Jon Latham – “Real Bad News,” Touring and Creative Control

Jon Latham

You know it’s a good night when it ends at a Waffle House, so that’s where we met with Jon Latham to talk all things about his debut album “Real Bad News,” touring, music and pretty much any question we could think of at the moment.

Creative Control: You gave your Indiegogo campaign 60 days to be funded. Within 24 hours, it was done.

Jon Latham: It is safe to say that I personally extremely underestimated the possibility that we could actually reach our goal in a fairly reasonable amount of time…. I’ve never had the experience of releasing an album or releasing a record. We felt that going a full 60-day term would be really playing it safe. If we don’t get fully funded, we did it where we get the funds, they’ll take a little more off the top, obviously, if we don’t actually reach the goal, but we’ll get what we can and then go from there as far as what we’re able to press and how much publicity we can actually afford to get the word out. So, safe to say we were shocked is the word, because we – I say we because Josh, co-producer Josh Morris, he helped me set it up – we were talking it out as far as what can we offer? We don’t really have that many perks to offer. That was one of the other things why we kind of underestimated what could possibly happen because there [are] a lot of Indiegogo campaigns out there where they’re offering 50 bucks gets you an exclusive t-shirt, $3,000 you get to go on a cruise with the band! I don’t really have much else to give with the exception to the fact that there’s going to be a record at the end of all this. So, because we didn’t have that many flashy things to really offer, we were really erring on the side of caution going the full 60 days because of all things, music doesn’t sell the way it used to, so we kind of felt like even though we feel it’s a great product, we feel that it’s a really good album, there is that fear that it’s kind of a tough sell just to say, “Pre-order this CD in good faith that what you’re gonna be getting is a record worth listening to.” We were stunned – completely stunned – and we’re still getting people pre-ordering it now. I think last time I checked, we were at $2,400, which is $400 over what we asked for, and as it keeps going up, these people keep pre-ordering, and every dime that we make is gonna go towards just trying to get the word out about the record in the only ways that we can figure out how. We’re making that up as we go, too.

CC: So, two of those were house shows that you’re offering?

JL: Yeah, we offered house shows for $250 and they were limited to the Nashville area and the Atlanta area. Obviously because going anywhere else right now, I don’t really have anywhere else to stay, but I have places in Atlanta where I can play and stay to be able to accommodate that, and Nashville, obviously, it’s pretty easy to get around here regardless of where they turn out, but one person [who purchased a house show] lives in the Atlanta area and one person live a little bit out of Nashville. It’s do-able, so we’re gonna make that happen. And those are still viable options. If anybody else wants to put in for house shows, if it falls in those parameters, I’m all about it. I really think house shows, especially for guys like me who just do acoustic songwriting stuff, that’s a great way of introducing my music to people who would otherwise maybe not go out to hear it – just inviting some friends and family over to this person’s house for a chance to hear it – it seems like a cool way of exposing it.

CC: For those shows, are you thinking of maybe doing acoustic sets, or do you want to have a band with you?

JL: I figure for the sake of the house shows, because I don’t know how big these houses are, I think just playing acoustic would probably be the best route to go. We don’t necessarily need to worry about transporting a PA or anything like that. Within the size of your standard living room concert or something like that, you don’t need much…. They’ll be able to hear me; I’m not gonna whisper. There’s a little bit of screaming on the record, so it comes out. In general, in the long term plan, I think I plan on staying a pretty much acoustic act. There [are] a lot of guys out there now, like me, who are able to make a pretty honest living, going on the road by themselves, self-funded with what they have, just go out there with an acoustic guitar, play to a room of people who want to listen and make enough money off of the merch they’re selling to get to the next show. They’re bankrolling themselves off of being able to be quickly transportable. Another friend of mine here in town did a West Coast tour and he traveled on a Greyhound bus from city to city. That’s way easier to do when it’s just you and your guitar than it could ever be trying to get a band together and go up and down the West Coast. In the long run, I’d say that I’m planning on getting a full band together here in Nashville for special one-off shows, local shows and stuff like that. All-in-all, I think going my own way would be the smart way to take it first.

