The strongest idea to come out of the punk music movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s is the “do it yourself” ethic.
It’s one that Jonas Smith III, former punk rocker, adopted when he decided to entirely write, perform, produce and market his own album.
After playing in the Canadian punk band Field Day for several years, he learned he wasn’t interested in musical compromise.
“Band members will put a new twist on your idea and the result usually isn’t what you expected,” he said.
Twelve years after leaving Field Day, Smith says if you want something done right, then you have to do it yourself.
Smith was 13 years old when he traded his skateboard for a guitar, deciding to play punk rock rather than just listen to it.
He eventually landed himself a position as bass player in the now defunct Field Day.
The band found itself playing music during the height of the pop punk craze that dominated North America in the ‘90s.
The band was signed to California label, Lethal Records, played on the wildly popular Vans Warped Tours and had a few of their music videos slipped into the MuchMusic rotation.
But the band’s success left a bad taste in Smith’s mouth and, in 1997, he left Field Day.
“I played two years on the Vans Warped Tour,” said Smith. “For most people that’s a big thing but I hated it. I didn’t like playing for 10,000 people or the rockstar lifestyle – big concerts just didn’t seem very punk.”
Smith preferred playing in small, dark clubs and, by then, was gravitating towards harder music.
When he was still with Field Day he started recording some of his own solo work hoping to one day put out an album on his own.
“But life got in the way and I just moved past that music,” he said.
After taking 10 years to complete his album, he’s now offering his entire 17-minute EP for free online.
“People are just going to rip it off anyway, it’s a reality,” said Smith.
“Music is meant to be shared. If you’re in the business to make money, then you’re not going to.”
But it didn’t stop him from putting out an album. He knew that people who are interested in holding the music and the liner notes in their hand would go out and buy it.
But if the route to producing his album wasn’t long and winding enough, the process of actually getting the CDs printed, was.
Hoping to give his album a unique look, Smith printed his track list and acknowledgements inside the case, so it has no cover. A naked plastic CD decorated with stylized lettering peers out from the tray.
When the box of 1,000 freshly pressed CDs showed up at his doorstep this summer he couldn’t wait to see the finished product.
“I tore open the box and it was heartbreaking,” he said.
The CDs were packaged inside out and were “mangled, covered in fingerprints and cracked.”
The company refused to fix the problem, even though it was “entirely their doing,” said Smith.
So Smith had to individually unwrap each CD, remove the plastic tray and flip the tray card so it was facing the right way.
“I wanted to go on a murderous rampage after that,” he said.
The unique look of the album happened to create another headache for Smith: the transparent CD, he discovered, doesn’t play on all CD players.
On one section of his website, he mischievously explains why the CD-owner may have trouble listening to their album: “Because God saw what you did last night, you sick, twisted creature. That, and the clear portion of the CD fools some CD players.”
Smith’s music borrows from 1970s British heavy-rock and can be compared, more recently, to stoner-rock pioneers, Queens of the Stone Age. (He prefers the comparisons to begin and end at their earlier works.)
“I’m not much of a fan of their newer stuff,” he said.
The influence of heavy rock is clear in his meaty guitar solos and thick reverberating bass lines.
The “epic” feeling that runs through the album is a result of “listening to far too much Jesus Christ Superstar while growing up,” said Smith.
With the same three musical progressions reappearing throughout the album, the CD brings to mind one long rock ballad rather than a collection of
separate songs, which is exactly what Smith was aiming for.
With his album out, he now wants to take his music to Europe and South America where he knows he will have a larger audience base than North America.
But when you play all the instruments on an album, touring can be a challenge.
Smith is looking to audition band members who are willing to quit their jobs and head out on the road with him for six months at a time.
Taking time off from his job as entertainment booker for live-music club, Coasters, would be a welcome escape too, said Smith.
“It’s difficult – you live a vampire lifestyle and deal with drunk people who are assholes when they’re drunk.
“Some people mow lawns or stare at computers all day; I deal with drunks”
Having to work both days and nights is a major factor in why it took Smith so long to release his album, he said.
“When you’re working from 8 to 5 each day and
then again until 2. a.m. the next morning it uses up a lot of your resources.”
Taking five years to write and conceptualize the album and another five to actually record and mix it, Smith is just happy that it’s out.
“Even if people don’t like the album, at least they will hopefully appreciate the amount of effort that went into making it.”
Contact Vivian Belik at firstname.lastname@example.org