Interview: Jono McCleery

He released his brilliant third studio album Pagodes in October last year, and is gearing up to release an acoustic version recorded at an intimate sell out show at London’s Elektrowerkz. To celebrate the release, Jono McCleery is heading out on a European tour which includes a stop at London’s Bush Hall. We caught up with the songwriter to chat about the release, and what fans can expect.

How are you?

I’m very well thank you, currently enjoying getting to know my baby daughter of 3 months, and preparing for my European tour in March.

What’s your first musical memory?

I have a mix of early memories, I’m not sure which came first – hearing my father improvise at the piano, pretending to sing along to hymns at school and discovering Soul music.

When did you first pick up a guitar and discover that you could write songs?

I was about 17. I had seen my brother make it look easy enough, so when I first began to teach myself to play it was purely to write and sing. I didn’t spend time learning scales or theory, I just tried to find some interesting sounding harmonies and started to sing, which is pretty much the same approach I have today.

How would you describe your sound?

As something which is constantly evolving, draws inspiration from a wide range of influences, and seeks to connect emotionally.

Did being in a band never appeal to you? Or did you always know you were going to go down the solo singer-songwriter path?

I always had a very clear vision of what I wanted to communicate through my music, so I never considered starting a band. But it is great to be able to collaborate with different artists and producers, and see what other people’s work brings out in yours, and vice versa.

Which artist’s influenced you initially and who inspires you now?

Bill Withers, Gil Scott Heron, John Martyn, Otis Redding, Nick Drake, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, and more recently: Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Chet Baker, and Joao Gilberto.

What is your favourite piece of music? If that`s too difficult, what`s your current favourite piece of music?

I’ve been wondering lately what it would be like to hear John Coltrane performing Vaughan William’s ‘The Lark Ascending’.  It would have probably been my favourite piece of music. My favourite song is a tie between Nick Drake’s ‘Riverman’ and Bill Wither’s ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’. And my favourite lyric is: “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”.

Which song are you most proud of?

‘Aria’ – a song I’ve had written for years which I’ve never performed or recorded. I will make sure to feature it on my next album.

What was the first record you bought?

Terry Callier’s ‘What Colour is Love’.

How did you meet Jean Claude and how did he convince you to sign to his label If music?

He did a remix of my song ‘Fears’, and we stayed in touch ever since. It was Ninja Tune’s idea to put my record out through If Music as its label is more focused on eclectic Jazz music. I was very happy to go along with this move as Jean Claude is an incredibly supportive figure to me.

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Why did you decide to release a live version of Pagodes?

Well, firstly Max Bisgrove did an excellent job recording my album launch show, and the atmosphere was perfect. Listening back I was very happy with my vocal performance, and the live setup gives quite a different impression of the songs from on the record. We had already published a few acoustic video renditions of songs from Pagodes and a lot of my fans expressed their interest in having an acoustic version of the album, so I thought: this is it, ‘Pagodes Live’ with just me and guitar.

What can we expect to hear from you at the Bush Hall performance?

Songs from Pagodes with my new Trio: Dan See on drums, and Milo Fitzpatrick on upright bass, but with new arrangements, in the style of my next album.


Catch Jono McCleery perform live at Bush Hall, London 23 May.
Tickets available at http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/jonomccleery

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