Change is good and we don’t fear change. So now for something completely Different. “Road Man” is the solo project of Jon Petronzio, previously known best for his vocal and keyboard work with the bands “John Brown’s Body” and “Revision”. (John is also music teacher in Ithaca, NY, sharing his passion with the next generation of up and coming rock and roll legends. Jon, has spent the last seven years (in addition to all his other duties) creating an album “Light at the Speed of Life that according the promotional verbiage “serves as a vessel for uplifting and healing messages”. A powerful blend of funk, blues and reggae that has a wide appeal and that we at FMB think is fantastic. This is great music and we think that its worth checking out. So in another FMB exclusive interview we asked Jon a few questions to try and find out more.
FMB: We at FMB think that you have cross Genre Appeal. How would describe your sound?
“This is a question that I receive quite often… and there’s never an easy answer. I think that every good musician and student of the musical language needs to be a sponge. My personal goal is to be learning through listening at all times. A quick background… My early years were spent studying the piano with a phenomenal teacher – learning from the great classical composers (Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Rachmaninoff) as well as Jazz. (Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Fats Waller). My college years were spent delving further into the classical piano side of things. It was during this time that I began to develop a love for funk, rock and live improvised music. Next, I found my way into the world of reggae through meeting past members of the John Browns Body family. Currently I’m getting accustomed to playing acoustic guitar as a singer-songwriter. Over the years I learned to put on each of these hats and combine them into one sound. There is a reason for the album title “Light at the Speed of Life” – this is because I view it as my life lessons and experiences in song. All of the things that influenced me personally or musically are buried in the fabric of every chord, melody and lyric”
FMB Did the album really take 7 years to complete and if so why or does the 7 years correspond to a biographical period
“The album took me 7 years to make… I think that in a lot of ways when you’re creating something, you have to get out of your own way. You have to be willing to ask the songs what THEY want to be about. I could have finished this record 5 years ago, but I wanted to make absolutely sure it was the best of the best of what I could create. One of the big reasons why it took so long was because lyric writing has never been my strong suit. In upstate NY where I live, last year we had a terribly long, dark and cold winter. As many others groaned at the weather, I was hidden away happily struggling with my creative mind. It was a monastic way of life and a daily practice which I try to maintain as best I can. It was during those months that I taught myself how to play the guitar. I didn’t know it yet, but I needed to learn to play the guitar in order to open up the channels to bring the lyrics forth. One of the themes that you’ll hear throughout the record is that everything happens for a reason, and it’s all happening right on time. Whether you believe in God or not, I have found this to be true again and again. So 7 years time is what it took, I hope the next one doesn’t want to take that long”
“When it comes to harmony and melody my biggest influence is Chopin. His music can bring one from heights of joy to the depths of sorrow from one phrase to the next. Anybody who hasn’t really listened to his catalogue should take the time! Some other big influences are Son House, The Beatles, Toots and the Maytals, Jim Croce, Led Zeppelin, Jamiroquai… just to name a few. I take a little bit of anything that resonates with me. Eventually it will work it’s way out of me through song. Not to mention Elliot Martin – who is a prolific songwriter, vocalist and the leader of John Browns Body – would be a stark oversight”
FMB: There are plenty of pictures of you on your website with an acoustic guitar. Do you also consider yourself a protest or Folk singer? (yes we at FMB are fans of the Smiths)
“As I mentioned before, I discovered that writing lyrics with a guitar in my hands was much more freeing and organic than sitting at a piano. I think there’s something to be said for resonating wood against your chest. I just makes you want to sing! As a writer I like to move around – I created many different approaches to allowing the lyrics to flow. One such example – I live in an old house (by US standards) and in the house I have a chopping block which is in the middle of the room. I would put my guitar on and pace around the chopping block while playing the chord progression I was working on. Then I would take it one step further… on the fridge I had $80 worth of magnet poetry all scattered about in complete randomness. Each time I would walk around the block I would pick one word to rhyme or sing about. This process proved to be very beneficial after I stuck with it for some time. Like every step of the way in this musical journey, challenge and frustration eventually give way to some breakthroughs”
