SU: So, you and David (Rothblatt) were in several bands together before The Changes?
Jonny: Yeah, well Dave and I went to high school together. So we’ve been playing music together for a long time, and the way the band got started was we were at two different colleges, and we both came home to Chicago. I wanted to start a band, and the first person I thought of was Dave cause he’s so good, so I looked him up, and we started playing music together for a while and looking for other people. And then it took about a year or so to find the other two guys (Rob Kallick and Darren Spitzer).
SU: What were they doing? Were they both in other bands at the time?
Jonny: Darren was solo, playing at open mics and coffee shops and stuff. More like singer-songwriter kind of stuff. And Rob wasn’t really playing. He was kind of playing on his own but not really pursuing it.
We met Darren first. We tried out another bass player for a little bit but then met Rob a few months later.
SU: The music you were playing before, was it similar to what The Changes play?
Jonny: No, it was totally different. And the way it was when we started even was totally different. It has just kind of evolved into the way we sound now. I think it’s still evolving.
We just did recordings in New York when we were there, and they came out sounding pretty different from Today is Tonight. I have the feeling that it’s kind of in our nature to evolve.
SU: I was reading today where you were talking about a song that you’ve redone that you thought would really surprise people. Tell me about that a little.
Jonny: Oh, “Such a Scene.” Yeah, that’s one of our oldest songs, and we recorded it back. We’ve been thinking about remaking that record. Like in 2003, we had a version of it, and it just wasn’t really...what we wanted.
SU: I have that actually...
Jonny: The old version?
SU: Yeah, cause I was like, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t sound like the one I know...”
Jonny: Cool! Someone noticed! Cause a few of the songs on our album are the exact same version from before, just remastered: “When I Wake” and “When I Sleep” also, those are all available in some form or another, but they weren’t on our label. We chose not to re-record those into different versions. We decided to redo “Such a Scene” and make it a little more rockin.
SU: So what’s it like now, after being together for four years? You’re starting to get some recognition, some really good press.
Jonny: I feel like maybe this is just my own self-imposed sense of urgency about things, but every step of the way has either seemed too slow or seemed like it’s come to us quickly. What we’re doing now – our first real tour, our first album – is what I would expect happens, like even what I thought before I was in a band. Like, a band forms, starts writing music, all of a sudden they start touring and getting attention, but I guess that’s pretty unrealistic for most bands. But it feels about right for us, where we are now – a few years in to be here.
SU: You’ve gone with Drama Club as a label. Have you been courted by the major labels?
Jonny: We talked to everybody, and Drama Club was one of the first to really make it known that they wanted to work with us. The business is in a place now where labels can kind of hang around and not pull the trigger on a band for a really long time and maintain a kind of hold on them. There were certain labels that we talked to, bigger ones than Drama Club, that we talked to so much, and they were like, “We love it, but we gotta see what’s going on in a month or two.” And we eventually just decided that we were going to sign by the end of 2005, so we made the deal with them around New Year’s of last year. And now we’re also signed with Kitchenware in the UK.
SU: What are you looking forward to as far as that’s concerned? Have they started promotions of you guys in the UK?
Jonny: It’s just kind of getting started now because the album is coming out there in March, right around the time of SXSW. Yeah we’re excited. We’ll get to go over there. Probably in February we’ll get to do a few shows around London, and then we’ll go back over and do a proper tour later in the spring.
A lot of people have been telling us that we will do better in England. I don’t know, but I’ve always kind of had that sense too. And maybe this is a little self-defeating in a way, but I never really had a sense that we were going to explode onto the scene in New York. I mean we might, but I think it’s going to be more like a ‘growing, growing, growing’ kind of thing. And maybe someday we’ll get a bigger label who can market us with a lot of money behind it. But I feel like in the UK, they’re maybe a little more open to stuff like this.
To me, they’re more open to album songs but don’t care as much about the hits as people do over here. They seem to market it a little differently, and it’s easier to get airplay over there.
SU: So who else is on that label?
Jonny: The biggest band on that label is Editors.
SU: Oh yeah, cool. They’re nice people. You guys and Editors would be a good tour.
Jonny: Yeah, we think so too. I hope that’ll happen at some point.
SU: You’ve probably been asked a lot about Lollapalooza. Are you sick of Lollapalooza questions?
Jonny: No, I still feel so grateful having been able to do it. That was a big turning point for us.
SU: So who did you meet? Were you able to meet anyone who really impressed you or who surprised you maybe?
Jonny: Everyone was around. It was very surreal. There was a big tent where they were serving food and beverages, and you’re sitting there, and the table to your left is Arcade Fire. It was a huge deal for us. Even more than the actual act of playing it, the fact that a year and a half later that it’s still such a big part of us.
SU: Did you meet anyone who disappointed you or cross paths with anyone who was less than hero material?
Jonny: No, not really. Everyone was super cool. It was neat being Perry (Farrell). He was like, “Oh we love you guys!” So that was cool.
SU: I have to ask you this question. Are you familiar with Yacht Rock?
Jonny: Um, yeah, a little bit.
SU: So are you aware that you’ve been described as disco-inspired yacht rock?
