Much Great Heights: Talking to Restorations About the Past Six Months, Their Massive (Semi-)new Record, and Going Back to Work

Featured Image: Andrew Swartz

In October, Philly working class heroes Restorations released their colossal third record, the efficiently titled LP3, to stomp across the Philly skyline like a heartland rock Kaiju. Those who only caught a glimpse were rightly mystified, but those of us who put ourselves in its path are still climbing up from beneath the pavement. As a record, LP3 is the howling offspring of a scene pronounced dead then jolted back to life, a tightly-stitched collection of loose limbs and memories bands that didn’t make it through the darkness left behind. As a piece of punk art, it re-imagines earnestness to be the sound of three guitars summiting the Comcast Building.

At the center of this beast is Jon Loudon, the band’s finely pensive front man who sings like a match striking the side of its box. He gives the record a pulse and a wound, which ends up keeping it from fleeing the Earth’s atmosphere. Take what he does on “Separate Songs”, LP3’s most mixtaped track, for example. After opening on a serene and contemplative riff, the band’s other two chainsawing guitars almost immediately start swinging, and it’s Loudon’s voice that first surfaces the chaos and then focuses it. “Condemned to be/Forever unable,” he sings in forlorn maxim. “To give this stupid thing/The time that it deserves.” The first time you hear this lyric, you’re not really sure what Loudon’s talking about, what the “thing” is that he can’t seem to engage with, and what exactly is keeping him from it, but you believe him. At least you better believe him, because he’s about 20 seconds away from pulling you back below the surface.

Yesterday, I had the chance to talk with Jon about the massive (semi-)new record, what he learned from touring with the Get Up Kids, and a whole bunch of other stuff that happened to him over the past six months:

Rock on Philly: This is a question I like to ask a lot, so I wanted to start with it, since LP3 has been out since October and you guys have been touring so much behind it: how do you feel about the record now, today? Like, has it grown into something new, have you come across any readings of your own work from talking to fans or your family or even the media that have colored the record any differently for you?

Jon Loudon: Um… it’s just been a really warm response overall. It’s been kind of this nice… our records always take a couple months to kick in. It’s a really funny thing. We put it out and are like, “Oh, yeah, cool, a new record.” And then six months later our shows double (laughs). It’s sort of like totally unsatisfying at first, and then it gets like really great. Now we’re like a couple months out of it, and the shows we just got off were just… ridiculous. Really really a good time, like, turnout was awesome, everyone was really friendly.

And, I don’t know, I feel like we took a few leaps on the record that I wasn’t sure if it was going to land, like, positively with people, and it seems like it definitely did. And it’s really encouraging, creatively, cause it’s just like every time we want to do something weird it’s not like the end of my career (laughs). Which is nice.

ROP: It’s a massive record, somewhat in length, but more in this physical shape it takes when you listen to it, with the three guitars, and those drums and the way your voice sounds against them all. I was describing the record to someone recently, and, I drive a Camry, and I told them that when I listen to this thing at full blast, it comes to life, it shakes my car, it’s physically imposing. Was this the kind of record you’d set out to make or did the songs kind of grow in the studio?

Jon: A little bit of both. It was sort of, um, a really good opportunity to kind of simplify everything, you know? Sort of dial everything back and play less and all that. And when you do that, it sort of makes everything a little bit bigger, so we kind of cut back what we were doing and then the end result ended up sounding much, much larger, which is kind of cool. So we sort of went for one thing and ended up with another, which is, I think, most fun about doing all this.

ROP: It’s also really hard to catalogue, genre-wise, which I know you’ve been asked about before, but I was wondering how this came out of the writing process as well. Like, were you guys trying a bunch of things and what’s on the record is what ended up working? Like a “no idea is a bad idea” type thing? Or were these songs built around your lyrics, is this what fit? Or was it some of all those things?

Jon: Yeah. I mean it’s mostly collaborative, the way we start writing, anyways. It’s a lot of little ideas for things, and, you know, one idea that I have ends up going with something that Ben [Pierce, the band’s guitarist and keyboardist as well as one of its fortifying vocalists] has been working on, and it all starts to come together. So it’s just like the intricacy of surrendering to wherever anything is going to go and not being so, like, control freakish about it (laughs). Where you’re not trying to strangle a song into one preconceived direction and sort of just letting it become what it’s going to become, and I think that’s the best part.

And I… I think that’s why it’s confusing to listen to for some people (laughs). It’s just… it’s coming from a bunch of different angles and influences.

ROP: The record, thematically, I think, is partially about being out of touch, not in the old guy at the basement show kind of way, but more out of touch with your own life, with the things that are right in front of you. Was this a reaction to a certain set of experiences in your own life or were you more writing about a generational experience? Or is it somewhere in the middle, since those two things seem to overlap, as I ask the question?