CC: What made you want to write this album?

JL: I guess you could say in a way I was kind of forced into it. When I moved up to Nashville, I moved here with the intention and the original goal was to continue doing music with my friend who I had been playing music in Atlanta with for several years. [We] were doing songwriting and such together, and I was kind of helping in the pursuit of that as kind of the side man and the co-writer. Not too long after I got up here, she found herself with a development deal and a publishing deal of sorts. It was great for her and the exposure was really good for her, but I just wasn’t a part of that. The folks she was working with didn’t really see – I guess they might have seen me as kind of a tough sell, and I get that. I’m a little bit old for the game. I’m 32 years old and in this type of game, usually they’re looking for somebody who’s a little bit younger, so there’s a little more built-in longevity there, I suppose. And on top of that, I don’t necessarily have a face for “Cosmo,” so they can’t really market me on style that much because I’m doing this interview in Crocs right now – as I’ve done most of my shows in Crocs because they’re comfy. So, with that in mind, I found myself in a situation where I’m here in this new city and just beginning to make some friends, but I’m kind of on my own, so I had to look at myself artistically and be like, “Well, what do I do now?” It turned into a situation where I kind of started writing songs just based off of incidents of my life, basically true stories – elaborating on an emotional level of true stories that all ready existed. I found I was able to do that pretty easily, pretty comfortably and in that way, the album kind of wrote itself. When it came time to actually work on the record, it was all ready this set of 12 songs that I felt had this – it’s not a concept album by any means – but it certainly had this particular ebb and flow of emotions I felt kind of played out almost like a movie in my head – the high points, the low points and all points in between. The songs themselves gave the album this full character. I wish I could say that I planned it out that way, but that’s just kind of how they came out. So what made me want to write it in the long run was I kind of accidentally stumbled upon finding my own voice and once I found it, things just came a lot easier. I feel more and more confident as I continue to write. So, this album became a snapshot of what the last two years, musically, have been for me here in Nashville.

CC: Now that the album is officially funded, what are your next steps?

JL: The one game plan that I’ve had was I feel pretty good about the support structure of friends and colleagues that I’ve found here in Nashville and I feel like finding and building my audience here will help bolster other opportunities regionally to kind of begin to expand. Use Nashville as a home base and expand out regionally, and from there, maybe find these other markets where people would like to hear these songs. So, I’m not talking about embarking on a full-fledged tour, but there’s all ready been talks with friends and colleagues of mine who are familiar with the way life on the road works, how to make it work financially, they’re giving me some opportunities to kind of dip my toes in the water – weekend runs to places outside of Nashville, within the region, like Kentucky, Alabama, down to New Orleans, Georgia…. So really, the plan after the album’s out is to hopefully continue to garner support here at home while slowly, but consistently, finding my way out into other parts where I have yet to really play for anybody, to see if there’s anyone there willing to listen.

CC: Looking pretty far into the future, do you think you’d want to do another album?

JL: I’ve just now started jumping back into writing. Something that was kind of new to me was it wasn’t extremely stressful, but there is a stress level where you have this record that you’ve been working on and you’re just wanting it to get finished and getting it out. The last couple of months, it’s been that way for me – different time constraints because I do have a day job and things of that nature – and that stress has affected my ability to shift my concentration back on the things that I’m trying to write. Although, there were some songs that didn’t make it onto this album just because in some ways – it’s not that they aren’t any good – but they didn’t really fit the structure that I saw for this record. But some of those songs, as I’ve been continuing to play them out at shows and things, have become the favorites of the crowd. They really like these songs, so it seems reasonable to say that the skeletal structure of what the next record might be, some of those songs are all ready there. I’ve started working on some other material as well. I would hope that if given the opportunity to do another record, I would definitely be up for it. I went all in on this one just because I don’t kid myself on the idea that if this really doesn’t go anywhere, I can at least look at this one record and say that it’s one I can live with and I’m proud of, and if it’s the the only thing I ever did, I can at least say that I did this. I think it’s a good thing. I’d like the chance to do another record or three or five if I’ve got it in me. I just want to make sure that the quality is there as well.

