Bielefeld Doesn’t Exist: An Interview with PJ Bond

accidentally named this photo ph bond.jpg

accidentally named this photo ph bond.jpg

On the day PJ Bond’s sophomore LP Where Were You? dropped, I was able to get on the phone with him so we could talk about the album, his upcoming tour, and towns in Germany that don’t actually exist. And my love affair with singer/songwriters continues… 

So Where Were You? came out today! How are you feeling about it?

It’s pretty overwhelming in some cases. I’ve been making this record in some capacity for like 5 years, but actively making it for about 2. The funny thing is just because the band is spread all over and my schedule is kind of crazy we’re not doing a release show and I don’t have physical copies of it as of right now so it’s not, it doesn’t feel that release-y to me even though I know that it is. But it’s actually incredibly exciting for me to say, “here’s this record I’ve been sitting on for so long.” So yeah, that’s a pretty cool thing

Cool, cool.  So what was kind of the spark that really started the album— you said you’ve been working on it for the past five years,  and the past two you’ve really been actively—what was the catalyst in that? 

Well, when I first started recording solo stuff it was kind of born out of necessity. My younger brother, who is in Communipaw, the band on the record, [is] an amazing songwriter, so I was always in rock bands and he was always the songwriter. I started playing as a hired musician for a couple years just to be able to tour more. I didn’t really want to have a regular job and no one wanted to pay me to play my songs, so I played guitar and bass in a couple of bands. 

During that time, since I didn’t have a band to write for, I started writing these songs that were more solo singer/songwriter songs. And one day my brother said, “Well why don’t we just make a little demo. Just kind of for posterity, kind of make a little recording of what you’ve come up with.” So we made a long form demo [because] that made sense at the time. And then I recorded what I guess you could consider my first proper full-length, which would be You Didn’t Know I Was Alphabetical? That came out in 2009, then I immediately started touring non-stop. So the reason I say five years is because after Alphabetical came out I figured I should follow it up with another record. I kind of figured out a little bit how to be a solo guy. Not figured out the tricks, but you know, I wasn’t so much a band guy anymore.

I started writing actual songs. I started working on the next full length and started recording it in early 2011, or late 2010. And if I would have put it out then it would have been a timely release. It would have been a full-length that came out a year and a half after the other one, but I scrapped the entire record. But I kept 3 songs and recorded another one, and released [those songs] a split with my younger brother. Then went back to the drawing board. So a couple of the songs on Where Were You? are redone versions of what would have been a full-length a couple years ago. But I just knew that I needed to listen more, I still had a bunch of touring I had to do, and I just knew I had to figure out more about how to write songs properly before I released the record.

I’d finally felt like I’d written the songs and started rehearsing and recording them in 2013. And then because of complications with mixing and tours and stuff like that, it wasn’t totally done until the end of 2013, to be be released in the spring of 2014. And then that got pushed back because of the record industry and the pressing plants sometimes, your records have to wait. Then I started talking to Xtra Mile [Recordings] and they said, “We want to sign you, but we can’t put your record out until spring of 2015.” So I finished recording the record, I think, fall of 2013, or maybe summer. And then mixing took forever, and then record pressing, and then Xtra Mile stuff, you know. So yeah, it’s been a whirlwind.

Right, so now it’s finally here! Which is, I’m sure, a relief. 

Totally, it’s a little weird, because like I said some of these songs are 5 years old. I love them, but, you know, it’s kind of weird to think I’m releasing, I’ve been playing live for 5 years. Because they were supposed to be on records a long time ago.

Yeah, for sure. So with this album, you have more of a country sound, almost. Was that intentional or is that just kind of what you came into when developing your style for singer/songwriter?

It was intentional in the sense that I love country music and respect a lot of aspects about it. I also really like a lot of musicians and bands who are also influenced by country music but really don’t play strict country, and that can be anything from the alt. country americana world to just rock and roll that liked country music. Or all sort of Southern rock that kind of came off as country-ish, whether it’s— the funny thing is to me the two of the southern rock people that I like, or bands, are Canadian, you know you have Neil Young. But when [those bands] did American, Southern influenced rock and roll, I loved it. A lot of that sound came from fusing rock and roll and country. And then some of [the country sound] was, yeah, just that the songs sort of called for it. So it wasn’t  singer songwriter tropes that I was trying to play into, per say. But I think sometimes other songwriters have crossed a similar bridge where they say, “Oh the storytelling in the song or that approach sort of lends itself well to the production style of a country thing.” So sometimes without meaning to you kind of fulfill that destiny.

