Jonny October
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Jonny October

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
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Jonny October is a Brooklyn based hip-hop artist with a handful of national tours under his belt. A Penn State University grad, Jonny October has been honing his skills for years as a solo performer and ghostwriting for other rappers. Coming up under his mentor, Louis Logic, Jon has just released his first solo LP, The Wheelhouse. Tim Einenkel catches up with Jonny October for an exclusive, must-read interview...


TIM EINENKEL: Why do you rap? What/who are your influences? Why did you decide to use this musical genre as a form of self-expression?

JONNY OCTOBER: Well if we’re talking the genesis of my rap career, I would say it started because I wasn’t good enough at the guitar. I grew up loving folk musicians: Harry Chapin, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Simon and their ilk. My father is from Montrose, Colorado, he was a radio DJ for a long time and there was always folky vinyl spinning in the house growing up. I wanted to write story songs that were dynamic; Beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately my little ADD brain didn’t seem to possess the attention span necessary for the practice it takes to hone legitimate skills on an instrument. I was born in Manhattan and we moved to Park Slope BK where I lived till I was eight before moving to Rockland County, up the Hudson River. My kid brother and his friend from Harlem used to make up little raps. (I still remember one: “Chillin in my car/very very far/from my home town/New York City/chillin with my bro his name is O”). I wanted to get in on the fun, and I dropped mine. I don't remember the complete verse but it was a rap about being a frog (“Yo dope/I like to croak”). Needless to say I got clowned hard, so if anything has ever motivated me, it’s being told I can’t accomplish something. I kept a journal from the age of 13 onward. I heard Illmatic, 36 Chambers, got addicted, and finally pushed over the top when Eminem showed up and kicked down some other doors. Still to this point, I would say that Nas has been my biggest influence for Hip Hop.

I guess I just wanted to be a story teller, and this was something I found I could do.

TIM EINENKEL: JJ Brown produced your new album, The Wheelhouse. What was the collaboration like during this album process? Prior to officially working with JJ Brown for the album, did you have a concept for the album or did the concept form during the collaboration process?

JONNY OCTOBER: I can’t say enough good things about JJ Brown. This dude is a professional. I was such a fan of his crazy ahead production style on Louis Logic's Sinamatic and Misery Loves Comedy albums that I decided I had to find a way to work with him. JJs beats don’t sit still like traditional "boom-bap". He tailors them to the artist. I can listen to a snippet of something he’s working on, write my verses, and by the time he’s finished, it may sound nothing like what we started with. Its always ten times better. He has impeccable timing and taste--Snares, snaps, claps, stabs, 808 thumps or whatever--feels custom fit to my verses. JJ has pretty much had a hand in this entire project from start to finish. 5G Productions all day. We’ve been working together for nearly six years now and I was honored to be involved with his 2009 release Connect the Dots as a cowriter. We started out as collaborators and now I’m blessed to be able to call him a close friend.

TIM EINENKEL: “Hi Seas”, the first track on The Wheelhouse, hits the listener hard. I get the sense you wanted the listener to know off the bat that Jonny October can spit with the best of them, why did you choose to set the tone of this album with this as your first track?

JONNY OCTOBER: I knew I was going to be doing some real folksy stuff on this album and I just wanted to clear the air and let people know what time it is. I pretty much had to pry that beat out of JJ's hands because he felt it was a bit too M.O.P. for me. He envisioned a harder style artist on it. But I’m happy with the result and that he came around.

TIM EINENKEL Continuing with the track “Hi Seas”, the last 20 seconds of the song, you start to slowly drop the beat, as you rhyme. Why did you want those lyrics spit almost acapella? What should these lyrics say to the listener?

JONNY OCTOBER: The beat drop was J’s idea. I worked on this song longer than any other on the album because I knew it would be the jump off. That last verse was one of the many I had written and scrapped, but he was such a fan of it, he felt I should drop it in on the end. I’m one of those rappers that tends to roll their eyes at acapella so I threw in some background harmonies to appease the gods. I try to avoid too much braggadocio rap because, to be honest, it just tends to bore me after a while. That being said, sometimes giving a good kick in the balls feels amazing, so I wanted to let people see that I know who I am. I know why I’m doing it. I wasn’t born with skills or some insane talent and I had to work my ass off to get my craft to this point.

TIM EINENKEL What do you want people to get out of The Wheelhouse?

JONNY OCTOBER: The Wheelhouse should reinvigorate your soul and change you down to the absolute CORE of your being. But if it makes your commute a little more enjoyable, that is good too.

TIM EINENKEL: The track “Eighty Year Old Bachelor” features New York City rapper, Louis Logic. On your FaceBook page you write about this track “Going back and forth bar for bar with a lyricist as talented and pattern dense as Lou is a challenge to step up your bars. It was great to have some fun with a more light hearted topic and we had a blast writing this song.” How many drafts of this song did ya’ll have to do until you felt it was “perfect?” What is it about Louis Logic that makes you step up your lyrical game?

JONNY OCTOBER: "Eighty Year Old Bachelor" took no drafts; no rewrites. Lou and I sat down, listened to the beat, he started with the first 4. I matched it. Then variations of 4, 2 and 1 bar exchanges; whatever felt right. We went back and forth all the way to the end in one sitting. It's the easiest song I ever wrote, and probably took an hour and a half tops. As for stepping up bars, Louis Logic does multi's better than anyone in the business. Even the best multi-heavy rappers tend to veer off topic just to keep up their pattern. He’s one of the rare few who can maintain a song’s absolute focus and integrity while making fucking EVERYTHING rhyme… It’s unnatural.

TIM EINENKEL: On this album, you step out of the traditional rap album by incorporating singing; (folk-like singing), why was it important for your to have this on your album?

JONNY OCTOBER: I grew up on folk. My mother is a very well-respected Broadway voice coach and musical theater voice teacher. Everything in my childhood revolved around listening to and creating music. My brother is an accomplished pianist. My father played the guitar and the trombone and is an outstanding poet. Cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, everybody: Music. I guess its a little odd that I chose a genre in which the performer is generally more of a rhythmic player over a musical backdrop. I wanted to make certain that I incorporated the things that have influenced the kind of people and artists I’ve grown from. Also, I just think it’s more interesting.

TIM EINENKEL: Track 7, “Skin Within” seems extremely personal. The beat is “simple” and really highlights your vocals and lyrics, can you tell us the story of how this song came together? Why did you want a mellow beat for this track? What’s your favorite verse on this track and what does it mean to you?

JONNY OCTOBER: Yep. That’s a personal track. I was in a very deep depression. It was a dark time in my life. I wasn’t making much money, I had some girl problems and I just kind of went off a cliff emotionally. At the time I was living in a basement apartment in Bushwick. I’d wake up in the morning to go to work and the sun wouldn’t be up yet, take the train underground to get to work in a basement with no windows. Then I’d get out of work and it would be dark. I’d head to the subway back to my basement apartment. Rinse, repeat.

I think I warmed up and really dug into the darkness on the second verse, but I'm proud of the whole thing. I still go back to that place when I perform it. It’s gritty.

Also, every sound in this song was made by my body. The snare is a clap, the hi-hat is me patting my thighs, the kick is a chest thump and all of the horn, string and base sounds are vocalizations morphed in ableton live. This is one of the few tracks I worked on with a producer other than J. He goes by The1shanti, and has been involved with JJ’s team for a long time.

TIM EINENKEL: You say “Brooklyn Bards” featuring Homeboy Sandman, you “wanted to make a track that exposed my inner nerd, while proving just ill a nerd could bring it,” do you think “nerd rap” will ever get the respect it deserves? What are the strengths of “nerd rap”?

