An Interview with Jono Robertson of Social Creatures

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Recently, I sat down with Jono Robertson of Social Creatures to discuss, among other things, what he’s been up to during the lockdown, his newest music, his thoughts on the music scene going forward, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Social Creatures, head over to their Instagram and dive in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Jono. Cheers

Andrew:
Jono, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year. What have you been doing to pass the time?

Jono:
Thanks so much for having me on! Yeah absolutely, it’s been a weird year, I still get up every day with positivity and ready to spread the love, but it’s an undeniably tragic time. Social Creatures has been a wonderful outlet throughout this time that I’m super thankful for. I have to say that shifting focus from booking shows, preparing for shows, selling tickets, the gigging lifestyle, hustling in NYC— to now really just focusing on making the music we want to be making has been a blessing in disguise. To pass the time, I’ve been messing with a few synthesizers since last May, getting from blindly twisting knobs to really understanding how the machines work, having previously been really just focused on vocals and guitar.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway, so to speak?

Jono:
It happened when I was 13. I’d had a casual interest in guitar for a few years and had one laying around the house. I very quickly got into drugs and alcohol; things came to a head; I found myself suspended from school, stuck at home with zero chance of getting my hands on anything. I picked up the guitar and transferred that obsession into playing for hours every day and never looked back.

Andrew:
As an artist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Jono:
Teaching myself all of John Frusciante’s and Flea’s parts on those RHCP records was how I initially learned to play the guitar. Then came Hendrix, Jonny Greenwood, Daniel Rossen. As a songwriter, picking apart all those Beatles albums and looking at those chord changes, melodies, harmonies was big for me. Getting three guys around a piano and singing all those parts together. I hope to someday be in a barbershop quartet, but I doubt if it’ll happen for me.

Andrew:
Let’s dive in and talk about Social Creatures. Tell us the story of the band. How did things start?

Jono:
So, we played under the name “Kindergarten” for two years leading up to COVID, kind of learned to play together properly, and went through all the trials and errors of putting on shows, writing songs, finding your sound. Then as we reached a good place, we sort of wanted to hit the delete button on everything we’d done previously and start afresh. Boom, Social Creatures. Better name, too.

Andrew:
With all this downtime, are you working on any new music? If so, tell us about it.

Jono:
We’re finishing up our first LP right now; we recorded about ten songs back in August— got tested and played in masks and the whole bit— but we were kind of on a roll and have since written a few more songs, so we’re going to add them onto the album. As of now, we’ve put out two singles from the LP and a music video and have a bunch more on the way.

Andrew:
How about songwriting? What is your process like? Does your work come from a deep, ethereal place? Or is it sort of just spur of the moment, so to speak?

Juno:
As a band, any of us could present the first parts of a song, and then if it’s any good, we all jump on it from there and keep rearranging it until we’re happy. For me personally, my part of the process has changed a lot recently. For the instrumentals, I used to see one part as central with accompanying parts, and now I sort of see it as a whole with equal parts.

For vocals, I used to write melodies in my head that were cool ideas, but I couldn’t really personally sing very well. And I used to sit down and write words that fit those melodies and were kind of impersonating a vulnerable expression. Now I blast the instrumental and improvise, singing over it for a few hours and whatever I’m feeling kind of comes out before I can sensor it, and the melodies are more natural for my voice. I’ll play the improv back and be like, “What did I say there? Yikes, that’s personal, and I’m uncomfortable sharing that publicly, but it’s honest so let’s go with that.”

Andrew:
How does your latest work differ from your earlier offerings? What’s changed? How have you evolved?

Jono:
Now, I feel like I’m in the band I always dreamed of being in, which is a very long way from where it started. Where we are now, it’s a blend of many things, but to me, it just sounds like us. In the beginning, we’d play a set, and people would say, “One song sounds like arcade fire, the next sounds like Herbie Hancock, it’s kind of a shit-show,” and we didn’t really know what we were going to be yet. We’ve also become more self-critical when we’re writing songs. By getting away from initiating songs with guitar parts and playing around with all these really exciting synth sounds has really changed the sound a lot as well.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Jono:
I’ve always had an interest in writing/directing films and theater. Working like that with actors is sort of like arranging for a band. Good music can really take a scene in a film to a higher level and make emotions that didn’t read without music suddenly come through really intensely.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Juno:
Oh, hell yeah. Social Creatures is doing a direct-to-vinyl live session at Leestavall Recordings soon, and we also just placed an order for cassettes of our first two singles. Love that shit. It’s great that you can listen to nearly anything you want on Spotify, and we’ve had some success with playlists on there, but for the albums, I really love there’s something about streaming them that’s just not the same experience— It’s like home vs. a hotel. Honestly, during these strange times, not being able to hit a record shop, I just buy cassettes off eBay, ordered Depeche Mode’s Violator yesterday. I love vinyl, but I like to walk and listen. Someone ought to invent a clunky vinyl Walkman. I’d lug it around. Albums that mean the most to me…Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Veckatimest, Zeppelin II, Amnesiac. There are too many—those ones shaped me for sure.

Andrew:
Touring is a big part of any artist’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about being on the road?

Juno:
I miss connecting with audiences. I definitely won’t take that for granted when we get back to it.

Andrew:
Speaking of COVID, where has it left the music scene? So many indie venues are closing, and people are struggling. Do we recover from this? If so, how?

Juno:
It’s terrible that so many venues and people that keep this industry going have suffered. There is something kind of exciting about there being a sort of reset in the scene, though. People in it for the cash have surely moved on, and with everything being shaken up, perhaps there will be a redistribution of opportunities with new venues, bookers, acts, etc. I anticipate there will be a wave of hunger for getting out to live shows, and we’ll all appreciate it more. The NYC scene, in particular, had a lot of not-so-genuine aspects, and maybe it needs a fresh start. Obviously, what’s happened is awful, but this is my searching for a silver lining.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists looking to take the plunge?

Juno:
Make as many mistakes as you can, and don’t be precious about any of them. You have a thousand songs in you.

Interested in learning more about Social Creatures? 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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