Jon Strahl Band Interview
OnStage Magazine interviews Jon Strahl
Interview and photography by Kurt Anno
There is something happening here in the Indianapolis music scene. Something wonderful. The Jon Strahl Band is that something. This quartet is well known locally and has been making their mark in Indy for several years now. I stumbled upon this band a little over a year ago at Indy’s Slippery Noodle Inn, the only real blues bar in Indianapolis. I was so impressed in fact, I took some photos and did a short review of their show that night. Read my original review here. Now, a year later JSB is releasing their first full length record, The Ladder. The record drops on Saturday, November 8th and will be kicked off with an album release party at The Slippery Noodle. The record was produced and mixed at Azmyth Recording by John Ripley. This is a band that is based on blues, but they are so much more than that. Blues, rock and soul balances them. Namesake, guitarist and songwriter, Jon Strahl, 39, is a phenomenally talented individual, but he is quick to step aside and praise his supporting act. And well he should. Leroy McElhiney- drums, Erik Scull- keyboards and – Sonny White- bass guitar. What I like about this band is it’s balance. All players as individuals are very, very talented but together they play as one unit.
Tight, polished and professional are just a couple of adjectives that pop to mind. I recently was able to catch up with Strahl for a little chat and to talk about the new record, The Ladder, which was recorded by John Ripley.
OnStage Magazine: How did you come about recording with John Ripley?
Jon Strahl: I had met John through some friends that had brought him to one of our shows. We talked and I mentioned to John that I wanted to do a recording project. As it turns out John was wanting to do the same thing from a producing standpoint. Stylistically he’s into the same kind of music that I am and we just kind of hit it off. It was kind of by chance, but I’m very happy with it.
OSM: Where did you record the album?
JS: We did the principal recording at Azmyth Recording here in Indy and we did some vocals and over-dubs at John’s home as well as all of the mixing.
OSM: Well Jon, the record sounds amazing. It almost sounds to me that the music was recorded live in the studio. It’s something that is not done a lot anymore. One example that jumps out to me is Clapton’s “From The Cradle” which I believe was recorded live in studio. Is that what you did?
JS: It is. It was important to me to record it live in the studio. Most of the principal recording was done with us all in one room. I re-did most of the vocals because it’s hard to get good vocal recording in a live setting. Some of the solos where you here more than one guitar, I would just play the rhythm part and record the solo separately in some cases.
OSM: One of the things I noticed on my favorite song on the album, Sunshine, is how you showed restraint in the solo. It is a beautiful solo, but subdued in a way. A less mature player I think, would make the song about the guitar solo, but you didn’t take that approach.
JS: I’ve never been interested in being “that guy” who just has to show what a good guitarist he is. The focus of this was to come at it from a standpoint of the songs. Whatever makes sense for the song, then do that. There are some songs on the record that don’t have a traditional solo and then there are some tunes that are essentially a solo throughout the song. It was like let’s worry about the music and everything else will take care of itself.
OSM: One of the things I noticed on this record is that the songs have a really good balance. You have nailed it with that effort. Jon, how long was the process and what does it mean to you to see “The Ladder” come to fruition?
JS: It took eighteen months from when we started until we were done. That’s just a long time. It’s too long. The intent was certainly not for it to take that long. Our original bass player, Andy Nathan, ended up moving to Florida to take a job at Florida State. We had started rehearsals in February and found out this news in March. Our schedule was pretty crazy as it was. We had two dates where we could get into the studio and we did a ton of recording. So we did two big sessions and then he was gone. We had many dates over the summer and I had to get a new guy worked in for all of our live dates. That’s when we got Sonny White. So the rest of the summer was spent trying to get recording worked in for the other half of the album. It wasn’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but luckily I had someone like Sonny, who was able to come in and pick things up right away. There were times during the project that I actually sort of hated it.
OSM: Having said that, now that you can look back you obviously seem happy with the outcome.
JS: We definitely are. The other part of it is that John and I took a lot of time in the studio to mix it and we wanted to get it right. We were a little more deliberate with it than I have been with previous projects. We wanted to make sure that we put our best foot forward in making this record. And I think we did. the timeline suffered a little bit, but it was worth it.
OSM: I know this is an impossible question to answer, but do you have a favorite tune on the album? Is there one that stands out for you when you are performing?
JS: That’s an interesting question. It depends on my mood. Sunshine is one that people who have listened to the album, seem to gravitate to. I get that. It’s probably my favorite song lyrically and it’s my favorite song in the morning. I wrote that I think January or February and Indiana in February doesn’t have a lot of sunshine. So that’s where that came from. My favorite maybe to play live is “Runnin’ Away” and “Comin’ Home”. They are kind of the same song and we always play them back to back when we play live.
OSM: What is the significance of the title “The Ladder” mean?
JS: Well, it’s sort of an open-ended metaphor. I think it describes not only what we want to achieve with the album, but where I want to go musically. A friend of mine told me when I was struggling that music is about bringing people together. That’s something that has stuck with me and it’s something that is absolutely true. To me it’s about the process and journey of doing that. Writing it, recording it, spending time with the guys in the band and hopefully elevating our minds and our spirits. Hopefully it is a little aspirational as to the next step for us. Hopefully the listener is going to get something from it as well.
OSM: Keyboards are a integral part of the Jon Strahl Band. Have you always been a four-piece or were you originally a three-piece?
JS: We were originally a trio that liked to bring keys in whenever possible. Erik is a good friend of mine that has played off and on with me for the last six or seven years. When I write songs, I often have keys in mind. So that stuff is in my head when I’m writing. Again, I am just so lucky to have great guys around me that are talented and willing to put in the time and come together and give of themselves in our performances.
It’s obvious that the JSB has done their homework with this album. It is a delight to listen to and I suggest you do so too. The Ladder will soon be available in iTunes and Amazon. For now you can find the album on Soundcloud here. Also follow Jon Strahl Band here on Facebook.
Upcoming Dates for Jon Strahl Band: 11/2014- Slippery Noodle Inn release party, 11/26/2014- Slippery Noodle Blues Jam and 11/29/2014- Stones Throw Inn in Brownsburg and 12/6/2014- Bistro 226 in Bargersville, IN.
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