JONNY OCTOBER: Well I use the term “nerd” by default. I don’t really follow the “nerdcore” hip-hop movement. It just seems a little too self-aware for my taste. Sometimes I’m into nerdy shit, and sometimes I make nerdy songs. I just try to not shy away from who I am, because once you start trying to put on some kind of persona, you have to maintain that mask or veil. Slip up and people will nail you to the wall. I find it's better to just let it all hang out there from the get go, and let the people decide. And no, I don’t think nerd rap will ever get the respect it deserves. Because then it wouldn’t really be nerdy at that point, it would be cool and popular and it would bang all of the cheerleaders and create a race of super hot nerds. And then where would we be? Living in tyranny that’s where.

TIM EINENKEL: “Not In Nottingham”, the shortest track on your album, doesn’t showcase your rapping talents at all, it really shows your talent as a folk singer. Why dedicate an entire track to just singing, rather then something like you did on other songs?

JONNY OCTOBER: I put that song in for a couple reasons. For one, it’s BOSS. It’s actually a cover of a song by Roger Miller written for the animated Disney movie "Robin Hood". I remember watching that movie as a kid and being amazed by how dark that scene/song was--even more so now as an adult. All of the impoverished animals are shackled up in jail because they cant pay their taxes while the rich ones scoop up what little dough they had stashed away and they drink cartoon wine and shit. So pretty much, what’s been happening for the past forever in the U.S., so it just felt like the perfect segue from the era and silliness of “Brooklyn Bards” into “Fractions” which is about working in a stock room after the market crash. I also put that song in to forewarn any potential fans that I may up my guitar chops and delve into some other genres.

TIM EINENKEL: “Crazy Ain’t Contagious” features Juice Crew member, Masta Ace, a real legend. First, what was that like to work with Masta Ace? Are there other Juice Crew members you hope to work with in the future? What was the inspiration behind this song? Did you know you wanted to work with Ace on this track? What did you learn, if anything, from working with Masta Ace?

JONNY OCTOBER: It was pretty surreal working with Ace. I’ve always looked up to and been a big fan of him. "Disposable Arts" was pretty much my song structure bible for a while. He falls into that category of storyteller rappers that I dig. I opened for Ace and Edo G in Denver while I was on tour a couple years back and I’m just amazed by the level of professional integrity he adheres to in every facet, including live performance.

I wanted to write a song about deinstitutionalized schizophrenics. It’s really incredible to me that we just let these people walk our streets ignored and left to die from exposure, infection, malnutrition, disease or just plain hard living. I mean WTF!? "Move along now crazy pants", "Get off the train stinky", etc. These are human beings and they are sick. Are we capitalists, or just some kind of warped survival-of-the-fittest society that placed too much stock in wampum? (which by the way isn’t even backed by pearls anymore)

As for other Juice Crew members, I got to work with Craig G for J.J.’s Connect the Dots album. He’s a trip in the studio, man. Hilarious. I got to share the stage with him at the album release party too. That was dope. I'd love to link up with Marley Marl as well.

From Masta Ace, I learned that he is a family man first. He’s really involved in his community; coaches a kids football team and gives guest speaker talks. I think that says more about who he is as a person than any music he’s released.

TIM EINENKEL: I’ve always wondered why artists include “bonus tracks” on their albums instead of including it as regular tracks, so why did you include “S.R.I.” and “Know Nothing” as your bonus tracks? Did they not fit in with your concept behind The Wheelhouse? What would you want the listener to take away from these two tracks?

JONNY OCTOBER: I toiled over the whole bonus track thing. It felt a bit corny to me. But "S.R.I." had been released with a video ages ago and became popular enough that J.J. and I decided to include it for people to have on the disc. "Know Nothing" is a track I did with my close friend The MC Type, we had some trouble with the sonics and it was down to the wire to get the physical album pressed up, so I included it as a bonus on the iTunes version. He still gives me shit for it, and I suspect he will until he dies (putting his private parts into a high voltage outlet or something). Check him out though. He does comedy rap, hilarious. As a takeaway, as with any of my music or art, I’d like the listener to be able to find something they identify with in these songs. That always feels good for all parties involved.

TIM EINENKEL: What is next for Jonny October?

