Being true to the work, and himself
Tonic album cover by JJR
By Christopher Anderson
South End singer-songwriter JJR debuts Tonic
Boston singer-songwriter, JJR, just released his first album, Tonic. The 12 catchy songs tell a heartfelt tale of a relationship gone wrong. Across the twelve piano-driven, orchestrated songs, JJR musically tells the story of an infatuation, a deep love, infidelity, and finally, heartbreak.
Minnesota native, Jon Richardson (JJR), currently resides in the South End and is completing his Masters at the New England Conservatory.
Richardson describes the first song being conceptualized back in April of 2016 while enrolled in a music theory class.
"I'd use little melodies I made up as a kind of device to pass these tests that are called 'harmonic progressions'...then, somehow, I had about 12 songs by the beginning of July."
While filming a movie out in Iowa, Richardson made significant progress on the album. The constant down time allowed him to focus on his craft and discover himself in greater depth.
"I wrote maybe- five of the tunes out there," he says. "I had this little notebook and I would just write lyrics while I was on the set of this movie and then when I wasn't filming I was basically at the piano for about six hours a day."
In that time, he was able to reflect on a recent break up he endured, and used that event to fuel his creative process.
"That relationship that had started back in April had just ended, so the whole album is sort of about that relationship but it's also kind of a kaleidoscope of a lot of past boyfriends, too."
The album features more than 22 musicians, most from the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, played on the album. The songs showcase a shouty brass and wind ensemble, a string quartet, and virtuosic cellist Joey Gotoff.
As Richardson discovered coordinating with so many musicians to find the time, energy, and space to record proved to be one of Tonic's most challenging tasks.
"One of the biggest lessons was how these projects require an entire village of people," he said. "Most of it was 100% live--one day there was a 12-piece band bass, drums, bass, piano these were, with one exception, all musicians from new England Conservatory here in Boston.
all top-rate, brilliant players."
While the coordination and composition posed a huge work load for Richardson he explains that there is value in making it look easy.
"I think we tried to make it look sort of effortless and we tried to hide the work
because I think hiding the work is what makes art great."
What he doesn't hide from is making sure his story is one that is true and transparent. His songs detail personal love and loss and through this narrative, we hear his words as he would say them in everyday life. He describes how he would not write a song about having a girlfriend, or singing to a female subject so audiences could relate, because he has, in fact, never had one. An important part of this project for Richardson was establishing a relatable narrative that accurately and honestly depicted his story.
"Look- I don't hear gay songs about gay relationships," he explained. "I don't hear things that have happened to me and my friends reflected in singer/songwriters out there...there are plenty of gay artists, but they don't use gay pronouns when they sing about love."
In a project that features such a wide range or musical composition and talent as well as a roller coaster of emotion, it is understandable why Richardson would want to hide the hard work that went in to creating his art. What is for certain, however, is the art he creates will never come at the expense of hiding who he is.
An album release party for Tonic will be held on Wednesday March 1, 6pm-9pm at The Black Rose - 160 State Street Boston, MA. Tonic is also available on iTunes
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