CC: What have you been listening to lately?

JL: My musical taste is so off the wall. Right now, in my player at home, I have the most recent Jason Isbell record “Something More Than Free,” which is arguably one of the best records to come out this year. The War on Drugs “Lost in the Dream,” which was one of my favorite albums from last year. It’s pretty much on constant rotation. Also, recently I’ve been listening to – more than anything is to help me sleep – Serge Gainsbourg – which I don’t think you’ll hear any of that influence in my record, but I enjoy listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s albums, especially “The History of Melody Nelson.” Those are the three that are in my player right now. Yeah, the new Jason Isbell album has only been out about two weeks, but it is just that good. I think the only album that’s come out this year that has even gotten close to that type of play for me is the Father John Misty record… And of course, Jimmy Eat World. That’s always playing.

CC: What do you like to do outside of music?

JL: I’m not good at anything else! Right now, at the house where I live with my roommates… we were coming upon a very big fulfillment in a really great accomplishment in the fact that we’re about to finish up the last season of “The Wire.” So, that’s a lot of time spent on the HBO On Demand. Truthfully, when I’m not doing this music, I am playing in a side project with my roommates. We’re in a band called Quinn. I play guitar and I’ve done some co-writing with them. So, really between playing music for myself and playing music with them and then just constantly listening to records, as I am prone to do, 99% of the time, when I’m not doing anything else, I’m pretty much a very boring person. I enjoy going to Waffle Houses and rock shows and that’s what I live for.

CC: Is there anything you want to talk about that I didn’t ask you?

JL: I don’t want to assume that it’s not what it’s about, but the fact that it’s called Creative Control Magazine, I would imagine that one of the things that y’all looks for is somebody who has creative control… The fact that it’s called Creative Control Magazine, I think the thing that kind of interested me in just doing this interview was the fact that I’ve been very lucky – and I know that there’s some people that are as lucky – but a thing like creative control in Nashville, that’s something you’ve got to fight for, and in a lot of cases, something you earn. Good case in point, and by no means is this a career comparison here. In some ways I guess it is, but I feel like Taylor Swift is where she is because of the success that she generated for years and years. If Taylor Swift were to do her first record and then follow it up with the record that is “1989,” I have a feeling it would ruffle way, way, way more feathers than it did after she did one, two, three, four technically “country friendly” albums. And after those albums, she was able to kind of break away from the Nashville scene and deliver whatever record she wanted. So, it seems like it’s something that’s really earned. Garth Brooks at this point – nobody’s gonna tell Garth Brooks what type of record [to make].

However, with certain artists in Nashville, there is an expectation for what you’re supposed to get from an act and what they’re supposed to deliver. The beauty of it is because nobody’s really paid that much attention to me, I’ve never had to worry about anybody telling me what I should do creatively or what type of songs I should be writing. The bulk of the songs on the record clock in at over four and a half minutes. It’s over an hour long and that in itself – you’re hard pressed for a lot of radio-friendly songs on the record, but it’s the record I wanted to make.

