Synth Rockers Jimkata Drop Track-by-Track of New Album, ‘Bonfires’

Friends since middle school, Evan Friedell, Aaron Gorsch and Packy Lunn infuse Jimkata, (named after the so-bad-it’s-good 1985 gym-fu caper Gymkata) with both an adventurous musical streak and relatable lyrical themes. 

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The three-piece anthemic, synth-washed, electro-rock band has built a distinct sound which has been resonating with listeners across the country. Their next album, Bonfires, is a triumph of swirling analog synths, infectious pop hooks and candid lyrics.

Bonfires touches on poignant themes of uncertainty, being in limbo, and looking for an anchor of hope in these trying times. Prior to its release on July 9, the band broke down an in-depth track-by-track of the 10 songs for American Songwriter.

If you dig what you hear, make sure to order the album!

Wanna Go (video here)
Have you ever scrolled through social media and all of the sudden felt bad about yourself and where you’re at in life?  You ever see someone else’s picture and think “damn, I wanna go there!”?  Or feel like maybe you’re missing out on something that so many other people seem to be in on?  You ever wonder if any of that is real anyways?  This song is about that sensation.  It’s about perception versus reality in a time when we are flooded with everyone presenting an idealized image of themselves and their lives to the world.  It’s a party that’s going on in that world that I feel like I wanna be at.  That I should be at.  

When Jay Brown first presented the idea for the visual representation of this song it immediately clicked.  The idea of being in a room that feels the same but keeps changing subtly over and over again plays with that notion of being in your own world but constantly wanting something different.  And all the while not even knowing what is real.  It took on an extra layer of meaning for us after the pandemic began and we all started quarantining, stuck in our houses and apartments, staring into our phones, longing for a different world and becoming overly acquainted with our immediate surroundings.  

Wait for You (video here)
I wrote this after a day of experimenting with an old Roland TR 707 drum machine with Packy.  I had gotten it from my uncle and while we were figuring out how to program it we ended up creating some beats we liked by accident.  I had recently seen some friends’ relationships falling apart around me and it reminded me of situations I’ve been in over the years—feeling dejected, being asked to wait while the other person makes up their mind about staying together or not.  A recurring theme I’ve felt in the past few years is that feeling of being in limbo – sitting around waiting and feeling restless while navigating uncertainty.  That’s something that I think we all experienced individually once the band decided to take a break.  I didn’t realize at the time I wrote it how prescient and universal that feeling would become as we experience a global pandemic and a world in chaos.  

When we brought the song to animator Ben Clarkson in the fall of 2019, he brought a more existential visual approach to it.  He brought up the idea of a character waiting for someone on a bench as the world changes and evolves around him in a much longer context of time.  We thought that idea was both kind of comical and politically poignant, bringing some more depth and dimension to that notion of waiting.  While it is on one level a heartbreak inspired pop song it is also a commentary on helplessly waiting and hoping for the world to get its shit together.

Bonfires (video here)
I wrote this song with Paul Hammer of Savoir Adore during a couple of sessions at his home studio in Brooklyn in 2017.  We took a demo of mine and came up with a moving instrumental song structure and I sang my idea for the chorus on the spot.  When I first heard it back I got chills.  What started as a fun groove became an anthem for the parallel waves of personal and political changes that were and still are happening.  I was flooded with imagery and emotion looking back at my life–adversities growing up, care-free drunken nights by a bonfire, the wild pursuit of a music career,  living life on the road, relationships ending, people we’d lost along the way, the band breaking up– and mustering up the courage to yet again move forward even though I was unsure of what direction to go in.  

The song is about the vulnerability you feel when facing those uncertain times and the resulting tendency to seek out the comfort of nostalgia.  The past few years of depressing news have felt like dropping off into a deep, dark, and ugly abyss from which there may be no return.  It is easy to long for simpler times where you felt more sure of things.  Though the idea that times were ever simpler may be an illusion unto itself.  And so we find ourselves having to find the courage to face the flames, move through the ugliness, and hope it’s just a painful transition towards a better world.  

Our first conversations with filmmaker Dorian Weinzimmer about the video for the song centered around that theme of nostalgia. Director Dorian Weinzimmerwanted to create something in the style of a bildungsroman, dealing with the formative years of the life of the protagonist.  The main synth loop of the song is going outward but always returning to the beginning which evoked images such as the bike wheels or tape recorder.  The idea that the tape recorder is endlessly spewing out its contents is a visual play on the illusory nature of nostalgia, memory and permanence.  There is imagery of coming out of darkness and into the light which I think embodies a recurring theme of our music over the years that certainly shows up in this song again.  

