Holy moley, y’all are aware of this Jono Manson guy, right? Homeboy is a musician, singer-songwriter, producer, engineer, studio owner, record label founder, husband, father, all-around great guy, and he’s operating right here in your own backyard.
Oh sure, Jono has been around forever, but with the recent release of Angels on the Other Side (his first solo release in seven years, which received a glowing review in SFR’s local music issue last week), Manson has not only showcased a stellar selection of songs from years worth of travel, experience and collaboration, he has also solidified his position as a beloved and iconic member of the local music community.
I catch up with Jono on a recent afternoon at Ohori’s. He is appropriately dressed down in a T-shirt and track pants for the occasion. Appropriate not because he isn’t a fancy fellow—he really kind of is—but because he represents a sort of no-frills take on rock, Americana, country and beyond that speaks for itself.
“Maybe I’ll just have an iced coffee?” he asks thoughtfully.
“What a guy!” I think to myself.
It’s been some time since Jono and I have spoken in a professional capacity. The last run-in we had was years ago when Blues Traveler’s John Popper was collaborating and recording at Manson’s Kitchen Sink Studio in Chupadero. I’ll admit that Popper was an awesome guy, but what I took away from the experience was that Jono provided that special, secret ingredient that most talented producers provide. Namely, from behind the scenes he brought raw words and sounds to a whole new level.
I ask him how he’s been, and for a state of the union-esque statement.
“I think I’m in a stage where I’ve got a lot of balls in the air in a good way, and in general—at least at the level of the music business where I operate—this being diversified is a good thing,” he responds. “I’ve got my career both locally and not locally; I’ve got the studio and I’m producing; I’ve got a 3-year-old…”
And then he is all over the place but, like the man said, in a good way.
On fatherhood, Jono says, “It changes the dynamic of things. For some it can mean the end of their music career, for others—like me—it means working harder. When you’re 53 and you have a 3-year-old, you think about the future in a different way. I’m trying to steer things in the direction of lasting returns, and music is all I’m qualified to do.”
On his recent six-week sojourn to Italy (and his successes there), Jono states, “I’ve worked in various places all over Europe, but Italy has become the hub. I’ve built a reputation over there as a producer and performer, and it has changed me. When people don’t necessarily understand the language you’re using, you have to come from a place of sincerity,” he assures. “Even if it’s not personal to you, even if it’s a dumbass, feel-good rock song, you’ve got to connect in a way that transcends the meaning of words. I now apply that when I perform in front of audiences who do know what I’m saying.”
On his numerous collaborations with musicians near and far, he says, “Collaboration has been my identity, so it’s hard to say who I’d be otherwise. I wrote a song for Crystal Bowersox that I probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for collaboration. I’ve been putting in more man-hours on the production side of my craft, and some of the things I’ve assimilated from that have found their way into my own work.”
On his next project, Jono proudly and casually mentions, “Oh, I should probably say that I’m launching an independent label called Con Artists Collective and an Italian offshoot called Con Artisti—which means ‘with the artists.’ The initial idea was for me to have a vehicle through which I could self-release, but I saw an opportunity to create an entity for myself and for those within my circle. It isn’t about me—it’s for the people.”
In addition to working with locals like David Berkeley, Jono has a few releases in the pipeline for Con Artists Collective, as well as collaborations with Italian rock act The Gang, Pakistani folk band The Sketches and much more. And as if that’s not enough, the man says he’s trying to pick up four to six local gigs a month, such as his upcoming Cowgirl appearance on Saturday.
So here’s a question: Do you realize how cool this guy is? You’d better.