So, I feel like in regards to creative control, there’s one thing I wanted to talk about is the fact that I feel very lucky to be able to sit here and say that I have an album where at the end of the day, there was nobody over my shoulder telling me how to make this record or how this record should sound. It was more of a communal atmosphere of friends who came together with belief in the songs – and they like the songs just as they are – and the whole idea was to take those songs to track a record, to flesh them out as best and as properly as possible. So, in that case, speaking on creative control, i think that’s something to throw out there. In this time when everybody’s waiting on a publishing deal or everybody’s waiting on someone to sell them who they are as an artist… they’re waiting for an A&R guy to tell them, “This needs another single,” or something like that.  The fact that nobody’s really paid any attention to me  in that regard whatsoever has been a true blessing. I was able to kind of do it on my own. I’m flying or falling on my own terms, which is the only way I’d really wanna do it. I don’t really have much of a punk aesthetic on the record, but I feel like the 15-year-old punk in me who still talks about The Clash and the Ramones after school with all my friends – I think that part of me is still the one who doesn’t like to be told what to do. I don’t like somebody to come and tell me this song’s too long, you should cut your hair, you should really think about losing the weight or stop wearing the Crocs. At the end of the day, that’s all secondary to me. At the end of the day, I just play what I play and if people like it, great, and if they don’t, that’s fine, too.

CC: Can you say, “Crocs are punk rock” so we can use that as a pull quote?

JL: I’ll put it this way. The thing is you’re far-fetched to see somebody who confidently strides through whatever gig he’s playing wearing Crocs. Are you really here to judge my footwear? These are songs I wrote. If anybody gets hung up on my looks, I don’t really know what to tell ’em. ‘Cause if this was just a looks game, I’d be wasting my time all ready…. Luckily, it’s not a looks game. I’ll put it that way.

CC: Favorite professional wrestler?

JL: I think my favorite professional wrestler… Two months ago I would have said Hulk Hogan.

CC: Oooooooh…

JL: Too soon? No, “American Dream,” Dusty Rhodes. Dusty Rhodes was always my favorite.

CC: Moe’s or Willy’s?

JL: Willy’s – hands down Although, I will say there’s a place here in Nashville called Baja Burrito that is truly like second fiddle to Willy’s Mexicana Grill back in Atlanta. Once I went to Baja Burrito, I was like, this is as close to Willy’s as I can get? I can live with that.

CC: Favorite after show meal?

JL: Athens Family Restaurant on 8th Avenue – or Franklin Pike, I guess it would be. On the weekends, they’re open 24 hours…. They’ve got your basic diner fare, they’ve got the best Greek food I think I’ve really had. They had me when I saw they put feta cheese on the fries.  That was all I need.

CC: What is love?

JL: What is love? It almost seems like it would be easier to ask the question of what isn’t love? Which honestly, now that we’re talking about it, maybe that’s the question of the record. What is? If there’s anything that keeps popping up throughout the bulk of the record – maybe not in every song, but in most – is the struggle of unrequited or undefined love. I think we settled on the idea of “Real Bad News” as a title, well we took it from a line in the song, but I think it  sums it up well because when you say something like, “What is love?”, idealistically, everybody has their own idea of what they see love as, but it’s never as simple as that. So, my whole thing is like in rock ‘n’ roll, in my own mind, I know that it’s a very idealistic approach to everything. When Bruce Springsteen tells me I’m “born to run,” yeah, I want to believe it, but it’s not as easy as you make it seem. Escaping life is not as easy as he makes it sound and that’s sort of the real bad news of it. It’s always a little more complicated at the end of it all, whether it be love, whether it be loneliness, whether it be frustration… In the case of Dorothy, whether it be being a stripper, everybody has a complicated story and I think that’s what this record’s about – love, death and everything in between.

CC: Weddings or funerals?

JL: Both are kind of a drag. I prefer weddings. Weddings are a celebration where what you’re celebrating  and who you’re celebrating, you get to hug at the end of the night. Funerals, there’s a finality to it. In both cases, in a wedding and a funeral, the one thing they share is at the end of it, life goes on. Two people come together, they get married, they start this new chapter and they continue on. At a funeral, you say your final goodbyes and you have to carry on without that person. They share that; the fact that you have to leave something behind  at the end of it all at a funeral, there’s finality. Yeah, I’ll take a wedding over a funeral every day of the week.

CC: Favorite show?

