Countless artists were impacted by the widespread closures associated with COVID-19 in 2020. Tours were canceled. Albums were delayed. Revenue streams dried up. But for Seattle-based singer-songwriter Ian Jones, the lockdown meant shutting down his re-debut, a dream that was already 13 years in the making.
With a new full-length with his band The Livingroom Allstars set for 2022, Jones just released the EP Evergreens to bridge the gap between what was and what will be.
I recently sat down with Jones to discuss the ever-changing music industry, just getting started at 51, and why everyone should be buying records instead of “Two Buck Chuck.”
Americana Highways: Evergreens is a preview to a yet unannounced, full length. Will these songs exist on that new album or is this kind of a bridge for people?
Ian Jones: It’s funny, the music industry has changed so much since I was in it last. I was living in Southern California. I had moved from Seattle, under recommendation of my then manager, in the late ‘90s. I moved down to Santa Barbara and I started doing my thing down there. And then I end up moving to LA and I was touring and making records and then we decided, my wife and I, to get married while we were in LA. We wanted to have a kid and I said, “I can’t bring a kid into this world living where we did in Hollywood.” So we moved back home. And at that time I was really familiar with the music industry. I had tons of contacts all over the country, and I was like, “Well, I’ll take like two or three years off.” Long story short, my two or three years off turned into 13 because my dad’s wife got sick and then she died and then my dad got sick and he died. I had to take care of his estate, we ended up having to move a couple times, and we had two kids during that time. I thought for a minute, just for a minute, “Well, I’ll just do this as a hobby and just keep my chops up.”
AH: So you were still writing during those 13 years?
IJ: Oh yeah. The thing is, I thought I’d just be a hobbyist and so I kept writing. And it’s funny, I’ve talked to a couple different people about writing and some people seem to have the ability to sit down and just say, “I’m going to write” and then write. For me, it’s not like that. For me, it’s like these things pass by in the ether, however you want to describe it, and if I have my head screwed on straight at the time I can grab them.
AH: It’s a bit like creative whack-a-mole. You have to hope you hit it when it pops up.
IJ: Yeah, and good luck thinking you’re going to wake up the next day and still remember it. It doesn’t work that way.
So I decided that I couldn’t just be a hobbyist. I had to be 100 % in on this… I think, much to my wife’s dismay. (Laughter) I think she figured by the time I was 40, I was going to cash it in and be like, “Well, I haven’t made it yet so I’m going to just get a real job.” But you know, I’m 51, and I feel like I’m just now getting started. So I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this.” And every single person I knew in the industry was gone. The industry had totally changed. Everything was, I mean, apples and oranges compared to what it used to be. So I set out to figure it out and one of the things that happened is over the course of figuring it all out, going to Nashville, I made a plan. My big, grand re-debut was going to be the Results Not Typical record. I made the Piano Songs record when my dad was dying and that probably saved my life, but I made the Results Not Typical record with Jesse (Siebenberg). It was like, “Okay, this is it!” A part of me didn’t want to be on my deathbed and look back and go, “I wonder what would’ve happened if I just would have made a record with a real producer and the best musicians.” So that’s what that record was. That checked that off the bucket list. Well, it turned out way better than anyone thought. We spent a ton of time and money on everything and getting everything done. And we were literally poised to release it. We had residencies set up everywhere and then… COVID hit. And it was like, “Wow, really?”
AF: Oh, man. To put all of that time and financial investment into something and then have it all screech to a halt… that had to be really difficult.
IJ: Obviously no one saw that coming and no one could have predicted it. It kept getting worse and worse and worse and worse. I might as well have just taken thousands of dollars and lit it on fire and threw it into the air because that’s what happened with that record. It was released into radio and then we couldn’t play any shows. We couldn’t do anything.
AF: So where did Evergreens come into play?
IJ: Right before that happened, I had gone down to start working on the next record with Jesse. We did a bunch of demos and it turns out the demos were good enough and that’s what turned into the Evergreens EP.
So we went down and we recorded a bunch of stuff. Some of them were ideas – “Born Again Center” was just an idea. That song was so brand new. The band and I had been playing it almost like “Running Down a Dream” by Petty. It was upbeat and really cool. Jesse turned around and made it something else. I played it over the PA, and for the first time I heard it and the band heard it. The band was like, “Sorry, dude, this is way better than what you were doing.” So we did that and we got the six songs. We were going to do seven, but we decided to pull back. When we made that decision, things were starting to look weird again. And I was like, “I can’t dump a ton of money into another full-length record only to have it go down the crapper.” So we did the six song EP.
One of the things I learned in Nashville is that if you’re going to do this, A, you have to have a revenue stream, and B, you have to have a team. But above all else, and this is something that I didn’t realize when I was younger, is that they call it the music business or the music industry because that’s what it is. If you don’t treat it like a business or an industry, you’re doomed.
AF: And nowadays, a lot of artists treat individual songs like individual companies. We’ve moved back into that singles model that popular music started on.
