California Dreaming: Bonny Doon And Their Tremendous Atmosphere

California Dreaming: Bonny Doon And Their Tremendous Atmosphere

Interview with Bonny Doon bassist Joshua Brooks, vocalist/guitarist Bobby Colombo, and drummer Jake Kmiecik | By j. poet

Bonny Doon effortlessly conjure up the feeling of sun, salty air, and surf when they launch into “Never Been to California.” The song’s chiming guitars and relaxed groove recall The Beach Boys, James Taylor, and the mellow folk pop sound of the Golden State in the early ‘70s. The rest of the songs on the band’s eponymous debut – available now via Salinas Records – share that same atmospheric approach—except “Lost My Way,” an aggressive ode to alienation that balances a twang-drenched lead guitar with bursts of screeching distortion that hark back to the punk rock roots of the Detroit-based quartet.

The band members are still in their 20s. They started playing together when they were in high school and, as the band took form, they began looking for a sound that would set them apart from their previous outfits. “We didn’t come in with the idea to play quietly,” bassist Joshua Brooks says. “In fact, we had all previously played in loud, fast punk bands. For me, this was the first time I really started to focus on dynamics and space in music. When playing songs and taking the same approach we had all used in all the various other bands [we’d been in] didn’t feel right, we pulled back. We turned down the amps and things started to click. It was a wonderful reset that made me feel reenergized to make music.”

“[Drummer] Jake [Kmiecik] and I met in high school,” he continues. “We played in other bands for a few years. I met [guitarist, pianist, vocalist, and lyricist] Bill [Lennox] at the coffee shop I worked in. The three us of us moved into a house in Southwest Detroit. Around the same time, Bill and [guitarist, vocalist, and lyricist] Bobby [Colombo] got a studio in an old school and began working on material that would later become the first Bonny Doon songs. Bill and Bobby invited the two of us over to jam. Bonny Doon played our first show two months later.”

The songs on Bonny Doon evolved at the band’s live shows. “Relieved” is a pensive look at approaching adulthood, with gently chiming guitars and a gently ironic lyric. “I See You” describes a relaxed evening of drinking and considering life’s options. It closes with a wistful slide guitar solo and muted bursts of random noise. Brooks says the blend of folk, rock, and expansive sounds was a conscious decision. “It’s a very layered record,” he says. “We’d been playing the basic song structures for a year or two before the recording, but the arrangements came from hours of experimenting, looking for textures we liked. Almost everything was processed through an Echoplex [tape delay effect] at some point. We allowed accidents to become process and embraced the idea that the process itself could be an instrument.”

Their open-ended method produced many surprises, including “Crowded,” the moody tone poem that closes the album. “We spent months laboring on [it], but, for whatever reason, none of the mixes were working,” Colombo says. “Though it’s instrumental on the record, it actually has a lot of words. I was mixing the record and ready to abandon it. Then, I listened to just one of the guitar mics, with everything else muted, and really liked how it felt. We ended up putting that on the record, using just one guitar mic with everything else cut, including the vocals.”

When asked about the band’s name, Kmiecik says they choose it to reflect their low-key approach. “Bonny Doon is a town in Northern California,” he explains. “I think we connected with it due to a sort of false California nostalgia. Growing up in the sporadic climate of Michigan, all I wanted to do when I was younger was skateboard and play music. California seemed at the epicenter of that. At the time of the band’s conception, half of us had never even been to the state, so we were able to idealize a kind of perfect world, full of year-round sunshine and beaches.”

Top photo by Julia Callis

Purchase Bonny Doon here: Bandcamp

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