Analogue Music | The Bones of JR Jones

The Bones of JR Jones

By Matt Conner

Each new album is a layer unfolding for Jonathan Linaberry.

The man behind The Bones of JR Jones is an accomplished veteran at this stage of his musical career, but the careful (and care-full) process behind his songcraft has also given way to a slow unfolding toward a broader creative approach.

For his fourth studio LP, Slow Lightning, Linaberry has blossomed even more in his journey as an artist. It's a stage marked by greater collaboration and sonic exploration—this time toward darker moods and synthetic instrumentation. That doesn't mean the bedrock of blues, rock, and even folk has been abandoned. Rather, it's even more fun building new rooms that might not have been anticipated in years past.

On the verge of a new album release, we spoke with Linaberry about his creative process, the banner of Slow Lightning, and the people he allows in when writing songs.

Analogue: The first time we ever spoke was around Spirit’s Furnace. Now here’s Slow Lightning. I just love the evocative imagery of these titles to start and it made me wonder when that arrives for you.

Jonathon Linaberry: Generally, after I sequence the record, once I feel like everything’s in place and things are telling the story that I want them to tell, it helps me figure it all out. It inspires me. It’s like naming the world that all of these songs sort of live in, so it’s actually a part of the process that I really enjoy.

Analogue: There’s some real stretching on this album musically. How much of that is organic and how much is intentional from the jump?

Jonathan: I’m a big believer that everything informs your tastes and your creative choices, whether you want them to or not—the good and the bad. And so, I recognize this record in particular… it’s not a far cry but it is a different world than Dark Was the Yearling or The Wildness, which are definitely more bluesy or folk-influenced.

"I’m a big believer that everything informs your tastes and your creative choices, whether you want them to or not—the good and the bad."

That wasn’t conscious so much as just the soundscape of what I consume is so broad, I guess. I really try to pull from the music that really resonates with me. I try to focus in on that when I’m writing these tunes or thinking about the record, so some of the influences that informed this consciously were a part of the choices—a lot of old Bruce Springsteen and elements of LCD Soundsystem. There’s The Kills. I try to tap touchstones of things here and there that really move me and try to make it my own, I guess.

Analogue: Are you ever surprised by what comes out?

Jonathan: Yeah, I am. A lot of times, like I said, it’s not even conscious. I write most of my music pretty siloed and beyond my wife, there are not many people who listen to it before we get into the studio. So when I start exposing it to other musicians and people I respect, the conversations I have around these songs are always interesting to me because they’ll hear things in it that I wasn’t even aware of. That’s sometimes fun and sometimes horrifying but it’s always interesting. [Laughs]

Analogue: Is that purposeful, the siloed nature of the work?

Jonathan: I’m trying to grow beyond that, to be honest. I’m trying to share more of the process with people so it’s more of a collaboration. I worked with a dear friend on my last two records, Kiyoshi Matsuyama. He played bass on some tracks for me on a record I put out back in 2018 and we’ve had a partnership since then. He’s always one of the first people I send a song to just to see if it’s worth it.

Analogue: Has that thought of opening up been a fearful one in the past?

Jonathan: I think everyone’s their own worst critic, you know? There are certain people I can rely upon to be critical in a good way, a very constructive way. I will say that Kiyoshi and I usually see eye-to-eye on direction and mood and things like that.

Another person’s ear I respect is my wife’s actually—Lisa. She is very in tune and makes me really hone in on what my goal is for a song. She’s not afraid to call me on my shit when something is repetitive or redundant or if it’s been done before or even if it’s boring. She’s incredible that way. It can be very tough sometimes but it works well.

Analogue: You said the new album inhabits this new world. What’s the relationship there with the expectations that people will have or any worries that fans will come with you from one project to the next?

Jonathan: I try not to worry about that. I think at the root of it, especially the way people consume media these days, there’s so much weighing on people’s opinions on things. The nice thing about being creative is that I make things for myself at the end of the day. It’s an emotional release. It’s catharsis. It’s an expression I need to make. And I would be doing it even if anyone listened to it or not. I just happen to be lucky enough that someone might want to hit play. I try not to take it too seriously. As long as I feel good about it, I’m happy.

Analogue: I love that answer and that sounds healthy. Are there things you’ve learned about what you have to do to mute that voice? Any healthy guardrails to put up?

Jonathan: No. [Laughs] I wish I had a better toolkit. It’s always a struggle and there’s always doubt. There are plenty of times when I’ll put a single out or a silly reel on Instagram and you know it’s good or worth something and the reaction is muted and you’re like, ‘Oh, shit!’ I try to remember just what I’ve already said, that as long as I feel good about it, that’s enough.

Analogue: What’s the high point of the new album for you?

Jonathan: For this record, I’m kinda going down this hole currently, and it starts on Slow Lightning, where I’m into heavier synth/bass kind of stuff. I’m still exploring it to this day. There’s a song on it called “The Flood” which is pretty sparse overall until the last 45 seconds of the song when you feel this overwhelming subby bass come in. That for me is one of the highest points of the record. I just dig it so much.

Analogue: Was the songwriting process different in that case in order to arrive there?

Jonathan: No. Well, I’m trying to think how I got there. Something I try to tell myself when I’m writing is that I try to let the song dictate the arrangement and the production and the instrumentation. If there’s a vibe that’s there, and it’s not in my general Rolodex of tools, so to speak, I will spend probably too much time scouring the internet for sounds, watching YouTube videos on synths and old drum machines trying to find the sound that’s in my head. There wasn’t a particular moment then. It just felt like the song needed that.

VISIT: The Bones of JR Jones