photo credit: William Coupon
Stars Enough To Guide Me by Jono Manson | INTERVIEW
Author: Thommy Delaney
Hey there, Jono! Congratulations on your most recent release "Stars Enough to Guide Me"! All the songs on this release are all instant classics in their own right. They are also different from one another and have their own unique sound. Some of them sound like classic rock and roll songs whereas others sound a bit more contemporary. When did you begin writing the album and what were some of the musical ideas that you wanted to convey to the listener?
With the exception of one or two of the songs on my record, I wrote them all during a six month period in 2021. The album was recorded in early 2022, and was in the can for a while before it was released in March of this year. I really love a lot of different kinds of music, and that certainly is reflected in the songs that I write. I hope that they all hang together as a body of work, but you're right, there is a lot of stylistic variety. I've always been that way, having eclectic taste as a listener, which definitely reflects in my work as a songwriter.
The music you have written on this album is brilliant. From your harmonies to the structure of each song, there are plenty of unique songs to listen to. How do you come up with such well crafted songs?
Well, I've been at it for a long time. I formed my first band when I was seven years old, and none of us were accomplished enough to copy the songs that we heard on the radio, so by default we had to write our own. That's how it began for me, which means that I've been writing songs for the better part of 60 years. I never played in a cover band, although sometimes I wish I had, because many of my colleagues who went through that experience acquired a large musical vocabulary from which they can draw. In my case, I always had to use my imagination to channel all of my musical influences into something original of my own. All that said, I really feel like I'm still getting better as a songwriter. It doesn't mean I don't like a lot of my earlier work, but it's a good feeling to be improving even at this "late" stage in the game.
You play mostly guitar on this album. Do you play any other instruments as well as guitar?
Guitars are definitely my main instruments. However, in the studio, I get away with a lot of stuff. I play the banjo, piano, mandolin and a variety of other things, although you will rarely see me doing those in a live setting.
"No New Kind of Blue" was perhaps my favorite track off this album. Its simplicity mixed in with great harmonies and at least one tasteful chord in the verse make the song. Not very often do you hear what some musicians call "naughty" chords or as I like to call them "cooky" chords. How do you know which chords like that fit into certain songs?
Although I have no particular formula, more often than not I will work on music and words simultaneously. So, the developing melody will often dictate what the underlying harmonic movement should be. For example, does one of those "tricky" chords belong in a place that will help accentuate the lyric? On the other hand, sometimes maintaining a static melody over chord changes that move can create tension in the song, in a good way. I find that most often the first melodic idea is the best one and that the more I try to "refine" the further away I get from the "truth" of the song.
"The Further Adventures Of Goat Boy And The Clown" is another instant classic. It's just pure rock and roll! Where did the idea for this song come from?
Believe it or not, that song is actually one of the most autobiographical on the album. Although the story is cloaked in some rather cryptic poetry, the song recounts the adventures of being on tour in Italy, with my friend, Jason Crosby, just before the beginning of the pandemic, in February 2020. All of the events described in that song actually happened! It's a long story as to how we wound up with those nicknames, "Goat Boy, and "The Clown", but suffice to say that we earned them. And you're right, the vibe of the track is good-time rock 'n' roll! The rhythm track wound up with a very "Stonesy" feel, so when it came to adding additional instruments, I couldn't resist adding a horn section that sounded like it came straight out of "Exile on Main Street". This song was just screaming for it. And, of course, that's Jason himself playing the piano and singing harmonies with me.
"Timberline" is another song that is beautifully written. From the harmonies to the wonderfully crafted arrangement, it has something that everyone will love. What is the song about and how did you get the idea to arrange it the way you did?
I live in Santa Fe, NM just below the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which are the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A few of the mountains visible from my home are tall enough to rise above the timberline, where no trees can grow. I started thinking about that border as a marker between the earth and the sky, as the threshold between on the earthy plane, and whatever awaits beyond. That's what inspired the song.
"Before We Get Stupid" is another one of my favorite songs. Another pure rocker that has a terrific groove to it that had me nodding my head the entire time! This song also features Crystal Bowersox, who was a finalist on American Idol during its ninth season. You both did a phenomenal job singing together. I love how you would sing certain parts by yourself, then she would sing some parts by herself, and then you harmonize together in others. How did you get to work with Crystal and where did the idea come from of arranging the vocals the way you did?
I met Crystal just after she came off of American Idol. She was a fan of an album that I had produced and co written for John Popper and she approached me about writing some songs together. So, she came out to Santa Fe and we spent a few weeks working on music. From that first collaborative experience, a true friendship was born, and we have worked on quite a number of projects since then. The most recent of those is her album "Alive" which was recorded in my studio in front of a live audience. She is such a powerful singer, and "force of nature" human being. I have the utmost respect for her as an artist. When I wrote the song, I knew that it had to be a duet, and I couldn't think of anyone other than Crystal to sing with me. So, we found a time when she would be passing through, on her way to a gig in Colorado, and we recorded the vocal parts together in the studio in about an hour. As far as the arrangement is concerned, we worked it out on the fly, and did what felt the most natural in terms of trading off, and harmonizing with one another. Of course I already had a good idea of how I thought it should go, but with someone like Crystal , sometimes the best production move is to not give any instructions, and let the arrangement develop naturally.
