Jonah Jenkins is a living legend in the American underground and his bands had no relation with the mainstream side of music. It is an honour for MusicFestival to have a chance to speak with him.
Hello Jonah and thank you for your time. I have to admit that Only Living Witness was on of my favourite bands ever, what happened after Innocents and why did you split up?
Only Living Witness actually split before Innocents was released. We split for a variety of reasons, one major issue was the inability of the band to tour extensively, because of our drummer's health concerns. It created friction within the band, which extended to some creative differences. Eric focused on his instrumental and acoustic song writing, while the rest of us were more interested in pushing for heavy music, and extending what we had started with Innocents' song writing tangent. I had always want to play much heavier music, and I also wanted to get away from the restrictive environment of Century Media. Also violence at shows in Boston was getting out of control and I was very vocal about my opposition to the groups that were causing that violence, and although the other members agreed about the violence, they were less willing to express that publicly.
We split in 1995. The record was released by Century Media, and we never toured for Innocents.
Tell us about your other projects, do you have any plans of recording something new?
I have several back-burner projects which are not really worth mentioning yet, but there is a new Raw Radar War full length album in the works. It will be an album comprised of brutal but memorable, succinct songs.
. In every review of OLW albums everyone seemed to compare you with Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder. So, name your 10 favourite vocalists and your 10 favourite bands.
It's difficult to limit it to 10, but here's a quick list off the top of my head:
Shawn Brown (Swiz), Bob Mould when he was in Husker Du, Sade, Jeff Pezzati, John Joseph, Jerry Lawson (The Persuasions), John Sox (FU's, Straw Dogs), David Sylvian
Mark Lanegan, Lee Dorrian in Napalm Death
I can't do 10 bands, but I can do my current top 10 albums of all time:
Zoetrope - Amnesty
Holy Terror - Mind Wars
Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal
The Persuasions - Street Corner Symphony
Bad Brains - ROIR cassette
V/A - This Is Boston Not LA
Leeway - Born To Expire
Cro Mags - Age Of Quarrel
Napalm Death - Mentally Murdered EP
Autopsy - Mental Funeral
Which are your instructions for the new musicians?
Listen to as wide a variety of music as you can find. Listen for new and interesting sounds, think and learn about how those sounds were made, and try to create what you love. Do not let money or fame drive your music, because it will be bland. Expression is the most important element of your music, then uniqueness. If you are honest, your music will represent what you are. That said, never forget that all music is pretentious, because human beings change constantly.
Also, never lock yourself into the role of "musician", never mind "professional musician", without an understanding of other parts of the world first. Creativity is not self sustaining, it requires diverse input, and just as with biology, diversity is strength. Diversity enables sustainability.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Bruce Lee, Morihei Ueshiba, Power Man and Iron Fist.
Which are the things that made you proud through your music career?
Standing up for what I believe, and creating music with people that I care about. I am glad that I have made the choices that I have made, as in general it has allowed me to look back with pride on most of my creative output.
What are you listen to lately?
Husker Du, Bolt Thrower, Guerilla Toss, Convulse, Autopsy, Coffins, Ilsa, Stormcrow, Regulator Watts, Hackensaw Boys, Smog, The Freeze, Extinction of Mankind, Durutti Column, The Meters, Gil Scott-Heron, Anne, Hatchetface/Bound, Holy Terror, Night Sins.
Which are your favourite Olw tracks, and what s your favourite Olw album?
Downpour is probably my favorite, as a result of the sound of the song pairing with the lyrics as they do. I also like No Eden for similar reasons. I prefer Innocents due to its overal vibe and maturity. Prone is too polished.
You ve toured a lot, share with us stories from the road and your favourite bands you ve connected with!
We actually toured very little compared to most bands. We toured Europe twice, once with Cro Mags and once with Leeway. We never did more than a few long weekends in the states, one was with Brutal Truth, and many were with Sam Black Church. All of those bands were filled with great people. I'd rather not talk more about touring, as touring itself was a point of contention within the band.
What’s the story behind Hank Crane and Total Practice Reversal?
Hank Crane was written by Eric Stevenson, and the way he described it to me, it was deeply personal to him. It was about a lifelong friend whom had lost his way, and he and Eric had stopped communicating...and then his friend passed away, before they were able to reconnect. Eric wrote this song after going to the funeral, where the family had made the ceremony very religious, despite the lack of religious quality to his friend's life. Eric heard the religious words as they grew "thin and hollow" and the crowd's tears drowned the words "in tears so shallow", and Eric thought that he might burst out and vocalize his frustration as a result...but he did not. Instead he wrote that song.
Total Particle Reversal was an intentional pairing of intense feelings and brutal riffs that came together ...as the last song we did for the Innocents pre-production demo. It was about the feelings of self-determination in creativity and life that we all felt, going into the recording of the Innocents album. It was about our drive to do what was essential to our existence as a band, and as creative people at the time. When forces around us were pushing against us, we were focused on completing this (selfishly) important album, no matter what had been blocking us along the way.
Innocents seemed to be more melodic but with a touch of stoner guitar sound as well, were you in that kind of mood those days?Why did you had that turn after the more polished Prone Mortal Form? Are there any videos from Innocent era?
We were all reacting to what was an overly-polished production job on prone Mortal Form. We wanted natural sounds, and some tracks have 10 or more guitar overdubs, so that we could blend the sounds and create a lot of interplay and guitar orchestration. The drums and vocals are very dry, however, as we wanted them to sound like we did in our rehearsals, very natural. We were intent on writing lasting songs, instead of writing metal or punk, per se. Eric and I had talked at length about how we knew we could (musically) transcend what was happening in the aggressive music scene...as long as we were true to ourselves. It resulted in a lot of influences that many of our contemporaries may not have appreciated, which helped us to keep it unique, I think. We made no music videos because Century Media hadn't wanted to pay the 300 dollars that we had spent on our first video for Slug. We couldn't afford it on our own, so we never made any, and the band split up before Innocents was released. We had accomplished our goal,which was writing and recording that album.
Thank you again for your time and we wish you all the best.