If you follow WTSR or even if you know any of us personally, you know how much we love Balance and Composure and how much respect we have for the vocalist Jon Simmons. For the second time in WTSR history, we had to chance to talk to Jon and catch up on B&C news as well as get some insight on his recent solo performances. Huge thanks to him for taking some time to sit down with us and CUBRat for putting this show together.
Keep Calm and Carry On: Starting off, big news. You guys are going on a US tour with Machester Orchestra as well as Kevin Devine. It’s getting a ton of press; people are really excited about it. There’s already sold out shows. Just including the venues that I am familiar with- Terminal 5 and the TLA, which are huge venues, do you have any anxieties about playing at these really big venues that are looking like they’ll sell out?
Jon Simmons: Always. We’ve played most of the venues that are on this tour already but it’s always scary, horrifying. The anxiety never really goes away.
Keep Calm: Do you have anything that you’re specifically excited about for this tour? Anything that you’re anticipating?
JS: I’m excited for the whole thing. I think Manchester Orchestra is the best rock band out right now. They’re one of the reasons why we started this band, kind of, just to make a different kind of rock band because we grew up in the punk scene. So just playing with them is gonna be like a dream. Being able to say we are touring with them is already a dream. So I’m looking forward to every single part of the tour.
Keep Calm: That’s gonna be awesome. You also have another tour- this one is for New Zealand and Australia with La Dispute. It’s been a while since you guys have been there. It’s been since the headlining tour for Separation back in 2011. Are you excited to go back?
JS: Oh my goodness, yes. Super excited- never been to New Zealand but we’ve been to Australia. But New Zealand- I want to cross off the list.
Keep Calm: Going back to 2011, do you find a discrepancy between the fan bases of all the US tours, you did a recent tour in Canada, and the Australian crowd you play to?
JS: I couldn’t say for the Australian crowd because we haven’t been back there yet. But you’re asking if there’s a difference?
Keep Calm: Yeah, if there is a difference place to place?
JS: Yeah, it’s been steadily growing since we’ve hit those spots. We just did Canada in January and we played Quebec City. The last time we played there, there was like eight people. When we went there just now, there was over a hundred. It’s crazy. It was super cool. But I just didn’t get it. I just didn’t understand but I was really excited about it.
Keep Calm: You guys also had a tour this fall that I was at with Title Fight. That was also a really big tour, selling out a lot of stuff and was really wild too. For that, you were able to see the fan reaction for Thing We Think We’re Missing, since you released the album while on tour. How did you like the fan reactions?
JS: Loved it. Obviously, hometown shows are amazing and that reaction was great. It was so cool. I feel that The Thing We Think We’re Missing songs got more of a reaction than our Separation songs, which I didn’t expect. I expected everyone to like the old stuff like they always do with every band, almost. But it was really exciting when we would play “Reflection” or “Parachutes” or something, people would bug out more so than us playing “Quake” or something for our old records. So that was a huge surprise and a relief because, I don’t know, you just psych yourself out. Like “They’re not gonna like this. They’re gonna like the old stuff; they’re only gonna want to hear old stuff” but that wasn’t the case and that was really cool.
Keep Calm: Going off of that, as far as that album went, you were getting good press and promotions from Spin, Pitchfork, as well as The Rolling Stone. The album got a ton of attention. When you were making it, did you think you were going to get the kind of reception that you got?
JS: No, I expected the same old stuff. You don’t think about stuff when you’re recording. You’re just trying to make the best product that you can. I don’t know, it’s cool that these magazines and websites are taking notice. We’re just very lucky.
Keep Calm: Speaking of recording, you guys released a documentary, kind of a “Making-Of” the album that included Will Yip. What prompted that? Who thought of the idea, like “Let’s record this?”
JS: I think it was my idea because I absolutely love rock-docs in any way, even if it’s a mini one like ours. It’s just a half an hour thing. I love seeing musicians or any artists, their process of going through, how they recorded it and why, and why they did certain parts. Just seeing the experience- that’s like one of my biggest interests in life. So I was like “Why don’t we make one for people who like our band” and try to make it interesting. I feel like it’s kind of corny, actually, looking back on it now.
Keep Calm: We were fans of it here at Keep Calm, actually. Yeah, we liked it.
JS: Cool, cool. I wanted people to like it but yeah, I just wanted to document. I think it’s good to document things, period. I want to start documenting tours and stuff and start making DVDs, only because I just want to look back on what we did. I know that this, me being in this band, is going to be the best time in my life when I look back on it. I think we should document more and I think we should document things like this for yourself.