Jon: Yeah, that’s about it, man. I mean, it’s… everything’s sort of written abstractly over time. It’s like, uh, you kinda write a little here, a little there and just sort of let it come together. It’s funny, it’s like you make stuff one month, or whenever, and you come back to it a month later and it fits into some other stuff that you’re working on. So it’s not like one sit down session with a concept. It’s always just sort of like pulling together stuff that I’ve been working on for a while, you know, whether it’s rhyme schemes or whatever, it all seems to put itself together, which is cool.

But yeah, that’s sort of the main vibe [of the record] I think (laughs). This sort of feeling that like everything is continuously slipping away from you.

ROP: There’s that great lyric on “Most Likely A Spy” that goes, “We hit it off / And by ‘hit it off’ I mean / I was staring at the floor/I was trembling like a child”, and it’s such a common experience, at least one that I connected to right away, so I found myself wondering if you were writing about a specific memory or just this feeling and had decided that this image was the best way to communicate it? 

Jon: Yeah, uh, a little bit of both. It’s, um, I don’t know. I’m trying to think back now (laughs).

ROP: I know, it’s been so long since you actually wrote that.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, but, no, that’s about right. I’m a very… anxious person, and that sort of tends to come out in a lot of this stuff. And, you know, when you’re putting something together I think things like that sort of just materialize to you and you’re like, “Oh yeah, this is cool. I can do this, this works with this.” But, yeah, not so much specifically an anecdotal experience, but…

ROP: Yeah, for sure. So the record was produced by Jon Low, who is producing some of the best music coming out of Philly right now, including your stuff, and I know you two are tight personally, right? You two were rooming together at the time?

Jon: Yeah, (laughs) we still do! I’ve lived with Jon for five years now. We met because we had some common friends and just started hanging out. And he just ended up, sort of by chance, working on that first record, which we were recording with Joe [Reinhart] from Algernon Cadwallader. And then due to the record label at the time, not Tiny Engines, but Paper and Plastic, sort of jerking us around, we ended up going past the deadline. So Joe’s band was going on tour in Europe, and so we had to figure out another way to mix the record because they were going to be gone for a month and a half. Then Joe was like, “Oh my friend Jon’s, like, really great. He did all the Dr. Dog stuff and that last mewithoutYOU record.” And we were like, “Oh, that’s cool. Let’s check it out.”

So Jon [mixed the songs] on reference, and they were f***ing huge. They sounded awesome. And, yeah, we had some mutual friends and kept on seeing each other around town. Plus our living situation kind of went to s*** around the same time, so we were just like, “Oh, f*** it, let’s get a place and live together.”

And it’s been awesome, man. Watching that guy grow as an artist has been unbelievable. The stuff… I mean he just did a bunch of really interesting stuff, but the stuff that he’s working on this year is blowing my mind. He’s got some… he’s just going to another planet. It’s awesome. He’s a really, really exciting person to be around, and just… You know, he’s really smart and understands music on sort of like the molecular level. And I’m a music nerd, I’m always, always talking about records, and Low is much better at all of that than I am, so we’ll just sit at the house and talk s*** for hours, you know? He’s a really, really interesting guy, and I’m definitely super lucky that he’s crossed through my life.

ROP: So the band kind of started out of exhaustion from the road. You guys didn’t seem to have too much ambition about it, and that sounds bad to say, but I mean it more in a “you just wanted to play together and not worry about the other stuff” kind of way. But now you have this record, one that premiered on NPR, that got coverage on Grantland and Rolling Stone, positive coverage, like “check these guys out now”-type coverage.  Has this half-year since the release changed your perspective on the band and what it is and what it can be?

Jon: I mean, everyday I’m thankful for what we’ve got. We hit the lottery, I feel like, because the level that we’re able to do this at at the moment, and, like, at this stage in our life, is pretty remarkable to me. When you start seeing stuff like that, like Steven Hyden [Grantland’s music critic] calls your phone, and you’re like, “Holy s***. This is crazy.” Like, what the hell? And every time it happens it’s not lost on me how lucky we are that that’s a thing at all, and I’m certain that it’s going to go away any day (laughs). So I’m trying to… not cram as much in, but enjoy this as much as I can while I’ve got it. And if I can get up everyday and think about music and making art, then, you know, with my life the way it is now, just to like get to keep doing this? Then I’m an extremely lucky person. It’s freaking awesome; I love it.

ROP: Is it tough to, like, go back to your day job? You said [before the interview] that you’re getting back into work after the tour, is it tough to go back to that lifestyle? Do you ever feel restless?

