By: K. Winslow Smith
Jon Jaffee is man of many talents. Jon is guitarist+vocalist for The Wondermics, a Boston-based funk/soul/hip-hop outfit about to release their first full-length studio album. He also performs with Steamboats, a folk group based in New York City that blends beautiful harmonies with intricate acoustic performance. Recently I had the chance to catch up with Jon to talk about his music and the joy of interacting with a diverse musical community.
Where did music start for you?
My dad always played music, he went to music school but didn’t finish. I have a very musical family, a lot of my uncles play and my mother is a great appreciator of music. I started with playing and singing Beatles songs. One of my early musical memories is singing and recording “My Girl” at a family friend’s studio. I also did a lot of musical theatre and improv. When I started playing guitar, I immediately started writing songs; taking chords from songs and rearranging them. The first band I was in was with Nick Throop, who is in Steamboats.
What did you listen to growing up?
I always listened to Crosby, Still, and Nash or The Beatles, James Taylor was a big one. I also listened to what my sister was listening to; Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. Then I got into soul and Motown—the Temptations, Smoky Robinson, Marvin Gaye in a big way. Curtis Mayfield was huge, I love Curtis.
What was it about that music that got you hooked (as opposed to the other stuff that 15 year olds were listening to)?
Don’t get me wrong, I got down on some shitty music. I had Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Covered Starfish. [laughs] But I always enjoyed soul music. It’s formulaic in a really awesome way; you know what’s going to happen and it feels great. There’s only a couple things you can sing about in soul music, but you can do it tons of ways. What I’m really drawn to musically and stylistically is harmony on the melody; purposeful, melodic ideas in music is very powerful.
What is your creative process like?
With “So Silly” I wrote the words and the chords in a style that was acoustic—it was just me singing and it had a much different feel to it. It had a lot of verses, and Myers hadn’t written the rap. When I brought it to the band we stripped it down, took out a verse. The song “Sextape Celebrities” was lyrically driven by Nate, Tres, and Mike. I had this one groove for the chorus and we all threw out ideas. That song was much more collaborative.
Do you have a philosophy of music, or guiding principles?
One of my favorite things about music, and one of the things that I am conscious of is that music is a conversation. When you are playing music amongst the players, it sounds best when it’s delivered as a conversation. Our parts interact and complement each other. We have to be in tune with one another. It’s also a conversation between the band and whoever is listening to it. It’s much easier to convey emotion with music than it is with words. With words you have to explain yourself over and over again. To me it gets me there immediately.
Let’s talk about collaboration with other artists. How do you interact with other musicians?
I’ve always had a very musical community around me. I don’t know if my seeking out musical people is subconscious, but most of my friends play music. I’m the biggest fan of Rocky and the Pressers, they are the dopest. [laughs]. It was such an honor to sing on their album. I’m all about collaborating; sometimes it’s hard to write a song with someone else, but playing with a band is the greatest feeling. When you can get musicians together in a room to play the same song, it’s like the stars are aligned, and the tides meets the beach at the right angle, with the sun. It’s like a cosmic thing. Musicians are the craziest people out there…and painters.
And musician painters are the weirdest people of all.
Oh my god, stay away. [laughs] For sure, I work with some interesting people, and the musical community I am a part of is very incestuous. It brings me the greatest joy to bring people together musically. That is a big win. It is such a glorious thing.
What is your ideal audience?
You were at The Wondermics show Brighton Music Hall, right?
I was indeed.
That’s the one, dude. That’s the crowd we want to play to. They know the tunes and they want to get down. It’s the best kind of party you can have in my opinion. That’s one of the reasons why this album has taken so long to make, because we are really a live band first, and we needed to get that live sound.
Do you know when the album is going to hit the shelves?
What’s next for you?
We are going to tour to support the album, as we have been enjoying the Northeast circuit, playing in New Hampshire, a bit in Vermont. It’s good to get your chops together.
Do you enjoy being on the road or the weekly gigs?
It’s cool because I do both. I have a weekly gig with Steamboats in Manhattan, and with the Wondermics we tour a lot. We don’t hit Boston too often, because when we do we like to have big shows. I like to tour, even though it is a hustle and it costs a lot of money.
If you could have a famous superfan who would it be?
It would be great to have an ancient peasant. [laughs] Or Dangelo, he’s awesome.
If your bands could be any food what would they be?
Well, Steamboats would be a warm cup of Earl Grey with a scone or a crumpet. It’s a comforting kind of delicious thing. The Wondermics are definitely a spicy meatloaf.
If you could collaborate with any musician who would it be?
I would love to sing with Crosby, Stills, and Nash back in the day.