Keep Calm: That’s awesome, though. Featured in that documentary was Will Yip, who produced this album and you were also featured in the Will Yip comp, I believe. Is that correct?
JS: Yeah, yeah.
Keep Calm: So what’s it like having this working relationship? Obviously, he is from the area. You guys are from the area. What’s it like to have him produce your releasess as opposed to other producers? Why choose him?
JS: Well, we recorded Separation with Brian McTernan. It was amazing. It was a great experience, we had a lot of fun. But the intimidation level- Brian McTernan has done so many insane records that we love. It was just scary and intimidating. So you’re afraid to do certain things in the studio with him around. You just don’t want to get judged, you don’t want him to think you’re a bad musician or a bad singer or bad at anything you do. So I think the big difference with Will is that he is one of our best friends and we were in the studio with him and it was just completely comfortable. I feel that we could try anything we wanted because I didn’t have to worry about Will judging me or whatever. The end of “Notice Me,” I wouldn’t of done that in front of McTernan but I’m like “Yo, Will. Check this out. Maybe you’ll like it. If not, we’ll scrap it.” I feel like just being super comfortable with Will and him just being our boy kind of helped a lot because I’ve never had an experience in the studio like that where it’s just so easy. He was like “Yeah, man. Try whatever.” I just loved it. He just knows so much and he will help you through anything. He just wants you to try everything. I think that’s really important. Working with your friend is super cool when making a record.
Keep Calm: Obviously, the product speaks for itself. Also, recently, you released a b-side of “Tiny Raindrop” that was a lot more toned down, stripped down. What prompted releasing that b-side as opposed to just releasing it as a b-side on the album? It was just via Soundcloud.
JS: Well, we initially recorded that for- our manager to make some b-sides, maybe some softer versions of songs because if we did a Europe release, we would add them to that, just as a bonus so people would go get it since they probably downloaded the one from here, anyway. So if they wanted to buy it, they would have to get that. But then we didn’t actually end up using them for anything- like international releases. So we were like, well we have this sitting around so we might as well release it and let people hear it.
Keep Calm: From what I found, it kind of had a “Stonehands” vibe, both sonically and emotionally. Was that the aim of it? Did you want to hit that same chord or did it just happen?
JS: I think it just happened. It wasn’t intended. I know what you mean, for sure. I think it was just the reverby stuff .
Keep Calm: Something else that was really that you guys put out was the music video for “Reflection,” which we thought was one of the coolest videos to come out of the entire year. We loved it. Who came out with that entire concept? Did you work with someone or was it someone in the band?
JS: We worked with Dan Centrone. He directed it. He’s one of our good friends. He does a lot of hip-hop videos in Philadelphia and stuff. He is doing really well right now, he’s blowing up. He just wants to help us out so we hit him with the idea of the ghost and all that stuff. He’s like “yeah” and we just shot it. We kind of just did it. We didn’t have an exact plan. We just got all the stuff we needed and just had a really fun day. We did it all in one day. It was like a twenty hour day. Super fun.
Keep Calm: Switching gears a little bit, you’ve been doing this solo stuff. We might be more familiar with it because it’s been in our area. You played a set at Siren Records over in Doylestown on Friday, right?
Keep Calm: Don Wagenblast of the show was there and he said you played several songs he’s never heard before as a Balance and Composure fan. Is that your own solo stuff that you wrote?
JS: I have a lot of solo songs that I have written that I don’t think I’ll ever release. I’m really doing the solo thing to stay busy and just to perform and use it as an outlet, really. I’m not trying to go solo and start a career out of it. I’m kind of just trying to have fun while I’m home and stuff. Yeah, I started recording with Will an EP but I decided not to go through with it just because I don’t want it to be a thing.
Keep Calm: So when you’re writing this solo stuff, how does it differ than what you would bring to the guys in Balance and Composure? How do you decide “this is what I’m writing for myself and this is what I’m writing for the band?”
JS: I usually keep things simpler on the solo side since it’s just me and the guitar. I can kind of just tell by the pace of the song if it’s going to be a Balance song or one of my songs. I can just tell what would sound good on an album or what wouldn’t or what the guys would like or what I would like. They’re not going to like everything I bring and they don’t. So I just use it for my own thing.
Another huge thanks to Jon Simmons for his time and an awesome set on TCNJ’s campus. Be sure to catch Balance and Composure on tour with Manchester Orchestra this Spring. Shows are already selling out so don’t sleep on tickets! You can find ticket links for all venues here!
Author’s Note: This interview was originally published on The Garden Statement’s parent website Keep Calm and Carry On. All content of Keep Calm and Carry On is now property of The Garden Statement. A letter explaining the switch in sites can be found here. Cheers!