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I first met Jon Middleton a couple years ago when we were both doin’ time, makin’ big batches of wine for the masses at Cook Street Village Wine Works. It was almost Christmas, a very busy time of year for any U-Brew, and the owners were kind enough to take pity on my carboy-busted back by bringing in their buddy Jonny to help out for a couple weeks. They said, “Jonny’s a musician, you guys will get along great!”
At first, I was skeptical about their decision to bring a musician in to help out. I envisioned some silver-spoon-fed prima donna; a David Lee Roth type, who would guzzle more wine than he made, who would play air-guitar along with anthems such as “Rock Me Like a Hurricane” whenever they were played on our shitty little radio in the back. I couldn’t have been more far off.
Jonny came into the shop on a rainy December day, a ball cap pulled down firmly over his eyes: he was soaking wet, but didn’t seem to mind. He introduced himself quietly and shook my hand before descending into the back and stabilizing wine like a pro. Word was that Jon had worked at his brother’s U-Brew before: he worked unsupervised, while humming to himself.
Jon was pretty tight lipped about his musical projects at the time. He made passing references to the fact that he and his buddy Roy were in the midst of recording an album (Another Noon, which went on to become an international success), but mostly, we just talked about other people’s music. I was happy to discover he had wide-ranging tastes; he even shared my passion for old-school hip hop and is responsible for getting me into Mason Jennings.
I left the store a few weeks later to pursue a dead end road teaching ESL, and Jon’s career took off. Another Noon was released and sold well. Some of the songs have since been featured on Volkswagon commercials and Jon recently sang our national anthem at a Canucks game. I figured that the next time I bumped into Jon, he would be driving around in a fancy, promotional Passatt with DAS EFX flowing from open windows and sunroof. Such was not the case.
When we met at the Beagle last week, Jon looked much the same as he did when I met him in the wine shop a few years ago. We sat down for a couple of beers and I proceeded to try to conduct my first interview-type thing. It was great: more a conversation than an interview, we got caught up on what the other is currently listening to, impressions on last year’s Sasquatch Music Festival and other important matters.
Jon is still amazingly humble about his career as a musician. When I asked him questions such as, “Were you guys surprised by the success of your last album?” he shrugged and said, “Well, we don’t really think about that . . . we are just trying to build something. It’s kinda difficult to make a living doing this.” The subject then switched to the new album, Homes, which Jon is obviously pretty excited about.
Homes is Jon and Roy’s first album as a quartet, as they have welcomed a full-time bassist (Ryan Tonelli) and violin player (Dougal Bain Maclean) into the fold. I asked Jon why they settled on Homes as a title for their follow up to Another Noon. He kinda laughed when I guessed that it meant something profound regarding a sense of place or time, nostalgic and warm. “Actually, it was inspired by an episode of 21 Jump Street, which became the subject of many-a-joke on tour,” he said. “We get silly on the road: keeps us sane. There is this episode, where a seasoned gangster teaches Jonny Depp’s character how to speak like a street tough. He teaches him how to say ‘homes’ in a real tough way.” It will be interesting to see how music critics interpret the new title: I will personally give $20 to anyone who guesses the intended significance of Homes.
Upon listening to Homes, I am struck by the leap the band has taken. The bongos are still there, but are offset by violins and lap steels, giving the songs an East-Coast-meets-West-Coast-meets-South-By-Southwest feel. The album is only one of two projects Jon has up his sleeve, the other being his part-time project with the Listening Party, who (hopefully) will be releasing an album in May. In the meantime, Jon and Roy is set to tour Canada in support of Homes. They will kick off the tour here in Victoria on Thursday night at the McPherson Playhouse with Ryan Guldemond from Vancouver’s Mother Mother and Vince Vaccaro, who collected a lifetime’s worth of tomatoes at Tuesday night’s M Awards. (Jon and Roy were nominated for Favourite Band, too.) The show is at 8pm, tickets are $22.50 and you can get them at https://tickets.rmts.bc.ca.