An Interview with Jon Sorensen of Fugate

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Today, I’ve got an interview with Jon Sorensen, one of the founding members of the eclectic Indie Rock band Fugate. Jon is a man of many influences, with tastes ranging from Punk, Metal, Classic Rock, and everything in between. Fuse that all together with a touch of the Appalachian Mountains, and you’ve got Fugate. If you would like to learn more about Fugate, head over to the band’s Soundcloud and check out their new album, Blast The Master. Enjoy getting to know Jon a bit better. Cheers.

Andrew:
Jon, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever raging dumpster fire?

Jon:
The dumpster fire burns with white-hot intensity in my neck of the woods. But I’m doing well, actually. I spend a lot of time outside on hiking trails and writing music.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway, so to speak?

Jon:
My parents played a lot of records when I was a kid. Lots of Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, and Neil Young. Those are the records I remember most. But the first music I got into on my own was when I discovered old-school Hip-Hop. My family lived on the East Coast for a brief time from ’80 to ’82. That’s where I picked it up. What struck me the most was how it pulled—literally— from so many other styles of music to create this new and unique thing. I thought that was cool.

But what really got me going was when I discovered Slayer in high school. I was sitting next to a Metal-head in class (a dude I have remained close friends with to this day) and we traded Sony Walkman’s for the day. That’s when I really became a music fanatic.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature sound?

Jon:
I was really into Thrash Metal for a long time, but the funny thing about it is that I suck at playing Metal on guitar. Not for lack of effort. It’s just that I’m a pretty big dude with clunky hands. I needed to make my own path with what I was playing out of necessity.

Classic Rock and Thrash Metal were styles that I really liked, but I came home from high school one day and I had just finished burning a joint with a kid that lived up the street from me. When I turned on the television, a video for Ana Ng by They Might Be Giants was on. The visuals are what grabbed my attention first. It’s a trippy video and I was three sheets to the wind. But then I started paying attention to the melody. It’s genius. Totally catchy. From that time all the way to today, I have been drawn to bands that experiment with weird sounds but also incorporate great, catchy melodies in their tunes. Give me something with both of those elements, and I’m an instant fan. I try to do that with my own music. I’m not always successful at it, but that’s the goal.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about Blast the Master. Tell us more about the record. Where can we get it, and what formats will it be on?

Jon:
Blast the Master is the second album from Fugate. My long-time friend and co-writer Mike O’Brien and I had written all the songs before the stupid plague hit. But the bulk of the recording was done during the pandemic. Since we were not able to hang out in person, we had to use the Internet to pass things back and forth. We are pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Like most other musicians, we’re not playing any gigs. That was the way we would sell CDs of our first album (Hick Rock, Vol. I). Since that’s not an option for us right now, we just put the album out digitally. It’s available on all the major streaming platforms, and I also put the music in places like YouTube and Soundcloud so people can listen for free.

Andrew:
What was the inspiration in songwriting? Is the lyrical content personal? Or are these only stories so to speak?

Jon:
I don’t want to speak for Mike on this, but I don’t really like writing about politics or religion in my music. It’s not that I don’t think those things are important. I do. But music is an escape for me, and so I write music for people who are looking for a break from the intense world that we all live in.

It’s not that the songs are pointless. For example, the first track on Blast the Master is called “Insane Wizard Beard.” The inspiration for it was a homeless dude who used to hang out in the alley behind a bar that I worked at many years ago. I would make him a breakfast burrito and talk to him for a little while our paths crossed. He would often say incredibly wise things. So the moral of the story is not to judge a book by its cover.

You may hear the song and come away with a different understanding. That’s OK, too. The goal is not to be preachy or divisive, and Mike and I write music like that on purpose.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Does the band self-produce, or where outside sourced brought in to help hone the sound?

Jon:
Both of our albums are self-produced. We used to record in professional studios, but we could never dial in the sounds we like. That’s mostly due to budget. We’re not wealthy men, and studio time can be expensive. So we have been learning how to do all these things ourselves, and I think we have really improved over time.

Andrew:
Let’s go back a bit now. Tell us the full story of how Fugate came together.

Jon:
Mike and I have been playing in bands together since the early 90’s. We grew up in the same mountain town where learning to play an instrument was the best way to stay out of jail. Our friendship has always revolved around a mutual love for music, and we’ve always had fun writing and recording songs.

