Depending on how one looks at things, Andrew Jackson Jihad singer-guitarist Sean Bonnette is either: a) unusually quick on his feet; b) unfailingly polite; or c) the kind of guy who happily suffers fools gladly.
The answer is perhaps a little of all three. To elaborate on that, when the Georgia Straight calls the frontman in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, he responds to the opening question of “How are you?” with a cheerful “I’m just making soup.”
This leads to a casual, extended back-and-forth about everything from what’s going into the soup to his skills in the kitchen to the endless joys of cooking. Bonnette answers all culinary-themed questions thoughtfully and eloquently before finally breaking down and grinding things to a halt at about the two-minute mark.
“So, I’m a little confused,” he admits delicately. “You’re Mike from Vancouver, right?”
When the answer is “Correct—are you okay to do an interview?” it immediately becomes clear that Bonnette has had no clue who has called him, why he is talking about soup, and what he’s even doing on the phone.
“Oh—this is an interview?” he finally says embarrassedly. “I totally forgot that I agreed to do this. I mean, I knew that it wasn’t a wrong number and that there was a reason that you were calling. I just figured that reason would eventually reveal itself.”
The reason for the call is Andrew Jackson Jihad’s wonderful (and wonderfully twisted) latest album, Christmas Island. While the band (which is centred around Bonnette and bassist/cofounder Ben Gallaty) is often pegged as folk-punk, that’s oversimplifying things. The songs on its fifth studio-length are a gorgeous mix of sun-warped psychedelia, slanted-and-enchanted college rock, and warped Americana, making them essential listening for anyone who loves iconic acts like the Flaming Lips, Pavement, and the Meat Puppets.
As if that’s not enough of a recommendation, Christmas Island is a solid front-runner for most lyrically clever record of the year. That cleverness starts with the album’s title.
“It’s kind of an Easter egg for people who really get into the record,” Bonnette suggests. “If they do, they can start to decipher the meaning of it. There are clues all over the album, and a decent enough amount of information on Wikipedia that people should be able to figure things out.”
As for the record’s lyrical content, Bonnette builds songs around the doomed Heaven’s Gate cult, Helen Keller, and sweet baby Jesus, among others. (You want underground gold? Check out the winsome ballad “Linda Ronstadt”, which features lines like “Today the salt and sun ran down my face/After a year of hiding all my feelings/And I totally lost my shit in that museum/All from a video installation of Linda Ronstadt.”)
Bonnette is tricky enough that if you’re not paying attention, you’re going to miss the meaning of things. Consider the opening ode to autism advocate Temple Grandin (titled “Temple Grandin”, naturally) where, over hard-skiffle guitars, the singer rattles off “Stevie Wonder to the bullshit/Stevie Wonder to the bullshit, baby”.
A diss? Anything but.
“I guess I have to get mad at myself for not making things clear,” Bonnette says, noting that the lyrics should be read as “don’t pay attention to the bullshit.” “Next time we do a record, I’m going to print out the lyrics for people so they can understand everything that I’m saying. That was, like, a simple little rap trope that Lil Wayne and Aaron Cohen used. When people don’t totally get what you are singing about, it can be annoying, but it doesn’t happen that often, so I guess I’m okay with that.”
Kind of like some guy phoning up and talking about soup.
Andrew Jackson Jihad plays the Biltmore Cabaret next Thursday (July 24).