Paste recently caught up with Jonny Corndawg from the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Paste: So what museums were you checking out?
JC: Oh Man, I was just at The Native American museum, which was unbelievable. I wish I had a couple more days to see more. They had some artifacts, like a canteen from 100 A.D. and the video portion they have with all the Native American tribes and Inuits and what they do to still carry on their traditions was really mind-blowing. And yesterday we went to the Air & Space Museum which is also amazing. At one point I was walking through an original space pod from the ‘60s and the guide was saying things like, “This is where the astronauts slept, and this is where they ate, etc. etc.” and then suddenly the thing begins to shake and I was thinking, “Wow, for something this is cool, this is a really cheap effect. Why would they bother to shake it?” But looking around everyone had this look of fear in their eyes and a common consensus to get the hell out of this thing. We walk out and sure enough there is a security guard telling everyone to get out of the building because of the big earthquake in Virginia. So yeah I was simulating life in outer space during the earthquake.
Paste: So you are still on tour?
JC: Yep, I’m still on “perma-tour”, right now I’m out with Jessica Lea Mayfield.
Paste: So when did you find time to record the new album, Down On The Bikini Line?
JC: It was actually recorded during the same week as the Middle Brother record which was being recorded two blocks away. While I did Down the Bikini Line in a “professional” way, meaning our sessions were from 10 a.m. to about 8 p.m. Around 10 p.m. all the Middle Brother guys would start up, basically as soon as McCauley would wake up, and warm up until midnight and they’d really get going around 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. So it was a rotating schedule, but it was the exact same neighborhood in Nashville in the exact same week.
Paste: It seems the myth of Jonny Corndawg is really starting to gain momentum finally.
JC: I’ve been doing this for coming on nine years now, and it’s funny because I know what response I’m supposed to say, i.e. “Yeah, it’s CRAZY out here, it’s non-stop crazy out here,” but in actuality it’s the only thing that feels natural. In fact the only time I feel weirded out is when I come off a tour and I have too much time to myself. I get anxious and I don’t know what to do; I can’t handle it. I was talking to a friend of mine, Daniel Higgs from Lungfish, who really inspires me, and he told me he’s most happy when he’s always moving, which was reassuring because that’s how I’ve always felt. So I guess I might be bragging when I say “perma-tour” but that’s really the only time that I’m at peace with myself.
Paste: What is your normal writing process? Do you just try and stay open to the muse, or are you a habitual woodshedder?
JC: As funny and comedic as the songs may seem, I take a borderline spiritual approach at writing. Songwriting for me comes from somewhere else. I’ve never tried to write a song; I’ve just tried to be open to it and have it flow through me. As hippie and crafty as that sounds, it’s the truth. You know I couldn’t write a song if I just sat down and tried. The times when I am running or on the motorcycle are times when my mind is completely open because my body is doing all the work or I should say my body is preoccupied. This is when I get all my material, which, is a problem as it takes me forever to finish an album’s worth, because I don’t force it.
Paste: It’s easy to see how the pace and rhythm of your running can be equated to your songs.
JC: Absolutely. It’s like a metronome, but the problem is then being able to write the words down!
Paste: You made a surprise appearance at Newport Folk this year. How was that experience?
JC: Man, it was incredible. I left Atlanta at 2 a.m. on Friday night and hammered it all the way. Just to be there for potentially Middle Brother’s last show. I’ll tell you what, I’d do that 100 times over. It was the experience of the year for me at the very least. The best way to end the summer. Funny the guys in Dawes were joking how they drove nine hours to play two songs as a surprise and I say, “Fuck you, I drove 20 hours to sing one verse!” (laughs)
Paste: It’s stuff like this that adds to the Corndawg lore right?
JC: Exactly. I love that stuff. It was just so worth it to me. The anticipation alone… I’m used to DIY touring. I’m used to setting up the shows with friends who are all excited to see it, and it’s great and I wouldn’t complain one bit about it one bit, but sometimes you get to clubs and the promoter’s like, “Okay shithead, here’s your corner, here’s your meal ticket.” It’s sometimes so impersonal, so Newport was going to be my serious reward. I’m going to get there and it’s going to be a hero’s welcome and that’s exactly what it was. Unreal.
Paste: When people think of the DIY musician they don’t necessarily think of your type of music, but you do all that marketing and merchandising by yourself correct?
JC: Oh yeah, the camouflage beer koozie and airbrushed trucker’s shirts is all me, and it’s how I stay afloat. In the middle of the night I’ll think, “Should I get plates, mugs, lighters?” I love it all. That’s how I make it all work; that’s the school I’m from.
Paste: What’s the one thing that keeps you going?
JC: It’s all just so gratifying. Weird little shows here and there. I want to go to Alaska. My ex-girlfriend used to always say I was a stray dog in a past life. That’s the way I feel honestly, I keep getting taken off the street and given a warm bed and I’m just endlessly grateful.