IT’S almost impossible to pigeonhole US folk-punk band AJJ, until last year known as Andrew Jackson Jihad.
After more than a decade of performing as Andrew Jackson Jihad, the quirky lads from Phoenix, Arizona, decided the name was disrespectful to Muslims and that their interest in Jackson, the seventh US president, had waned.
“It’s definitely not as memorable or interesting, that’s for sure,” AJJ frontman Sean Bonnette tells Weekender while drinking a beer at a skate park barbecue in Detroit.
“AJJ is a boring name, but in doing that we’re like a rapper, we can just give our band nicknames.”
While their new acronym name might be dull, nobody could ever accuse AJJ of being boring.
American literary giants Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut are among their greatest influences, they began their career as a comedy act before delving into serious issues like social anxiety, poverty and religion and they are massive fans of Australian children supergroup The Wiggles.
It’s a bizarre and colourful mix.
The video for last year’s single Goodbye, Oh Goodbye from their sixth album The Bible 2 was inspired by The Wiggles and featured those famous primary colour T-shirts.
“We keep trying to get in touch,” Bonnette says. “The guy that’s setting up all our shows in Australia, we’re asking him to get in touch with The Wiggles and maybe we can make some gnarly music together.
“It would be fun to make a Wiggles adult album, Wiggles After Dark.”
The Bible 2 was somewhat of a creative breakthrough for AJJ and a stylistic detour. The four-piece’s early material was strictly folk-punk and was heavily influenced by ‘80s legends The Violent Femmes and dominated by Bonnette’s deranged vocal delivery and lyrics.
However, The Bible 2 featured a more diverse sonic palette. Everything from piano ballads to indie rock to synths.
Bonnette says the overriding theme of The Bible 2 was the rise of spirituality among America’s youth, in place of the traditional and dogmatic framework of Christian churches.
“For me The Bible 2 represents self-forgiveness and acceptance of being spiritual without being religious,” he says.
The heavier content is far removed from AJJ’s 2005 debut Candy Cigarettes & Cap Guns, which was basically a comedy album.
“The want to make people laugh came from a) ripping off my heroes Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut of course and then b) it was to get a reaction,” Bonnette says.
“It worked, but I later realised it was more fulfilling to make people cry then to make people laugh.”
In order to push himself lyrically and unlock his creativity for The Bible 2, Bonnette read a self-help book The Artist’s Way, written by US author Julia Cameron.
The book promotes a method called morning pages, which literally involves writing three pages in long hand every day.
“With morning pages your goal is to not write anything brilliant, cool or creative, it’s just to fill pages,” Bonnette says.
“With that, it shuts down your internal censor and that thing in your head which tells you what you’re writing isn’t good enough. Because your goal isn’t to write anything good, it’s just to write.
“The idea is that you tune yourself up and leave yourself open for inspiration to come in whenever it wants to.
“Leaving the door open. That’s not always possible to do.”
AJJ perform at the Hamilton Station Hotel on September 28.