The first band we played in together was called Podunk Arkansas. The band name was an inside joke because we grew up in the middle of nowhere. That’s really where the desire to write songs just for the fun of it sprang up, and we have tried to continue in that vein ever since. We have a small mountain of songs that we’ve recorded over the years (many of them are best left unheard), but we had never recorded a full-length album. So we wrote and recorded Hick Rock, Vol. I to scratch that shit off the bucket list.

The band name, Fugate, comes from one of the songs on that first album called “Appalachian Blue.” There’s a family of folks from those hills (whose surname is Fugate) that reportedly have a blue tint to their skin. The song is about one of their kin leaving home and moving to the city where he is shunned for his appearance. Basically, it’s a thinly veiled critique of racism.

Andrew:
Let’s shift gears now, live music is usually a huge part of a working artist’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about live music?

Jon:
I really miss playing shitty bars for free beer and chicken wings. It’s something that I could go out and do with good friends and a great excuse to just hang out with them and have fun. It’s never been about making money or even impressing people with my musical ability. Of course, those things are certainly welcomed, but mostly I just want to hang out with my buddies and do what we love.

Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that streaming services don’t pay artists well, if at all. What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we as fans do our part to help?

Jon:
Spotify and streaming giants like it are just a replacement for the bloated record industry that preceded them. A necessary evil in an age of disposable music, I suppose. As a fan, I support the bands I love by buying their records and other merchants directly. Pre-COVID I did this when I’d go and see them play a live gig. Presently, I try to do it by purchasing directly from their websites.

Andrew:
In a world dominated by big business and social media, can artists truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Jon:
It’s a double-edged sword, I suppose. Artists have more direct access to potential fans now than at any other time in history. Because of that, though, there’s a glut of new music, making it more difficult to identify the truly stand-out artists among all the noise.

Big business is always going to try and squeeze the aspiring artists. G.I. Joe always said, “Knowing is half the battle.” If you’re an artist, you know this now, so don’t let the suits bleed you dry. And if you’re a fan, make sure you go that extra mile to help support the artists you love. Otherwise, they’ll have to stop making great art and go back to their day jobs. Then we all lose out.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Jon:
I prefer vinyl for albums that I like to listen to all the way through. It’s a pain in the ass to keep lifting yourself off the couch on a Friday night to wrestle with your turntable for only a few songs. I do digital for everything else.

There are a few indie record stores in San Diego. I try to buy from them as often as possible, but I also try to buy direct from the artist when I can. In fact, that’s what I prefer, but COVID sucks.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Jon:
My favorite band of all time is Black Sabbath. The first six records with Ozzy on vocals are my favorite. I can only imagine the reaction to that spooky first album when it came out a few years after the “summer of love.”

I really like the SoCal desert scene, also. Brant Bjork sits at the top of that heap, in my opinion. There are elements of his sound that are clearly influenced by Classic Rock, but that dude really has his own thing going on. And he’s prolific. He keeps pumping out albums. If you like his style, they’re all good.

Punk Rock is also a genre that I frequent. I dig on The Ramones, Dr. Know, Minor Threat, and a bunch of others. In a similar vein, I appreciate the crossover acts like D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies, and Uncle Slam.

Last but not least, I love Classic Rock. I would be lying if I told you I was not greatly influenced by Neil Young. He’s an odd bird. His albums are either really great, or they really suck. It’s like he’s incapable of finding middle ground. But at the end of the day, I love his musically adventurous spirit. I’m sure he knows when he’s taking a big risk, and yet he does it anyway. I have always admired that.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for other indie artists? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Jon:
I think people who want to make a living at their art need to be willing to sacrifice in a major way to get there. We’ve all heard the stories of bands who survived on Top Ramen and lived on top of each other in tour vans. That kind of sacrifice is something you’d likely have to go through regardless of your chosen profession. Very few people get to the top by playing it safe and comfortable.

Also, it probably helps to learn as much as you can about digital marketing and intellectual property law. Virtually everyone is on the Internet these days. Take advantage of that, but don’t let yourself get screwed in the process.

I have a day job, so I don’t look at my art as a source of revenue generation. I’m not interested in making money from it. If I do make anything from it, that’s a welcomed surprise. Mike and I would probably spend the money on beer, anyway.

Interested in learning more about the work of Fugate? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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