Jonny Craig is back, and if you ask the golden-throated, frequently controversial frontman, he’ll tell you that he’s better than ever. He’s even got a new band—Slaves—to prove it. Their debut, Through Art We Are All Equals, dropped June 24 on Artery.
AP talked with the singer after Slaves’ recent U.S. headlining tour with Hands Like Houses, Miss Fortune and Alive Like Me; it was the first significant road exposure for the group, who also feature guitarists Alex Lyman and Christopher Kim, as well as drummer Tai Wright. (The band are between bassists at the moment.) Tired from a long video shoot and an overnight drive the day prior while also fighting a cold, Craig still seemed in good spirits during the interview. Slaves are his third full-time band (after a rocky stint with Emarosa and two separate runs with Dance Gavin Dance), and it’s clear Craig knows he needs a different outcome this time. For Jonny Craig, Slaves may very well mark a new beginning, and the end of his past life.
INTERVIEW: Brendan Manley
Prior to forming Slaves, you were keeping busy with solo material. So what got this new project started?
JONNY CRAIG: I wanted to be in a band again. It’s been awhile. I love doing my solo stuff, but I feel like it’s a side thing, and I wanted something to go along with that... We looked around to see who can write for us; I did a solo tour a little bit ago with the band Hearts & Hands, and I met Alex [Lyman] and Chris [Kim]. We pretty much had a bunch of people and got some songs, and it went from there. They decided that their band really weren’t working out as well, so we formed together and decided to start a project. Everything happened really fast. Within two to three months I had 12 songs.
How did you get involved with Tai?
I’ve been talking to Tai for a long time. He’s done teching, we’ve done Warped a couple years together, so we know each other. I knew it didn’t really work out for him with the whole D.R.U.G.S. thing, and we needed a drummer, and I knew he played pretty much every instrument. I was just like, “Hey, do you want to come out and give it a go and see if you like it?” He was the one who came up with the Slaves name. He put a lot into the band, and he’s definitely an asset that we really, really enjoy having.
Do you all live near each other?
We all live in the same house in Sacramento. This group of dudes, their dedication is definitely here. They all want to be a part of it, and they jumped on the chance, and we made something good.
So what’s the vibe in the house?
We’ve all moved on from parties. We’re all partied out. When we got this house, I was like, “Let’s keep it chill. This is our home.” I want to be able to come back here and relax and not have to worry about a bunch of idiots being at our house or if someone’s going to rob us or something stupid. We don’t want any of those vibes around us.
Slaves’ debut, Through Art We Are All Equals, just dropped. How did it turn out?
I feel it’s some of the best work I’ve done. I know a lot of the dudes feel the same way. It doesn’t go crazy outside of what I’ve done, but it’s definitely a step I would have been taking if I had stayed in a full band. This is definitely the next step for me in my writing to get to this point, so a lot of people who are fans will enjoy it because it adds both sides of both the bands I’ve been in [Dance Gavin Dance and Emarosa]. It’s got that harder side, but there’s also that soft and melodic pretty singing side, so I think they’ll enjoy it.
Did the whole band write the album together?
We’re going through some legal stuff right now having to do with Alex, so I can’t exactly talk about who wrote what, but when it comes to the writing stuff, after I got Chris and Alex, everything just came together after that, and it went from there. It’ll be more of a collective on the next album. Everyone will be writing each and every single part for the album.
What’s the story behind the Slaves name?
I feel like me and Tai have been slaves to the music industry for a long, long time. We’ve been on both ends—we’ve been in bands that are good and bands that we’ve hated being in—and we just decided that even through all the bad stuff, this is what we’re going to do. We’re a slave to what we love.
Where’d the title of the record come from?
If you’re making music, and you love making music, I feel like we’re all equals. In all the bands I’ve been in and all the friends I’ve had, I always feel like there’s some competition, like, “We’ve got to be better than this person, that person,” but I feel like if you’re doing what you love, and you’re actually good at it and doing well at it, that’s the best thing you can be doing. Instead of trying to have a competition, it’s more about just enjoying yourself in the moment, instead of trying to make a game out of everything.
Do you feel that with this new band?
Yeah, I feel like this band definitely is more passion-driven rather than just a material kind of thing. When I play with these guys, I’m not worried about sales. I feel like for the first time in my career, I’m able to enjoy playing music for what it is.
You also got to work with producer Kris Crummett again.
