I saw these guys open for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in Dallas, Texas back in April. My girlfriends and I decided to ditch the second night of Austin Psych Fest and see these young ones open for our favorite band. I had a huge smile on my face during their set. These young bloods have energy, musicianship and moxie for miles. There is a wholly satisfied feeling that comes with the knowledge that there are teens out there who are reaching for a guitar instead of an auto tune button. Front man Jonah Smith was in a bit of a daze after the gig, and who could blame him. His band had just opened for their heroes. Luckily, he agreed to an interview before being swept away by a gaggle of young girls.
REKWIRED: How old were you when you wrote your first song? How did that come about? Did you study classical guitar? Did you just pick it up and teach yourself?
JS: I was around eight or nine when I first started playing. My dad convinced me to start taking lessons from this Flamenco guitar virtuoso, Russ Hewitt. It was around that time that I wrote my first song, called “Green House Effect.” I was learning about Global Warming in school at the time, and the song definitely reflects my innocuous viewpoint on it, and being eight years old. Ha.
REKWIRED: What is the hardest thing so far, for you, as budding musicians? How do you balance school, touring, writing, rehearsing, etc? I teach kids your age, and some of them have so little motivation or ambition! It’s very sad to see. What keeps you moving forward?
JS: Moving forward has never really been an issue for me personally simply because I’ve always known that this is exactly what I want to do with life. In playing with other kids my age, I’ve noticed it really depends on your level of commitment. You have to be zealous about being in a band and making music to some extent. If you’re not, it’s just too much work, and there’s really no point. You have to draw the line between music being a hobby and a serious endeavor. I’m lucky enough to be in a band with people who are just as driven as I am. Also, there’s a certain level of camaraderie between the four of us that is pretty essential in having a functional band.
REKWIRED: Your musical heroes are BRMC, and you have been lucky enough to have been gifted a leather biker jacket by the guys in the band. How were you introduced to their music?
JS: My buddy Max introduced me to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in 6th grade. He played me the first couple of songs on “Take Them On, On Your Own” and I didn’t react at first, but somehow I came back for another listen, then another. Eventually, I fell in love with the song “Stop” and from there it opened the floodgates, and I was completely infatuated. I saw them live in April of 2010, and it changed my life. They became by favorite band.
REKWIRED: Like BRMC, you like to switch up your guitars, even during a short set. How many guitars do you own, and when/how did you acquire your first one? What is your favorite brand?
JS: We wouldn’t rotate between guitars so much if half of our songs weren’t in alternate tunings. I have four or five. My first guitar was a Fender Squire. It was great for learning. As far as brands go, I LOVE Gretsch.
REKWIRED: It’s not every day a bunch of 15-year-olds get to open for such an established band. They clearly respect you as musicians. Tell us a little bit about the relationship you have fostered with BRMC and their response to your music.
JS: It all started when they played at Trees in Dallas in October of 2010. I was there with Evan (lead guitarist of Plowboy). We were walking around after the show when we were approached by a guy who looked as though he should’ve been in BRMC but wasn’t. He introduced himself as iAN Ottaway and asked us if we wanted to meet the band. He was really impressed that a couple of 12-year-old kids were at a BRMC show. We jumped at the chance, and he took us backstage, and we got to meet Peter, Robert and Leah, which was great. After that night, my Dad and I kept in touch with iAN (who writes the ‘ASK iAN’ blog on BRMC’s website) and we’ve crossed paths a few times since. Through iAN, we established a connection to BRMC. iAN is in my top five favorite people ever. I owe a lot to him.
REKWIRED: Besides BRMC, what other musicians/artists/writers have inspired you?
JS: The four of us adore Radiohead. The Doors have always been a huge influence on me personally – Jim Morrison in particular. The Dandy Warhols have also been a prominent influence on Plowboy’s sound. On the other side of the coin, Colin and Evan are really far into electronic music at the moment, and I think Isaac and I are starting to catch on. That style definitely hasn’t shown itself in our sound yet, but I would expect more of that in the future.
REKWIRED: Is there an album in the works?
JS: We released our debut record “Headlong and Roaming” last year, produced by Brandon Smith.
REKWIRED: Your dad, JP, who is one of the most decent men I have had the pleasure of meeting, is your manager. Was he always supportive of your dream of becoming a musician? Was there ever a time when he was worried about that calling and wanted you to focus on a more traditional/practical career choice?
JS: Never…quite the antitheses. I think he’s always kind of turned me away from the more pragmatic side of things. It seems like a lot of last generation’s rock and roll spawned, and was kind of based around, rebellion against authority from parents, schools, etc… the scenario you would see in a Twisted Sister video. This has never been the case for me, and with having so much support for my creativity from authority figures, I’ve found there’s so much more to Rock ‘n’ Roll than the angry rebellious side of it. For me, it’s much more of a celebration than a fight.
REKWIRED: Besides your dad, who else has been an integral part of promoting and supporting your music?
JS: All of our parents have been overwhelmingly supportive, and we’re really lucky in that regard. Filmmaker Tony Gallucci has been working on a documentary about the band for about three years now called Jonah’s Wail. Tony’s always been incredibly supportive of us. Chris Holt, who has been our band mentor since the beginning has been a very integral part of everything. iAN Ottaway continues to be an unwavering source of counsel and love.
REKWIRED: What is next for Plowboy? Shows? Albums? Collaborations? Summer vacations?
JS: Expect a plethora of shows this summer, and we hope to start demoing the next record soon.