Weight of Paradise (video here)
The phrase, “you’re lucky to be alive, feeling the weight of building your paradise” popped into my head one night while trying to fall asleep.  It resonated deeply as a reminder to keep perspective; that life itself is a gift and we’re all lucky to be here doing the best we can.  I recorded it into my phone and the first musical translation I made of it was an acoustic, almost country sounding song.  I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  Then I got the idea for the melodic, wordless melody of the intro and it started to come together.  

In any pursuit of a passion or a goal in life there is a weight that comes along with it.  There is the weight of self doubt or the risk of failure.  The weight of debt, the weight of feeling like you’re too old, of time passing you by, of feeling like you should be further by now, or could be doing better.  And all of that is okay.  Above all, “you’re lucky to be alive, feeling the weight of building your paradise.”  This is a challenging time on so many levels for a lot of people.  We’re all making tough decisions we didn’t plan on making and adapting in whatever way we can.  I’m hoping this song can bring the same kind of solace to others that it brought to me and maybe lift a little bit of that weight for a minute.  

Blessings in Disguise  (video here)
I’ve heard and used the phrase “maybe its a blessing in disguise” so many times in my life.  It’s that optimistic notion that some present setback might end up working in your favor down the line.  Some days it seems like blessings in disguise are all you got and you wonder when do I just get the blessing without the disguise part?  

Throughout this journey of being in a band, all of us have had to find ways to make ends meet in order to keep doing what we do.  We’ve all dealt with the emotional swings of feeling on top of the world on stage on Saturday night to scrubbing floors or scraping paint on Monday.  Or worse yet, pulling an all night drive home in a snowstorm after a bad show and still scrubbing that floor on Monday.  But the plus side is that I’ve gotten to meet so many different people over the years working different jobs that inform who I am as a person.  After a while you start to realize you’re not alone in the grind and to count whatever blessings you do have.  We’re all just trying to get by in this age of growing income inequality and to be able to do what you love in the midst of that is special.  This song is sort of an ode to the age of the “side hustle” and the “gig economy” and for everyone who feels like they’re pushing a boulder up a mountain everyday trying to get by.  

Liar With the Lights On (video here)
This song started as a simple, fun bass groove but by the time I got the idea for the chorus, I knew something more sinister was boiling underneath.  It’s pretty clear we’ve been living in an era of lies, misinformation, delusions and mass deception and it was hard to not let that seep into my psyche and therefore the music.  I’ve always been inspired by artists like The Police who often paired poppy upbeat music with darker lyrical themes as well as classic reggae artists like The Wailing Souls, Steel Pulse, Third World and of course Bob Marley and Peter Tosh who often sang about deep political or moral issues set to an uplifting beat.  I couldn’t help but follow in that path a little bit with this song, imagining a character who by day deals in lies but by night fears his reckoning.  Ultimately, its sort of a moral tale set to a shiny dance groove.  

For the video we teamed up with an old friend of ours, Greg Ellis, who has been the lighting designer for Pretty Lights for several years now.  He’s been exploring analog video art and has a variety of tools at his disposal to create something visually stunning.  We sent him shots of us in time lapse and he projected it onto a fog screen in an actual room full of 300 lasers and ultimately created something that toys with the idea of an image not being as it seems on the surface.  

ROOTS DOWN (video here)
This is one of those songs that has been kicking around for a while.  I first wrote it in 2015 on guitar.  It was a simple, free and easy tune that kind of just wrote itself in a matter of a few hours.  I had recently been through a rough relationship and generally chaotic time in my life and was trying to find my feet again.  I was thinking about my grandparents a lot since they had just passed away and the steady relationship they had for so many years.  I just wanted that kind of peace and stability in my own life.  I know it wasn’t always easy for them, but I looked up to what seemed to be a sweet, supportive and tranquil life they had built with each other.  That kind of thing requires trusting another person deeply, knowing that you can be yourself and create a home with them.  But that type of trust, vulnerability and commitment doesn’t have to be so intense or filled with drama.  It can be free and easy with the right person.  So at that time I guess I was looking for that easy, natural kind of love where you just feel at home with someone and that showed up in the vibe of this song.  

I sent my demo over to Aaron (Gorsch) and he sent me back a version with a fresh, unique beat under it.  I think the playful syncopation that he and Packy provided to the song really makes it.  It’s sort of a dancy celebration of feeling at home with someone.  It definitely feels like a windows down, summertime kind of song.  

For the video we reached out to artist/producer K Lab.  He’s got a distinct, vibrant style of animation and created something I couldn’t have imagined.  He shot some beautiful footage of a rainforest in his home country of New Zealand and created an animated story within that world.  It’s light-hearted, colorful and rooted in nature which I think suits the song pretty well.

