The quiet energies of Mountain Grove, Ont., the new home of ambient-folkie Jonas Bonnetta aka Evening Hymns, have seeped into his new album, Quiet Energies, available Sept. 18 on Outside Music. A tour with Hayden across the prairies in late September will follow the album release.
Bonnetta says the tour with Hayden is a dream come true, one of many for the young man originally from Orono, Ont. He has built a home studio on his new property, is converting a old barn into a bed & breakfast artist retreat, has an organic garden and his partner, Sylvie Smith, has opened a cafe in a converted church in nearby Sharbot Lake.
“I’m living my dream life,” says Bonnetta, “an amazing woman, an awesome dog and working all these projects which inspire me. I never would have imagined even being a bystander for them and I’m making them happen and I live in the middle of nowhere. I’m not in Toronto. We moved up to nowhere and we are inventing our own world. If you can dream it you can do it.”
Dreams however can flip into nightmares in the blink of an eye. For Bonnetta the horror was the death of his father in 2009 after a seven year battle with a rare blood disease. The album Spectral Dusk was his response, a tender tribute to his Dad. It was well-received by critics and the public, nationally and internationally, and long-listed for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize. Touring was a nightly emotional catharsis that was ultimately draining. Moving to Mountain Grove allowed him space and time to recharge his life (naturally sourced and solar powered of course).
“Sometimes I think Dad’s pulling strings for me because it feels like I’m living a pretty natural life right now. I feel I have achieved complete success because I feel really happy and that feels right,” he says.
The right feel is something that’s important to Bonnetta; in his life choices and musically. The 34 year-old says he has blind faith in following gut instincts but one has to have the right intentions to achieve them. If you’re true to your nature it will work out.
“I just want to write man, and make more music,” he says. “I have the studio. I have a film score I finished. I have 13 songs demoed for the next record and by the time the next record comes out I will have another ten songs. Living where I am living now I just want to make more stuff. I’ve been giving the tools aka the funding, be it from touring, or record sales or grants or film placements, to just keep making more things. I am very fortunate. I haven’t worked a normal job in many years. I just keep surfing this small success and making more things and the more things you make the more income. I am just trying to figure out what the sweet spot is. Its not I need to make $200,000 a year its I want to make music my career and how do I do that organically. I’m just trying to define my own life.”
Bonnetta says his Dad’s passing has defined his music and is still a presence in much of his work. That and his country roots will always come through. It all comes through on the new album which he says is a continuation of the route he took with Spectral Dusk.
“That record completely changed my life, in a lot of ways, not completely. But I had read Thoreau (On Walden Pond) and I knew I had a deep connection to the country and I think Dad passing pushed me to do more things to just do them. Quiet Energy is the idea of the magic that can exist in these moments. . . its everything: my dad passing and not being here, there’s a silence but its electric and so explosive and it still informs everything I do. On a tangible level I can make really quiet music that carries so much weight. On that tour I connected with so many people on a very profound level with this very quiet statement. That’s quiet energy. Spectral was going to be called Quiet Energy. I have had the title for years. When making it and the new record I said we need to embed all this mojo, all the magic moments into the record even if you can’t hear it. On Spectral, and on the new record . . . I make field recordings in places that are important to me and hide them in the record. No one can ever hear them but they are there. Its literally a recording of nothing because there’s just wind and trees and it comes up under the cymbal wash but it’s important for me to have that magic embedded because it makes it real. Its spiritual or something like that. Quiet Energies is about everything like that. Its about how I live my life; lets go somewhere peaceful and quiet and make all of this racket,” he says.
The racket he refers to is the not-so-quiet energy on Quiet Energies. The album features members of The Wooden Sky with James Bunton as producer and is described as a rockier affair by Bonnetta. Its somewhat of a departure but not entirely unexpected from the kid who says he began in music listening to punk. Curiously it was the man he is opening for in September who introduced him to the supple able power of quiet over loud.
“I wouldn’t be playing music if it wasn’t for Hayden,” says Bonnetta. “When I was in highschool I first heard Everything I Long For and thinking holy shit and I remember older friends of mine going to the Eclipse (Oshawa club) to see Hayden. I was jealous because I was too young. But that record was like a gift that was passed around. It was pre-internet so you only knew of it from I think ChartAttack, only through reading about it. The music was amazing and I felt there was a connection to us too. I thought he was from Oshawa but that record, that was the reason I started playing acoustic guitar, to play those songs. I used to listen to punk rock and then I heard that and I was, what is this? Its introspective, poetic, emotional charged. It had a lot of the things I liked in punk music but it was rooted in Tom Petty which I’m a huge fan of and Neil Young, their songwriting. It made me want to play music, to write songs, to play music on acoustic guitar. So I did. I’m thrilled to play with him. . . when we got asked to do the show I was holy shit! We start in Canmore (AB) so I get to drive through the Rockies and hear “Dynamite Walls”. Its just a profound thing. I still have enough perspective in the game to recognise the significance of the opportunity to open for someone who in a sense is why I play music.”
Opening for that someone and closing the circle at the same time is a dream scenario, fuelled by the quiet energy of Evening Hymns.