Billy Jonas

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

1. How/when/why did you get the idea of playing on recycled instruments and using the audience?

Phase One: It all began at summer camp, around the campfire, where, just as in a tribal culture, the lines were blurred between performer and audience - everybody was part of the band! Guitars, a harmonica, buckets, sticks, rocks, and everybody singing together - Heaven!

Phase Two: In high school and college most of my friends were not musicians, yet they wanted to play, so we had massive ‘kitchen jams,’ playing pots and pans with chopsticks. In college (Oberlin, in Ohio) we turned it into a band, ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ a voice and percussion ensemble using all found objects and homemade instruments.

Phase Three: After college I began writing songs and playing them at coffee houses and ‘open stages.’ I would present them raw, with just one water bottle drum and my voice, imagining that if they worked in this striped down form, they were worthy to develop into full blown songs with guitar or other traditional instruments, but the response to the songs in this initial raw form was so strong, and the smiles were so big, that I realized they were often complete as they were. I was also imagining that when the songs were finished they would have a full band playing and singing them. To approximate that, I would give simple parts out to the audience. Again, they were so much fun in this experimental form that that often became the final form of the song.


2. What was the first instrument you learned to play & when?

Piano at five years old, guitar at eight, trombone at ten. No discipline though, so I graduated to pots and pans in high school.


3. What is it about your music, do you think, that has such a universal appeal? It's especially striking how it seems to span generations, from toddlers to senior citizens.

Enthusiasm and joy  - everybody can relate to that. The participatory aspect makes it extremely inclusive, and the homemade / recyclable instruments make the songs and performances universally accessible -- everybody says “hey, I could do that!”


4. Where did you grow up? Did you come from a musical background (other family members musicians, etc.)?

I grew up in Chicago. Many people in my family have been extremely musical - my great grandfather was a cantor in a synagogue in Germany.


5. Did you always know you wanted to be a musician? If you weren't playing music, what would your second career choice be?

I knew from early on that I wanted music to be a big part of my life, but I wasn’t sure it would be a career until it started to be. If I wasn’t a musician, I’d be involved with camps and environmental education or languages.


6. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Joni Mitchell, Harry Partch, Parliament-Funkadelic, Igor Stravinsky, Jimi Hendrix, Maurice Ravel, Spike Jones, Pete Seeger


7. If you had to place your music in a certain genre, what would you call it?

"Turn-of-the-21st century neo-tribal hootenanny music," or "funky folk music," for short.


8. Do you have a favorite song of all time -- either yours or somebody else's?

My favorite ‘piece’ of all time is Igor Stavinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring;’ My favorite song of all time is ‘Cactus’ by Ferron.

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