passions of writing and performing music. With an Indiegogo campaign that reached 116 percent of its goal, Jonathan was able to produce and promote his latest album, Aggressively Vulnerable, which was released on June 5th.
I chatted with Jonathan to learn more about his journey from teaching to music and what he hopes his future holds.
I got started because I wanted to expand the boundaries of what I understood of art. I’m wordy. I’ve written for as long as I can remember, but I’m not trained as a musician. So when I sit down to make music, I can have fun doodling. I can finger-paint. I can break the rules because I don’t even know what rules I’m breaking.
Writing only when you’re inspired sounds like a great way to never write anything. Very often, I write when I’m not inspired. Mostly, I feel compelled to write. It’s an itch I have to scratch in order to feel human. It’s the way I process the world.
Listening. If you give the art enough room to breathe, it will tell you what it wants to say. It’s not about you mansplaining your ideas to the canvas. You gotta listen—really listen.
Evidence, Gangstarr, Tom Waits, Rapsody, The Listener, La Dispute, Dessa, Ceschi, Blueprint, Why?, Watsky, The Uncluded, Days N Daze, Open Mic Eagle.
But lately, my jam is neoclassical composers like Nils Frahm, Max Richter, and Johann Johannsson.
Aggressively Vulnerable is what I look for in art. It’s what I look for in people.
Artists have always “fronted” to make themselves look bigger than real life, especially in the post-truth era of 2018, where your Instagram avatar might get more traction than you do in real life. Artists are focused on becoming brands. I don’t want to be Colgate; I don’t need a corporation to bless me to let me know my art is valid.
Just kidding! (Not really.) Everybody needs validation; I’m just seeking the internal kind. I’ve got a buddy named Val who said something like, “It only takes bread to win the favor of a duck.”
I’m on a tangent. What I mean to say is authenticity never went out of style. But in 2018, the sincerity and passion of the troubadour has been replaced with the merchant fervor of an infomercial. Or, at least it can appear that way.
Has anyone ever said, “When I grow up, I want to be a brand?” That’s not why we make art.
Hopefully I haven’t. If I ever figure out what I’m trying to do, I usually ask more questions until it gets interesting again.
Good question. To replicate: Kraftwerk. I wanted to get all synthy on Aggressively Vulnerable. To avoid: everything that fits neatly into one genre.
Hmmmmmm. There’s so much I don’t understand, so I just make it up as I go. Currently, the hardest part is getting shows in parts of the country where I don’t know anyone. A cold email is a cold email, no matter how fancy your Instagram feed is.
Honestly, self doubt. I mean, I got it. But I thought everybody else didn’t. It’s so common. And some of it’s healthy because it will make you strive to do better. But what really surprises me is how many artists let self doubt stifle crucial parts of the process—like beginning.
I want to do a project with Paten Locke out of Jacksonville. He’s a genius.
I also want to do a project with a minimalistic piano composer—Phillip Glass meets Black Thought would be the gold standard there.
Sometimes, they might not be at eye level, depending on where the listener is. I want you to think. I want you to feel. I’m not a party rapper; probably never will be. I think to the audience that “gets” what I’m trying to do, it’s really accessible.
“Tavis” was the hardest to write. “Metaphors” is one of my favorites to play live ’cause I can get all punk rock. Easiest to write was probably “Wash that Chicken.” I wrote it while walking around The Art Institute of Chicago. It took about an afternoon.
Yes. That broke my heart. I have friends and family members who’ve committed suicide. Mental health is a real thing that is not talked about enough.
I’m looking forward to hitting the road again to tour my face off for this new record. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones on the road.
Thirteen-year-old me would be really happy with the way I’ve turned out.
You can catch Jonathan on the Aggressively Vulnerable tour, in cities like Little Rock, Denver, and Las Vegas, starting September 22 through October. In the mean time, check out his Facebook and Twitter profiles for updates on his music/tour or if you want to have your own interesting conversation with him! (Maybe ask him why his cat and dog are named Pianos and Soda Pop, respectively.)