In September, I had the distinct pleasure not only of seeing Jon Auer in an intimate house concert, but – the next morning – spending a few hours in conversation with him. We covered a wide range of subjects, and Jon was very forthcoming and extremely generous with his time. This week I proudly present an edited transcript of selected parts of that chat. – bk
BILL KOPP: Let’s start with the big question. What are you up to these days?
JON AUER: I’m kind of reentering the atmosphere in a way, honestly. Because for a number of reasons, I stopped playing shows and touring. Of course, the pandemic was a huge part of that. And obviously I’m not playing with a band I played with for a long time anymore, The Posies. So a lot of things shifted, and it happened organically, all at once. So this trip I’m doing right now might seem like a minor, small, boutique-item tour, and it really kind of is. But for me, it’s actually a big deal because I haven’t really played, except for one solo show in Richmond around the Big Star 50th stuff I did last year. This is my first time to getting back to playing since pre-pandemic.
This is kind of my litmus test, you could say. And I’ve got more planned now that this has happened. It’s funny: it doesn’t really matter what level it’s happening at. If you’re a jogger and you don’t jog, you miss it, even if you have to stop doing it for a certain reason. And I’m finding that even just the act of doing it is essential for so many reasons. Yeah, it’s nice to make some money, but the reward is getting back out here and doing it and hanging out with people. There are certain muscles in my body – in my brain, my heart, my soul – that don’t really get activated unless I do these things. I just noticed these last few days that it feels really good to be out here doing it again. Because let’s face it: everybody got messed around by what happened in the world recently. I think you’d have to be a hologram to have not been affected by it.
I’ve been in a holding pattern in a way, and working on other people’s records. Certainly there’s the Big Star stuff that’s kept me active, too, which is really cool. And that’s gearing up to do more stuff. And it’s been surprising just how much demand there has been for that, too. It’s incredible to think that nobody wanted to know at all back in the day. Yes, it’s not the original Big Star; it’s more of a loving recreation or tribute. But it feels like the real deal.
It’s true to the spirit of it. And that’s the most important thing, I think, because of the people who are involved. It’s not a case of, “Hey, let’s get the biggest names.” It’s more “Let’s get the best people.”
Absolutely. And it’s also the best people who actually want to get along and want to play with each other. Because I think if the pandemic taught me anything personally, it’s that I don’t want to put any energy towards anything that I don’t really truly enjoy doing anymore. And I don’t want to be around people that I don’t want to be around, even when I work.
I love producing records, and I’ve made half of my a career – half of my living – making records for other people. I made the Posies’ first record in a home studio in my house. I was an engineer at the age of 16; I was working on an eight track analog studio in my dad’s house. I’ve done records for Sub Pop. I still don’t want to do something just for the money, though. I have to always find something that I like about it or I have to really, honestly like it and enjoy it. It’s probably not great for the bank account sometimes, but I’m not wired that way.
Last night I played two songs from Songs From the Year of our Demise: “Six Feet Under” was the first song. It seems like it could be kind of heavy, but really it’s just about relationships: “Let’s both allow each other to be each other and move on. And it’s okay that it’s over and we don’t have to be unhappy that it isn’t anymore. Everybody has a right to be happy and move on with their lives.”
And then I played a song called “Bottom.” I wrote that about I had a friend who was… I’ve had several friends who… I mean, let’s face it. I mean, the music business – that’s not fair. The world is littered [with those kinds of stories]. But that was also more than just someone being in the throes of not seeing what kind of substances could do, but also just people who you wish could see how great you think they are. That’s a really common malady with a lot of people: not being able to be aware of your own worth. So that was kind of a loving, empathetic way to try to say, “Hey, you are beautiful person and I hope you figure it out.”
It was a very moving tune. I really enjoyed it. So as you characterized that aptly as a “party record.”
If you were making a collection of songs now, would there be a unifying character or vibe?
That’s interesting, because I’ve thought about it in terms of growth in songwriting. Some of the people that I’ve come to really admire – people I didn’t really understand or wasn’t as in tune to – I really admire now. And one of them, thanks to my wife, is John Prine. What struck me about John Prine’s songwriting was the way he balanced humor and the joy and the pain of life, side by side. Somehow he was laughing at it in a way that wasn’t making it trivial. The lyrics straddled the fence between making you laugh and making you want to cry. And I thought, “That’s brilliant,” because the record I did, Songs From the Year of Our Demise, is very much a “make you want to cry” kind of record. There are some bits of humor too, and it’s worth checking out, for sure.
But it made me think that I probably would lean more towards that kind of balance now that I’ve had a little more time under my belt, so to speak. The older you get, the more you look at life, and you realize that it’s incredibly beautiful and also unpredictable, sometimes hard to navigate, sometimes just the best thing ever. It’s so many things. And I think that my writing lyrically would probably reflect that more at this point. I was really impressed with Prine’s lyrics, shall I say. I just thought, “God, I just laughed my ass off about something I shouldn’t be laughing about!” And it made it even more poignant, if that makes any sense.
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