Jonny: I’ve read stuff like that before. I think that our deal is that whenever we record, or at least when we made this record, no matter what we were going for. Like if we’re like, “We’re gonna make this song huge and rock it, it always by the time we get done changing it and overdubbing and switching things around, it ends up sounding really intricate and delicate – for better or worse, you know? We love our album, and we just hope everyone else will love it too. And I think that’s where it comes from, sounding produced sounding.
But like I said before, we just did two recordings in New York. We wanted to see what would happen if we took more of a hands-off approach and let someone else produce us a little more. And for anyone who hasn’t seen us before, it’s a lot louder live. The opposite of how we record. If we tried to sound intricate live, it ends up sounding big. So we made these two recordings, and they sound totally different.
SU: Is it scary to leave it in the hands of someone else?
Jonny: It was liberating actually. We weren’t at each other’s throats. It was a nice couple of days, whereas a lot of recording the album was very stressful.
SU: I was going to ask you about that. How do you put the songs together. Do you find that they come together easily or is it really a lot of work because you’re four distinct voices?
Jonny: I suppose. I think our ideas come easily to us, but that’s part of the problem because we have too many. Plus, we have too much respect for each other’s ideas. There’s a lot of mutual love and respect among the four of us. As people, but creatively. We sort of have a motto in the band; we call it “Try and Fried.” You’re not allowed to just “Fry” an idea. But that can be hard in a studio when you’re paying by the hour. And when you’re just practicing, it make for some really loooong sessions. We’ve had a song to a point where it’s so great, and three out of four of us like it. And in any other band, it would be majority rules, live with it more or less. And we’ve tried that too. Like I personally, if I’m the one person who’s not that excited about a song, just to go with it for a few weeks and try playing the song because you can be wrong about that kind of stuff.
SU: What’s different about promoting this record from what you’ve done to promote the eps and local promotions in Chicago?
Jonny: We’re touring...we’ve never really done this before. And we have a lot of people involved. We never had a publicist or a booking agent. Still it’s not as many as most bands have, but there’s a team of people who are mutually vested in it. It’s less of a feeling ... it still feels like it’s us against the world, but it’s less maddening. Feels like there’s a chance. Before, we were not touring. We were writing music and playing Chicago, but we weren’t getting out in other places.
SU: What was the deal with the Win a Date with The Changes contest?
Jonny: Our manager was challenging us to come up with fun ideas around the time the album came out in Chicago. And Rob was like, “How about Win a Date with The Changes?” I think we got Time Out to sponsor it.
SU: So did you end up with a giggly girl who was excited to have a date with The Changes?
Jonny: Actually it was a cute girl. We all went out. It was probably weirder for her than it was for us. As it got closer, we all realized how creepy it was. There’s something kind of weird about the four of us and some girl having dinner. But it was fun. After the meal, part of the prize was that she could invite 10-15 of her friends back, and so we played for them.
SU: Now that’s pretty cool. Do you guys do any silly songs or covers when you’re just goofing around?
Jonny: We are always playing whatever comes to mind. A few weeks ago, we sang “Sexy Back” on the radio in Indiana. We were doing a Judas Priest cover for a little while “Livin After Midnight.”
SU: I’m trying to imagine that with bells...
What’s an album that you’ve had for years and years that you still listen to on a regular basis?
Jonny: Probably The Cure Disintegration. It’s something I’ve been listening to since it came out. Pretty much anything by The Beatles I always return to.
SU: Yeah, I can definitely pick up some of that from your harmonies and the way you arrange things.
Jonny: The bells and stuff, high-pitch keyboards. We like to add flourishes on top of things.
SU: In a way, that’s the signature of The Changes.
Jonny: Yeah, but if you hear the recent recordings we did...none of that. It’s just guitar, bass and drums.
The studio where we recorded Today Is Tonight had all this fun stuff, like keyboards and all that stuff. And I think that’s why it’s on there. If there had been horns, they would be on there. If it had none of that, it would be just guitars. But we finally got our own set of bells recently.
SU: What do you think is the best release of 2006? What’s your top record of that year?
Jonny: I got really excited about a record that a lot of people haven been excited about, which is The Killers’ latest record. I think it’s great. I got it and went nuts. Something about it just struck a cord in me. I even thought of myself as not a Killers fan, but then I heard “When You Were Young,” and I thought, “Well that’s great.” So I bought the album, and I find that’s very honest and real. Very cool.
I see a kind of similarity in us, not like the way that we sound but in the way that we are cause they’re very big and flashy in a way we probably never could be. But their honesty in songwriting. And the way they take a song a little bit bigger. I think that’s what I like about them – they write really good songs.
SU: Well, I don’t really have a big closing question, but one I always like to ask is what’s your dream lineup? Who would you love to open for or have open for you?
Jonny: Dave always says that he wants to tour with Death Cab because their fans would be our fans. I’d like to tour with The Strokes. That would be fun.
SU: I could see that working.
Jonny: Ultimately, I just want to be headlining someday.
SU: Then you could have Death Cab open for you...
Jonny: Yeah, it would Death Cab, The Strokes and then The Changes.
SU: Hey, sounds good. Well, thanks Jonny and take care.