A Track-By-Track with Detroit's Bonny Doon
Get a first-hand walk through of the four-piece's shimmering, laid-back debut record.
Photo by Julia Callis
Listening to Bonny Doon's Bonny Doon feels something akin to sitting on a porch swing (I imagine), smoking a cigarette, watching your neighbours work out the barbecue, as late-night summer sun sets behind houses. Or something. What I'm trying to say is that it's a good time. Ambling, tender, weird, nice, real. It's practically an 11-track day off.
The band's Bill Lennox, Bobby Colombo, Joshua Brooks, and Jake Kmiecik took some time to put together a track-by-track of the record, which is out tomorrow June 30th via Spunk. Listen and read below, and see our interview with the band back in January.
Bill: Wasn't sure if this one was just a humdrum strummer when I wrote it but I remember playing it for my friend while she was on LSD before I ever brought it to the band. She has the best taste in music so when she said she liked it I was pretty stoked. At the time I was living with people who collected lava lamps so I turned them all on and turned all the other lights off in the house and we listened to Slowdive most of the night. Hopefully that neon glow comes through in the album version.
Jake: The lyrics of this song and the warmth of the instrumentation always make me think fondly of the way time passes and the friendships this band has formed, and how there's beauty and comfort in that.
2. "Summertime Friends"
Josh: This is a song that we've played five or more different ways, and recorded three times now. It's been an up-tempo punk jam, it's been really sparse, stoned and warped with everything being run through an echoplex, and here we do it in pretty straight forward style and just try to have fun with it. I think it was one the last songs we tracked for this record. Our friend Fred Thomas, who engineered a lot of the record, plays drums on it and Jake slid over to piano. It had previously appeared on a tape with a slow and dreamy quality, but Fred suggested we try it like this and we did it a few times and that was it. It has kind of a gang vocal quality because we just did them live in the room.
3. "What Time Is It in Portland?"
Bobby: A hokey question as a starting point for a spiraling ramble about change, this song seems kind of indulgent upon reflection. And maybe also because it frames it like something that happens all around me while I comfortably play the role of static observer. That's not really how change works, but it can feel that way and it's tempting to cast it like that. I am really happy with how this version came together. I wrote it before we started the band and it was one of the songs we tried out when Bill convinced me that I should also sing. Originally he was the only singer. We always called the guitar breaks Jimmy Buffett leads, though I don't know his music well enough to know if that's apt or wishful thinking.
4. "Lost My Way"
Bill: We all played in punk bands before we started this band so a large part of how we approach music is informed by that. We still kind of consider ourselves a punk band in many ways and this song is an example of how it is hard to let that go. One time we got too stoned and decided we'd play it half speed at a show, not sure how it was received. I really love the extended jam at the end. We play it different every time now but I'm happy with the way this version was captured. We were listening to a lot of krautrock at the time and Bobby and I saw Faust play around the time we recorded this. The singer kept reprimanding the audience for looking at their phones while they were playing and they had a guy playing a giant oil can as a drum pretty much the whole set. It was great.
5. "I See You"
Bill: This song was a roadmap for us in a lot of ways in that it helped us begin to find our voice. It was the first real song I ever wrote and when we played it together it just felt natural and like we all understood the feel and vibe of it. It was the first song we played at our first show. It's on our first 7" and it's the first single on this record.
6. "(you can't hide)"
Bobby: A lot of songs on this record were approached and recorded multiple different ways, and this is just a fragment of a different arrangement of "You Can't Hide," as captured by a blown out room mic. There is maybe a strange logic to including unfinished instrumentals filtered through clipping room mics when we had so many songs to choose from (we probably recorded about 25 for this record), but I think of them as little windows into the process and I think there's beauty in those moments of unpolished spontaneity.
7. "You Can't Hide"
Josh: Bobby and I spent countless hours processing things through an echoplex on this record. That tape echo was a huge part of our sound and process for experimenting with songs during tracking and mixing. This one has the echoplex oscillating wildly over the whole track, as well as processing both guitars and the drums. A lot of things we do maybe don't make the most sense but we are all about trying to get emotional impact out of our songs, however that happens.
8. "Never Been to California"
Jake: This song, at least at the time of writing and recording, felt very reflective of Bill's songwriting process. It deals a lot with a sense of place and ruminations on where one resides, both physically and spiritually. The "blue bridge" mentioned in the first verse is a reference to the Ambassador Bridge which can be seen from the house Bill and I lived in at the time. It connects Detroit and Windsor, Canada. This song was also an exercise in a more country-esque side of our sound, a taste that brought the four of us together in a unique way.
9. "Maine Vision"
Josh: This one came as a vision in Maine, while we were standing on a rock overlooking an inland bay of the Atlantic. The melody just popped in Bill's head and he started going "neh-neh neh-neh neh-neh neh-neh neh-neh neh neh-neh-neh" so we went back to the cottage we were staying in and jammed it out. We had just finished our first tour and drove from NYC up to outside of Portland to meet up with Bobby's brother and relax in Maine for a few days. We are always trying to make Bonny Doon as sustainable as possible for our lives and mental health, and band retreats to cabins in beautiful places is a big part of that. There was a heavy kraut influence on this one, the one-minute track on the record was cut from an eleven-minute jam.
10. "Evening All Day Long"
Bill: I like the way this song rolls along and I love bobby's guitar playing at the end, it's bouncy and playful and has a sense of humor that I dig. Neither of us consider ourselves "good" guitar players but I think we're both big fans of each other's playing. The guitar mirrors Bobby's lyrics too, there are jokes with a sort of existential campiness tossed in there to lighten up what could just be a straightforward sad song.
Josh: A longwave instrumental. There is a lot left out in the mix of this one, like all the words for one thing. It's one of those songs that we kept adding to and adding to try and get it to feel right, and then ended up stripping everything away and just using the instrumental. It's actually just the mic on Bill's guitar amp and all the other instruments bleed through it. Bobby ran it through an old chorus pedal to give it a little extra movement. There's a series of Velvet Underground bootlegs called the Guitar Amp Tapes, which are just a tape recorded in the back of Lou Reed's amp. I could listen to those all day, they just have the feeling.
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All photos by Julia Callis.