We were very conscious of making the songs able to stand on their own for what they wanted to be,  and not worrying too much about a cohesive sounding record at the time. We figured we’d make sense of it later. But the sort of 90’s, 2000s indie-alt.-rock-punk-emo-whatever-you-want-to-call-it way was to set up the drums and blow through the entire record with just the drums, and then blow through the record with just the bass. We very consciously did not want to do that, so we recorded the songs live in a couple of rooms together. Most of the performances on the record are single takes, and you can tell! It sounds like a band in a room. It doesn’t sound like one of those tight, neat 90’s, 2000’s, everything’s locked into the space of the record. So yeah, the country thing kind of came from that. You know, everyone playing together, playing off each other, and kind of leaning into the vibe of the song.

Awesome, awesome. So what are you doing to prepare for this European/UK tour? 

I just spent the last 5 hours trying to figure out flights! I was talking to some friends in Greece about possibly playing some shows there, and my older brother is going to be in Spain with his two sons and his wife. So I’m thinking if I can manage it… And then of course I’ve been talking to very nice people like you and trying to make sure that the entire world knows I put out a record. There’s just so much going on, all the time, that it’s hard to make a noise in this game.

Certainly. So it’s been mentioned a few times that you’re Philadelphia-based. Is that where you claim home right now? I know on your bandcamp, it’s more like Asheville, NC that you claimed. 

Yeah, I mean where ever I was when I created any various piece of electronic identity is probably what I chose at the time. I’ve been in Philadelphia since June of 2014 so whatever, it’s coming up on a year. This is the first time I’ve had my own mailing address, paid rent and stayed in one place, in about 6 years. Asheville is where my older brother lives and was my mailing address for a few years, so it got to the point where I would spend two months in Asheville, 2 months in Brooklyn, NY, and a month in various places in New Jersey. If you combine all the single and couple night stays it’d be like, that collection in each state. And then everything in between would be touring. So yeah I’ve been just living out of the back of my car for about 5 years. [His car’s name is Sweetpea, in case you were wondering. Adorable.]

And the Philadelphia thing is just because I’m like, “Oh I finally have a bed and a desk,” which took about 2 months to make happen. I feel like since I have a bed here and a job here that I work a couple days a week, I have to say that I live here right now. But then when I go on tour I’m going to put everything in storage, stop paying rent, and quit my job.

Right on, so what city, throughout your various tours, have you found the most support in? Or is that not a fair question?

No, I mean, the mostly true response is that there are so many amazing places and it’s so hard to pick! There are lots of amazing places. But I will say in general, and this is not 100% across the board, but in general, Europe tends to be more supportive of me and a lot of musicians. And if you focus in further, I’d say the more Germanic regions: Germany, Austria, and The Netherlands, getting away from the Romantic countries. And then if you focus in even tighter, in Germany, there have just been some amazing, amazing people. Bielefeld, which is funny because there’s a joke in Germany that Bielefeld doesn’t exist. Everyone claims to have met someone from there but has never been there. It’s just funny to me that one of my favorite places in the world that some of my best friends are from, if I tell anyone else in Germany that I love Bielefeld, they say, “You know that Bielefeld doesn’t exist right?” Yeah, so Bielefeld is great.

A bunch of the people that come to those shows put on one of my first European shows ever, in a small village, called Dörentrup. And those people are insanely wonderful. Actually, I have a tattoo of a small German house—and they call themselves the Hillentroopers—and it says “Hillentrooper” under it. I’m actually the only person, none of them have [a Hillentrooper tattoo]. But there’s actually another guy in the Philadelphia-area that has some sort of Dörentrup tattoo, I think, because he knows how wonderful they are as well. But yeah, I’ve had plenty of meeting some amazing people all over. [The name of the town is Dörentrup, but I think the easy English way to spell it is Hillentroop, hence the Hillentrooper thing. German is weird in English.]

There’s some people in Australia that have been crazy nice to me, to the point where I was asked recently to write a birthday song for somebody. It’s been pretty great. But the Austrians that have always taken really great care of me in Vienna. [The Austrians] are actually some of the people coming on tour with me. I have a band over there of mostly Austrians and some British folks, and they will be my backing band.

I think that’s all I’ve got for you. Thank you so much for allowing Funeral Sounds to review your album and also harass you with questions. 

Absolutely my pleasure, I really appreciate the interest and the support.

Yeah, of course! When are you leaving on tour? 

The first show is on the second of June, but I’m probably gonna fly over a couple day before to rehearse.

So you’re leaving — yeah that makes sense you were looking at flights today.

Yeah, the way that my life works I know that there’s going to be some wild thing that comes up. We’ll see, I may do it tonight, I may do it tomorrow.

Well, good luck with the tour and hopefully we’ll see you on a tour stateside! 

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Ashlee Christensen

About Ashlee Christensen

Ashlee is a 20-something feminist college graduate currently residing in Pittsburgh, PA. In her free time, she hangs out with her cat George, learns the ukulele, and writes sad poems that can be found on tumblr (of course). Her favorite bands usually start with the letter F.

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