IJ: It’s totally true. It’s constantly evolving.
AF: So do you think the industry is easier to navigate now or more difficult than when you were in Los Angeles?
IJ: Well, in both the apples and orange scenarios, it cost money. When I was younger, I didn’t realize that. And part of that was that back in the day, there were developmental deals from labels. It was when labels used to spend money. I think labels still spend money, but it’s much more rare than it was back in the early ‘90s, obviously. So you have to spend money in both scenarios, but today it’s different. And it’s different because I’m older and it’s a younger kid’s game to a certain extent. Social media is a younger kid’s game. I can’t keep up with it. When I first started this out, I was told by more than a handful of people, like with Instagram and stuff, “Look, if you’re not going to post consistently, then don’t post.” So you have to have this consistency and you have to know how to read the metrics and you have to do all this stuff. And so for me, it’s like, my bandwidth is used up by the fact that I’m running a construction company trying to pay for all this stuff. And then I’m also a dad and a husband, but I’m also managing a band, which is like being married to four other people. And I’m trying to figure out and write new stuff, get ready for the next record and all this, so I don’t have time to figure out TikTok. (Laughter) I have the revenue stream, so I hired a social media person to take care of that. So as far as reaching people goes, it seems like every single day there’s a new algorithm that basically keeps you from reaching people unless you spend money.
AF: And even if you’re front of people on social media, it doesn’t always mean that those people are paying attention. There’s a lot of distractions out there.
IJ: It also doesn’t mean you’re going to get your money back. It’s an investment, but it’s an investment for what? It seems to me, and I try to tell people this, “Look, Spotify is a great avenue to learn about music.” If you like Americana, pick an Americana playlist and just listen to what people have put out there. More than likely you’re going to hear a ton of music that you’ve never heard of. And you know what, if you hear a song that you like, write down that artist’s name and go BUY the record.
AF: I think it’s a generational thing. I grew up owning and holding albums, so like you’re saying, I find something new and I want to buy it. I’m not sure my kids will be the same way when they grow up.
IJ: Well, I think a lot of them don’t know about it. So my wife’s nephew, he posted something like, “Hey, how do I get this for free?” It was about music and he was looking for someone to help him go to some site or whatever, so he could get something for free. So I called him up. I said, “Hey, I saw your post about this… how to get it for free.” He goes, “You know how to do it?” And I said, “Hey, let me tell you something, that artist who you want to get for free probably spent between $10,000 and $100,000 making that record and they’re trying to get that back. So if you get it for free, you’re basically stealing from them. When was the last time you went to McDonald’s and spent $10.00?” And he was like, “I don’t know, five times a week.” And I’m like, “Right for $10.00, you can buy that record and then you can listen to it all you want.”
And I was cool about it. I didn’t like chew his ass or anything. But I was like, “Look, dude, what you don’t understand is that all this stuff that you’re getting for free costs money and someone has to pay for it.” So I always tell people, “Hey, for the price of a latte and a half…” or “Hey, when was the last time you bought a bottle of wine that was less than $10.00?” Unless you’re one of those people who goes out and just lives on Two Buck Chuck, which is gross. (laughter) So I mean, you can get a decent bottle of wine for $12.00 or $13.00 and you’ll drink that in a night. Spend $9.99 to support the artist. You get a warm, fuzzy feeling because you know, you’re doing something good.
Then go buy your wine. (Laughter)
AF: Unfortunately when you give people something for free, they then expect it to be free.
IJ: It’s a generational thing, I think to a certain extent. And all that aside, I mean, I’m a business person and I understand that venues have to make money. Venues have to sell drinks. I understand record stores have to sell records. I understand that labels have to make money. I understand how everything works from a business perspective. But that’s not going to stop me from doing anything. I’m cursed by music. I’m going to do music until I drop dead.
AF: So where does the next record sit in all of this? How far along is it?
IJ: There’s 14 songs already done for it.
IJ: Jesse’s going to come up here and we’re going to record at Ken Stringfellow’s studio out in Bothell, which is just Northeast of Seattle. It’s going to be an Ian Jones and The Livingroom Allstars record, which is going to be me and my band. I guess the comparison would be like, Tom Petty did solo records and then he did Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers records, so it’s going to be kind of like that. The first couple solo records were just me and this is going to be me and The Livingroom Allstars. It’s going to be a little bit more on the rock and roll side, a little bit more electric guitar-centric, but there’s still going to be the ballads and there’s still going to be that old school outlaw country route to it because that’s kind of my wheelhouse.
AF: So with this bridge EP Evergreens, what do you want people to take away about you when they listen to it?
IJ: I think the songs are well written. I think the lyrical content is super strong. I’ve always said that I’m never going to wow anyone with my guitar skills or my piano playing skills. I’ve become a good singer because I’ve worked at it and I had a really good teacher in Los Angeles who understood me and got me on the right path and I’ve stayed on it. My strength is as a songwriter. And I think that it’s a combination of all those things.
To learn more about Ian Jones, visit www.ianjonesmusic.com.