To win our Borealis Music Prize, Jon Hynes had to survive three separate juries. Three.
And that deserves a trio of awards: as our inaugural winner, Jon will be playing the closing night party of the 2015 ECMAs in St. John’s, will be invited to the 2015 Halifax Pop Explosion, and was given $1,000 out of the Overcast’s bank account. Plus a trophy, everyone loves a trophy.
While assembling the longlist for the Borealis Music Prize, there was some conversation as to whether it would be a disadvantage for Jon Hynes that he’s been pursuing a career in music in Ontario, playing, recording, and touring with the likes of Kathleen Edwards, Gentleman Reg, The Hidden Cameras, and Evening Hymns. He’s also toured with our very own Hey Rosetta.
But while he’s been absent on the bills of local shows for years now, he’s hardly a new name in local music. Many know of Jon Hynes from his time in popular St. John’s bands of the recent past like Geinus and Trailer Camp. Some newer local bands, like Pet Vet, are keeping Trailer Park alive in cover songs.
“I left St. John’s in 2008 because I felt that I needed a change,” he says. “I absolutely loved the music scene and it taught me an awful lot, but at that time in my life I knew that I needed to branch out and try different music with new people. I have nothing but good things to say about all the musicians I worked with since moving here. My connection with Newfoundland, and the amazing music being made here, is still very strong, and I think despite not living here I will always connect with it.”
Jon’s desire to grow by playing music with other bands ties in to his album’s title, Watchful Creatures. Hynes says the album title stems from his observations that we’re all products, or creatures, of our environment. This pertains to his career in music – the more bands he plays with, the more insight he gets into how other musicians craft their sounds and songs.
“I feel that since playing with all the bands I’ve played with, I gained a lot of experience and learned incredible things. This album is a product of those experiences; my environment. I always had ideas bouncing around, and playing with different groups and musicians gave me great ideas on how to formulate and produce these ideas into songs.”
There’s certainly a commendable, impressive diversity of sounds on Jon’s album, guaranteeing a song for everybody. The album skirts many genres, marking each with his own signature sounds, and never dipping deeply enough into any one genre to sound familiar; this album has a distinct sound, and a good one.
There’s a spareness in many of the stand-out songs, like “The Later Ones” and “Forever, Kathleen” that builds a lush soundscape able to emotionally connect with a listener in that primitive way only music can. Catchy flirtations with pop, like “Lay Down and Dry” and “Me and the Radicals” vary tempo and pace to keep things interesting.
“It’s pretty hard to place Watchful Creatures in a neat little category, i.e folk, pop, rock, soundscape, whatever. I personally love it when a record bounces around a bit and keeps the listener on their toes. It keeps everything exciting and displays the depth of the writer(s).”
James Bunton (Ohbijou, Diamond Rings) produced the album, and really brought Jon’s best musical traits alive, methodically, over a two-year period of recording. And it’s a sign of a man who has made a career in music to be so patient and careful in the crafting, mixing, and recording of the songs on his album.
“The project didn’t have a strict timeline,” he says, “so we just worked at it until it was done. Before we started recording, Jamie and I agreed that we would spend as much time as necessary on each instrument until it was perfect. We worked on each song until it was done. We coupled obsessive perfection with a healthy dose of anality, which results in a long recording process.”
Jon was able to spend so much time getting each song just so, because he could play every instrument himself, and not fret over hassling or paying musicians for an excess of their time. All that time he spent as a kid making four track recordings in his parent’ basement paid off.
“When you’re recording yourself, it’s beneficial to play more than one instrument” so he taught himself to play every instrument in his house. It’s what makes solo recordings – with a battery of instruments – so easy for him, and also what makes him so useful for touring Canadian bands like The Wooden Sky.
Jon is currently on tour with The Wooden Sky, to promote their stellar new album, Let’s Be Ready. Conveniently, the band, with Jon on bass, rolled through town the weekend of November 28th, so we could hand Jon a trophy at the Borealis Music Prize Party at The Ship that Friday night. Members of The Wooden Sky pulled a switcheroo and backed Jon on a handful of his songs
“It’s incredible and so humbling,” he says of winning the award. “I talk about Newfoundland so much I feel like a babbling ambassador sometimes. To win a Newfoundland music award, especially the Borealis, is beyond flattering. The shortlist this year was incredible. What can I say? I ‘m a blush factory over here.” Given his background in music, it’s no surprise his first official solo debut shines.