Not-So-Political Punk: An Interview With Jen Tonon

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by M. L. Lanzillotta

With her short pink hair, numerous tattoos, and tomboyish voice Jen Tonon certainly looks like a rockstar. I met her at my roommate’s last birthday party. At the time I couldn’t help but be awed by her punkish look and musical expertise. I haven’t yet seen her play, mind you, but I’ve heard she’s amazing at what she does. Two decades of practice will do that to a person, I suppose. However, she’s more than a skillful musician. Jen is also quite kind: every year she participates in a gaming competition to help sick kids. Plus, she’s well-known enough to be endorsed by Blakhart guitars and Dead Legends apparel. Getting to interview her was a real honor.

Alchemical Records: So… why did you decide to get into music?
Jen: Um, well it’s always been a thing I’ve been interested in. My dad’s a musician, so that’s a big part of it. I started playing drums when I was eleven in the school orchestra at the time. I was terrible but, y’know, it was just practice. My dad got me my first drum set and my mom got me my first guitar… and so, it just kind of spun off from there. And now it’s been 20 years and I still love it.

AR: How many bands have you been in over the years?
Jen: Oh God . Um, dozens…. Right now I’m in four. Yeah, I’m a glutton for punishment and having no free time.

AR: What’s the best group you’ve played with?
Jen: Oh man, that’s a tough question. I feel like – and it’s not just that I’m trying to be diplomatic or anything like that – I’ve had a lot of fun in all of my bands and I’ve been in a lot of different genres, which is part of my thing. And why I’ve been in so many and am in so many is that I like so many different types of music that it’s hard for me to just pick one. And so, um, I had a lot of fun with a band called Like No Tomorrow. They’re a punk band out of Northern Virginia. They’re still playing, they’re still awesome. Um… and of course my current bands Creep Crusades, Rocket City Riot, Los Bombs, and Special Moves 2… which is a video game-themed band.

AR: Which Instruments do you play?
Jen: In Los Bombs – which is a cover band – I play drums. Creep Crusades and Special Moves 2 I play bass, and in Rocket City Riot I play guitar.

AR: Do you usually write songs or do other band members do it or…?
Jen: It’s both. Some bands tend to write as a group. Some have one principal songwriter and then we all kinda contribute our ideas to flesh it out. But on top of that I do stuff on my own. I write and record my own kinda solo stuff, since I play multiple instruments. Most of that… it tends to be instrumental because I’m not a huge fan of writing lyrics and vocal melodies and singing and stuff. I will, on occasion, but it’s not my preference. I really like doing soundscapes and stuff like movie soundtrack type things and, then, rock n’ roll stuff.

AR: How do you write your solo songs? Do you start with one particular instrument?
Jen: For my solo stuff, yeah. It’s, um, I have a really weird process because I know I’m never going to play it live. It’s almost like a therapy thing, y’know I can sit down and blow of steam by just writing some stuff. And I tend to start with one instrument – be it guitar, or keyboards, or even just a drum track – and I’ll do an entire song. From beginning to end. Maybe, y’know, two to four minutes. Nothing super crazy. And then I’ll start adding the other tracks… and adding and building and building and… after about, y’know, about three to four hours I have a complete songs and it’s done. It’s almost like… I tell people it’s like one of those monk sand-paintings where they create these kind of really cool works of art and then when they’re done they just blow it away and it’s destroyed and the sand is gone. It’s sort of like a one-and-done for me. I’ll sit down, do everything at once and, then, that’s it… there it goes. Sometimes I release it to an album, sometimes I don’t. But it’s really more about the process of writing and recording and doing, more than the need for it to actually be heard by anybody.

AR: Do you refer recording or playing live?
Jen: Playing life. Most definitely. I’ve got a theatre background, like a lot of musicians and performers and artists types. One of the biggest things for me is the rush of playing . And, um, I just played a show last night – my first one with Creep Crusades – and I missed it. I hadn’t played out since December of last year. And… I feel like I get the most depressed or down on myself when I’m not onstage or in front of a crowd or having fun or acting like an idiot.

AR: A lot of musicians have very strong political opinions. Do you?
Jen: Of course I pay attention to it and I’m aware of things that go on, and, y’know, I have my own opinions that I try to form from all sources – which, that seems to be kind of the thing a lot of people don’t do right now. Um, I’m not very outspoken or public about politics because… it just feels like it’s, like, a hamster wheel. Nobody wants to solve any problems they just want to argue. Especially on social media. It gets very mean and vitriol very fast. If the bands I’m in want to write about it, that’s fine… I mean, that’s their… choosing to do so. I like to do stuff that makes me happy. Politics, religion, and government… all that stuff. It just sorta leads to arguing all the time. I don’t want to spend the energy on it.

AR: Are there any causes you support? Anything you’d like people to get involved in?
Jen: For sure. I do, every year, around the beginning of November late October – it depends on the year – I do a thing called Extra Life. And it’s a 24-hour gaming marathon for charity. It all goes towards Miracle Network Children’s Hospitals. I tend to play for the John Hopkins Children’s Center. It’s kind of, you know, the gaming stuff is a vehicle to raise the money but, unltamiely, y’know, we have fun doing it. We’ll play games for 24 hours straight. We had a big team last year, we made… uh, we were in the top 100 for over 10,000 teams. We raised almost 10 grand for our team and I’m so proud of everybody because we’ve been a pretty cohesive unit for the last 5-or-6 years. And it’s finally got to that point where we’re starting to raise some serious money for sick kids.

AR: That’s really important.
Jen: Yeah.

AR: …And that’s all for now.

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