“The songs on “Light at the Speed of Life” were all started in Ableton Live as demos. Each one built from the ground up usually starting with drums and bass… I then adding the desired elements from there. The first two years of the project I would describe as demo time. When I had amassed around 250 demos I decided it was time to record and bring a full band sound to them. With just about every cent I owned, I went into the studio with fingers crossed and hoped for the best. I really had no idea how it would all turn out. I teamed up with my good friend Alan Evans (Soulive) to both engineer and play drums. I also used my band-mates in JBB to play the other elements : namely the bass, drums and horns. The end result was fantastic – better than I could have imagined! I came out of those sessions excited and ready to tackle the final process – THE DREADED LYRICS! I entered a phase of intense soul searching and coming to grips with the statement “I CAN”. Something that is very important to remember – I spent whole lot of time telling myself all the things I couldn’t do, instead of seeking out ways to empower myself to arrive at that those two most crucial words. Again, life – in it’s perfect timing – needed to show me my love affair with the guitar to help write the lyrics. These songs were written on the guitar and I feel I perform and execute them best with a guitar in my hands, despite really only playing seriously for a little over a year”.
FMB We really enjoyed the tracks on your album but usually we enjoy hard rock / heavy metal. We cant explain this. Can you?
“Haha… Well I can say that I am a lover of certain heavier music as well… Nirvana, Tool, Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica… I was an impressionable teen in the early 90’s and the grunge era definitely had a huge influence on me. Although this album primarily constitutes Reggae and Funk – there are still a few heavy moments in there. I think good music is good music and it comes in all shapes, forms and sizes”
FMB: As a music teacher what is your advice to anyone looking to try a new musical instrument
“As a music teacher I’ve learned a few very important things… First off, if you think you know anything about anything, then you need to start over. If you’re ever telling yourself you know it all, that means you need to dig deeper or find another career. The master always realizes that the journey is the destination. As an artist or musician, you will never fully arrive at where you want to. That’s the beauty, toil and struggle all wrapped up in there.
“I don’t necessarily call myself a piano teacher… rather a “perspective shifter” and a “possibility coach”. Learning music is best done with a child-like wonder… Children are wonderful at using their imagination with no inhibitions or fear of being judged. At a certain point we become self-conscious and worried about looking like a fool in front of our peers. Making “mistakes” becomes many peoples worst nightmare. I try and teach my students that we play the piano, not stress at it! Every path is defined first by what you imagine is possible. That possibility gives someone a goal to reach for…and in turn, a desire to work harder at their craft. When it comes to an instrument specifically, I teach people to look at the same concept from as many of the perspectives available to us possible. Often times changing the perspective slightly will arrive us to the all powerful “I CAN”!”
“A little bit every day, goes a really long way”! I got pretty good at the guitar in a short amount of time by practicing diligently each and every day. Nothing in this world comes easy… people who are successful are that way because they worked hard for it while keeping a positive frame of mind . They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional in any field… My suggestion is to start putting in the time every day toward your goals and dreams. Be patient with yourself, imagine the possibilities, focus a strong work ethic and you’ll do whatever you want in this world. It makes everything seem a lot more fun if you think of it that way.”
FMB: Who produced the album and how many different musicians / studio staff etc were involved?
“The album was completely written, produced, recorded and edited by myself. (Jon Petronzio). Alan Evans played drums and mixed the album. It also includes my JBB band-mates, Tommy Benedetti (drums), Nate Edgar (bass), Drew Sayers (tenor saxophone), Scott Flynn (trombone), and Sam Deschenne (trumpet). The album was mastered by Jocko, aka Jason Randall from MoreSound Studios in Syracuse NY. There were also a great number of friends in the Ithaca area that made smaller but no less important contributions.”
Lets turn it up to 11 for Jon Petronzio. Sample tracks can be accessed via his website and purchased on I-Tunes…Cheers Jon, great stuff.