Band Q & A with Jon Sonnenberg of Travelogue
by Dominic Caruso
In addition to being one of the nicest guys I know, Jon Sonnenberg is also one of the most creative and inventive people I know in the Akron Empire. An accomplished songwriter and musician, Jon records and performs under the name Travelogue. With Travelogue, Jon succeeds in creating music that is simultaneously classic, futuristic, and timeless sounding--usually in the course of a single song. As with all good rock and roll, Travelogue’s songs are filled with fascinating, often surprising sounds and textures, coupled with unforgettable melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. The music is atmospheric and cinematic, and features Jon’s dreamlike, contemplative vocal style. I recently asked Jon some questions about Travelogue, his background, his creative process, and his contribution to an exciting upcoming documentary film about modular synthesizers (I Dream of Wires) and he was kind enough to share his thoughts.
|Jon Sonnenberg in the studio.|
Q: I’ve read that you come from a musical family, was music a big part of your childhood? What did you grow up listening to?
A: Music was very much encouraged in my family. My dad plays the fiddle/violin/mandolin and my mom plays a little piano and guitar. I developed an ear for music early on. I remember hearing my mom playing a two part invention of Bach and I was able to figure out the left hand part and play along with her. This was pre-elementary school. I did not start taking formal lessons until I was in second grade. I took piano lessons through my first year of college, then studied music theory and electronic music as electives while I worked toward my electrical engineering degree (BSEE).
I was fascinated by sounds – especially electronic sounds. I distinctly remember being on the playground in the fourth grade talking to my friends Sean and Christian about a keyboard bass sound that I heard in a song that I wished my Casio could make.
I grew up listening to a lot of 80s pop music. The first record I ever bought was the 7-inch single of Hall and Oates “You Make My Dreams.” I was in second or third grade and had bought it off of my cousin. I still have that record. The first full length album I ever bought was The Cure Staring at the Sea, then Howard Jones Human’s Lib. Throughout the 80s and early 90s, there were certain bands that I started to collect: Clan of Xymox, The Smiths, Howard Jones, Human League, Fad Gadget, And Also the Trees, Legendary Pink Dots, Portion Control, and others. I still have a fairly large record collection and prefer to buy vinyl or CDs opposed to MP3s.
Q: What inspired you to start writing your own songs?
A: Throughout Junior High School, I had built a small collection of synthesizers in the corner of my bedroom. I would play around with them and learn how to cover songs and make the sounds that I would hear on records. By 1991, I had my first job and bought a multitrack reel to reel off of my friend’s older brother. He allowed me to make payments to him (which was amazing because the thing was very expensive for a kid just out of high school). It took a year to pay off. At the time, most home studios consisted of a 4-track cassette deck and headphones. This reel to reel was an 8-track and allowed me the clout to start recording friends’ bands as well as my own songs. The whole thing was a big learning process. It still is in many ways.
I approach music in a real experimental/question-answer type of way. I was never afraid to splice tape, reverse tape, speed or slow sounds to make something new and unworldly. Some of the recordings that I did during that time are rather unlistenable, but some I still think are pretty fun and inventive. The first album release that I ever made was a Christmas album called Christmas According to Jon, and I gave forty copies to friends of mine. There is a New York City cassette label that wants to re-release the cassette this October. I am really excited about that prospect.
|Video for the Travelogue song "Reflections" by Michael D. Toth.|
Q: What’s your creative process like? Do you have a scheduled time to create, or do you work when ideas come to you?
A: It widely varies: sometimes it is a melodic idea that drives a song – maybe even from a dream. Sometimes it is from a sound or rhythm that I create in the studio. Sometimes it is inspired by environmental sounds (machines at work, a bird call, hospital noises, etc.).
I prefer not to work within a schedule, but sometimes it is inevitable that deadlines occur. My albums may or may not have deadlines, depending on who is wanting to release or distribute the results. I have also done music for films, video games, fashion shows, art galleries, books, and compilations.
I prefer to have a home studio set up because I can go to the studio at any time and work on music. If it were set up at another facility, I would lose the ideas in my head by the time I get dressed, get in my car, and drive to the studio. The less distractions, the more productive and focused I am.
|A great clip of Jon's song "The Tiger in Winter" from Travelogue's 2012 album Fireworks, with a fascinating look into Jon's creative process.|
Q: I really like the demonstration videos you make and occasionally post on your website--especially a recent one in which you basically derive a percussive sound from a recording of your own voice. To that end, I’ve heard that your most recent album, Fireworks, contains music derived from recordings of fireworks. Can you talk about that record? Is using found sound or field recordings of sounds a part of your creative process that you’ve often used?
A: Thanks! I recorded a forty-five minute set of fireworks going off at the local high school a few years ago. Originally, I just thought that I would use a couple of the sounds in my songs. But as I listened back to the recording, the idea of a whole record with these fantastic sounds opened up in my mind. I am now even considering starting a “volume 2.” I really love the sound of fireworks.
I have been more and more interested in field recording. Having a iPhone with some fancy apps really opened this door.
|Here's the demo video I was talking about.|
Q: You were recently interviewed on screen for an extraordinary documentary: I Dream of Wires, the Modular Synthesizer Documentary. What was that experience like?
A: I am very excited and honored to be a part of this. I love a lot of the artists and companies that were interviewed for the film and I am thrilled that I am not only included in the film, but made it to a segment of the trailer. [Filmmaker] Robert [Fantinatto] is a great guy and we talked a lot off camera about all sorts of projects that we have been involved in. I am excited for this to be released and am very happy for his accomplishment.
Find out more about Travelogue (including both 2012 albums, The Noise is Only Temporary, and Fireworks, and where to purchase Travelogue's music) at The Art of Travelogue.
Learn more at Travelogue's Facebook page.
Hear more at Travelogue's SoundCloud page.
See more at Travelogue's YouTube page.
Check out Jon in the trailer of I Dream of Wires, the Modular Synthesizer Documentary.