JONCRO: The WL Interview 2020

Purveyors of: Aggressive connection. Not backing down until your story’s told. With guitars.

File Next to: Black Mountain, Pup, DFA1979

Playing: Thursday, November 27th 2020 with Westelaken on Youtube Live!

The beauty of being an experimental noise punk outfit is the freedom to try anything. If you aren’t breaking new ground for yourself with each album are you even experimenting? Joncro are a band who have seized this opportunity, incorporating elements of 50’s doo-wop, dub poetry, and ska into their own brand of gripping chaos. Once you’ve been sucked in you’re along for their ride, pushing limits on familiar ground. 

Over the course of 2020 Joncro have been hard at work releasing a continual stream of music, most recently releasing their EP The Joncro Mountains. Daniel G. Wilson is Joncro’s songwriter, singer, and guitarist. Wavelength’s Raina Hersh caught up with him to talk about creating during Covid, growing as a band, and the power of going back to your roots.

Your band has undergone some changes this year, welcoming Kieran Christie on board in a bass/backing vocals capacity. How does it feel to be a trio?

Kieran is honestly amazing. Having her in the fold has been a shot in the arm in so many ways. She has a down-to-earth yet ready-for-action kind of energy that just works so well with us. Being a trio is fun. Personally, I think it’s the best lineup arrangement for a rock band. In many cultures, trios or trinities are a common folkloric and mythological theme. It’s the perfect balance of personalities. Having only three people on stage also forces you to write songs in creative ways to make up for the lack of extra members. It really makes you consider sonic space and how each instrument and member inhabits and moves around within it.

It seems you’ve been quite prolific over the course of this pandemic. Since February, Joncro has steadily released track after track. What’s the creative process been like for you during this physically distant time?

Adjusting to the pandemic has been a task creatively. Normally we would flesh out a song during band practices, but that option became untenable. A lot of the finer details of song construction for us are finalized through live jamming. Songwriting now involves a lot of back-and-forth emailing and remote recording. Thankfully, we have home recording rigs. Benefits of 21st century living I guess haha. Our consistent output can be attributed to the fact that we are always coming up with new material and now have more time to finish them. We currently have two albums worth of songs that we are itching to release.

Your recent work is quite personal. From Twa through to The Joncro Mountains, we get to hear you exploring your Jamaican roots both musically and lyrically. What made you decide that now was the right time to tell these stories?

Short story, my ancestors came to me in a dream. I am only half-kidding when I say that lol. I have wanted to explore Jamaican and Caribbean culture through the lens of the band for a long time but never felt confident enough to do it. That changed last year after some difficult but transformative experiences. These stories that had been in the back of my mind since childhood started to pour out onto the page. I wanted to write songs that reflected something different than what I was hearing at the time in the punk scene. I also wanted to make a statement that it was possible to write about or be influenced by your cultural heritage without sacrificing your ability to be noisy and chaotic. Jamaican culture is so rich with history, music, folklore, and traditions that have yet to be fully explored in depth. Hopefully, it inspires other Jamaican and Caribbean punks to not be afraid of exploring their roots as well.

“Joncro Rivival” sticks out as a particularly meaningful track, written to a field recording of a musical performance by your father. Can you tell me a little more about writing this piece? 

My dad Ivanhoe “Bongo” Wilson (1930-2013) was a well known Obeah man and revival singer in Jamaica who had been around since the ‘60s. Music was an important part of his work and I would see him perform all the time as a kid. He never recorded or released anything in the commercial sphere during his life, unfortunately. During quarantine, I rediscovered the field recording tapes he and my mom made of his performances during the ‘90s and ‘00s and thought it would be a good way to honour his memory by incorporating them into Joncro songs somehow. I based my spoken word part on the “words of invocation” he used to say during his work. It was surreal hearing his voice for the first time in seven years. Making the song was by far the most emotional experience I have ever had writing a song. I am glad I got to honour him like that and finally sing with him albeit from the grave.

What does pandemic band practice look like for you?

Masks, Covid tests, hand sanitizer, a strict bubble, temperature checks… did I mention hand sanitizer? Lol. But honestly, pandemic band practice looks like regular band practice but with a lot of precautions. There is also a sense of urgency that pervades practices now that wasn’t there before. We know we have a limited time to get stuff done so we have to make sure every moment counts.

When preparing for a streamed gig, do you have to change the way you think about your performance at all?

Very much so. Normally we would just roll up to a venue, set up our gear, and play our normal chaotic set for a live audience. With a streamed gig, the live audience factor is no longer present. Being cognizant of the fact that any audience interaction will be through a screen requires a different headspace. Set design and video editing have also become far more important to the overall performance. I find it helps to think of streamed shows like you would a stage play with the musicians as actors who happen to be making obscene amounts of noise. Well… in our case at least haha

I’m curious about your pre/post-show rituals. Do you have any?

We don’t really have any major rituals. I will usually order cranberry juice from the bar before our set (I’m straight edge) and survey the stage area so I don’t bump into anything while running around. I will say that taking throat lozenges is a big thing. With the way I sing, they help to prep my voice for the performance. Other than that, as a band we usually just pump each other up. The after-show hangouts are also a highlight.

You can catch Joncro Thursday, November 27th with Westelaken live from the Wavelength Youtube channel from 7-9pm EST. Admission is free/PWYC with all raised funds directly donated to the Nia Centre for the Arts.

Raina Hersh is a broadcaster, writer, and lover of the Toronto music scene. Curious about the creation of her favourite songs, she began interviewing artists in 2014 and hasn’t stopped since. Currently you can find her hosting The Interval on JazzFM91 weekdays from 1-2pm.     Twitter: @RaiOnRadio