Croatian indie rock outfit Jonathan recently dropped the second half of their double album To Love or To Hold in the U.S.
Made up of five close friends from Rijeka, Croatia, the band’s existence is almost serendipitous, especially the resulting musical chemistry, which no one expected.
The band’s breakthrough came in 2013, with the release of “Maggie,” followed by their debut album, Bliss, which put the band on the map throughout Eastern Europe. An EP followed in 2015, resulting in an invitation from the Editors to tour Europe. Then in 2016, Jonathan released a new single, “Heaven,” announcing the forthcoming conceptual album, To Love or To Hold.
Presently on tour in the US, and scheduled to play SXSW, CelebMix sat down with Jonathan right before the tour to find out more about their origin and influences.
How did the band get together?
We were all members of different bands and knew each other through music, and some of us even played in various bands together. In the fall of 2011, there was an event in Rijeka called “Slobodna energija“( Free energy), which was some kind of a memorial concert for Bada, Ziro’s brother, who was a singer in a famous Croatian hardcore band back in the 90’s. The bands which meant something in Rijeka in that time reunited for that show, among others the band Salion, Ziro and Branko’s former band. Due to the lack of several members they called upon Rade and Tomo to join them on that show. It went great, so we decided to make few more rehearsals, started throwing some riffs, made a couple of songs and felt that the energy created in the garage made sense to us like nothing before. Nikica joined us pretty soon and everything fell in to place. We released our first EP in the fall of 2012, and it kind of exploded on the local scene, particularly the first single “Maggie.”
Who is your favorite music artist?
This is a tricky one… There are five of us, so the list would be enormous, but we will cut it short and give you one band per member: Nomeansno, Propagandhi, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Led Zeppelin, Queens of The Stone Age.
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
As a group of 5 people, we started playing music purely for fun and enjoyment. Later on, we figured that the energy we had was “something completely different.” Like nothing we have done before, as musicians, and as people as well. Songs simply emerged from that energy. We just channeled that into our songs. Results of that can be heard on the record and during live performances as well.
What musicians influenced you the most?
If speaking on the behalf of the whole band, it’s probably Nirvana.
How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
We grew up back in the 90’s when TV, especially MTV, had a huge influence on teenagers, especially Nirvana and the whole grunge movement, and that’s where the English lyrics came from in our music. Each one of us emerged from different music worlds and genres, we all played in different bands before we started Jonathan (which wasn’t even supposed to become a real band). I would say that we seek and find the inspiration in each other because of that, it is diversity that inspires and also connects us.
What kind of guitar do you play? And why?
I play G&L Telecaster; Tomo plays Fender Stratocaster and Nikica Fender Precision Bass. Nikica and I used to play in the punk rock bands before and we like our sound to be more aggressive and very edgy. I used an Epiphone Sheraton II on the previous album because it has a darker sound and it served the purpose for the sound that we wanted to deliver. Tomo has used a Strat since he was born, never betrayed that guitar, and it fits perfectly to his style of playing, glassy, sparkling, wet solos. All together, works very fine so far, we will see what future holds.
What brand of drums and cymbals does your drummer play?
Pearl Master series drum; Sabian/Zildijan cymbals.
You’re based in Croatia. What’s the music scene like in Croatia?
The majority of music represented in all the media – radio, TV, online streaming – comes from English-speaking countries (UK, US, etc.), and Croatia is not an exception, among other countries around the globe. Croatian music scene is pretty much local based (Balkans) with very few exceptions (bands or solo artists) who try to break the ice on international music markets. The number succeeding to do so is minimal. On the local level, the Croatian music scene is the biggest and strongest in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. Our hometown, Rijeka, has a huge punk rock legacy which dates way back to the end of the 70s. Many bands, exquisite bands emerged from this area, and continue to do so. Living wise, Rijeka is an enjoyable city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, not too big and yet not too small. It has a very interesting industrial (including the discovery of a torpedo, which was the name of the factory which produced it) and multicultural history. For us, it is inspirational in every way.
Has the band’s sound evolved since your debut album, Bliss? If so, how?
We are evolving with every new song that we make. The most important moment for our sound happened when we introduced the piano and other various sounds into our songs, along with the classical rock setup with two guitars, bass and drums. The songs became layered and the sound became deeper and wider, but we’ve never lost our punk-rock edge, especially when we play live.
What’ the story behind the name, Jonathan?
Jonathan is our imaginary person. We used to make fun during rehearsals of this guy who has very poor social skills, who’s awkward when other people are around, but also a very kind and generous person. It’s an internal joke so his persona is a bit exaggerated. For us, it reflects this idea of unity, Jonathan being a metaphorical single person with a blend of character traits and whims from each one of us.
You recently released your double album, To Love or To Hold. What’s the story behind the title of the album?
The idea behind the name is the duality, the opposition, and the need to decide between freedom and expectations, individuality and society, idealism and materialism, heart and body, self and others. And the bipolar feelings and thoughts that follow if the decision is not made. It’s also a story of choosing between the known and safe, and the unknown and unpleasant. Honesty or conformity. Each song represents that struggle in its own way.
Your music has been described as alt-rock. How would you describe your sound?
What’s playing in the U.S. like compared to playing in Croatia and Europe?
We don’t know yet but we’re very excited and looking forward to answering that question in a couple of weeks.
Of all the venues you’ve played so far, which is your favorite? And why?
I would say Culture Factory in Zagreb. That was the venue where we had our first big show in Croatia’s capital and a couple more very important concerts for us. After that we were certain that this band was something more than just having fun.
What was your reaction when you found out you’d be playing SXSW?
OMG, OMG, WOW, WOW, BAND ,BAND…We were thrilled, we felt very proud because we know how hard is to get to play SXSW and especially if you come from a small country like Croatia. It’s already a very big accomplishment.
Jonathan on Tour:
03.08•Arlene’s Grocery (New York, NY)
03.10•The Cave (Chapel Hill, NC)
03.11•529 (Atlanta, Ga)
03.13•The Parish – 7:00 PM (Austin, TX)
03.14•Flatstock Stage – 3:30 (Austin, TX – Inside convention center)
03.17•P&H Café (Memphis, TN)
03.19•Stone Arch Brewery (Appleton, WI)
03.20•Elbo Room (Chicago, IL)
03.22•Pianos (New York, NY)