If there is one show to see this weekend, it’s the Local Showcase going down Friday, Aug. 23 at Vinyl Music Hall featuring Jonni Greth, Isle, Pioneers! O Pioneers! and Jpegasus. Dig that $5 out of your couch cushions, hit up Grandma for early birthday money or consider selling some of that sweet, sweet plasma—it’ll be worth it to see what music the Gulf Coast has to offer.
Magnolia Springs, Ala., is where songwriter and two-time Pensacola resident Jonni Greth lays his head to rest these days. Taking time out from a home-cooked Tex-Mex dinner to talk to the IN on the phone, Greth explained his take on whether growing up in the South has shaped his sometimes dark and religiously-informed lyrics rather than growing up in a more secular region would have.
“It really depends,” Greth said. “If a person has been raised in a Christian environment at all it seems like the evangelical world has become more homogenized—that a lot of the Christian experience is the same everywhere. [But] there is a lot that makes the South unique.”
“Pretty much if I play anywhere in the South, there are going to be people who relate to [my music],” he continued. “And they don’t think exactly the same way in the North; not everyone has that religious consciousness that we have down here.”
Echoing an almost Southern Gothic mentality in his lyrics, Greth agreed that growing up and developing as a musician here had a definite influence on his work. “I’ve talked about that a lot with my songwriter friends and their approaches are different depending on where they’ve come from,” he said. “Out West, especially in the Northwest, they seem to be a bit more flowery, at least the people I’ve known. They’ve got that kind of Western prose going on. Southern songwriters seem to be a lot darker.”
Greth uses the same inspiration to create his visual art, using his Tumblr page Mountain Dew Mouth (mountaindewmouth.tumblr.com) to expand his ideas past what he can get down on paper in song form. When the drive is not right for songwriting, he explained that he uses his collages, paintings and drawings to explore the same themes. Through this, his fans can gain a deeper understanding from his visual art, and vice versa.
“They are about the same things, but it is almost like looking at it from a different angle. I am obsessed with what every other Southerner is obsessed with—which seems to be God, sex and death,” he added with a small laugh.
The Southern influence extends as far as the music Greth has been listening to most recently—the album “Third” by Big Star. After a quick lesson about Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, described by Greth as “a depressed kid from Memphis” following the end of previous group the Box Tops, Greth mused about the influence listening to the album has had on his own music. “[Big Star] had great melody lines and gradually got into the power pop thing. Whether or not it came though, that’s what I was kind of trying to do with ‘Virgin Queen.’”
The juxtaposition of lyrics like “And Grandpa got shook up when the Parkinson’s set in and Grandma’s heart broke every day since he forgot her name” against music with that power pop edge certainly seems to take “Virgin Queen” exactly from his lyrically dark roots to the place that Greth aimed for.
Greth hopes to one day move on to more of a power pop sound like idol Chilton, but admits that so far song writing has served as a coping skill to work out feelings of depression. One may think that he is at least on his way, however, when he also admits another musical love—“Wings” by Paul McCartney.
“Paul McCartney’s later stuff is amazing to me,” he said. “It’s cheesy as all get out but it’s really well-written and it’s super happy. It takes a lot of bravery to do that.” When asked teasingly if we might hear a “Wings” cover Friday night, Greth promised with a laugh, “Maybe one day when I get good enough.”
WHAT: Jonni Greth with Isle, Pioneers! O Pioneers!, Jpegasus
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox