Jonny Polonsky always admired loud, apparent vocals in bands like AC/DC and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and being able to easily take in the lyrics. And now he is relaying his own message in the same way Bon Scott, Brian Johnson and Tom Petty did.
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Polonsky’s words and volume rise above all else on his latest record, appropriately titled Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death. The title just slipped out of his mouth. Laughing with the immediate thought of “I can’t say this” Polonsky knew it was perfect.
“I like things that are preposterous,” Polonsky told American Songwriter. “I like that it’s overwhelming, too long and (reflects) how things feel right now, with the insanity every day.”
The DIY record is a mix of messages that are written to resonate today and long after. And include powerful collaborations with The Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin on “Summer Soldiers” plus seven other tracks. All boasting equal bluntness on the shouted ideas of everything Polonsky laid out in the album title.
Early on Polonsky made his way touring with Audioslave and playing in supergroup Big Nose in the early 00s. Big Nose also collaborated on two songs with Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan. Keenan ended up using the two songs, “Sour Grapes” and “Momma Sed”, for his other project Puscifer. Polonsky wrote, recorded, and toured with Puscifer from 2007 to 2010. Working with such charismatic and provocative vocalists added to Polonsky’s draw to outstanding vocals on the new record, his eleventh since 1996’s Hi My Name is Jonny.
“I have always liked loud vocals,” Polonsky said. “Like AC/DC and Tom Petty records, the vocals are so loud. And other bands like Tool or The Rolling Stones, the vocals are more an instrument and lower and more atmospheric. But I like being able to hear the words and connecting with a singer.”
Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death was recorded and written during covid-lockdown. Instead of looking at the lack of studio support as a hindrance Polonsky used it to his advantage, recording everything himself. The increased dependence on technology allowed Wiedlin to lay down her vocal parts on “Summer Soldiers” from her home in San Francisco. As a longtime fan of the Go-Go’s, Polonsky was amazed at how it all came together long-distance.
“The song was written, and I noticed she started to follow me on Instagram one day,” Polonsky said about Wiedlin. “And we just started talking. After a bit I asked if she was interested in singing on the song. She really liked it and a few weeks later she recorded her vocal in San Francisco. It was surreal because I grew up on her music. She did a cool end section that was originally a synth solo. She added these layered vocal harmonies that sounded like pistons firing.”
Looking back on equal influencers like Wiedlin, Polonsky remembered one Sly and The Family Stone album from childhood that also had a role in how he dictated his message on songs like “In Between Worlds,” the most straight-forward depiction of this year.
“That (In Between Worlds) was written in March as things were shutting down,” Polonsky said. “If there’s anything that talks about what is happening now it’s that one. I try not to be too literal I don’t wnana write song where in 5 years it’s just a time capsule. But I wanted it to be a cool song you can listen to anytime. And there was a Sly and Family Stone record that has loud vocals like this and there’s not really anything referencing the riots back then. And that intrigued me. It’s an inventive thing.”
Polonsky’s draw to write songs that are infinitely relevant goes back to childhood when he was brought up on a mass of greatest hits records. Accustomed to hearing records with a consistent tracklist of hits, he wanted his own records to bear that same quality and standard across every song instead of sandwiching decent songs between a few singles and calling it a success.
“I like all of the songs and I try not to have any filler,” he said. “I grew up on mostly best-ofs, so I hate when there’s a song that is not as strong-‘like why did you put this on there, you should’ve released a 45.’”
Polonsky’s high self-standards may seem overkill but with the familiar pressure he is less challenged when it comes to recording an album himself. At first, self-producing and recording was out of necessity. But it grew into more of a gift for creative freedom and enabled Polonsky to create eight brilliant, single-worthy songs.
“I always try to make things that are exciting and interesting,” he said. “I don’t want to blend in. The primary focus is always what do I want to be.”
Currently a Brooklyn resident, Polonsky is trying to navigate what’s left of this year like everyone else. And when asked about the future, he laughingly said, “Plans? Who has plans?” But with his skill of creating DIY records from his home it’s certain that the music will remain his lifeline today and tomorrow just as his songs’ reach.
Power and Greed and Money and Sex and Death is out November 13 on Ghostworks Recordings and you can snag a copy here.