Quick Q & A with Jonah Tolchin

Jonah Tolchin

When I first heard Jonah Tolchin, I heard something special. After reading his responses to my questions, I’m even more convinced. Jonah has been called a “New England Americana badass.” At age 21, he’s got the sound and feel and the passion of a much more experienced musician. Jonah was one of this past summer’s Emerging Artists at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and impressed a slew of music fans with his riveting performance.

Learn more about Jonah at his website. Witness Jonah Tolchin playing at Newport Folk Festival. This video captures what he’s all about.

What was it that led you to start playing the blues in high school?
I started playing blues when I became very depressed in high school. I transitioned from a small private school that catered to my learning disabilities and was catapulted into a public school system. The lack of human compassion led me to a dark place where I began to discover a way out through music.
I also met my good friend Danny Roaman my second freshman year once I transferred schools to High Mowing in NH. He was my first friend who loved the blues as much as I did. We really inspired one another.
Were you playing covers or mostly original material?
Mostly covers. I wrote the song “Criminal Man” that year when I was 15. We never played it as a band though. I didn’t sing in the band until the following year. I was a guitar player!
You’ve said that you started experimenting by adding other genres of music into your sound? Who would you say were your biggest influences — for instance in folk, jazz, and funk?
I took sax lessons for a year and really got into Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, etc. The Meters were a huge funk influence to us. Folk-wise I would have to say Jackson Browne, The Rolling Stones (Beggars Banquet), The Band, etc.
Your first release was a self-produced EP called Eldawise. What did you learn about expressing yourself by making this EP?
Recording and writing Eldawise was a great “I can do this!” kind of experience. I just love playing and writing music. I learned a lot about recording and how to factor “how would I record this song?” into my writing for future records.
Can you think of one pivotal moment in your life where you were 1000% sure that you were meant to be a musician?
Great question! There are so many answers. I’m not a religious person, but I am a spiritual being. I am always reading the signs and keeping myself alert for synchronistic events. My easy answer is that my whole life, all of the signs have said: “This is what you have to do!” And my heart has responded, “This is what I WANT to do!!!”
Tell us about your experiences recording your first full length CD, Criminal Man. You had some pretty big heavy hitters playing with you on that CD. How did that all come together?
Eric Lichter of Dirt Floor Studio really made it all happen. A series of perfect mistakes led to a phone conversation with Eric when I was in Round Rock, TX. As soon he picked up the phone I knew we were going to make a great record together. I really admired (and still do) Joe Fletcher, Brown Bird, and Ben & Jeff from The Low Anthem. To have them involved was a tremendous inspiration for me.
You received some great press and some terrific opportunities after the release of Criminal Man. Is that how the people at the Newport Folk Festival discovered you and invited you to be an official busker at the event?
Rhode Island has one of the best music scenes in the country. When I moved there the year after high school, I was welcomed with open arms into the scene, and worked as hard as I could, playing shows, meeting musicians, and networking with everyone in the New England area that I met. Playing the Newport Folk Festival was my dream ever since I had gone 4 years earlier for the 50th Anniversary. The universe has a funny way of making dreams come true when you remain open-hearted and work your hardest.
Would you say that the DayTrotter session was one of the most effective ways to spread your music? Have you heard from music fans from all over since that session was unveiled on the web?
Definitely. I think that it will be even more successful next time, now that I have started to gain some more traction in my career. The DayTrotter people are awesome.
Now you’ve got a forthcoming album called Clover Lane coming up. What’ll that be like? Any major surprises since Criminal Man?
I am so thrilled to work with the folks at Yep Roc Records on the upcoming release. They are all such beautiful people, and I am quite confident that they will do a great job behind the scenes. I became involved with Yep Roc through a combination of Marvin Etzioni (Producer) and Sheldon Gomberg (Mixing Engineer). I had a really great heart-connection with Glenn Dicker. Very excited about working with them! Amazingly passionate folks.
There are some very special guests on the new record including John McCauley of Deer Tick, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Mickey Raphael, and so many more amazing musicians. The record should be out July 1. (Always subject to change!)
The record is a lot different than anything I’ve ever done before. A lot of sonic surprises in store. The energy is higher, the record was done almost entirely live. Marvin Etzioni (Producer) really made everything come together. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I am so thrilled to be able to share it with the world!
Do you have any words of wisdom to any other young aspiring touring musicians?
Internal compass. That’s what it’s all about. If you have the passion and the intuition, that’s all you need. Anything is possible. STAYAWARE AT ALLTIMES. There are some really great people out there and some real crooks. Ask your heart if you’re talking to an angel or a devil
Many people get lost in the madness of their own egos and lose sight of what the music is all about. I would encourage all artists to ask themselves why they do what they do and to never lose sight of those reasons. Human compassion and sincerity are your greatest tools.

< Andy Pratt | The Bones of J.R. Jones >