JL: Best show I’ve ever seen: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band every time.  And as far as the best Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show I’ve ever seen, probably the one they played here in Nashville last April. It was at Bridgestone and a friend of mine drove up from Atlanta. It was my eighth Springsteen show and it was his second…. So, yeah, I’m pretty fanatical about Springsteen. He always to me, as far as live performances, he is the gold standard by all means. And he is the standard by which, even in my own, measly way, that’s the standard I measure myself to. Even if I’m playing to a crowd of a whopping 10, I playing to them with everything I’ve got as if I was trying to fill a stadium with my sad, sad folk songs.

CC: Is there such a thing as a guilty pleasure?

JL: Not for me, no. I say, if you like something, fess up to it and like it. I can say that because for year I kind of found, me being kind of a rock guy, I would sit there and say that my guilty pleasure was Phil Collins, Richard Barts and Michael Bolton, and it dawned on me as I got older that I was listening to other pop music like Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, then I realized there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. You either like something or you don’t. If you think something is a guilty pleasure, or you’re referring to it as your guilty pleasure,  the fact is you’re saying you like it. Therefore, there’s nothing to be guilty about. I say own it. Let the freak flag fly. You like Michael Bolton. You’ll pay money to go see Michael Bolton. Don’t be ashamed to be sitting there. I wasn’t.

CC: Favorite cartoon?

JL: If I had to pick one, I’d have to go for the old Warner Brothers cartoons. Pre-Space Jam, pre-80s, I’m talking directed by Chuck Jones. The ones that now, if they show them on TV, they actually have to edit some things out. They stopped showing all the really good Tom and Jerrys. The one that I always noticed that changed was this Bugs Bunny cartoon where it was like a rematch between the tortoise and the hare. In this one, in order to beat the turtle, Bugs Bunny had built this contraption like a turtle shell and he wore that… So, he’s dressed like a turtle, so lo and behold, the turtle dresses like a rabbit. So, they’re racing, and every time he’d come around, even though he’s the rabbit, the other rabbits there are waitin’ for him and they beat the crap out of him because they thought he was the turtle, and they push the turtle, dressed as a rabbit, over the finish line. So, at the very end, in the original version of this cartoon – and I hope it’s out there somewhere so I don’t sound like an idiot – but he finally goes to these guys and takes off the hat, shows the ears and is like, “I’m the rabbit!” “I’m the rabbit!” They look at the camera. They break the fourth wall, like, “Eh, now he tells us!” They all take out a gun and shoot themselves in the head and that’s the end of the cartoon. But what I’ve noticed was they showed this last year on one of those Sunday morning things on Cartoon Network where they’re showing all the old cartoons, and I guess when he’s like, “I’m the rabbit!”, it just zooms [out] and that’s the end. So, it doesn’t even end on a good joke. But I like the old Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. At some point, mathematically speaking, the coyote should have gotten him by now. I always found it interesting for the coyote ‘cause he never seemed to get it right and he placed his faith, wrongly so, in all of the ACME products. I figure after like three or four discharge on you the wrong way, you might find a new manufacturer to go with when you’re getting anvils and rocket launchers and huge magnets, whatever they’re making at ACME. I was kind of upset that Acme Feed & Seed down on Broadway has nothing to do with that ACME company.

CC: What’s your favorite cuss word?

JL: So many to choose from. It kind of comes and goes with the weather. Recently, I’ve been using the word “dickfarmer” a lot. Which I know isn’t the worst thing in the world… I’ve been saying “dickfarmer” a lot. Usually in a certain sort of rage or annoyance, a softly muttered “motherfucker” just always gets the job done. Like an eye roll – almost unintelligible, but it’s said, but more so with the eye roll, it’s felt. This is turning into “Inside the Actors Studio.”

CC: Favorite dessert?