JONNY OCTOBER: I recently got back from a west coast Tour with The MC Type and Slow Dance. I’ve spent a good deal of time working the west coast, so now in terms of tour scheduling I’m planning on striking up the East. Louis Logic and I aim to tackle some of that together when he gets back from his world tour with Bus Driver and Ceschi in a couple months. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing the whole gear up thing for the full release of The Wheelhouse on October 31. It will coincide with both the release of JonnyOctober.com and a short horror/thriller film that I made with my cinematographer friend Eric Brouse. It’s about an alter ego character named Oddum and I am scoring it with my brother Edward. Follow-ups and prequels are already in the works and I’m excited to see where we can take it. Beyond that, I’ll be shooting a couple music videos in support of The Wheelhouse with Jed Rosenburg and Ethan Blum, who directed my "S.R.I" video. Recently, a song JJ and I did for the indie flick "Casey Jones" (of TMNT) fame got picked up by Universal Pictures for their trailers for the Mark Wahlburg flick "Contraband". I’d love to do more stuff that involves film. I recently picked up that bug. So…acting? Is it too soon in my career to become a walking cliche?

I'm also planning on doing a project with my brother Eddie, incorporating his piano abilities. That is maybe what I'm most excited about, I love my family, they always come first and I can't wait to hate the creative process with him.

Check out Jonny October's new album here http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-wheelhouse/id456673824 to support real deal hip hop talent.

- Tim Einenkel for RAPstation.com - RapStation.com


"New York's Johnny October took the stage next, and delivered a lyric-intensive set, complete with robotic body-movements that proved more captivating than anticipated (he lead off with "S.R.I.," which won much of the remaining crowd over, then held them nicely with the rest of his catalogue)." - Seattle Weekly


"I’m not so sorry to report, hip hop ain’t dead yet...because new blood is always entering the game. One such up-and-comer is Jonny October" - The Ride


Getting your foot in the door is one thing but when you smash that door open, people take notice. Such is the case with newcomer, Jonny October – who currently resides in Brooklyn. That foot in the door is the features from the buzzing Grieves and the veteran Louis Logic (who really needs to release some new music soon). The “smashing” the door open part is the creative aspect behind Jonny’s music. Jonny October is at his best when he sings and dips into a sound that can’t be pin pointed to one specific genre. - HillyDilly.com


Discography

The Wheelhouse (2011)
Ancient History EP (2010)

Photos

Bio

It took a cosmically improbable combination of circumstances to lead to what is now the music of Jonny October. His father is gifted in radio broadcasting, stage acting/directing and poetry. Mom is a professional Broadway voice coach, and brother Edward is a classically trained pianist. Growing up in this environment, with the vinyl of Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot spinning in the background, Jon forged a sound all his own: a combination of prose, poetry, stage presence and informed musicianship.

Jonny October is New York man in just about every sense of the word. After his birth in Manhattan, Jon grew up in both Brooklyn and Rockland County, and after earning his degree from Penn State University, wound up right back in Brooklyn.

A motivated self-starter, since college Jonny October has been creating opportunities to deliver his music where none existed before. With a collection of friends at Penn State, he hosted an underground radio program, founded a monthly campus hip-hop showcase, founded a hip-hop group (The Poison Ivy League, with Tony Wiz and Troy Walsh), and even created an independent study course to gain access to the school recording studio...all while earning course credit.

Clearly a man who wants a hand in everything, Jonny has also collected an impressive handful of collaborations in a short time, including work with Brooklyn legend Masta Ace, Rhymesayers up-and-comer Grieves, New York’s Louis Logic, and Juice Crew member Craig G. He’s also clocked two national tours in two years with artists such as Louis Logic, The MC Type, and Slow Dance.

Having a particular affinity for the visual arts, Jonny October fully came into his own with the professionally produced music video for “S.R.I” directed by Jed Rosenberg and Ethan Blum. Alongside the Halloween 2011 release of debut album "The Wheelhouse", Jon released a short thriller film, ODDUM, which he co-wrote and co-directed, as well as collaborated on the score with his brother.

"The Wheelhouse"—now available on iTunes and BandCamp—is the culmination of years of preparation in the studio and on the road, and has Jonny October ready for the national hip-hop stage.