In the summer of 1998, I talked with Roadside Monument bassist Jonathon Ford about his band’s recent album, Eight Hours Away From Being a Man. Roadside Monument’s albums came out during a period in the late 1990s when Seattle label Tooth & Nail began working with artists who appealed to a crowd outside of said label’s relatively Christian audience. Seattle’s Roadside Monument were a fantastically good postpunk band, equally capable of playing bliss-inducing instrumental numbers as they were heading into more chaotic, jarring territory.
Also, this interview was briefly interrupted by my parents’ beagles losing their shit, so there’s that.
After this interview, Roadside Monument released one more album, I Am the Day of Current Taste, before breaking up. Ford’s current musical project is the long-running instrumental group Unwed Sailor. I also have no idea what happened with the split with Ativin discussed here, save that Secretly Canadian’s description for Ativin’s 1999 album Summing the Approach alludes to it not happening/existing.
This interview first appeared in Eventide‘s fourth issue.
What’s the band’s lineup right now?
It is Johnathon Ford, which is me, on bass and vocals; Doug Lorig on guitar and vocals; and Matt Johnson on drums.
Who writes most of the lyrics for the band?
On the Eight Hours Away album, Doug wrote most of the lyrics. I wrote a few songs quickly. For example, on the new EP with Frodus, Matt wrote the lyrics. It’s kind of like an even thing; we all contribute the same amount, as far as lyrics. Doug, as far as Eight Hours Away, he was the main songwriter on that record, lyrically and stuff like that.
Because I was on a web page that had some of the lyrics to your older stuff on it, and there seemed to be a shift in lyrical topics…
Yeah. The reason behind that is because, basically, that first record was a completely different band. Doug is the only original member of Roadside. Doug and Mike, the old guitarist, were the main lyric writers for that record. That’s probably why you’ll see a difference, because Mike wrote some of those songs, and he’s not in the band anymore. It seems to me, on that record, that a lot of the songs that Doug wrote were love songs. I don’t know. (laughs) They might be completely different, from his perspective, like “A Girl Named Actually” and stuff like that.
When did all the lineup changes take place?
It all happened about two years ago. The drummer, Joel…. No, the bass player was the first to leave. And then I replaced him, and that happened during the recording of the first record. The next to leave was Joel, the drummer, and that’s when we got Matt to play. The last to leave was Mike. And then that left us as a three-piece.
How long have you known the other people in the band for?
Like Joel and all of them?
The people who are in the band now, I guess.
I had known Matt from previous bands that he was in. I didn’t know him that well; he was kind of a long-distance friend that I knew. When I moved to Seattle, I became better friends with him. Doug, I didn’t know that well. I saw some old Roadside shows, and I really liked them a lot. One day, after one of the shows, I just went up to Doug and said, “If you ever need a bass player, I would love to play with you guys”. And he was like, “Okay”. (laughs) He didn’t know me, I didn’t really know him. But it worked out, because when Todd quit, they called me up and asked me if I wanted to play, and I was like, “Yeah”.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I lived there for 21 years; I moved to Seattle when I was 21, and I’ve lived here ever since.
How do you like Seattle?
Oh, I love Seattle. It’s awesome. If I didn’t live in Seattle, I’d probably want to live in Boston, I think.
How have you found the music scene to be in Seattle?
I like it, but I don’t like it. There seems to be a lot of pretentiousness. The way I see things, I think the Seattle music scene is a jaded music scene. It seems like they’re not really accepting of newer bands, you know? But then there’s other bands that everyone loves, like Modest Mouse. I am honestly still trying to figure out the Seattle music scene. I haven’t been around long enough in the scene, I think, to get a full description of it. I mean, I like it. There are some cool bands here, and there’s some bands that I’m not that much into. It seems rare to find a band that you can talk to, and not get a weird vibe from. Do you know what I mean?
If that makes any sense.
How did your tour with Ativin go?
Oh, that went really, really well. I think that was the funnest tour we’ve had, just because we completely respect them-as people, as musicians. It was just incredible. They’re really good friends of ours; we had a lot of fun. It’s definitely the best tour that we’ve done, I think.
Where do you guys know each other from?
We have a friend named Adam. He lives in Bloomington, and he kind of hooked us up together. Adam does our shows in Bloomington, and he set the shows up with Ativin. So we played with Ativin, and were completely blown away. And they liked our music, too; we just met through Adam. We’re actually going to tour with them sometime in the near future.
I heard you guys were doing a split with them.
Yeah. We have a song recorded; it’s all done. Ativin just finished recording their new record, so that’s kind of a priority for them and their label right now, to get that record out. Hopefully, that seven inch will come out after that.
Who’s putting it out?
Secretly Canadian. They have Ativin on the label, and another band, Songs:Ohia. From what I understand, they’re getting a lot of recognition right now; they’re a really good label. All of the stuff I’ve heard, I’ve really liked.
What happened with the tour with Frodus?
