Jon Langford delivers pumped-up folk with rock edges on latest CD
By Mary Houlihan For Sun-Times Media June 4, 2014 4:02PM
Jon Langford | NERO'S HOUSE OF WOMEN
Salas-Humara; Jon Langford, 7 p.m. June 6, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport. $12. (773) 525-2508; schubas.com
Updated: June 4, 2014 4:02PM
Jon Langford, who’s recorded many albums as a member of The Mekons and Waco Brothers, started out in punk and later developed his love of country music inspired by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bob Wills and other classic country greats. But his new album takes a detour from both of these.
“Here Be Monsters,” recorded with another of his musical outings, the band Skull Orchard, features ten songs that feel more like amped-up folk tunes with a rock ‘n’ roll tinge. These new additions to Langford’s songbook are filled with politically charged ideas and Langford’s own sharp sense of the absurd.
But wait. Langford, 56, also is a visual artist known for his paintings of country music and rock legends. For “Here Be Monsters,” he also created a series of art prints to accompany the album. “Art and music have always been connected for me,” Langford says.
Langford, backed by Alan Doughty (bass) and Joe Camarillo (drums), performs at Schubas on June 6. He answered (in his distinctive Welsh drawl) a few questions about the new album and Chicago during a conversation on a recent sunny spring morning.
Question: Was “Here Be Monsters” a more personal album for you?
Jon Langford: All the solo albums have been kind of personal. That’s why they end up being solo albums. This one came together with a bunch of songs that didn’t fit the Mekons’ or the Wacos’ domain. They were inspired by a fascination with astrology and maps. At the same time, I was working on the prints with a theme of creating alternative star maps. The songs and images started to merge to create a new mythology. Art and music have always been connected for me.
Q. What’s the story behind the album’s title?
JL: It’s the place on ancient maps where it said, “here be monsters” denoting an unexplored area in the world where perhaps danger lurked. I like the idea of sea monsters and giant octopuses. (Laughs) And my career as an artist has existed in that region instead of on the main shipping lanes.
Q. You have been interested in astronomy since you were a kid. What inspiration did you find in the night sky for the new songs?
JL: The song “Summer Stars” came about after going to Australia to produce a record by Aboriginal country western singer Roger Knox. We were hanging out in what he calls the “never never” where you get these amazing vistas of the sky. I felt like I was dangling off the bottom of the Earth looking up into an unfamiliar sky. There were different constellations that relate to the Aboriginal culture.
Q. Rolling Stone called your song “Drone Operator” “the best song yet about 21st century American foreign policy.” What inspired it?
JL: I started making paintings of drones which I think are very scary images. I got more and more intrigued with the idea that Americans pride themselves so much on the rule of law but here is a president saying its okay to send robots anywhere in the world to kill people. Because it doesn’t have an effect on people’s day-to-day lives it just goes on. It’s a giant leap into the unknown.
Q. You grew up in Wales and later lived in Leeds, and in your 20s became obsessed with country music and America. What was it about Chicago that made you feel at home here?
JL: American culture was an explosion of amazing things for a kid in Wales. I had crazy adventures playing music in places like New York and Los Angeles. And then I came to Chicago and actually felt a kind of resonance with the place. The Midwest and this blue-collar town felt familiar in a way. Plus everyone here was incredibly supportive. I could do things here that I could not have possibly done in Leeds or in Wales where there is more of a negative attitude. Chicago in the ’90s was quite a special place for me.