Torched Magazine is pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with Joel Gion, best known as the ‘Tambourine Man’ for legendary psych rock group ‘The Brian Jonestown Massacre’. Not only is he one of the grooviest percussionists around but in more recent years has also branched out as a master singer / songwriter in his own right. Gion has released various singles, as well as the highly acclaimed full-length album ‘Apple Bonkers’. BJM fans rejoiced late last year with his newest sophomore release via Beyond Beyond is Beyond.
This time around, Gion has added in soul jazz, tropicalia, and Italio soundtrack sonics to the album’s mix, making for a deeper dive into a world that sounds all his own. The new album was recorded in separate phases between legs of the 2016 Brian Jonestown Massacre world tour. The sessions involved fellow BJM members Collin Hegna, Dan Allaire, Ryan Van Kriedt, and Robert Campanella, as well as Peter Holmstrom (The Dandy Warhols) and William Slater (The Grails) and other various friends from around the modern psych and indie scene.
Photo by Alex Hurst
In early 2017 the single ‘Tomorrow’ was released as a precursor to what was to come..It was written as a reflection of the much-maligned year that was 2016. “I wrote and recorded it earlier this year (2016) while the Democratic Party campaigns were the big topic… So the tune does some BS-calling out of the rising classism in the USA and at the same time sending a message out to not let things get you down too hard – but then nobody in the free-thinking world have ever dreamed things would wind up going this far south in the end,” says Joel Gion. “Still, having said that, this is the only life you have, so you have to enjoy it no matter how stupid things get, ‘cause we always have each other and you always have yourself.”
TM – I understand you have BJM members who contributed to your new solo release, how was this experience different from BJM’s process? How was it the same?
Joel – Well Anton is and always has been the main driving force behind BJM but back in the day the rest of us were leaned on more to bring things to the party, be it a unique playing style or more so in my case life style inspiration. These days he lives over in Germany and is functioning on a fully realized individual trip. Honestly it’s now closer to a Brian Wilson “Smile” type of situation where he makes the albums and we are more or less the touring band that goes out with him. So to answer your question the big difference with my stuff is I’ve graduated from muse to my own master and I also get to work closely with this great band that help to make my music alive. Its a lucky situation for me in that regard and also exposes the fact that there’s a very good reason why the guy famous for burning through different musicians like cigarettes has used the same touring lineup for 15 years.
TM – I know people tend to talk about the movie Dig!, but what aspects of the band and music do you think were overlooked?
Joel – So many people became fans and invested themselves in our story but we still don’t get asked much about how we got to the point where that ﬁlm starts. The band didn’t just appear the day before the ﬁlm crew showed up. I’m not the person to tell the whole band tale, but I am writing a book about my few years leading up to those days and how it all played out for me as a member of bjm and my place in the San Francisco ‘90‘s scene.
TM – What was your inspiration behind your latest release? Could you briefly describe the technical music-making process?
Joel – Generally I write the music on guitar ﬁrst which will inform the vocal melody and then the whys and hows of my lyrical content. “Vibe” is the grand informer and for me it’s a food chain type process that reveals itself at the end. This time I was interested in music that could sound like it was from a trippy 60’s or ‘70’s movie, place it in a standard verse/chorus/bridge type structure and then add “rock” or whatever style vocal arrangements on top.
TM – Do you have any hobbies outside of music that help to rejuvenate your creativity?
Joel – I’m a Scooter enthusiast and have a bit of a Frankenstein ride which is basically a souped up Vespa PX. Anyway, I’ll ride to off the beaten path San Francisco spots and write. Mount Davidson is a favorite.
TM – What is one interesting or funny story from the early days of BJM that you have never shared publicly before?
Joel – I’ve got tons but you’ll have to wait for the book! I know, what a jerk haha.
TM – You once said “a smeared-lipstick Goth teen on the run from the rednecks”, sounds like you have a story here. Could you share this with us?
Joel – Well, the ﬁrst time I ever stepped up to a “import” vinyl section I walked away with The Smiths “Hateful Of Hollow” and The Cure “The Walk” EP. This was the summer before I started high school which transformed me into a goth tinged post punk lipstick wearing kid about to ﬂoat away under his hair spray teased balloon. Anyway, my parents had recently relocated from San Jose to Squaresville in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the red neck John Deer crew weren’t having the guy in makeup getting the cute girls while they were all just dip shits in the Mr. Man army. It was the ’80’s and this upset the dude-bro balance.
TM – As a solo artist, who or what are some of your creative inspirations?
Joel – All sorts of mostly ‘60’s & 70’s Soundtrack artists like Ennio Morricone, Quincy Jones, Lalo Schiﬁrin and Francois De Roubaix just to name a few. Also same period (always) Brazilian artists like Nara Leao, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, etc etc with both genres and also of course a lot of the obvious stuff I’m associated with being in bjm. I’m interested in placing things together that don’t normally belong in the same space. Though not aware of it at the time but thinking about it now I probably ﬁrst became aware of that concept as a teenager through bands like The Cure and Love & Rockets.
Photo By Mathieu Faucher
TM – Is there anything else that you would like to share that I may have missed?
Joel – Watch out for The Brian Jonestown Massacre 2018 world tour!
Big shout out to Shauna McLarnon at Shameless Promotion PR for introducing Torched Magazine to Joel Gion’s precursor single ‘Tomorrow’ and a huge thank you to Janet Violet for all of her help.