Hard Headed  (video here)
I was in kind of a strange and uncertain time in my life when this song came about.  We had decided to call it quits as a band and I was trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life when my entire identity and soul purpose seemed to derive from music.  I had just started bartending at a karaoke bar and I would get home late at night and zone out on Netflix for an hour or so before passing out.  I’m really into history documentaries and I had gotten sucked into Ken Burns’ documentary about the Vietnam War.  It was during that war that the technology became available to be able to record and send audio messages home to your family.  These young kids were drafted against their will, left their homes for the first time ever to go to the other side of the world to a completely foreign terrain to fight a meaningless, ugly and unpopular war at a revolutionary time in history and yet their messages home were fairly loving and simple.  Something about these soldiers’ survival instinct, their motive to  stay alive long enough to be able to see their homes and families again kind of stuck with me.  I think that kind of seeped into my consciousness and somewhere around this time I had the idea for the song while I was falling asleep.

Ultimately this is a song about perseverance in the face of adversity and how sometimes being too stubborn to give up is a good thing.  Fittingly, it was one of the more difficult songs to write lyrically and took some time for us to be able to dial in the vibe as a band but in the end I think it’s quite different from anything we’ve put out before.  The song has taken on some new meaning for me as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic.  It’s been one of the most challenging years for so many of us and we’ve all had to make tough choices, have faith and find inner strength to make it through this.  

For the video we collaborated with lighting designer and visual artist, Greg Ellis to make something that we could easily shoot during the pandemic.  We go way back with Ellis, all the way to Oneonta High School where we grew up and it’s been cool to be on a parallel path with him in the music industry over the years.  We shot the footage ourselves and sent it to him to work his magic on.  He ended up using a lot of analog video gear to create something that creates the sort of retro vibe of the song.   

Writing on the Wall (video here
I had the beat for this song sitting around for a while.  It reminded me a bit of Gorillaz, definitely a big influence of mine.  I loved it but wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it.  It’s brimming with intensity, groovy but a bit dark so I wanted to make sure the vocals honored that feeling.  One night I had these lyrics with a melody pop into my head, “waiting for the writing on the wall to come alive…”, and it just clicked for me.  It summed up so much of what I was feeling both in my personal life and watching a lot of traumatic events unfold in the world at large.  I was unsure of what direction to go in life and all the while the world outside seemed bleak– mass shootings, a hateful twitter troll in charge of the country, climate change escalating, racist police violence, etc.  Often in my lyrics I take an optimistic tone by the time the chorus comes around, something uplifting, as a mantra for myself more than anything.  But I wanted to honor those moments at night when you lie awake, anxious about your life and the state of the world, and impending doom just seems inevitable.  There’s definitely been a lot of moments in the last few years where things just seem bleak.  We crafted the song as a slow, steady build up in intensity and while recording the drums I just remember us all saying, “no hit them harder!”.  This song is a pressure release valve for all those dark moments you have, and I’m sure we’ve all had a few in the past year of turbulence. Sometimes you just gotta get that energy out.  

The video was created by an incredible 3D visual artist, Elnaz Mansouri.  She has a very surreal, dream like style and I knew immediately upon seeing her work that this was the approach to take for the video.  The song deals with lying awake between reality and the dream world and she did a great job creating something that reflects that.  

Skinny Dipping
When I write music, it’s not like I pre-conceive something to write a song about.  It just comes to me, I go with it, and as lyrics start to form in my head and after it’s done I realize perhaps what I may have dredged up from my unconscious.  In the case of this song, I had this fun, dancy beat but as soon as I came up with “What do you do when you think the world is falling down?”, I realized I was really reckoning with a deep cynicism about the state of the world and the path we’re headed down.  And I don’t think it’s just me who feels that way.  There’s a collective sense; a doom ridden, apocalyptic zeitgeist that’s really prevalent right now.  I mean at the time I wrote this, the number one song in the country was the phone number for the suicide hotline.  Things seemed pretty bleak and not going back any time soon.  So I think in the song there’s a back and forth between someone with this kind of hopeless, apocalyptic attitude and someone who’s more of an eternal optimist, moving forward regardless of what’s going on in the world.  

This was one of the first tracks we started working on as a band after deciding to get back together.  I think the end result is a great example of how each of our musical personalities come together to make this sound.  Whenever something seems too cut and dry, someone always has an idea to make things just a little weirder.  We always try to make both the beat and the melody equally catchy, but are careful to throw in unusual sounds here and there to make sure it stays interesting.  We usually spend hours finding the right tones to suit the palate of a song.  

We ended up creating the video for this song ourselves and edited it together with the help of Anne Muscatello.  We’ve gotten much more focused on having visual representation for all the songs throughout this release process and definitely had to rely on ourselves a bit more given the challenges of the pandemic.  Packy had an idea that would highlight all the layers of the song and we went for it.  There’s so much going on within the song and we wanted to keep it simple and accentuate that.  

If you think Jimkata is for you, make sure to order the album!

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