Jonathan Earl
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Jonathan Earl


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"Jonathan Earl: Keeping it real"

Jonathan Earl is a standup guy. He speaks softly, with a faint gruff that comes from smoking too many cigarettes, and his eyes smile kindly as he discusses his music. Earl (as he is known to his friends; his real name is Jonathan Nelson) waxes philosophical over the recent changes in music and recording practices, and his no-nonsense approach to writing songs and making records just might be the kind of attitude needed to save rock and roll once and for all.

We meet over coffee at Earl’s house, a modest abode in the Seward neighborhood that he loves for its big deck, which is suitable for playing guitar outdoors in the summer. We sit on the porch to facilitate Earl’s tendency to chainsmoke, especially when carrying on deep conversations. He is excited to talk about his musical endeavors, and he is animated when discussing his current project, The Jonathan Earl Band, whose CD is due out this Saturday.

Up until last year, Earl was busy recording and engineering sound for hundreds of bands at Taylor Sound in North Minneapolis, Velvet Brick studios in Wisconsin and his own home studio, as well as playing in local band Clovis and touring nationally with Renee Austin. After a tour with Austin was cut short, Earl found himself back home in his basement studio, writing his own songs and searching, for the first time, for his own unique sound.

“I think I demoed like 30-some songs, just at home, by myself,” he explains. “I went out on tour with Renee Austin last year, and … it’s a long story. She had some surgery, and some bad stuff happened where she had to stop touring. So that ended really abruptly. I had quit pretty much everything I was doing to do that: I quit teaching, I stopped all the projects I was working on, and I quit the bands that I was playing in to do that, and when that abruptly ended I had nothing going on. So I talked to the drummer [Jordan Carlson] who plays in my band, who was also playing with Renee on tour. Neither of us had any bands and we weren’t doing anything, so I said, let’s make a record. I had all these tunes, and I had been writing, and I wanted to do it, so it all happened. That was last September.”

Though Earl had played and recorded before, this was the first project that allowed him total control of the songwriting and recording. “A lot of the bands I was in, I was the guy that would arrange the harmonies,” he says. “This will be the first project in years where I sing lead … I don’t know if it’s harder; it’s just different. You have to stay by the microphone. [laughs] You can’t walk around, jump around and stuff. You’ve gotta get back to the microphone when the verses start.”

From the sound of Earl’s record, you would never guess that he is an inexperienced lead vocalist. His songs are catchy, full of charisma and hooks, and his voice has an air of timelessness, versatility and ease. Ranging from blues to straight-up rock, country and folk, it’s clear that Earl is comfortable playing any genre, and he transitions from one to the other with seemingly little effort. The record is tied together with an honest, down-home sensibility for song structure and accessibility.

“I think it’s important for your average listener to be able to grasp onto something,” he says. “Something catchy and memorable … If you’ve got good soloists, and it builds, and it’s got a climax, and as long as the group is cool underneath and people can still shake their ass, that’s fun.”

In addition to an innate sense for solid songwriting, Earl holds many opinions about the modern music industry and what he calls the age of instant gratification. “It seems like it’s hard to get people out to clubs,” he says, “it’s hard to sell discs. People talk about how it’s the age of the hit … It’s all about a hit song, because you can go on iTunes and just buy the song you like. It’s not about a record, having this quality record. Because, especially in 10 years, they say, no one is going to buy a CD.

“I think the recording of music and the sale of CDs has been on its way out and definitely will change a lot,” he says, glancing off into the distance and taking a pensive drag off his cigarette. “People don’t buy CDs anywhere near as much as they used to, and it’s only going to get worse. The iPod generation.”

