As a member of beloved Bay Area indie rockers The Rum Diary and post-rockers Shuteye Unison, as well as founder of record label Parks and Records, Jon Fee has been no stranger to the local music community. But even if you’ve followed his career since the beginning, you’ve never heard anything like his newest offering: For the first time, Fee is releasing a solo record under the name The Things of Youth. And it includes a children’s book.
As you might have noticed, the lyrics to “Eleventeen” are not only thematically appropriate for a project called The Things of Youth, they could also be the text of a children’s book, which is no accident. Fee wrote the song to help teach his son how to count, and plans to publish a children’s book based on his lyrics and artwork by Lindsay Watson as an insert in the record and as a standalone book.
Meanwhile, Parks and Records is growing up before our very eyes: Volume One is its tenth release—a pretty significant milestone for a completely independent record label.
The Bay Bridged caught up with Jon Fee to discuss all of these things, as well as why he has decided now was the time to launch his solo career.
The Bay Bridged: Why’d you decide to step out on your own? Why now?
Jon Fee: Well, for once in my life I decided to make good on my New Year’s resolution and do something with all these songs that have been knocking around in my head for years.
TBB: How is your solo material different from the bands like The Rum Diary and Shuteye Unison that you’ve been in over the past several years?
JF: The Things of Youth is quite different. Not better, just different. The most noticeable differences were born out of necessity. I travel a lot these days and needed a much more stripped down project that was compatible with the road and writing in hotels. At the core of each song is just me and my acoustic bass guitar. This project is much more straight forward, literal, and with little reliance on effects.
TBB: Did you consciously try and differentiate your solo sound from your past bands’ sounds, or is this just a natural progression for you?
JF: Not really; however, I did want it be more acoustic and less wall-of-sound. For years I have always felt like I was hiding behind distortion and reverb or using one or the other as a writing crutch. With The Things of Youth I forced myself to write every song from start to finish on acoustic guitar. Once I got started I saw it all as a good challenge to help grow as a songwriter.
TBB: Who played on the record—did you play everything, or did you enlist a band?
JF: I did a good amount, mostly bass guitar and singing, and I was very fortunate to enlist the Dream Team — Cory Gray, Adam Cimino, Jake Krohn, and Daniel McKenzie. In my opinion, these guys are to indie pop what The Funk Brothers were to Motown. Not to mention, both Cory and Daniel are very skilled recording engineers.
I am forever indebted to those guys and encourage you to check out their other projects. Cory continues to crank out piano driven experimental rock via Carcrashlander. Adam records amazing 4-track bedroom rock and Katy Perry covers under the moniker Namesake and plays drums in Male Gaze. Daniel and Jake melt minds with their indie-electronic project Identical Homes and Jake also plays drums in Sonoma County’s ultimate bar fight musical, The Sorority.
TBB: What formats is the record coming out on? You’ve said, “Vinyl is not necessarily ‘back,’ despite the hype.” What do you mean by that? Is your record coming out on vinyl?
JF: The album will be released on Tuesday January 27th on all major digital platforms and on colored none-more-black vinyl — limited 200 pressing.
I love vinyl, but so many vinyl related headlines these days paint a false picture. Many read “Vinyl is back!”, but you got to ask yourself, back to what? Most if not all data shows that vinyl sales are trending up which is great and awesome for vinyl lovers like me because now there’s more to buy, but kids are not driving the hype and they are totally priced out of the medium. These days a decent record player will cost you an arm and a leg and they are now impossible to find at thrift stores. So, vinyl is back because a bunch of old dudes like me never let go, we started to make a little more dough, and now we buy more. Hopefully 200 old dudes will buy my new record.
TBB: Can you tell us about the children’s book you wrote based on the lyrics of the song “Eleventeen”?
JF: The children’s book is an adaptation of the song “Eleventeen” which I wrote for my oldest son Charlie River to teach him how to count. The book is also perfect for early readers. Although I am partial to the song, the book is really a showcase for the crazy talented American illustrator Lindsay Watson. Collaborating with Lindsay was just amazing and I’m totally convinced her talent will reach great heights in the near future. She recently shared another children’s book she’s been working on and it blew me away and that’s coming from a dad with three boys who has read a lot of kid’s books. Likely, my claim to fame with The Things of Youth will be the collaboration with Lindsay.
The book also owes a lot to Julie Fraize and her eye for design. Her creative direction was critical in making the book flow.
TBB: Is Parks and Records releasing the book?
JF: Yes, Parks and Records will release the book in partnership with Avi Ehrlich and Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club. In fact, if it wasn’t for Avi and both our labels participating in the Bay Area Record Fair, I never would have discovered Lindsay Watson and “Eleventeen” would only be a silly little song abo