Jon: No, it’s… it’s therapeutic. I love it. I actually work on the road. I basically make books for a living, a lot of typesetting and that sort of thing. It’s like a really therapeutic job to have. It’s kind of like mowing the lawn, you know? You kind of just get out and get in it. It’s a really, like, grounding experience to work on something like that over the course of a month while you’re out doing some other s***. It sort of trades off, I guess, what I’m doing every couple of weeks, whether I’m like sitting at the table and working on a book or I’m planning stuff for the band or I’m out with the band planning stuff for work. It sort of just changes around and makes it so much more interesting to do because it’s like, “Oh yeah, I’m in the band, this is great, I love this,” and then I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m at my drawing table, this is great.” It’s a nice way to mix it up, and it makes me, uh, you know, particularly in my line of work, what can often be the most extremely monotonous job becomes sort of exciting and fresh again cause you’re sort of just rebooting what you’re working on every couple of months.

ROP: So, swinging back to the record, the indelible song off LP3, “Separate Songs”, is, among other things, about the way music is experienced today, on computers, alone, headphones plugged in. It sounds intimate when I say it now, but you sing about the experience as a cursory and shallow one. Other writers and songwriters have taken on this kind of diminishing engagement with music: Franzen, through one of his characters, wrote about songs as sticks of gum and Jack Logan recently wrote a blog post about how music as a nuanced art form is rapidly losing its cultural relevance. I guess I wanted to see if you could expand on your thoughts on this topic, what do you think is causing our limited engagement? And do you think there’s a solution?

Jon: It’s kind of difficult to articulate, I guess. I mean, for me it’s a little different because I have such great exposure to it, and it’s such a huge part of my life. But I feel like for most people music’s this sort of like environment that they put themselves in, you know? Like you have these people that are very tied-in with bands that they used to go see in high school, that they used to see in college, that they found out about later on in life. Everything has this like very specific thing to it, you know? And for us, anyway, I feel like we have this little environment that we’re building with our band and the people that come see us and the people we work with and all that stuff. And I think, like, there’s a much greater feeling of connection to bands we’re friends with and the people we do business with, and it really feels like more than just a blog post when our band does stuff. And, again, I’m super thankful that that’s the way it is.

ROP: Yeah, definitely, I wasn’t saying that what you’re doing is the same as what, say, Jack Logan is doing on his blog.

Jon: Oh, yeah, but that’s the case I feel like for a lot of bands, just a post on SPIN and then you’re just done. It’s like you get a post on SPIN, you premiere a song, you go on a tour, and you’re done (laughs). And that’s it. But for us it’s like we kind of do things a little slower (laughs). So, yeah, it’s a weird place to be at because you read so much how like music is awful now and nobody really supports anything or do whatever, and, like, you know, we see people all the time that we’ve known since we put out our first 7’’ that still come to our shows. You know, they call out of work, get a babysitter (laughs), you know? It’s not just like a college party when we play anymore. It’s like this real thing. And I feel like we’re experiencing something that’s relatively unique, particularly in our bubble.

ROP: Definitely, like time keeps moving on, but music can more or less stay the same.

Jon: Yeah, and that makes me think of, you know we were touring with the Get Up Kids this past week, and like that’s what this is for them. They just bring this little part of their life around with them, and all these people come out and experience it with them, and it’s like, they love it, the people that are around love it. It’s like this special kind of… it’s bigger than all of the things involved I guess. It’s really cool, and that was the biggest takeaway for me over the last week. That you can just go away for a while and come back and everything is just totally fine. It doesn’t matter anymore, you know?

Yeah, so like everybody kind of experiences it in these like quick, little blasts, I think. It’s really easy having like an office job and just reading whatever’s on Rolling Stone in the morning, but, you know (laughs), it can be different than that, I guess.

ROP: So, as a band, you guys are really of Philadelphia, of its punk scene but also the city’s community as a whole. You kind of de-romanticize that serrated edge that everyone for some reason gives us credit for as a city, but you also embody the less cynical parts of that ideal. Like, when LP3 came out, you put on your friends at a coffee shop called ReAnimator Coffee to do a cross-promotional batch to coincide with the release, and that was a huge hit. So I was wondering how important has the city has been to your, like, development as a band?

Jon: I mean it’s, well, it’s everything. The city to me is, like, my favorite place in the world. Especially now that I’ve been all over the place it’s just like, “God man, if it would just not snow here, then I’d never think about leaving.” But, like, that’s like growing up, like my life was s*** and then I found Philly music, coming to shows here and seeing bands. You know there’s this great sort of opportunity here I guess, and it’s totally shaped me as a person, a musician, an artist, or whatever. I’ve been living in Philly since 2001. I was born here, grew up in the suburbs. I don’t know, it’s in my blood I guess. And some of the other guys’ too, even though some of them are from a little further out.

