Josiah and the Bonnevilles are comprised of Josiah Leming (guitar/vocals, Joshua Nyback (bass), and Stephen Johnson (guitar/vocals). You can listen to their EP, Cold Blood, out now via Vagrant on Spotify.
Welcome back to New York, you were just here earlier this spring, same venue actually…
Josiah Leming: This is our third official time playing, we were here last time, and the time before that we played Rockwood.
Then you were in Canada touring, what was it like taking your music to another country?
Josiah: I actually did that solo, opening up for a band called North Co. It was a great tour. I think the Canadians are really responsive to the music.
And you played the group’s songs or previous work?
Josiah: Yeah, so originally I wrote the songs living in Las Vegas and then moved to L.A. shortly after and met Stephen. I’ve known Josh [Nyback] for a while and I persuaded them to come join my lunatic mission and they said “yeah” so we started doing it… so I still tour solo at times because I obviously know the songs and they’re a long experience for me.
On the subject of meeting “The Bonnevilles,” where did that name come from?
Josiah: Actually the name of an old Pontiac, my car, me and Josh used to drive around the desert in it. It was a piece of shit, but I loved it. A radio station gave it to me in 2008 and I drove it across the country a hundred-thousand times it felt like – none of the windows worked, leather seats, I had a [cassette adapter] for the iPod, but I loved it and it broke down right as the band was starting. We were digging around [for a band name] and I didn’t want to go under my name anymore, I really wanted it to be a band effort and the guys add a lot so we came up with the addition of “The Bonnevilles” so it’s kind of like the car lives on through.
You worked with Josiah a lot before on previous projects – what’s it been like for you to be a part of his evolution as an artist and now a part of the band?
Josh Nyback: I was playing with him when he was on Warner Bros. and he was younger then, I got a few years on him, but we all grew as musicians and him as an artist. It was cool to see because he moved back to Tennessee, then after that New York, and the lived in Vegas and then he came to L.A. in 2010 and hit me up and we went on a run and he showed me the record so we kind of picked up where we left off so just the maturity and the direction was great and something I definitely wanted to be a part of.
Josiah: I’ve met Stephen [Johnson] a couple months earlier [before moving to L.A.] through a real bad producer situation that went really wrong… and we became good friends.
That’s really cool that out of something shitty, you were able to have something good come out of it.
Josiah: Yeah, we still have that saying, “I’m going to go do this thing regardless of how shitty it could be, but you never know who you’re going to met through that.” In L.A. you weed through a lot of people that you’re not going to dig to get to the heart of your friends group.
Josh: You get a good life lesson out of it nonetheless.
You guys just played Billboard’s Hot 100 Music Festival yesterday, what was it like being a part of line-up that Billboard co-curated and being a new Americana band?
Josiah: It’s very strange, just playing the music and hearing over the wall the unz unz unz, I think we might have be one of few bands that didn’t have tracks in computers and running around with the sound guy saying, “you guys play instruments – no computers!” This is a battle we’re going to face this day in age we make this kind of music. I don’t see it as “throwback,” and I don’t like to call it anything really, but yeah, we’re strange in line-ups like that.
Josh: I think it’s a cool edge that I feel like music has gone in that direction, recently, in the electronic way and it’s refreshing at the point to have organic musicians playing their instruments. I think it’s an advantage in a way.
Live instruments plus really meaningful storytelling which your songs have. The lyrics in your EP, Cold Blood, clearly lay out a story of a fragile relationship – starting off with the title track “Cold Blood,” that’s very introspective and intimate, can you walk us through that and the rest of the tracks’ meanings?
Josiah: It’s hard to untangle myself from the songs, because it’s a very personal time, a very emotionally frantic time in my life. I was going through a bad breakup with the girl that I loved very much. I was living in Vegas, detached from the universe, “Cold Blood” is about dealing with the last stages of that relationship – feeling like a fraud, not really knowing where to go. This was before the band, before any of the song were recorded so it really was a journal for me. “Lie With Me” touches on that – it’s a conversation, when you’re at a breaking point and standing on a cliff before you fall off, you look around and take everything in. “Can You Hear It” is a happier song. Music is for some people is entertainment and for me it’s a real expressive form, especially through the lyric and I think you can’t be worried about painting things too dark. [The EP] is a lot of relationship drama, but personification of life matters through the face of a woman as well. It’s not all necessarily about a girl… you personify emotions through women because it’s what I relate with the most and dealt with the most in that dramatic sense.
Can we expect the same to happen throughout the rest of the album
Josiah: Yes with sonic upgrades. The EP revolves around tracks I record in Vegas alone without the guys so the record is more a step in “Lie With Me” direction where the instrumentation is fuller and more straight ahead. A lot closer to what we do [on stage]. So we’re putting the finishing touches on the record, upgrading a lot of the versions to original songs in a good way.
Yeah, love that harmonica that comes in [on “Lie With Me”] – who’s playing that?
Josiah: That was me and that was a plastic harmonica a friend in San Diego gave me.
Not an easy instrument to play…
Josiah: It’s actually a very easy instrument to play, everyone says this, but I won’t give away the secret though. It’s in the key of the song so it’s hard to hit a wrong note, but you still have to do a couple things.
Let’s talk about the production side of the EP, I know you mentioned earlier you don’t like to call the sound a “throwback,” but listeners do get a Bob Dylan, 60s era, mixed in with some Leonard Cohen-esque poetry, so how did you approach it to get this tone?
Josiah: I don’t like a lot of what I hear these days and that may sound brash, but I’m not crazy about the way they are produced and put together and I think the human element is gone and I love these old records – I was in Vegas with these old records, like Leonard Cohen, very production heavy with background singers, mess-ups in the recording, and it all makes for this real human thing. When I started writing lyrics felt it had to be produced in that way. Blood On The Tracks (Dylan) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (Cohen) were huge inspirations production wise for how the record was started and what we done going forward was Stephen has a lot of influences with more modern stuff and Josh as well and that shaped it. I guess it’s okay to call it “throwback” if it’s throwback to use human element throughout a record. It definitely wasn’t the intention, but I like that stuff, it feels real and raw to me.
Heard you picked up a background vocalist on the EP, from Craigslist – which adds to that organic realness…
Josiah: Yeah… I just moved back [to L.A.] and didn’t know anybody and broke – Craigslist is always the place to go when you’re broke – you can furnish an apartment, you can find anything on there. There’s so many untapped resources in L.A., get on CL and look for anybody that does anything and you’re bound to find some jewel, some diamond in the rough. This woman was great because she sounded a little like Stevie Nicks and I wanted that piercing, childlike female voice, and she killed it. And haven’t been able to get a hold of her since.
Is there some sort of message or theme that you want your fans to walk away with listening to you now or in the future?
Josiah: We were talking about this yesterday and I may not speak for all of us [in the band], but I make music not for other people, and I’m so grateful that people are coming to our shows and liking the record, but we were asked a political thing like “would you let Donald Trump play a song for this kind of stuff,” and for me we choose to release music and once you do that you can’t control where it goes from there and what people take from it. The songs are personal and mean a certain thing, but I never hope they can take this or that from it… You try to write it where it’s specific to a situation but can also breathe and expand to warp into other people’s situations as well.
After tonight’s show you go on to play 18 US shows?
Josiah: Yes, that’s some more solo stuff. We’ve yet to crack our first band tour yet.
Can we expect to hear any new stuff tonight?
Josiah: Going to open with a new one and have a couple new ones in there.