A.A. Bondy is a man with many names. His double-initialed moniker looks good on an album cover, but doesn't roll off the tongue. I've read he also goes by Scott, though I forgot to ask where that name comes from; but he spared me the trouble of awkwardly sticking to pronouns, introducing himself as Auguste. I caught up with him at Newport Folk Festival, soon after he played a hypnotizing early afternoon set on the quad stage within the walls of Fort Adams.
Bondy's solo career took off in 2007 with the release of debut American Hearts
. He had earned recognition earlier with his band Verbena, but after they broke up in 2003 he moved from Birmingham, Alabama to New York's Catskills, where his musical direction took some pretty sharp turns. When a friend showed him a video of Mississippi John Hurt, Bondy "became enraptured with [Hurt's] right hand" and set about teaching himself some fancy picking, learning (in the tradition of folk) by copying the pros and "stealing" from a friend engaged in similar efforts.
While the decision to learn folk techniques was conscious, Bondy claims no intentional musical mission; rather, he seems to play what he wants or needs to at any given time, and so far that's been working out pretty well. I asked if he feels obligated to cater future music-making to supporters or fans of past albums, and he immediately shook his head, saying, "I wouldn't know how to play like that, or, you know, channel whoever I was then." He's called his second album more abstract than the first, saying that as time went on he stopped agreeing with his earlier songs, making them difficult to perform earnestly. This sort of introspective, true-to-self way of working makes for songs that feel like the real deal, and keeps the inspiration coming.
When he first began playing solo Bondy was both happy with the change and scared, the experience "revelatory at times." But as things progressed he became bored; " When you're by yourself you have the freedom to play slower, quiet, loud, however you want to go, there just aren't as many variants when you're by yourself. When you're with people, it's kind of like there's a lot more opportunity for, I guess, certain kinds of magic."
He's been playing with the drummer and bassist who joined him at Newport for about a year and a half, and the crafting of their parts is a team effort; "It's kind of everybody gets in the room, what if we do that, what if you do this." Bondy contrasted that against the godfather of funk's method, saying, "James Brown, I'm sure, is responsible for every note on that stage. I dont have the energy for that."
With his musical direction solidly rooted in his head, it's hard to say where A.A. Bondy will go next. But if Mississippi John Hurt videos inspired his turn towards the folky, maybe his next album will be an excursion into dance funk; Bondy is now "going through a big Prince phase again," watching videos of Purple Rain
-era rehearsals on the interwebs. Or maybe (probably) he won't go that path; but it seems that no matter which direction his next musical step takes, his incessantly poetic, focused-rambling way will lead him somewhere good. -selden paterson
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Guest Apartment: A.A. Bondy
Video Interview (10/2009): A.A. Bondy
A.A. Bondy on Myspace