Folk From The Heart
Jon Brooks is a folk artist from King City, Ont. currently on tour promoting his latest release, Moth nor Rust. His tour will include a stop at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, Que. on Sept. 24. The record is a tribute to faith, trust, hope, memory and the idea of justice – essential elements to the human spirit that neither moth nor rust can harm. Brooks sat down with the Charlatan’s Colin Harris to speak about his new record and the current state of folk and pop music.
The Charlatan (TC): Compared to your last two releases, Moth Nor Rust seems to be a more introspective record. What was inspiring you during the writing of the album?
Jon Brooks (JB): After touring around Canada singing about war stories, you get a little tired of the droning question, ‘Do you sing any happy songs?’ I felt the need to do a CD with more overtly hopeful themes, and it made sense after a war CD to offer some kind of hope, that a bit of healing is actually possible.
TC: I also read that this album was done solo and live-off-the-floor. Why did you take this approach to the record?
JB: I wanted to do something that I’ve always wanted to hear. My heroes like Leonard Cohen, [Johnny] Cash and [Bruce] Springsteen have done sparse albums before, but none of them have done something with no overdubs at all. There is an overrated practice in folk music today of overproducing music, to me they sound too pristine, too bloodless – and I don’t care for that. How do you make a kind of rawness come through when everything is wet with reverb, effects and every kind of instrument piled on top? I thought that this would be the perfect CD to do [a live-off-the-floor recording], as the theme of this record is stripping the human beast right down to its essentials.
TC: You said in an interview last year that folk music deals with the ‘we’ and the ‘us’ while pop deals with the ‘I’ and the ‘me.’ Can you elaborate on that?
JB: Pop music is very self-centered. But I’ve got to be careful, because there are many a pop star out there who are folk singers in disguise. In the song “God Pt. IV,” I’m talking about Bono and Lennon, and those are two such artists. Pop music is a world for the most part run by 14-year-old girls and their baby-boomer fathers. Today we’re currently glutted with this stuff, with nonsense. And it’s nonsense because it deals with the ‘I’ and the ‘me.’
I’ve always called folk music the attempt to arrest the truth about a certain people in a certain place and time. If you’re talking about the ‘we’ and the ‘us,’ if you’re talking about the condition of the people – that’s folk. I mean, Rage Against The Machine is closer to folk than pop. Some of the good punk stuff that was alive in the late 70s had their roots in folk.
I really believe that folk has more to do with a state of mind than the fact that somebody’s playing with a mandolin or guitar, that’s bollocks. A lot of people in the community believe that it’s folk as long as the instrumentation is there on stage, but there’s a good handful of this music out there that’s filling us with the same empty calories as what’s coming out of Nashville or California.
TC: What is the most important thing you want people to take away after hearing your music, whether live or recorded?
JB: I want to ignite a flame in people watching me. I’m not here to preach. The job of the folk singer isn’t to tell you what to think, it’s to make you think. And that’s really important because if you don’t think, then you don’t have an opinion, and history keeps proving that there’s always a state ready and willing to make that opinion for you. I’m trying to inspire a little discourse.