Aspen Times Weekly Q&A: Jonny Lang
If You Go …
Who: Jonny Lang
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Sept. 8, 9 p.m.
How much: $55-$215
Tickets: Belly Up Aspen box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
At age 36, Jonny Lang is already a veteran bluesman with two decades at the top of the blues game.
Lang was a guitar prodigy. He released his first album, “Lie to Me,” at age 15 and was instantly hailed as his generation’s savior of the blues. The album went platinum and launched the supremely talented teenager into the upper echelon of pop music.
This month, Lang is releasing a new album, “Signs,” filled with gritty Delta blues guitar. He’ll celebrate the new record’s Sept. 8 release by headlining Belly Up Aspen with a five-man band in what promises to be a highlight of the fall music season in Aspen.
I recently talked about the new record with Lang, who called from his home in Ventura County, California.
ANDREW TRAVERS: The production and your playing on the new record is pretty raw and gritty. What did you set out to do on the album?
JONNY LANG: I really just had one thought: to try and honor these song ideas that we get, to finish them and turn them into something that can inspire people. I wasn’t saying, “OK, here’s the style of this record, we’ll put the songs in this particular order to make a story happen” or anything like that. It was just writing and recording and putting them out there.
AT: But is it fair to say you wanted to go back to making a guitar-centric record?
JL: Yeah, if there was a guideline, it was to make a little bit more of a raw-sounding record and try to have most of the songs be guitar-centered. It was just me telling the guys in the studio, “I want this one to be really raw and whatever that means to you, play it that way.” And I let them turn that into whatever they wanted to and we saw the songs grow up and evolve. They end up becoming something much different from what was in your head, and it’s usually much better than what you had in mind.
AT: Songs like “Make It Move” have a throwback, Robert Johnson vibe to them. What drew you there? What have you been listening to?
JL: With the older, really roughly recorded Delta blues stuff it’s so hard to put it in any categories, because there are so many artists from that area that are so different from each other. Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson — those guys have influenced me a great deal. I wasn’t trying to make it sound exactly like that stuff, I don’t think that I could. But I wanted to try to tip my hat to them.
AT: There’s this tension with blues players today between nostalgia and the history of it and trying to push things forward and make it new. What does being a contemporary bluesman mean to you?
JL: I’ve had different thoughts on it, and I’ve arrived at “I have no idea.” As much as we love music as humans, I think we still don’t have any idea what it is. It’s such a subjective thing. But we need things in categories. So blues tends to be a category that lots of different kinds of music get lumped into. I think what’s important to keep alive is the honesty of it. You can feel a certain way and just make art out of that. You can be reckless. It can be messy. It can be whatever it needs to be and still inspire people.
AT: You’ve been at it for a long time now — your whole adult life. How do you feel like you’re changing as an artist at this point? What are you learning today?
JL: I’m still changing and having an ever-increasing number of children. We’ve got five kids now. And being married for 16 years, there are days when I feel like I don’t know anything. Every day I feel like I know less than the day before and less confident about what I know. Having a family has been an incredible journey that’s really challenged me. That’s where I’m at. I’m trying to be humble about it and let it carry me along. As far as the music goes, one day the faucet of inspiration turns on and I start writing songs. And then it stops. And those will be the songs I’ll record for the next album. But I honestly don’t know how it works.