An interview with: Evening Hymns

Jonas Bonnetta, better known by his musical pseudonym Evening Hymns, had to leech wifi from a roadside McDonalds somewhere in Alberta to answer the following questions. Yup. The Toronto-based folk musician (who plays Sunday, July 11 at the Railway Club in Vancouver, BC) took the time from his current Canadian tour to do a quick e-mail interview about his recent record Spirit Guides, his Canadian folk influences, as well as what the future holds for Evening Hymns.

Here’s what Bonnetta had to say:

Tell me a bit about the conception of Evening Hymns
Evening Hymns grew out of my solo project. It was basically the typical story of a guy and a guitar, growing up and writing music, and recording in on an 8-track. I spent a lot of time in my teens making songs and recordings. Eventually, I  released a solo record under my own name and then toured it a bit and then have spent the last few years writing and playing and then finally putting out my new record, Spirit Guides.

Spirit Guides was your debut full-length for Evening Hymns. However, before that, you made a solo record Farewell to Harmony, which was was released under your own name. What was the reason for foregoing solo work (and the solo name) for Evening Hymns?
I switched to the name Evening Hymns for a little EP that I wrote and put on cd-r’s for a small east coast tour a few years back. I wanted to move away from using my name because I didn’t want people to assume it was just singer-songwriter music, although looking back on it it’s basically just a guy and a guitar and pretty much what would be classified as singer-songwriter music. Ha ha … I liked the idea of playing under a pseudonym so that I wouldn’t feel pigeon-holed. I always thought as my music as being more then just guitar and voice and I wanted to expand on that idea. The reason for the name was basically me just wanting to evoke a feeling before the music was on.  I think that the name is very pastoral and simplistic. Something that I aim for with my music.

I understand Spirit Guides was the product of a long-time fight with writer’s block. How did you finally get the songs on Spirit Guides to emerge?
The record wasn’t so much a fight with writer’s block, but more or less a battle against myself and being comfortable with my songs, or having brought them to a place that felt ready to record. Some of these songs I’ve had for a few years and some we’re wrote during production of the record. I do a lot of writing, and I certainly have my fair share of writer’s block, but I do constantly write music. So much of it just gets shelved because I don’t think it’s worth following through with. I keep them for myself. Many scraps of paper and little recordings.

I understand you had a lot of friends who assisted you with the album. What roles did they play, and how did they help?
On Spirit Guides there are 18 musicians. When Jamie, the engineer/producer, and I started piecing these songs together in the studio we started working out some bigger arrangements to fill them out. We’re surrounded by this amazing network of musicians who I love and I am grateful to be friends with and so we were able to write with certain players in mind. We’d bring them into the studio with the majority of the song in place and then work with them to come up with parts that we all thought fit the songs. It was a very free, collaborative process that worked well for us. People committed to the project like it was their own band because they had a lot of ownership over their parts and in the end I think we were able to build stronger parts because of it.

Spirit Guides reminds me a lot of Great Lake Swimmers. It feels wide, spacious and ethereal, like sitting in a mountain meadow. What are some of your influences?
Well, I do love Great Lake Swimmers. When I first started writing I listened to a lot of Hayden. I think that he still weighs pretty heavy on my music. I’m kind of all over the place when it comes to what I listen to so I don’t really think there’s one single thing that works it’s way into my music. I spend a lot of time listening to friends’ music and so I know that I write with that in mind sometimes (The Wooden Sky, Timber Timbre, Phosphorescent, etc.). I’m definitely more affected by my surroundings and environment then the music I listen to. That always finds its way into my music.

How does Spirit Guides compare to Farewell to Harmony, both lyrically and sonically?
Farewell to Harmony was a much more stripped down affair then Spirit Guides. It had lots of layered guitars and vocals and was recorded in my bedroom.  Mostly guitar and voice, whereas Spirit Guides has bigger arrangements, drums/percussion, a choir, etc.  Definitely bigger songs and I think more diverse songs. I think of Farewell to Harmony as mostly love songs, or “lack of love” songs, haha. Spirit Guides deals with a lot more than that lyrically. There are songs about love too, but also death, and hope, and trying to understand the world.

It’s been several months now since you’ve released Spirit Guides. What have you been working on since?
Well I’m in a Tim Horton’s parking lot in Taber, AB right now emailing this so that means we’re on tour to the west coast and back. Then we’re off to Europe in September to support our record coming out in France on the label KutuFolk Records. Pretty excited about that. Mostly been working in Toronto and writing more music. Trying to find some type of balance in life.

What can we expect from you in the next year?
I hope to release another record in 2011 and I’d love to put out an EP or 7″ before the year is out. We’ll see. The fall is busy for Evening Hymns with touring so it might be tough to find time to get in the studio. I’ve got lots of new music. So who knows … hopefully something recorded before too long.

Listen to “Lanterns,” by Evening Hymns

Listen to “Dead Dears,” by Evening Hymns

If you hit up the July 11 show, make sure to catch opener Bronwyn Malloy. Here’s a bit about her:

Who is Bronwyn Malloy?
As a human being, I’m a twenty-year-old English Lit student, born and raised in Vancouver BC. I plan to spend my life studying, and possibly producing, song lyrics. As a musician… I like to think that if John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans), Dan Mangan, and Joni Mitchell collectively gave birth to a child, but it was kind of a disappointment, I would be that sorry progeny. Good genes, but something’s a bit off.

Tell me a bit about your one-song-a-week summer plans.
My Summer Songs project came about after I took a creative writing course in lyrics and libretto. We had to write a new song nearly every week, and I’d never had so much fun doing homework. So I figured I’d enroll myself in make-believe summer school. I’m writing, recording, and sharing a new song every week for eighteen weeks, sometimes in collaboration with Friends With Benefits, a new local musical collective I’m a member of. I’m on week eleven right now. Yes, it’s deathly.

What the most important thing fans should know about you?
I do a fantastic velociraptor impression. That’s all anyone really needs to know.

One Response to “An interview with: Evening Hymns”
  1. Ming Wu says:

    He is such an amazing musician! Ottawa show he did in March 2010 NXNE 2010.

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