Well, what happened is that our van….the back axle was completely rotting off. So it was completely unsafe to drive, and we had to find a van for this Frodus tour. We looked, we looked, we’d go to get one, and they’d sell it. It was a nightmare. The night before the tour, we still didn’t have a van. Frodus leaves, and I hook up with Frodus. Matt and Doug rented a van and came down to California, so we did most of the California shows. Roadside didn’t have enough money to rent the van for the entire tour, so Roadside went back up. It was a real bummer, and we felt bad for the people who had come out to see us. It wasn’t really announced that we weren’t doing the shows, so a lot of kids came out, and we weren’t there. Hopefully, this spring we’re going to do a tour to make up for those dates, if everything works out right.
How did you guys meet up with Tooth and Nail?
Well, basically, the whole Tooth and Nail story is that we’re really good friends with the owner, and the people who work there. They heard Roadside, they liked it, and they said, “We’ll put out your records”. We said, “Okay, let’s do it”. It’s pretty much that simple. They’re just our friends, they’re into our music, you know? So, that’s pretty much how Roadside hooked up with Tooth & Nail.
It seems like, from what I’ve seen when I’m on the web, you guys do more touring with bands that aren’t on Tooth and Nail than other bands who are on your label do.
Yeah, it is that way. I guess that’s pretty much the band’s choice, what they want to do. There’s not that many bands that I like on Tooth and Nail. Most of the bands that I do like, like Ativin, for example; that’s a band that we can relate to musically-ideas of what we want to do with music, and stuff like that. So, it makes sense for us to tour with bands like that.
Have you gotten any kind of feedback from being on the don’t forget to breathe compilation?
Not as much as we though. We got a few letters, and we’ve played shows where someone will ask us to do “A Spanish Trail”. We actually thought that we’d get a little more from that, so I don’t know. We’ve gotten some, but not a lot.
How would you describe your style of music?
Oh, man. I have no idea. I would say that it’s dynamic… As far as the Eight Hours Away album, pretty dynamic, a lot of changes… It almost reminds me of a movie soundtrack at times-there are soft….(the phone’s reception got a bit garbled here-ed.) The best way I can describe it would be like a movie soundtrack.
The new song on the split with Frodus-would you say that that’s more indicative of where your music’s going?
I think it is. It’s getting a little more straightforward. It’s still got changes in it, but still, it’s a lot more poppy than usual. A lot of our new stuff is going more in the straightforward direction. We’re keeping that aspect in, writing, but we’re pretty much just taking it….
(at this point, I switched phones due to the reception I was getting on one of them-ed.)
Are your dogs going crazy?
I don’t know what they’re barking about….one of them’s a little older than a year, and she just likes barking at random things.
Did I answer your question, on the last one?
Are you guys working on new stuff now?
Yeah, we are. We have about four new songs right now that are just about completed; two of them are completely done, the other two are just about there. Doug and I have tons of ideas, guitar riffs or whatever, ready to be written. We’re supposedly scheduled to record the record in April. Hopefully, we’ll have everything ready by then.
Are you going to record it with Bob Weston again?
We don’t know exactly who we’re going to record it with yet. We know that we want it to be a guitar record-big guitars, lots of guitars. That’s the goal for the new record.
This is kind of a random question…. On Eight Hours, before “Crop Circles”, there’s a sample. What’s that from?
I’m not sure, exactly. The story behind that is that we wanted to have some kind of TV noise going before the song and at the end of the song. So we brought in this little TV and set it in a room, set a mic on the floor. Turn on TV, push record-that’s what was on the TV, and that’s what [was] recorded. It was a totally random, by chance happening, recording. It’s not like any kind of message or anything, like we’re trying to reach the world (laughs) or anything like that. That’s, randomly, exactly what came out on tape. I’m very happy with it-I think it’s very eerie sounding. There’s no meaning behind it or anything like that.
When you guys played New York during CMJ, how did that go?
It went really well. It was cool playing with the Promise Ring and Joan of Arc, and there were a lot of people there. It was cool hanging out in New York, stuff like that. It was a lot of fun.
I was going to try to get to the show that you were supposed to play this summer at Under Acme; what happened there?
What happened was that we drove to New York City, pulled in, called the club, and went to the club. They had replaced us with some sort of wet t-shirt contest or something. Some crazy thing, and they just canceled the show, so we didn’t play. It was kind of messed up.
Are you going to try to come back through New York or New Jersey on the next tour?
I don’t know if we will be in the spring, but probably the summer, though.
Is the spring tour going to be with Ativin?
No, that’ll probably be by ourselves. If it happens.
I guess that’s about it-is there anything that you want to say in closing?
Geez, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’m sorry I’m so out of it-I’ve been up for over twenty-four hours. I’m about to head back to the airport now.
Have a safe trip out there.
Well, I’m not driving, so it doesn’t matter if I fall asleep or anything like that..
I’m looking forward to seeing you guys the next time you’re through here.
Yeah; just check our web site for any kind of dates, stuff like that. Thanks for keeping us in mind in doing this.