He lives like that
by Stephen Slaybaugh
When Jon Chinn’s I Can’t Believe You Live Like That (Reverbose Records) comes out this week, it’ll be the first time the Pretty Mighty Mighty singer/guitarist has stepped out on his own with a full-length release. Though he’s been making music with PMM since the early ’90s, the solo album is something he’s always wanted to do.
“When I started getting into music,” he explains, “I was really into people like Howard Jones and Bruce Springsteen—people who were known as solo artists. Since I was 16, I always wanted to have that kind of identity as a solo artist, but things were so much fun with a band that that was the direction I went for a long time. Now that we’ve been doing less as a band, I’ve had more time to do a single-minded approach to songwriting and music production.”
PMM hasn’t broken up. In fact, they’ve been recording songs for either a new EP or full-length. PMM drummer and Chinn’s partner at Workbook Studio, Neal Schmitt, mastered Chinn’s solo album and contributed drums on a track. Recording the record himself at Workbook, Chinn also called in a host of local talent to help: all of Tiara, Orchestraville’s Keith Hanlon, Miranda Sound’s Dan Gerken and Billy Peake, and Templeton’s Caleb Bandy.
“Everyone who was involved had suggestions here and there,” Chinn says. “So even though I was the final-say guy, it was nice to get some other input, whether I agreed with it or not. I played a song for [Sun drummer] Sam Brown, and he commented that I should just cut off the song before the last part. I tried it out and it was a better way to go. Unfortunately, it’s not in the credits, but I should credit him for that.”
The album has been in the works for several years, with Chinn recording whenever he and his collaborators could find the time. One track, “Lie to Me,” was recorded as long as five years ago. Chinn admits that recording himself presented the challenge of knowing when to stop.
“I just can’t help myself,” he laughs. “I keep fighting myself between the songwriting, the performance and the production value. The end result is pop or radio-style songs that were produced like B-sides, and B-sides that were produced like radio songs. It’s real hard to know when to stop.
“I’m always giving advice when I’m working with people in the studio that’s like, ‘This song would be good if you layered it up’ or, ‘This is cool because it’s so simple and stripped down.’ But I can never have that discussion with myself, so I’ll just throw a bunch of tracks down and see what works and take out what isn’t working. In the studio you can think, ‘A drum beat might be cool for this part’ and then play a drum beat. Then, since there’s no drummer per se, if it doesn’t work out, I just wipe that track out and no one’s feelings get hurt.”
However exhaustive his methods may be, Chinn’s produced a stunning collection of songs. While some (“Record Sets,” “All About”) are reminiscent of Pretty Mighty Mighty, he generally explores a softer side to his songwriting that he’s only revealed in glimpses in the past.
“King’s Horses,” which features Gerken on cello, is particularly captivating, a poignant hangover of a song. “Last Night” and “The Last Thing” are effervescent pop songs that belie a certain melancholy resolve. It’s an album that may overshadow his work with Pretty Mighty Mighty—or bode for an even brighter future for the band.
Jon Chinn will celebrate the release “I Can’t Believe You Live Like That” at Little Brother’s on Wednesday, May 12. Brian Moore, Brian Freshour, Dan Gerken and Caleb Bandy will serve as his backing band, while Tiara, Kopaz and Chris Forbes (of Orchestraville) round out the bill.
May 5, 2004
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