Q&A with Jonah Matranga

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New End Original's Thriller (Jade Tree) is like a kickass mix of Weezer and Minor Threat. It gets me jumping around. The members got their cred maxed, too: two are ex-Texas Is the Reason (Norman Arenas & Scott Winegard), and the singer is Jonah Matranga of Far and onelinedrawing. I interviewed Jonah in SF.

Did you always know you were gonna be a musician/artist?

It's such a car-crash of sixth-grade rock dreams, kneejerk rebellion, self-therapy, actual fun, interest in a not straight life, so many things. As with lots of things, it's tough to sort the compulsion from the passion, the ego from the joy. All I know is that from the start I was interested in making stuff. They just sort of kept coming out and pulling me along. All the other parts, the technical proficiency, the business, all that stuff comes afterwards. I do really like being with people and playing, too, actually. Songs, people, actually making a living doing something I like, in that order, I think.

Ya mean ya did it all for the poontang?

Yeah, the superficial goofy stuff like girls and attention and all that comes and goes with moods, I think. The more I've had the chance to taste the material success bits, which still isn't very much, but enough, the more I've actually gotten to find out that they really are empty calories. It's vaguely disappointing, more than a little confusing and mostly sort of liberating when I get to find out the stuff I still really enjoy about it.

How did the band start?

I've been in bands since sixth grade, but only one real one, after I got out of school, this band Far. We were together for eight years, did a bunch of indie stuff and two records for Sony. The second one is really good, I still like it a lot. Norman, Scott and Charlie have all been in bands forever too, but same thing, one real big one. Scott and Norman were in Texas Is the Reason, who made a couple records and broke up, and Charlie was in a band called Split Lip that later changed their name to Chamberlain, then Charlie quit. Basically, when Far broke up, Norman and I started talking, we had met over the years at shows and such. He was living in Chicago, me in Northern California. We talked a lot while I was getting onelinedrawing going, this sort of solo thing I do. I met Charlie when I was on a onelinedrawing tour in the UK. Charlie happened to be playing with Scott at the time, in NYC. So basically, all of this strange serendipity gained momentum until we all ended up on the same coast, got in a room and played. It was initially gonna just be another shape for onelinedrawing, but it was way more than that, so we had to think up a whole new name, which was annoying, but necessary. Now we've toured Europe twice, the U.S. twice, made this record and practiced nine times. It's been urgent and immediate and disorienting. All good things for rock, I think.

Your music is really good at evoking pain, rage, hurt, and expressing it. Was there a lot of that stuff in your life?

The early days, I'm not sure really what the actual memories are, what comes from photos and stories and daydreams. I remember the numb acceptance when my dad called and said he was leaving. He was so nonchalant, and so was I. But the fact that I remember it so clearly, the school office and the cool of the phone and the stale rug smell, that lets me know that somewhere in there I really knew something big was happening. I remember a close adult friend molesting me. A camp counselor, so cliche. I remember a slap in the face. You never know what really leaves the scar. What's more, you never know how it shapes you.

Why do think you're so driven to reach an audience?

The biggest cliche of all has come true in my perception of the art that comes out of me. Just about all of my stuff is fueled, one way or another, by being a misfit. A misfit among misfits, even. Middle-class misfit. Not romantic at all. Just barely cool enough for the in-crowd, but nowhere near the top of that sub-hierarchy. Same with money. My mom made it out of the ghetto, got us into a neighborhood where we were the poorest folks on a relatively rich block. Enough pampering to be sheltered, enough lacking to feel inadequate. Enough hope to want, enough fear to run. Almost a populist. Disdainful of ignorance, attracted to intelligence, equally intimidated by it, as I invariably feel ignorant around it.

How do you handle reviews?

I am terrified of being ripped apart. When I see a bad review, I am still five years old running into the room with the picture I just made, beaming and proud, and being ignored or chastised for interrupting dinner. I'm scared of turning out just like my dad?gone, bitter, etc. His vehicle was alcohol, but the fuel was something else, and I think even though I don't drink or do any drugs, I'll find a different vehicle. Like music.

How do you reconcile being a dad yourself and a traveling musician?

The best I can do is to really just understand that there are these two big poles in my life, and not to stretch myself too thin between them. I'm pretty actively cutting down the touring part right now. I'm real careful to not do it out of obligation?my daughter deserves better than that, no one deserves obligation. She's helped me so much with choice and consequence, just by being around and facing me.

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