C&L: How did you get started? Did you take guitar lessons as a kid?
Jones: No, I’m self-taught, man. I just picked up the guitar when I was 13 after seeing a friend of mine play. But I really loved the way it
sounded. I was already playing violin in school, but I never liked it. I liked plucking the strings more so I thought the guitar [would] come natural to me. So, I played it and figured it out, and from that point on I kept teaching myself more and more and now I’m here.
I assume guitar is your favorite instrument to play then?
Yeah, for sure. It’s like my obsession. I don’t know whether it’s an instrument to me anymore. It’s like speaking another language at this point. I’ll hear a song in my head and be able to walk over and play it for you without ever having played it before. Know what I’m saying? You’re using similar linguistics skills as you would use to speak another language to play music. So, that’s how it feels now. I can fully express myself through this vessel, which is the guitar.
Being from Seattle, a city with such a rich music history, who would you say are your influences?
I have a lot, but I would say primarily Michael Jackson. Dr. Dre was a big influence especially production-wise. You can’t rule out Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains, all those cats, man. What the Beatles were doing definitely set a precedence especially for this album for me, and Jimi Hendrix obviously is a big one, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, too. I’m blending all those worlds together where it’s definitely more commercial pop, but I’m still coming from that old-school rock ‘n’ roll blues sound.
So, you have a new album, Audio Paint Job, coming out this summer. How has that process been?
It’s been crazy, man (laughs).
It’s been hard?
It’s been difficult in the transition of going from indie kids to label kids, especially with this project—we’ve done a lot of things that labels could have done for us, but I’ve done it all on my own and with my crew. So, the process has definitely taken a little bit of an adjustment, but things are progressing and people, and the network, are coming into place and everything I need is falling into place when I need it to. It’s been cool. It’s been a little bit stressful (laughs), a little stressful.
When you’re working on this album do you have a place where you like to work? Is it on your patio? A coffee shop? The beach?
Naw, I’m really mental man. Sixty-five percent of the work I do is mental, and the other 35 percent is physical. I work from my mind and then I just express myself and wait till all the pieces come together. Then I’ll lay it down on a track, but it starts with the live inspiration. I don’t really have a particular place. It’s any place where I can hear my guitar or the sound I hear in my head, I’ll make it happen.
How long has this album been in the works?
I’d say probably about a year and half to two years now. Yeah, it’s been a while, but that’s kind of what happens; you make the money to put the stuff out and do the thing, man.
(Jones stops for a moment to light up.)
I always wanted to do this; it makes me seem cool. Like a rebel.
Describe your thoughts when Sir Mix-A-Lot discovered you. Was it a “Holy crap, I made it” moment?
(Laughs) No, not at all. It was interesting, like I honestly had no idea what to make of it. I had no idea what to make of him, or anything at the time. I knew that it was important to my career to work with him, but I didn’t have a big scope on what that meant. He brought these resources for me that launched me, just launched me, into the national scene. I had no clue what was happening. It just suddenly happened. It was definitely a pinnacle moment of my career; that was my introduction to the majors.
How long ago was that?
That was 2013 when that album dropped, and to this day, man, people still talk to me about that album. It was a good album, especially regionally. It hit pretty hard here.
Is this where you envisioned you would be at this point in your life, or did you have a different dream?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think people are afraid, and I was afraid of truly taking in what it is to live your dream. It was this wild, burning fire within me to play music, and it was hard for me to realize that was OK for a while. My boyhood dreams were nothing like this, and it didn’t start to take shape until I realized that I had a gift and something special to work with. I didn’t dream of playing in front of audiences and stuff when I was a kid, though. No, I didn’t think I would get to this point and be at the level I’m at right now on the way to superstardom.
What was that childhood dream?
I thought I wanted to be a police officer and help my community and have a normal house and a normal life, you know.
This is better though, right?
Way better, my god, dude. Oh my god, it’s way better, dude. But it’s something I really thought about for a long time and I realized it just wasn’t in my spirit and I wasn’t that kind of person and I had so much more to give to the world than to be constrained to any label or job. My job is to express myself as an artist and to utilize my gift of articulation to help people expand their conscious mind, and that’s through music as my battle cry.
Speaking of that, your new song, “Love Is the Answer,” couldn’t come at a better time with the country and the world so divided. Is this what inspired it?
It definitely is perfect timing. It was inspired by the times, but more so it’s just my message of peace anyways. No one ever really talks about peace; it’s the weirdest thing. You got these politicians out here, they say they’re going to cater to one group of people or another group of people, or that guy’s a jerk or she’s a liar or whatever but no one mentions peace, which is really what everyone wants.
I don’t care if you’re a hateful person; go be a hateful person over there with the hateful people. Don’t try to make me be a hateful person. This is America. I can do what I want. I don’t have to like you, but I respect you. The only way we can do that is by creating a love for the enemy, know what I’m saying? The perceived enemy. That perceived enemy isn’t anything but our conscious beings in the first place.
When I wrote this song, it was to remind people that we are just a universe that contemplates itself, man, so if you think about it, what are you thinking about? What are you interacting with in the world right now? You’re interacting with your own thoughts. Every time you take a step, every time you feel a feeling, whether it be a smell or a taste, those are all things that are just feelings that your brain has to create for yourself as a reality. The reality you experience is just your reflection of you. That is all you ever experience.
Once we start to take a universal perspective on those things, I think that that’s when we start to put the pieces of the puzzle together, you know? We are just these beings that exist as a bigger picture on a quantum scale, man. Quantum. Quantum. You know? And we are built in the eyes of unconditional love. You don’t create something to hate it.
