An Interview with Jon Rosenthal of Invisible Oranges / Footpaths
I first became aware of Jon when he covered Sujo for the indispensable and now defunct “The Inarguable” website. He was one of the few people who seemed to appreciate what was going on with the project and an excellent writer to boot! Jon is also a multi-faceted musician, lately of dark folk project “Footpaths.” He is currently the associate editor of “Invisible Oranges” which is pretty much the best metal website around. Jon was nice enough to answer a few of my questions for this here blog. -RH
1. What were your early musical influences; favorite bands growing up?
My parents were both musicians as children and wanted to instill an appreciation for music in both my sister and me as we grew up. We listened to a lot of different styles as a result — mostly what was on “oldies” stations (then ranging from 1940s to 1970s pop and rock) and classical music as there was (and is still) the pop psychology belief that listening to art music from eras past increases child cognition. It wasn’t until I got older that the element of taste began to manifest, resulting in my mom’s more overt favoring of American folk music, folk rock, and 80s pop, whereas my dad’s listening habits veered in a more progressive rock and psychedelic proto-metal direction. As an adult, I find myself sharing both my parents’ taste in music years after the fact. Funny how that happens.
It wasn’t until I was 13 that I really started to find music on my own. I was a frustrated, lonely kid living on the furthest reaches of Chicago suburbia, where farms and reclaimed prairie land separate densely packed subdivisions. Naturally, I turned to punk rock, and a chance recommendation from a friend (which I later learned to be a bit of a joke) exposed me to Bad Religion. I’d never really heard anything like it, and my young teenage brain couldn’t tell you why I liked it, but I did. I took the next opportunity I could to ride my bike to Record Breakers and buy a copy of their the-new “The Process of Belief”, which immediately started me on a rabbit hole into the depths of dark, extreme music. Years later, here I am, making quiet, textured music. Wonder what happened.
2. What instrument did you start with? First band? First show? First release?
Elementary school music classes aside (xylophone and recorder have made their way into music I’ve made, though), my first serious foray into learning an instrument was piano lessons with former Russian concert pianist Alexander Purim when I was nine or ten. He was… intense, but understandably so. He was renowned during his time in Russia, but escaped during the Pogroms and ended up delivering flowers in the United States.
My first band… I had to think about it for a second. Shortly after I first picked up the guitar at thirteen, I started an AC/DC ripoff band with a few friends, some of which I ended up making music with later on. We never really settled on a name, but the one we used for gigs (we played the talent show, the school dance, and a few neighborhood functions) was ODD (overdriven distortion).
My first release was a black metal demo I recorded with Douglas Shin, from the aforementioned band, a few years later. Bergtagen was in line with the neofolky dark metal which had taken a hold after Ulver’s 1995 debut. I loved all that stuff: Empyrium, Agalloch, Noltem, and so on. I only burned a couple CDrs and handed them out to friends. You can find the songs on YouTube — I guess we had a bit of a cult following, or so friends have told me. We eventually grew into a full lineup with about 70 minutes of material, but the band dissolved once we graduated from high school.
3. How did Footpaths come about?
I was really into the whole psychedelic/freak folk style in the 2000s and wanted to try and do it myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to record anything, so I used the pinhole microphone on my shitty HP Laptop. I ended up having to use a million effects in Audacity workshop to make it mildly listenable. As the years passed, I learned a little more about recording, but less about songwriting, and here we are.
4. What got you into writing about music? Was it an easy thing for you to do or did it take some time to get comfortable? (I’m asking for a friend)
I just kind of… started writing one day. A friend was running a review blog and it seemed interesting. Now I have a degree in ethnomusicology, so it’s almost second nature. That being said, it takes a long time to figure out how to write about music accurately while finding your own voice. My writing when I was 17 was pretty awful.
5. What were some of your favorite music releases of the past few years?
This is a tough question. I listen to so much new music and almost none of it possesses the necessary staying power which would result in further listening and recollection. However, I’ve been haunted by the Connie Converse compilation “How Sad, How Lovely”. Already an enigma and someone not appreciated in her own time (all these songs were recorded in the 50s), the Spinning On Air podcast did a 3 part presentation on this complex, talented, intelligent, brazen, funny, troubled person, someone who people now proclaim to be the first singer/songwriter. I hope, if she’s still around (she disappeared in 1974 and would be 93 or 94 today), she knows she is appreciated and adored now.
6. What publications are you currently writing for?
I mostly write for Invisible Oranges now, for which I am the Associate Editor, with the occasional news piece or small feature for Brooklyn Vegan.
7. Is Chicago pizza really all that?
I’m lactose intolerant, so I guess I see this as a loaded question, but I’ll try! If you’re referring to deep dish pizza, it’s just kind of okay but I think of it more like a casserole than a pizza. People should go to the south side and get Chicago style thin crust, instead. It’s crunchy and wonderful. No one knows about it, especially people who live on the north side, who are generally terrified of going further south than the Loop (the place where the Sears Tower is). Or go to Riccobene’s and get the breaded steak sandwich.
8. What part of the creative process do you enjoy most? Preparation? Performance? Packaging? Another “P” word?
PRACTICE. I hated practicing guitar when I was a teenager, but it became a meditative process I picked up as part of getting my degree in classical guitar performance. Proper practicing means turning off all muscle tension, assuming a natural position, and completely ignoring the outside world. Practicing makes everything else second nature.
9. What are your upcoming plans as it relates to music or life in general?
Right now I’m working on getting my Master’s degree in Information Systems. It’s been hard, but I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can totally devote myself to my studies. I don’t know how people are able to maintain their sanity while working full time, going to graduate school, and having a family. My dad managed to do that and it boggles my mind.
Musically, I’ve been very, very slowly writing a new Footpaths album. Since 2013, I’ve written and recorded thirteen and a half minutes of music. As opposed to the Philip Glass-meets-Lomax-meets-Fennesz approach of everything I recorded through 2012 (there really hasn’t been anything strictly “new” released since then), I am trying very hard to write my own songs. It takes me a long time.
Otherwise, I dedicate my creative time to writing and recording bass and vocal sounds to long-form black metal project Stellar Descent. We should have a new album out late this Summer on Sol y Nieve, who released the first Footpaths album on tape five years ago.
There are other things in the works, but some things take a long time.
Do what makes you happy. Never settle. Capture every creative idea you have before it leaves you.
Please check out Jon’s work here: