Interview: Jon Worthy talks moving to Nashville, constant touring and exploring genres

Jon Worthy flew in from Nashville to perform at Red’s Savoy Pizza on night two of Big Turn Music Fest.

It was watching the Guns n’ Roses episode of “Behind the Music” that inspired a 13-year-old Jon Worthy to pick up a guitar, and the Nashville based musician hasn’t put one down since.

“I fell in love with Slash and started lessons shortly after that,” explained Worthy. The Pittsburgh native moved to Nashville after his senior year at Penn State University.

“I decided, well, the singer in that band decided, to move to Nashville so I was like, ‘I may as well go, too.’ I was in that band for four years and then during that band, I also started my own project, Jon Worthy, and since then it’s just kept going up and that first band fizzled out” said Worthy.

While Worthy lives in Nashville, he spends the majority of his time touring outside of Music City. Worthy said that although the music scene is oversaturated with talented musicians, the city has its perks.

“It’s (Nashville) great for that because it’s centrally located, so like everywhere is five to six hours away. You can get to St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh is only eight hours away, New York City’s like ten, Alabama…just so many cities and states that I can easily get access to,” he said.

When Worthy perform shows with a full band, they are billed as “Jon Worthy & the Bends,” but “the Bends” aren’t always the same musicians.

“I’m at the point where I tour so much that I base it on my schedule. I have a collective of artists that kind of serve as my band, so I just book shows five or six months out not worrying if this person can do it because I know if they can’t someone else can,” he said.

This means that there are many different versions of the full band. “Everyone’s really good. Like, I’ve probably played 25 shows already this year, and a handful of them when we got on stage that was the first time the four of us had played together,” Worthy explained.

A Facebook post of a full lyric book signaled new music on the horizon for Worthy, and he has big plans. “Right now we are finishing up a lot of songs so then the mixing process’ll start. So I’m hoping April, May, June I’ll probably have two or three songs out. I’m going to try and release a song every month or two and it’ll leak into 2021, which is crazy,” Worthy said.

The musician does not feel beholden to any particular genre, with his two latest singles alone showing stark contrasts. “Shake Shake” is an upbeat electric indie rock track, while “Living a Lie” is somber and acoustic.

“I don’t really care. Just whatever comes out of me is what I’m going to write,” Worthy laughed. He explained that he has recently recorded five indie-rock tracks more in the vein of his second LP, “Only a Dream.” There are also plans for six acoustic tracks reminiscent of his last album, “Something’s Gotta Give,” and he has recently recorded a pop song.

As far as inspiration goes, Worthy’s lyrics can come from even a random conversation.

“We were on the road in Alabama, and one of my guitarists Eric, he’s probably one of my main guys, he’s doing all of the recordings and he plays most of the shows and he has blue hair, was telling a story about how he woke up late. I was sitting on the couch listening to him with a guitar in my hands and I start playing this riff and was like, ‘I woke up late, dyed my hair blue’ and that’s the first lyric of the song,” Worthy added that most of the time, however, it is just him alone with a guitar, “willing it out of myself.”

LEB: What are some of your staple bands that you listen to?

JW: My all-time favorite band is Pearl Jam. I’ve seen them like six times. Cage the Elephant is one of my favorites. Their guitarist actually produced one of my albums.

You ever heard of The Districts? I’ve seen them like six times. Recently I’ve been listening to a band called the Current Joys. They’re like low-fi indie punk rock.

Rolling Stones. The Beatles, of course. Led Zeppelin. And then I play so many shows that artists inspire me– watching them play, how they write their songs, what their songs are about.

LEB: How did the idea to write a note to yourself at the end of your songbooks start?

JW: I guess when I was in college, when I really started writing songs, I was a lot less happy with life so I would write a lot of thoughts and poems and just like ramblings about stuff. So in general, I just wrote a lot of notes to myself in those old lyric books, as opposed to now if you look at my current lyric book it’s mostly songs. If you look at my old one it’s like half songs and half is just rambling about depression and just feelings. So I used to write a message to myself at the beginning of each lyric book and one at the end. The last one I wrote was the shortest one I’ve ever written because I’m pretty happy right now chasing my dreams.

LEB: How often do you look back at the messages in your past lyric books?

JW: Never. I just happened to look in my closet and found like four or five old lyric books and I picked one up and just skimmed through it and I was like ‘Holy shit, I was so different.’ But I don’t really look back. I don’t think it would do me any good.

LEB: So the music video for ‘Turn My World Around’ just won an award, so how did that happen? Was it submitted? Nominated?

JW: I think the director submitted it to a few film festivals, yeah and it won a couple awards. And then we are working together again in April on a new song that we just finished recording. 

LEB: I don’t know if you pay attention to the analytics but have you seen an increase in views on Youtube after it won the award?

JW: No. I’m very pessimistic about how things will turn out. It helps keep me grounded.

LEB: I like to end on some fun questions. If you are trapped on a desert island for the rest of your life and could only have one album along with you, what album would you want it to be?

JW: Probably do ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles.

LEB: That one kind of has a story element to it too, so there’s a level of escapism with it probably.

If you could choose three headliners (living or dead) for a festival you’d want to attend, who would they be?

JW: The Beatles, Pearl Jam and The [Rolling] Stones but they’d have to be in their prime.

LEB: Is there any advice you’d gove either your younger self or a young musician just starting out?

JW: Just keep at it. Keep getting better with everything you do. That’s honestly my number one advice because I’ve been grinding for so long now that you’ve gotta love it.

Like, you’re gonna be rejected all the time. I just got an email from a festival that I didn’t get accepted, and I get that all the time, so just keep at it and keep getting better. Network and make friends wherever you go.

LEB: Are you familiar with any Minnesotan or regional lingo?

JW: Just the accent.

LEB: Alright then. Well, I have two words that we use here quite a bit and I want you to tell me what you think each is or means?

LEB: Lefse.

JW: Lefse? L-E-F-S-A?

LEB: S-E but it’s pronounced lef-sa.

JW: Um… there’s some left for ya.

LEB: (laughs) It’s actually like a really thin potato tortilla.

JW: Oh that one’s a food.

LEB: Yeah, that one was a food. This one is used largely in Minnesota but also into North Dakota and Wisconsin: Uffda.

JW: Afda? Uffda? Like, ‘Damn.’

LEB: It can mean that, I guess. It’s like if it’s been a long day or when that first drop of coffee hits your system and it feels so good, so you can kind of use it wherever. 

LEB: Anything else?

JW: All the new music I have coming out. I’m playing a couple festivals coming up: River Valley Festival in Boone, Iowa and then Musicfest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We’re playing back to back nights there.

I’m going out West for the first time playing Seattle and Portland. I played 121 shows last year. I’m hoping to break that this year.

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