Jonas Sees In Color’s journey to independence

by Karen Phillips

“You know, there are people that live in Greensboro who complain about this city and say they don’t like it — they should all get the f*ck up and move out of here,” jokes Ryan Downing, lead vocalist and lyricist of Greensboro indie-rock band Jonas Sees In Color. “This place rules. This city is awesome. The people here are the greatest in the world, and we’ve been a lot of places so I can say that with a lot of confidence.”

Jonas Sees In Color released its new EP Soul Food last Friday, Oct. 26. The band’s general manager, Daniel Fonorow, said that the EP is pay-what-you-want. “If you have money, we ask that you pay for it, but if a kid down the street can’t afford a meal, that doesn’t mean he can’t listen to our music.”

“If we could do all our shows for free, we would,” Downing said. “We don’t write for people not to hear it,” guitarist John Owens added.

The band loves classic rock. They live together in a “vinyl only” household. In other words, they don’t listen to any CD’s or MP3’s in their house. “That changed the way that we thought about writing albums,” Downing said. “It got us back in the mindset of an album as a complete work as opposed to thinking about singles and individual tracks… we started thinking about whole projects.” This also made them rethink the way they recorded their albums.

“We love how the Beatles and Zeppelin and the Stones sound, so why are we playing around and recording this modern way?” Downing said. “We don’t need the fanciest setup. We don’t use autotune or any of that jazz, so we don’t necessarily have to have the craziest equipment. We did everything for the full-length record [Avalanche] on old school two-inch reel tape, and that really helped us learn how to record live as a band.”

When the band first got together and decided to do big things, they signed on with a record label, like many bands do. They didn’t expect everything that went along with a record deal. “Fate and bad luck brought us together at a young age,” Downing reminisced. “We were the country boys with the New York City slickers… we were so out of place.”

“When you get signed to a major corporation, there’s no preparation for that. They went through the system,” Fonorow said. “It’s trial by fire, sometimes you get burned and sometimes you get lucky.”

“The label itself makes you change,” Owens added. “We got processed.”

“We then realized this was bullsh*t and not what we were looking for,” Ryan said. “We wanted to have absolute freedom to just experiment and have fun with it and spend as much or as little time on each moment of every song as we wanted to.”

Jonas Sees In Color found that working with a production studio was stifling, preventing them from expressing their real feelings and

emotions. “On the first record, we were concentrating so much on improving our chops and increasing our musicianship,” Downing said. “Lyrically, the difference now is I just don’t give a f*ck. I’m gonna say what I want.”

“All I have is who I am and that’s what people get,” Owens added, “and [the first album] is just not us.”

Soul Food expresses many political and social issues that the band wasn’t able to express on their first album. “It’s still an overall rock and roll album,” Downing assured, “but there’s a doo-wop moment and a rockabilly moment and a blues moment. If we were still working with the same record label, they would see us as too much of a risk — they did see us as too much of a risk.”

Jonas Sees In Color has a ’90s rock sound, and Downing, Owens and drummer John Chester agreed with that. “We grew up then,” Owens said.

“The thing the ’90s bands had in common… they took a lot of time in song writing and crafting the structure of the song, and they didn’t do it like everyone else did it. They had fun and were quirky,” Downing said.

Jonas Sees In Color will be celebrating Halloween this year like most people: “Drunk and happy,” said Downing. For Halloween night, they’ll either be mugging some kids for candy, checking out the House of Fools and the Mantras at the Blind Tiger, or practicing for their show at Greene Street this Friday.

“I am so excited for that show because it’s like a battery recharge — like a soul battery recharge — because the people that come just come to have fun, and it’s just all about partying and loving each other, and that’s how I wish every day was. I can’t wait,” Downing said.

“We’ve seen our shares of ups and downs and we’ll see them all again in different forms,” Owens said.

Downing added, “And the band plays on…”

Jonas Sees In Color plays Friday night at Greene Street Club. Get the new pay-what-you-like EP Soul Food at the show, or download it at soul-food