Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Asheville musician, first-time dad takes fun, philosophical look at life through music

Posted January 4, 2015

I feature local parents in this space every Monday. Today, I'm reaching a little farther afield and focusing on Billy Jonas, a first-time father, who welcomed his baby daughter last month, and long-time musician from Asheville.

Jonas, who has made regular appearances here in the Triangle for years, will perform a family concert this Saturday at The Cary Theater on East Chatham Street. Jonas is a multiple award-winner with top honors from the American Federation of Independent Musicians and two gold awards from Parents' Choice. He's been on all kinds of "best" lists too, including School Library Journal, Parents' magazine and USA Today. If you have SiriusXM radio, it's likely you've heard his music. He's on regular rotation there.

Jonas recently released his first family album in five years. Jonas is known for music played on "found objects." Think pots and pans, buckets, bottles and any variation of items found around the house and yard. The new album, called "Build It Back Again," is the first that features his full band as well.

It's a sweet, thoughtful and fun CD with songs that take a philosophical look at the world and others that are just plain fun (LMNOP Break with an emphasis on the "P Break," if you know what I mean).

I chatted by email with the new dad. The Cary show is at 3 p.m., Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 12 and under.

Here's our conversation about music, fatherhood and Asheville:

Go Ask Mom: Why music with "found objects?" How does that help your audiences appreciate music in a different way?

Billy Jonas: As with all things, there are three answers:
Accessibility: People see and hear music played on buckets and cans, pots and pans, and say "Hey, I could do that." We love inspiring legions of future musicians who’d be derailed for lack of a good instrument, or money for lessons, or fear of playing a wrong note. Recycled object instruments open the door and give permission, regardless of resources, skill, or talent. That said, we put a lot of time and creativity into playing these instruments well.
Fun: It’s fun for audiences to witness, it's fun for us to play them.
Sound: Homemade and recycled instruments make wondrous and inspiring sounds that conventional instruments can’t.

GAM: You've traveled around the world searching for instruments and sounds. What are your favorites?

BJ: I love my Kamel N’goni from Mali -- a six-stringed cello-like gourd and bamboo instrument, with a rich, primal sound. I took music lessons there from the man who made it, Bakaray Kuyatay. We used the N’goni on the new CD. Other favorites: I have a six-foot-long wedding trumpet I bought in Morocco that’s really fun, and a gourd harmonica I got in Thailand.

GAM: You have a lot of important messages in "Build it Back Again" about resilience and challenges. What do you hope people take away from it?

BJ: We want people to find inspiration and joy -- especially when confronted with obstacles. In “glass-half-empty” moments, it’s good to have songs, like friends, that say, “I know what you feel; there will be light again. Here: step into this joyful place of reminder.”

GAM: You also have some really fun songs - like L-M-N-O-P Break - in Build it Back Again, which must be fun to perform with kids. What's it like performing for family audiences? Any funny stories you can share?

BJ: We love inter-generational family audiences. The adults hear one thing, the kids hear another, yet they all share the experience -- it makes it multi-dimensional.
My favorite moments in family shows occur when we improvise a song with the audiences suggestions. From silly to profound. We once had a precocious five-year-old get so inspired that she came on stage and took over. We didn’t have to do anything -- she held the audience like a pro.

GAM: You're a first-time father! How do you think being a dad and raising a child might change your music? Are there any songs you look forward to singing to your newborn?

BJ: Our daughter Laila Rose was born at home on Friday, Dec. 19! What an AMAZING experience it was and is .... Every day new challenges and joys. My digital recorder is with me at all times, because songs roll out non-stop; songs about going to sleep, waking up, getting born, getting cleaned up ... everything. Having a child opens me to the wonder of simple things, and the profundity of all life. The music can’t help but reflect that!

GAM: You're a long-time Asheville resident. What do you love about the city?

BJ: I moved to Asheville in 1991, before it was the big deal it has become. I left Chicago looking for a place with mountains, music, and magic, where there were big city resources but I could ride my bike out of town. Asheville has been all that and more. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and artistically rich community -- connected and intimate, yet culturally cosmopolitan. It has certainly changed. When I moved here, there was no 5 p.m. rush hour -- just “rush 5 minutes ....” Now it’s “rush 20 minutes.” Still, a creative crucible, and wonderful place to live and grow.

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