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Emerging /// Jonny P and the Search for Nashville’s Soul

Where have all the soul singers gone?

Do you remember Paula Cole’s 1996 one-hit wonder “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” The song that catapulted Cole into a Best New Artist Grammy and not much more? With the “yippee-yah, yippee-yay” hook?

Well, the questionable hook and general nonsense contents of Cole’s only Billboard hit have little to nothing to do with our feature subject, local soul singer extraordinaire Jonny P. That being said, the absentee sentiments of “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” could be argued on the sartorially inclined singer’s behalf, just redact Cowboys and place any form of soul singer in its place. Where have all the soul singers gone? Or, perhaps the appropriate question should be, why don’t we talk about them?

For as much of a proverbial “explosion” Nashville’s music landscape has seen in the past five years, there’s one cornerstone genre that remains relatively untapped by the mainstream media – you guessed it, soul music.

Despite having been in Nashville for the better part of seven years now, Jonny P has spent the majority of his residence quietly biding his time, or not so, depending on how you view it. Jonny has a diverse set of interests, one obviously being the whole soul music thing, though he has made concerted efforts in the world of fashion and design (made apparent by his exquisitely polished on stage aesthetic), as well as a recent role in the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow 1967 race riot drama, Detroit.

All in all, it would appear as though Jonny P is setting him self up for almost guaranteed success in any and all arenas of creativity and art. Then again, there would be the fear that his myriad interests could come to conflict with one another. More specifically, on paper there might be concern that working on a film like Detroit might affect Jonny P’s newest EP, Good To You; but that would be a presumptuous thing to do. If anything, Jonny thrives on such a schedule.

“My EP was actually tracked last March in LA,” he says. “So I was way ahead of the curve thankfully, which was the movie. And I tend to be that way – if I feel it and it’s possible, I like to get it done and flesh it out – so there’s less time to worry. Within this industry and all creative industries things are always coming around the corner, so you’ve got to get it done. Because if not you’re three or four years down the road with no music out.”

So in no time, Jonny had managed to track an entire record in Los Angeles and star in a prestige picture from an Oscar winning director, but even still, there was a slight casualty – Pilgrimage Festival.

“I did have to cancel a show, which I hated. Playing Pilgrimage Festival, which was a local festival out in Franklin, Tennessee and I was really excited about that, but that’s when I got the call. So that sucked. And that was really the first time I ever canceled, but when Kathryn [Bigelow] calls, you don’t say no.”

While his role in Detroit is certainly an anecdotal story you wouldn’t normally hear from most artists, what concerns L/S most about Jonny P is none other than his aforementioned EP, Good To You.

Rather than hole up in some Nashville nook of a studio with local players, Jonny P threw a hail mary and reached out to the legendary drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Herbie Hancock, BB King). After what would best be described as a cold call from Jonny to Gadson, producer Goffrey Moore and Jonny made arrangements for Gadson to make his way into Nashville.

As Murphy’s Law has taught us, things weren’t as seamless as it had initially appeared.

“[Gadson] was supposed to come out to Nashville. We had it all scheduled – he was supposed to come out, but the morning of his flight, I got a phone call at like 5 o’clock in the morning and it was James and he was saying he had a real bad bout with asthma and he was in the hospital. He couldn’t come out, obviously. So, I just said, “Get off the phone right now, stop talking to me. You need to take care of yourself.”

Naturally, Gadson’s health flare up threw a considerable wrench in the plans for Good To You, but rather than make a concession of defeat, Jonny exhausted all options to solidify Gadson’s involvement on the record.

In the end, Jonny and Moore called an audible, and flew out to LA along with a couple of other key players to get to work on Good To You. It turned out the revision of strategy only heightened the recording process as a whole.

“We rescheduled and just kind of retooled the whole thing. I flew a couple of guys out there – guitars, engineer, and myself and we just kind of tracked the bare bones of it and recorded out there, in his wheel house. So it was good, no one’s wives were calling, no kids to pick up. So it was nice to just be in a different place and lock in over a few days. So it worked out well.