JL: There’s only one that I’d kill for – literally. My mom, every year for Christmas, makes what’s called the chocolate eclair cake. It’s not your standard cake far. It’s not like dough and flour and all that shit, but it’s this layered thing. Graham crackers, vanilla pudding, graham crackers, vanilla pudding, graham crackers, vanilla pudding, graham crackers and on the top graham crackers layer is this homemade chocolate fudge covering. You just spread that across, keep it in the fridge for two or three hours and you just cut into it. You cut out little graham cracker squares and it’s the best thing in the world. I’ve had other people’s chocolate eclair cakes, they do it wrong. My mom is the only one that can make this properly. I don’t know if it’s because they’re not using actual butter, or love or gluten. They might be using gluten free Jell-o pudding.

CC: Favorite guest on @midnight?

JL: Steve Agee. Every time Steve Agee is on there, even if he doesn’t win, he wins. Followed secondly by the few times that Dana Gould has been on there. Dana Gould is, in my opinion, the end all, be all funniest comedian out there, period. Every time I meet somebody who doesn’t know who Dana Gould is, I’m immediately like, “Pull up your Netflix queue and look at ‘Let Me Put My Thoughts In You’ now.”

CC: There’s something that opposite of a guilty pleasure, like something you’re very vocal about hating – what is that?

JL: Don Henley. I mean, it’s on the record – like on the album. The first track of the album involves I had this dream – and I know it’s kind of in style right now to say that the Eagles suck. The fact is the Eagles made some records I truly enjoy. However, it seems like one thing…what influenced this particular track on the record, I had this dream where I was fighting Don Henley in a boxing match and we went toe to toe and he beat the hell out of me. I woke up and I told this dream to a few people and it seems like everybody’s of the opinion that Don Henley is not a very nice guy. Of course, I’ve never met him or anything like that, but I just kind of buy into the idea. It’s one of those where there’s smoke, there’s fire type of things I suppose, where you hear enough people say that Don Henley is not a nice person, they can’t all just be making it up. I kind of wrote this little jab at him in this song and it turns out that everybody who hears that song will get the reference. There [have] been several people coming up to me with Don Henley stories and they’re all horror stories, basically – as far as like his attitude or his way of carrying himself – which, again, that doesn’t warrant whether or not it’s true, but I will say that I would hope to be a good enough person that people talk about me with way nicer candor, or at least I would come forward and be like, “Nuh-uh!” But I don’t really think he cares. I tend to throw some, we’ll say, playful jabs on Henley.

CC: How long have you been a vivid dreamer?

JL: A lot of the times the most vivid dreams I have come in a state of anxiety. I read somewhere that anxiety can cause you to have some really warped dreams. The second half of that song, really, came after a really bad case of writer’s block, and I was really stressed out ‘cause nothing was coming to me and I’d have these dreams where – I had one last night where I played a music festival with Paul McCartney and he told me he didn’t like my songs. Doesn’t mean that it’s true, but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to play, much like I don’t think I’m gonna get in a boxing ring with Don Henley…. I’d do it for charity. I’d take a punch to the face from Don Henley. Honestly, the fact that this song exists, I probably have it coming.

CC: Anything else you’d like to talk about?

JL: I should go on the record and say, without any bias to anybody here at this table, that I look at this record as a team effort in a lot of ways. If you look at the credits on the record, almost everything on the record was played by me, but there’s this small [group] of folks that I had involved in the making of the record. Certain people had played on it, but on top of that, Josh Morris came to me and asked if he could be involved with the record, then I reached out to Jerod [McBrayer] to see if he would be willing to help us by mastering it. Both Josh and Jerod, on the level of mixing, engineering, producing and mastering, were willing to be part of this record to blindly see where it goes. That was really a big part of the finished product sounds the way it does – it’s out of that kind of mutual trust and respect for what we were all able to do. I trusted Josh’s ear when it came to the mixing as much as I trusted Jerod’s ear when it came to the mastering. Again, I don’t know that’s a luxury that a lot of people have in Nashville, at least on certain levels. There’s something about making records with your friends that is way less stressful than I would imagine trying to make a record with somebody who is more of a business colleague.

There are still a few weeks left to fund “Real Bad News.” Click below to support a Nashville musician.

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