by Eric Broome for Mean Street magazine, July 2001
Jonny Polonsky's new EP is called There is Something Wrong With You, but a better title might be My Name is Jonny...Remember Me?
Five years ago, Polonsky released his first album, Hi My Name is Jonny. Though notably brief (10 songs, 24 minutes), its tuneful dose of vulnerable pop drew strong reviews and led to a tour with one of Polonsky's personal heroes, ex-Pixies leader Frank Black. Everything was going smoothly...but not for long. Polonsky shortly began work on a second album, intending to call it The Power of Sound. As with the debut, he would perform every note himself, overdubbing keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. He recorded throughout 1997, but unfortunately, this period overlapped with dire financial turmoil at his label, American Recordings. Producer Brendan O'Brien -- then an executive at Epic Records -- intervened and helped extract Polonsky from his contract. However, signing with Epic didn't pan out and Polonsky was left dangling.
"I had finished the record, so I tried shopping it around," he says in a call from his Chicago home. "It took me awhile to figure out that this wouldn't be nearly as easy as I thought it would be. It soon became not fun. And being a solo guy, I didn't have a band to go through the turbulent times with -- it was hard to shoulder all that stuff on my own. So, I just dropped out for a bit. I got burnt out. Really, it was the first time in my life that I ever considered the idea that perhaps music wasn't what I want to do with my life."
During the hiatus, Polonsky resigned himself to a string of less glamorous jobs, including work as a children's guitar teacher and "standard bullshit like telemarketing and burglary" (he's kidding, of course). Eventually, he couldn't resist returning to the music scene. The sessions for his new EP happened almost by accident, when friend Josh Freese (the versatile drummer whose credits could fill this page) spun through town with A Perfect Circle. Polonsky quickly booked some studio time so he, Freese and bassist Solomon Snyder could hammer out a few tracks. Surprisingly, he didn't hesitate to drop his previous one-man-band approach.
"I don't care -- I just want the songs to sound good. And ultimately, I want to enjoy myself. That's a big reason why I stopped doing everything myself. I was spreading myself too thin. I felt like I was doing a pretty good job at everything, but not a great job at any one thing. I wanted to concentrate on being the artist: writing the songs, playing guitar and singing. It became too much pressure, figuring out how to make the whole thing happen."
Released on the local Eggbert label, There is Something Wrong With You includes five tracks from the Freese sessions, plus a final ballad which is (mostly) another solo effort. Polonsky considers the 16-minute disc "a way to test the waters," and chose to put out a concise EP rather than fill an album with Power of Sound leftovers. "I liked the way everything fit together," he says. "It seemed like a nice little package."
The songs are a mix of tight melodies, scrappy guitar licks and Polonsky's boyish voice, resembling a more bubblegum version of Paul Westerberg. Potential hooks are sometimes sabotaged with yeah-yeah-yeah lyrical filler, but the title tune has a seductive gnaw and "Long Gone" has a speedy, New Wave charm. The highlight is "Roll On," a swaggering slice of glam-rock boogie with amusing, oddball imagery ("This is the season of the warthog/The kids are queuing for the quills"). "Some songs try to have depth, but some are just an excuse for a good time," Polonsky cheerfully explains.
Now that he's back in the public eye, he hopes to release a full-length disc as soon as possible. This time, he does plan to resurrect some tracks from the lost album.
"It would be nice to do it this year, but I don't know if that's realistic. I have the material -- it's just the logistics of finding a label and getting it all together. It's probably going to come out early next year. I'm just excited to keep putting out records. That's one thing I've learned about this business: You've gotta keep moving. The more you work, the more you work. You've got to keep the momentum going."
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