“I like a change in scenery. I think change of pace is really paramount for creativity. See new things, feel new things, and hear new sounds, and hopefully it will be conveyed in your music as well. So, I like recording in LA. I like the way it feels, I like the landscape, the trees, everything about it, kind of fits my vibe. I kind of wish I could transport 1960s LA all the time, so the fact that you can still get that feeling at any moment is cool.”

So it would seem things worked out about as well as Jonny and his team could have possibly hoped. I mean, when you can get someone like James Gadson to play on the record and Tom Elmhirst (Frank Ocean, Adele) to mix, things are going to come up aces sonically. But at the same time, there’s the relatively untapped soul scene in Nashville that will present itself as Jonny’s next hurdle in bringing Good To You out into the world.

The self-proclaimed in-between of soul music contemporary stalwarts Leon Bridges and Raphael Saadiq, Jonny has his work cut out for him when it comes to bringing his modern take on minimalist soul music to the masses without being lumped in as “just another soul singer.” Luckily, Jonny can enlist both of his aforementioned contemporaries for elucidations in his journey to do just that.

“I don’t struggle much at all when it comes to what I want. I feel like every musician – when you’re trying to create music – that’s just what being true to yourself is. What you put in is what is going to come out; if you listen to all the voices, all the influences. Leon is a person who is alongside, he’s a contemporary, and he’s a peer, because his music is coming out alongside of mine… He’s great to have as a buffer as somebody to run things by and just say, “What do you think about this? Is it staying true?” Like if I’m running away from something.

Leon, at least the first record he did, was extremely throw back and just spot on. I think they just nailed it in general. They picked the time period and attacked it and they just gave us something that I don’t anyone saw was possible with such authenticity. And that’s great and I know he’s evolving so the next record is bound to change.

And Sadiiq, I know the last record he put out was maybe 2011 and I still don’t think anyone’s come close to that. So at the end of the day, if I attach anything to what I’m doing, it may be sonics. It may be a type of mix, or a type of reverb, or something that shows familiarity to things that are out to my new listener, but it also allows me through my voice alone to sing with the style that I write. I feel like once the body of work is built, people will be able to see it soon enough – like that dude stands alone. Not necessarily better, just that he stands alone.”

Now that Jonny seems to have his sonics fully realized, the next move on his agenda will be to make within the Nashville music scene. As a soul singer in a songwriter/country/Americana singer’s town, that may be easier said than done, but Jonny’s been putting in the work already – and people are beginning to take serious notice.

“I was last at SXSW and I played and there was another Nashville band I hadn’t heard of called The Weeks that happened to be at my very first showcase, and they all four came and bum rushed the stage at the end and posted a bunch of videos and they were just really complimentary of the whole thing. So it made me think that there was just a whole part of Nashville that really doesn’t know I exist yet, and this year and next year will be a really good gauge of how the city responds to me. So I can’t really – yeah, I’m going to give Nashville a little bit of time, a little grace period before the coming out party. But I think everyone is going to dig it man, I really do.”

So prepare yourself Nashville, Jonny P is your answer to the original questionable lede – the soul singer(s) hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, Nashville’s soul music scene may have just found its ultra dapper figurehead in Jonny P. Not only does he have the pedigree and the sonic chops to lead the newest music wave out of Nashville, but also he’s exceedingly confident that its more than a flash in the pan. And it all starts with his EP, Good To You.

“I think its just a place that will show people what’s coming for sure. And I think they’ll be classics one day. I honestly do, because of the people that put their energy into them. It’ll just take time to grow, but honestly, people are already just saying, “Damn. These are quality.” Every one that comes out like, “Its quality, quality, quality.” So yeah, I’m excited for people to get used to my writing style, get used to my voice and all of that. Its really exciting to put Good to You out.”

If that doesn’t get you going, then you don’t have soul.

– Sean

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