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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.

How’d you get started in music?

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.

What inspires you to write?

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.

What’s the hardest part of putting a song together?

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.

Who are your influences?

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.

How’d you come up with the album title?

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.

How’d you settle on your current style?

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.

Is there a certain sound associated with your genre that you’re trying to replicate or avoid?

Good question. To replicate: Kraftwerk. I wanted to get all synthy on Aggressively Vulnerable. To avoid: everything that fits neatly into one genre.

What’s the hardest thing about the music industry, from your perspective?

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.

What’s the recipe for a great show?

  • 1 part people who care about connecting and listening
  • a dash of glitter
  • 1 part people who believe in supporting touring artists    
  • a generous sprinkle of decent sound equipment
  • 1 bucket of sweat
  • 9 tears from people you’ve never met

What has surprised you since you began pursuing music?

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.

Do you have any plans for the future of your sound?

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.  

How accessible do you think your lyrics are?

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.

Which of your songs was easiest to write? Which was the hardest? Which one is your favorite?

“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.

Is “Idol,” a song lamenting suicide, about Chester Bennington?

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.

What are you looking forward to?

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.  

What would 13-year-old you think about you?

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.)

N. Alysha Lewis

N. Alysha Lewis is an editor and blogger with author aspirations whose love can absolutely be bought with french fries.

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