If you truly believe in the story that we are created, then you’re just loved, man. You are loved. To express love is to get love. “Love Is the Answer” is a very complicated tale, obviously, but it’s the truth. You listen to the song and I say, “We’re all to blame, the universe our name,” right? We are all to blame, the universe our name. You have to change your perspective and see what you want to do, and if it’s to experience love then love thy enemy as you love thyself. That’s a Bible verse, by the way.
If you had to pick one song that people need to listen to, which would it be? Would it be “Love Is the Answer”?
On this album, no, I don’t think it’d be that one. I think it’s definitely one of them. It’s an important first message—that’s where I’m coming from—but I don’t know, man.
Well, what’s your favorite song to play?
Right now I think it’s “Take Me Away.” But you know, “My Love Remains” from the old album is also a great one, and “Take Your Time” on this next album, too. Those songs are all fun to play. It’s hard to say, though. I don’t really have a favorite on this album. I’m more interested in other people’s favorites. What do you want to hear? Know what I’m saying?
I tried to create a crossover album is what this is. I wanted it to come from my perspective but not create a sound that was just going to be in the vein of what typical rock ‘n’ roll should be. I was going to merge the two worlds together, both modern rock and modern blues, classic rock and classic blues, bring these two art forms together. I was really trying to come from the perspective that anything you’re listening to is recycled. It’s just a modern update of what used to be, you know what I mean?
And I don’t know what happened to our generation. Somewhere along the line we forgot how to play just goddamn American rock ‘n’ roll. American rock ‘n’ roll. (Yells) What happened to American rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t know why we stopped playing American rock ‘n’ roll. We got the turntables, we got the electronics, we got all this stuff, but what happened to just straight-up, in-your-face, no-apologetic American rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Our generation changed our ear around. It’s so funny: Our ears have been turned onto hip-hop so much that we emulate hip-hop in everything in the sense that it reverts us back to blues. It’s so interesting. It’s the coolest thing. The origins of hip-hop are blues.
So as you get into the spotlight more, how are you dealing with increased recognition and fame?
Meditation is the key. Meditation is the key to everything. Nothing has happened in my life now that hasn’t happened before. It happened to me before, many times. Over and over again, because before anything ever showed up in my physical reality, my physical realm, the three-dimensional world, it existed in my mind first. So, I prepare myself by consciously creating the universe that I wish to see in my mind before it ever exists in the physical world and that’s the best you can do. That’s all you can do.
That’s what I’m doing right now, man, just getting myself there and just trying to keep cool about it, too. I recognize now that I’m received by people as one of the best guitar players of my generation, and it’s like, what does that really mean? There’s so much power that goes along with that. And I’m really just preparing to spread the message that I want to spread, which is higher consciousness and evolution of that consciousness.
When you play live, do you ever get the pre-show jitters?
I always get the jitters, especially in local shows. I don’t know, for some reason local shows are the hardest because you’re playing for people that have probably seen you a billion times before and people who have been following you for years. The local shows can definitely be the most challenging.
Do you have any routines you do to get yourself pumped up?
I listen to Drake, (laughs) Drizzle, Dree-Z, in the house. Yeah, I listen to “Started From the Bottom Now We’re Here.” For real, that gets me pumped up.
Yeah man, I grew up in a pretty poor situation, man, and statistically I should be on the streets or some “thug” or whatever you want to call it. But I still came from the neighborhoods that cultivated hip-hop, and I come from the people that told the stories of the people where I come from, which is like, awesome gangster shit, you know what I’m saying?
There were things that went down with people around me that happens when you grow up in circumstances like that. My dad was involved with that, my mom was involved with that, so I grew up as an orphan basically—as orphaned, but not an orphan necessarily. My aunt raised me but I didn’t know my parents very well growing up, at all, and when I saw my mom she was in and out. She was strung out, on drugs or drinking or whatever. So circumstances I came from, dude, I definitely should be on that wall of what happens to people when they’re shown that kind of stuff in their life.
Luckily, someone had a lot of love for me and loved me just perfectly enough to see the darkness but also the light. That’s my message to the world, though. That’s why I listen to Drake and it gets me pumped up. It’s “started from the bottom now we’re here.” At one point you were an abandoned 4-year-old, and now you’re playing on stages in front of people playing your own original material. That’s a gift you know. That’s a gift.
One last question. It’s a random one. Do you have any guilty pleasures?
(Jones’ girlfriend holds up his Xbox)
Oh, you’re holding up the Xbox. That’s not a guilty pleasure. Madden is an openly expressed, accepted pleasure. I’m not guilty about that. No, ghetto videos are a definitely a guilty pleasure for sure, man.
(Jones’ friend chimes in: “It’s simple man: drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll.”)
Yeah, I could say that, but those aren’t guilty pleasures either. But I’d say ghetto videos are the worst, man, WorldstarHipHop videos. It’s worse because you’re watching them and you’re like, “Man, this is awful and … Oooh! What Worldstar? Are you serious? Bro, you serious? You got knocked the f— out.”
Yeah, shit. That’s the ‘hood in me that just doesn’t know how to come out. You know how they say you can take a boy out of the ‘hood but you can’t take the ‘hood from the boy? That’s how I feel about Worldstar videos. (Yells) You don’t step on our block!
Another one would probably be chess, man. I play a lot of chess. But Xbox, I’m not guilty of that though. It’s Xbox. I’m a grown-ass man. I can do what I want.