He’s done all my big vocal recordings. It was great. Me and him have always had a great past. He’s always understood how I worked, so when he came in there, he was actually surprised to see that I was even more efficient than I had been when I was all messed up and stuff. He was pretty stoked to experience the side of me that just wanted to work, work, work instead of work for two or three days, then fuck off for, like, six days and come back and work some more.
So you were a lot more focused this time on getting things done?
Yeah, I just wanted to get in there and show people I’m still around and still have what it takes to become the man that I see that I’m going to be.
What inspired this new batch of lyrics?
All the songs on this album mean a lot to me. “Those Who Stand For Nothing Fall For Everything” was a song I’d been trying to write for years, but couldn’t really get out. It was for my grandma. I wrote a song for my mom [“The Hearts Of Our Young”], and I put my sister [Natalie] on it. I also did a song [“Starving For Friends”] with Vic [Fuentes, Pierce The Veil vocalist/guitarist] that’s just me trying to say “sorry” to most of the people I’ve disrespected: not just fans, but people I’ve played music with and other bands I’ve known. It’s just a big, “I’m sorry,” and hopefully they can take it for what it is and I can make my way back in.
Are Pierce The Veil among those you’re apologizing to in the song?
A lot of stuff happened between me and Pierce. I’ve been down with those dudes since I’ve been playing music, and we had a little bit of a falling out. It started out as me wanting to say I’m sorry to them, and then it turned into me saying I’m sorry to more than just them: everyone I’ve hurt, disrespected in my past... Everyone I just want to make things right with.
Getting Vic to sing on the song brings things full circle, then.
Yeah, that was the idea. It really hits home when he’s on the actual song, because he’s one of the people that I took advantage of.
What went down between you guys?
It’s not really something I want to talk about, but I obviously took advantage of their friendship, of what they’d do for me and stuff like that, and that’s not a good feeling to have once you come back around and look at it full circle. You’re like, “You know what? That’s not something I want to be able to say I have to live with.” I’d rather just deal with it: Suck it up and say, “Hey, I want to apologize. This is not the person I ever saw myself becoming and I’m glad you guys have decided to come back.”
Tyler Carter from Issues is another special guest [“The Young And Beyond Reckless”]. How did that come about?
I said, “Hey, let’s cut the bullshit. Me and you’ve been talking for a long time. Do you want to get something together? My head’s obviously in the right place, and if you can’t see that, then I don’t mind.” He saw it for what it is, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m excited to be on the song.” He liked it and did his part.
What made you dedicate a song to your grandmother?
She didn’t actually teach me how to play music, but she is my main inspiration for playing music and singing. She played music her entire life: She was real big on the piano and was always really big on singing, choir, all that kind of stuff, and it made me want to look into music. I remember when I was 8 or 9, she definitely put a lot of things out there for me to look at.
The last time I interviewed you for AP, you were still in a halfway house, after going through rehab in the wake of the infamous “MacBook incident.” How are you different now?
I would just say that when I was in the halfway house, I was eager to get out, and I thought a lot of things would just happen right away. I felt I was going to do this, go to rehab and everything and it was going to go back on like it was. That definitely wasn’t the case, and it took me a good time to realize this is my fault; there are things that I need to suck up and realize. Everything that happened was because of things that I did. I was impatient, and didn’t want to wait for everything right away, so I just fell into a slump where I didn’t want to do much. I was like, “All right, I’ll just do the bare minimum.” But then I was like, “Fuck it. I need to go back to what I was doing before everything happened and just start again.” Even though this is my third band, this feels right, whether it’s the third time, fourth time, fifth time. It just feels right to play music again.
So it took a little longer to climb back up than you expected?
Yeah, it definitely took me a minute to realize that this is my fault and I need to take responsibility for it. It all got put on hold, but I’m really excited for this CD, and I’m really happy with the people I’m working with, for once. We all get along, and we want to base the band off communication. We need to make sure we’re always talking—if there’s a problem, we bring it up right away. We just don’t want to have any bullshit like I had in my last band and they had in their last band. We just want to be here for the music, for once.
In the halfway house, you’d gotten kind of spiritual. Do you still feel that connection?
Through all the recovery, all that higher being stuff, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s hard for me to say I’m a religious person. I didn’t have a religious upbringing—I’ve had a traditional Christian background upbringing—but I never thought any of it out until all that stuff happened. I feel like I wouldn’t say it’s gotten any better, but it definitely hasn’t gotten any worse. I’m not focusing on religion, or my deeper spiritual bond. For me, the only thing that comes close to that is music. I stick to that route as of now.