Alternative rock artist Ayron Jones began his upward climb through stardom last year after signing to Big Machine Records/John Varvatos and releasing his debut single “Take Me Away.” That song was deeply steeped in his troubled childhood, the kind he makes sure his own children never face. A father of three, Jones spent the last half of his year in quarantine writing a song that would make his children proud and one that instills unity instead of escape.
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“Mercy,” like “Take Me Away,” continues the thematic experience of what it has been like for Jones as a black artist in rock music and in America, but more than that, it is a summary of the experiences all Americans have endured over the past year.
“Even with all the struggles as a black American, I don’t just want to be a person that highlights one struggle over another,” Jones told American Songwriter.” I want to be able to highlight unity and the things that bring us together.
“It was the perspective of the observer, as well as the participant,” he adds about ‘Mercy’. “We saw unprecedented climate change, social unrest, we saw our democracy realize how fragile it was. We saw people being killed and people dying from a virus. I mean it was an interesting time in America and I thought ‘Mercy’ was really capturing all of that, as well as my story of being black in America.”
“Mercy” was written with acclaimed songwriters Marty Frederickson and Scott Stevens at the tail end of the year, just as Jones was also wrapping up his forthcoming record, tentatively out this summer. The lyrics are a direct link to Jones’ life in Seattle, where civil unrest and protesting were rampant and during the worst wildfires the west coast has seen in years, causing much of the poor air quality that forced Jones to stay inside and hunker down for a lot of the year.
“We really couldn’t breathe air outside, it was toxic,” he said. “I live on a beach and you can usually see pretty far out on the water, but we couldn’t really see across the street because of this thick cloud of smoke that was covering the area. The opening line on ‘Mercy,’ got me on my knees/ too much smoke/ can’t breathe, can be interpreted in multiple ways—what was going on with the response to the protests and the climate change that was literally locking us down in our homes on top of the virus.”
The duality in the lyrics pushed the song in different directions, but the overarching sense of unity was also apparent in the line, when I die/I’ll die free, a verse that Jones explains comes from the somewhat construed idea and epitome of American attitudes.
“As Americans we’re taught that we will live free or die that’s always pretty much epitomized the attitude of Americans,” he said.
“No matter what your ideology is, you could be conservative, liberal, libertarian, or whatever, but this idea of freedom is what we’re all brought up to believe in. When I was writing the song, I really wanted to showcase the perseverance of America with all the bad things going on. So, when I die, I’ll die free is that perseverance of no matter what happens to me in this country, I’m going to live or die free.”
With all the chaos brought on in 2020, there were also victories. In December, Jones was invited to perform in a showcase put on by MoPOP in Seattle, honoring Alice in Chains as they were offered the Founders Award. Alongside other iconic rock artists like Steven Tyler, Heart, Korn, Corey Taylor, Shooter Jennings, Kim Thayil and several others, Jones presented his own soulful take on the grunge hit “Heaven Beside You,” from Alice In Chains’ self-titled record.
“It was such a whirlwind,” Jones said. “It didn’t hit me how big this event was until I was watching it. I was like ‘look at all these people- that’s Shooter Jennings and Billy Corgan!’ It definitely highlighted my year, after releasing my first major single and finding my name on the Billboard top five. It was an amazing experience, and I’m really glad I got to do it.”
Laughingly, Jones admitted the song was not actually his first pick, due to the vocal range Jerry Cantrell originally sang it in, which was much lower than Jones’ own. But with so many rockstars picking from the same barrel of hits, Jones’ first pick “Rain When I Die” wasn’t available. But he surpassed his projected limitations and made the song more than a copy, blending his own texture and attitude into it.
“I have a higher vocal range and that song is definitely something in more of a lower register,” Jones said. “I knew I was either going to bomb it or people were going to love it. So I just kind of went for it and I’m actually really happy with it. I think sometimes people really enjoy it when you take a more abstract approach to a song, that kind of rubs them wrong way.”
With the support of the massive Seattle scene at his side, Jones is more than excited to put even more music out into the world- which he couldn’t comment too much on but says it will always carry Seattle and the mentality of unity and overcoming struggle in America- an experience that he shares has not surfaced at this height since the ‘90s grunge era that he grew up in.
“I’m realizing now that this is more about the world,” Jones said. “So now my goal is to be a voice for those that maybe don’t have one. I think this is a very similar time to the 90s and the grunge era where there was a lot of people growing up with angst and anxiety. And I think it’s really necessary to have a voice speak out and be something that people can look to as a beacon of hope, so I’m going to keep doing that.”
Check out “Mercy” here today and be sure to give “Take Me Away” a listen here.