It’s just a huge deal for me to have the music scene, and the old bands in particular, sort of embrace us and help us out like they did over the years. I mean, that’s the only reason we’re doing this, because all the old heads told us, you know, how to do it (laughs). And like you take a little bit of that with you even if you’re trying to do something different. That’s why it’s super exciting to me now that there’s like all the other, you know, college kids coming up, people moving in from all over the place trying to, like, figure it out around here, and knowing that when you go to a show and you’ve got all the young kids and old heads out, everybody’s out seeing the same stuff. I was just at a show last night, Steve Gunn was in Philly, and there were all these people that you would not have seen at shows in other cities and they were all hanging out, from 21-year-old kids in college to 50-year-old rock and roll guys. And you have this opportunity that you wouldn’t have in the weird bubbles of other towns where it’s just like quick little blip of one very specific type of music. Here, it’s… everyone’s involved. People go out to see all kinds of stuff. It’s cool. And that’s what, I think, puts Philly a cut above. You see this a lot in like Toronto, or Chicago, where it’s like so many walks of life, so many different kinds of influences, musical influences, and that sort of stuff coming together. It really kind of changes the caliber of bands, and I think that’s why we have so many success stories right now coming out of this town.

ROP: Yeah, that was actually going to be part of my next question, which was about how Philly doesn’t have this kind of exclusive feel to it that, say, New York does. You go to a show here and you got some guy who loves the Hold Steady coming in to see you guys, or Beach Slang, or whoever. You kind of answered my question already, but I was going to ask if you thought that this sense of community contributing to the recent success of the Philly scene?

Jon: Yeah, I really do. It’s like very supportive, and, like, you also don’t really get the chance to be really cocky in this town cause someone will cut you down immediately (laughs).

ROP: Definitely.

Jon: It happens all the time. People just don’t stand for it. You know, people coming to shows are smart, they know what it sounds like. But there are so many opportunities in this town right now. It’s ridiculous. I was just at City Hall this morning for Philly Jazz Appreciation Month just like looking and being like, “Damn, these guys are in their 70s, and they’re still playing, and people are still giving a s***.” Like, the scene is alive and well and around forever. Just having that thing available for you at all times is so inspiring. It doesn’t give you the chance to really feel like you’ve accomplished anything (laughs). So you’re always working, always trying to get your edge as sharp as it can be, cause everyone’s trying to do the same thing. It’s just really good for everyone.

ROP: Yeah, it keeps you honest, makes you keep your head down and keep working.

Jon: Yeah, for sure. And it’s just good for everybody else, you know? It’s like, everybody’s working on this whole thing as a group, which kind of cool and unique, and then, you know, I think it’s something that people will talk about for years to come, not just the scene but the city as a whole. This time period has been really crazy.

ROP: So, last question, we’re kind of doing this interview in anticipation of a show you’re playing Friday at Johnny Brenda’s, kind of a homecoming thing. You guys are referring to it as a “hangout”, and you played a huge Record Release show at the First Unitarian Church back in November, so I was wondering what this upcoming show means to you guys?

Jon: It’s just different. We try to play different places all around the city when we can, try and do as many all ages shows as we possibly can, but it’s really fun to just, now and again, pack out a small bar and just relax with friends and family, people who I haven’t seen in forever, who don’t really come to shows anymore, and they come out for it. It’s this really positive experience. Being out for a month, being all over the US and Canada, and coming back, I guess, it’s just cool to play a place I really like. I’ve been going to shows at Johnny Brenda’s for, I don’t know, ten years? However long they’ve been doing shows there. I remember like my first show was the War on Drugs on the floor, you know? And I’ve so many, so many inspirational bands there that like came through there and played and just like did whatever they could do, whether they’re doing a different thing now or whatever.

It’s just a cool place to play. So many people have been through there, and it has really good energy. I like the people that work at the place and run it. It’s just a nice place to be, and if you can bring that type of energy to a show – it’s the same reason we play the Church. It’s like, that’s where I’m from, that’s where I like seeing shows, that’s where I like bringing people I know to see shows, and, you know, if you can have that nice warm environment with friends and family and old bands and stuff, it’s just a great thing to be able to do, and I’m really, really excited to be able to play there. It’s actually been a while since we’ve played there. Last time was with Torche a couple of years ago. We’ve never headlined there, so I’m just really looking forward to it and the different kind of energy they have there.

 

You can catch Restorations trying to fit their sound into Johnny Brenda’s on Friday, April 3rd.  Doors are at 8:00, show’s at 9:00.

 

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