Rather than getting dragged down by the system, though, Earl believes there are still ways to make waves despite the drastic changes occurring with music and technology. “For someone to buy your record, I think the whole thing has gotta be good. There can’t be a hit that you push and the rest is filler, which - whether bands consciously do or don’t - happens. The whole record’s gotta be quality. For my record, it’s got a pretty decent variety of genres mixed in. There’s kind of a funky rock thing, there’s kind of a straight up-tempo blues song, a slow acoustic thing, there’s almost like a country song, a Gram Parsons tune, there’s a straight rock song. I don’t think you can have 10 straight ro - The Pulse of the Twin Cities

"Jonathan Earl Band CD Release Reveiw"

The Jonathan Earl Band CD Release (Saturday, September 23, 2006, Bunker's, Minneapolis)

By Andrea Myers

Jonathan Earl - Photo by David de Young (click for set)
I first became enamored with Jonathan Earl when I spied him soloing over a Stook song at the Terminal Bar a few months back. With the full-blown Stook and the Jukes band, Earl only had a few chances to show off his blues guitar prowess, but it was clear that he had technical skills and stage presence in spades. It was exciting, then, to receive a copy of Earl's album, and my anticipation toward seeing him play a solo show only grew when I sat down to interview him a few weeks ago.

It helps, of course, that Earl's band is made up of some of the finest and busiest musicians in town. Ben Foote (Little Man, JoAnna James, Brokenheart Jones, among others) plays bass, Jordan Carlson (who wouldn't openly admit how many bands he's actively playing with but estimated 11, including Les Exodus, Said Method and Soul Tight Committee) keeps time and the talented Toby Lee Marshall (Paul Mayasich and the Benderheads, Heise Bros.) solos masterfully on his giant wooden B3 organ. The four musicians together create a sound so tight and effortlessly synchronized that it's as if they are carrying on a conversation more than they are playing instruments together. And it's a damn interesting conversation, at that.

The first set at Bunker's started out with the first track, "Overrated," off Earl's debut album. The funky, poppy blues song got the audience up out of their chairs and dancing on the black and white tiled floor in front of the stage, and it was impressive to see so much energy spring out of a group of people so spontaneously. And the dancers weren't just shuffling around casually – this was a group of people so excited about the music that they were bouncing around violently, clapping and screaming loudly in response to the solos. Either Earl paid 100 of his closest friends to come spew positive energy throughout the room, or the band has tapped into a pool of raw, natural talent that demands to be appreciated. Each member of the band played with an acute attentiveness and consideration for the other players, and it made for some captivating musical moments.

During "Something Must Be Right," one of the slower and sweeter tracks on the album, Marshall eyed Earl and egged him on as he soloed, laying down backing chords and raising his eyebrows as he mouthed, "Talk to me, talk to me." Once Earl finished Marshall picked up and flew away with his own sweeping organ solo, and the two complimented each other beautifully.

Other highlights from Earl's set included a cover of the Black Crowes' "Remedy," which featured Earl perfectly mimicking Chris Robinson's vocal stylings and scrunched up facial expressions; while "Chicken Wings" had half of the audience singing along to the chorus despite the fact that the track was previously unreleased.

Andrea Myers is andrea[at] -


the Jonathan Earl band - Selftitled



My name is Jonathan Earl. I am a Guitar Player, Singer, Songwriter and Producer from Minneapolis.

I have been making records, writing songs, and performing with many different artists all over the country for almost 10 years.

Most notably was my tour with Blind Pig Recording Artist Renee Austin in 2005 playing lead guitar. I have also been nominated for a Minnesota Music Award for Best New Artist in 2006 while playing lead guitar with STOOK! And from 2001-2004 I toured regionally with a MPLS group Clovis, backed by On-Campus Booking.

I am currently fronting my own four-piece group.

Pop music stricken with funk and blues! Grooves as smooth as G Love, and Melodies as Memorable as John Mayer. Guitar lines as Heavy as Gov’t Mule, and Hammond organ as funky as Medeski Martin and Wood.

We have 1 full-length release out and are working on our 2nd due out the summer of 08. A short list of people me and/or members of my band have toured and performed with:

Renee Austin
Lonnie Brooks
Big John Dickerson
Jessie Lang
Les Exodus
Soul Tight Committee
Power of Ten
Joanna James