During this year’s Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival, GreenLight had the privilege to sit down with one of the fan favorites, Seattle’s own Ayron Jones and the Way. Their debut album is slated to release this October and is produced by none other than hip hop parody pimpster himself, Sir Mix-a-Lot. Marrying the sounds of blues, rock, alternative rock and hip hop, Ayron Jones and the Way have positioned themselves to introduce their ode to iconic influences to listeners across the nation. Jones’ lightning fast dexterity on the electric guitar is reminiscent of blues rock of a nostalgic era, often landing him comparisons to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. I sat down with bassist De’Andre Enrico, drummer Kai Van DePitte and lead singer and guitarist Ayron Jones right after their set at the Bumbershoot Starbucks Stage and learned a little about their beginnings and where they intend to go.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Ayron: I started this group almost 6 years ago now. Originally, we were called “Ayron Jones and the Rain City Blues Band.” We were a blues trio. After two years, I stumbled upon De’Andre and, my then drummer, Conrad Real and we became “Ayron Jones and the Way.” We toured the Seattle bar circuit for years and years and years. Well maybe not years…
De’Andre: It felt like years. It felt like ten!
Ayron: We didn’t have any structured songs. When you play in bars and lounges for three hours at a time you have to do covers. That’s what people want to hear and it keeps their attention. Then about two years ago, I made the decision to start playing bigger shows. We sacrificed a lot of the weekly and monthly gigs and we started to focus on taking the bigger stage. Things are moving quickly for us and now we’re at Bumbershoot.
This is your second year in a row playing Bumbershoot. How was your experience this year different than last?
D: The first year we weren’t on the bill, we got lucky. They had a band that canceled, so they called us up last minute. We were super excited! It was fun, we rocked it. It was interesting to watch the audience’s reaction. They were like, “these are not the guys we came to see at all,” but by the end of the show they were like, “you guys are wonderful.” This year, there was a big lead up and we really prepared for the show. We released our single“Feeding from the Devil’s Hand” a few days ago and part of the timing for that was to publicize this show.
A: We were definitely more prepared this year. Last year was fun, but I don’t think we had the preparation we needed. We just jumped up there and did our thing. It was almost reminiscent of what we started out doing, which was just jamming on stage. This year we felt like a band, we looked like a band, we sounded like a band.
D: I remember last year you guys loaded my stuff on stage. I got there five minutes before we were starting, ran on stage, grabbed the bass and started playing!
Kai, what’s it like being the new drummer a few months in?
Kai: It’s been pretty awesome and overwhelming. I live in Portland so it’s been a three-hour drive at the least for any of the shows. We don’t get that much time to rehearse, we lay it out there on the stage as much as possible and hope everything works out. Conrad was a great drummer and I’m just trying to fill his shoes. I’m a totally different type of drummer than he is and I think it presents a different feel to the band. The crowd gets a different vibe since I’m more of a rock, driving kind of drummer and Conrad was a total chops drummer.
A: Kai has a lot of experience playing with a bunch of different bands on stage at different levels. We were looking to take ourselves to the next level, so we had to bring someone in with that experience. We were about two-thirds through the album at this point and to switch drummers is difficult, but Kai has come in and elevated our game. Before we were a good group, but now we are a band. We sound like a band as a whole and we are more cohesive than we were before.
You said you are recording a new album that is due out in the fall.
A: We are done with the recording and now we’re waiting for the mixing to be done. It’s set for an October release.
D: The tracking is done. Sir Mix-A-Lot is mixing it “a lot” right now. (laughs)
What is it like working with Sir Mix-a lot?
D: It’s great! He is super intelligent, has vision and great work ethic. He is experienced in the music industry and has been through almost everything you can go through as an artist. I feel like I have learned a lot. He is good at engineering recording, mixing, and production. He’s taken Ayron’s vision and applied his experience to make a good album.
A: He has been a mentor. Before I started the album, I was a good guitar player, but I didn’t look at myself as much of an artist. Now, I look at myself as more of an artist than just a guitar player. There’s musicians and then there’s artists. Musicians play, but artists create. He’s been teaching me the art of creation. How to be an artist at the level I want to be, mentoring me and showing me “the way” essentially. (laughs) It’s been amazing working with him. He’s a super intelligent guy, we have conversations about anything from politics to quantum physics.
What was the strategy behind releasing “Feeding from the Devil’s Hands” as your first single?
A: I really wanted to release it because it embodied the sound of the group and the overall feel and attitude we bring to the table. It brings just enough elements of R&B, soul and Seattle grungy rock. This album is going to touch base on all those elements but still keep that same essence.
Is there a lot of Seattle culture embedded in the album?
A: Yes. When I wrote the music for the album, it was a guitar album. I then rewrote the album in a matter of weeks and I specifically looked for and listened to old Seattle sound. You might hear Chris Cornell in my voice.
Your sound is pretty versatile, how would you describe the sound on the new album?
A: One sound would not really describe it because we have songs that touch on blues, rock, alternative rock and hip hop. So it’s hard to say. What I’ve been telling people is urban rock that comes from the inner essence of the city—the same vein as hip hop, old school soul and blues. We embody that spirit.
Would you say you are attempting to be innovative with your new album?
D: The goal wasn’t necessarily to be innovative, it was to take the essence of who we are and put it down and make that feeling come through. There are a lot of bands who can play live, but then their albums don’t necessarily convey the energy they have when they play live and vice-versa. That is something we really took into account. Anthony, Sir Mix-A-lot, really took that into account—we all really wanted to capture the energy of the live show. I see it as Ayron thinking, “I’m about to make these songs the best way they can be.”
You talked about how it’s important for your live performance and recorded sound to convey energy. You’ve toured and done shows, but your album hasn’t released yet. Traditionally, artists tour to promote an album, but you don’t seem to fit that mold. How would you explain this?
A: We are pretty unique in how we’ve built a following based off of nothing, but our live shows and word of mouth. YouTube and social media has been a great help. We haven’t had anything recorded or brand new for almost a year and a half now, so we had nothing that conveyed what we were trying to do now. We were lucky in the respect that we’ve built up some amazing attention through playing live shows. People have noticed that and are following us. Now that we are dropping an album, word will spread even more. The intention is to tour behind the album and that is natural to us. The album was actually a more difficult project for us.
D: I think that speaks to where the industry is. In the past, you would tour to promote an album, but now you can come out with good material and spread it through social media online without ever really touring. Basically, we’re using the album to be able to tour, which is the opposite of where we were. We haven’t done a national tour, but we’ve done a regional tour. An album will open the door to national touring and working with some of the companies that can help with the business aspects like promos, distribution and touring. These days people don’t sign recording contracts like they used to. We’re looking to do it big and the album will help us get there.
Speaking of the industry, the state of music is very much transitioning into something about partnerships, sync licensing and film integration. Artists are identified synonymously with a brand nowadays. What are your thoughts on sync licensing?
A: I had the opportunity to tour with Fun. in the Midwest and the East Coast before they really blew up. They had a name at that point and they were pretty popular, but they weren’t huge. I remember I was sitting down watching the Super Bowl, there was a car commercial that came on and I heard that song “We Are Young.” I was shocked, that was it. They blew up after that. It’s all about taking your music licensing it out and getting it heard by the masses. People who can do that can be really successful. That’s really where the focus is at. That’s where it’s going and where it should be for a lot of people who are trying to make it right now.