You have worked with many artists over your career. As a matter of fact, there are a few tour dates that you have performing with Blues Traveler this year. The front man of the group, John Popper, also appears on this album playing the harmonica on "No New Kinda Blue." How did you meet John and get involved with working with him and Blues Traveler? Do you plan on doing anything other than performing with them live in future?
I've known John and the rest of the guys from Blues Traveler since the inception of their career. Some of their first ever gigs were opening for my band in the hole in the wall dives in New York City in the 1980s. Among many other things, I appear on their multi-platinum album "Four". I was the front-man for the band High Plains Drifter featuring Traveler's own Bobby Sheehan and Chan Kinchla who also appear on my 1996 album "Almost Home". I also also co-wrote and produced the John Popper side project "John Popper and the Duskray Troubadours" and a new project called "Bootlegger Days", which will be released later this summer!
You have an upcoming show on July 9th at Old Franklin Schoolhouse with Bruce Donnola opening the show. What can people expect at this show?
They can expect a really fun afternoon of good music! Bruce will open the show, then I will do a set, and we will likely play a few things together. He and I have a long-standing, collaborative relationship that goes back for the better part of 40 years. We've written quite a number of songs together, and I've also recorded a handful of Bruce's songs on my albums. So, I have a feeling it will be a really enjoyable event for all concerned. I've been writing a lot of songs lately, so I will likely play some brand new things as well as a selection of other material from over the years. One of the advantages of having a fairly large repertoire is that songs tend to cycle in and out, and reappear at times. But, like so many of my peers, I often feel that the newest stuff is the best!
Besides working with Blues Traveler and your July 9th show at Old Franklin Schoolhouse, are there any other projects and/or shows you are planning on doing in the future?
I've always got a lot cooking. As I pointed out before, my entire career began by collaborating with other like-minded musicians, and not much has really changed in that regard. I have quite a number of songwriting partnerships and ongoing relationships with artists whom I produce in my studio "The Kitchen Sink", in Santa Fe. As for my own career, next up I will be recording a batch of new tunes with my old pal Eric Ambel at his studio in Brooklyn, which will mark the first time in 25 years that I haven't self produced an engineered my own album. In fact, the last time I had a producer overseeing a project of mine it was Eric at the helm of my 1998 album "Little Big Man". So, it's about time that we get back together!
Is there anything that you would like to share with our readers?
These are strange, and often difficult times for musicians and other creative types, so it's more important than ever to support the artists you love, and those who you want to know better. Buy their stuff, and come to their shows. It makes all the difference in the world!
Jono Manson is a prolific singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, producer and an engaging performer. During a storied career spanning over five decades he has played everywhere from the local dive to Madison Square Garden and has amassed an impressive discography that includes major label and indie releases on three continents. His songs have been recorded by numerous artists and have been featured in major motion pictures on network television, and in national advertising campaigns. Jono has produced albums for Grammy winners and local heroes, American Idol finalists and Folksingers, Italian pop stars and Pakistani Sufi folk-rockers.
Born and raised in New York, Manson began his professional career in the 1970s as a teenager in the city's dirty dive bars, where six-hour gigs were the norm and nights out rarely ended before sunrise. By the early '80s, Manson was a highly respected figure on the club circuit, and his band, Joey Miserable and The Worms, were a force to be reckoned with. The New York Times called the group "local heroes" and credited them with influencing "countless" other acts, including the likes of Joan Osborne, who hailed them as "master entertainers" who "always had the crowds eating out of their hands."
In the decades to come, Manson would go on to develop a career as a recording artist and producer in Italy, continue to perform his own music far and wide, compose for major motion pictures, and play alongside Bruce Springsteen, Taj Mahal, Emmylou Harris, and Joan Baez on the occasion of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday.
He currently makes his home in Santa Fe, NM, where he has put down deep roots in the local community, as a performer, educator, organizer and producer. He is the founder and chief engineer of "The Kitchen Sink" recording studio where he has nurtured creative projects for countless artists, emergent and established alike and has collaborated with the likes of Amanda Palmer, T Bone Burnett, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, Terry Allen, Warren Haynes, Eliza Gilkyson, Tom Russell, The Mother Hips, Crystal Bowersox and Edoardo Bennato to name just a few. Jono has six times been named "Producer of the Year" by the New Mexico Music Awards.
About the Author: Thommy Delaney is a Senior Music Business Major at New
Jersey City University. He is also the lead guitarist and a vocalist in the Bayonne
Indie pop-rock band BreakTime: a four-piece writing modern pop tunes with
generous vintage allusions to artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Looking for something new to listen to? Be sure
to follow BreakTime @breaktimelivenj on social media and stream their music on