Houston Music

JonoJono Doubles Up To Create a Genre-Blending Sound

JonoJono Photo by Ben White, courtesy of JonoJono
JonoJono grew up loving all kinds of music, but two specific types truly vied for his attention over the years. When the Houston artist decided to turn his fascination with music into a career pursuit, instead of choosing one sound over the other he merged his tastes to create something unique.

You can hear his interest in R&B and soul in the newly released video for the song “Shadeless.” His devotion to thrash, grunge and punk is more evident in singles like “My Mommy” and a recent cover of Deftones’ “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away).” Rather than picking a genre, like his name, JonoJono is doubling up and that approach has given him some traction on very diverse streaming playlists.

Given his current musical proclivities, his interest in music began with an unlikely song.

“Honestly, I’ve been doing music all my life, man, as far as I can remember. I was like six years old, I heard this song, it was a gospel song actually, from this movie Sister Act 2 and it was ‘Oh Happy Day,’” he recalled. “I was always in the backseat you know, backseat pimping with my brother and sister, I’m the youngest of three. Long story short, they basically would just ride in the car and some random day they were listening to music and that’s generally how I was taking in all these different types of sounds and my influences, just always sitting in the backseat listening to what they’re playing.

“One time they played this ‘Oh Happy Day’ song and I ended up trying to sing it and they both turned around and looked at me like, ‘Oh shit, you actually could do something!’” he laughed. “I was only like six, seven years old, I’m over here thinking I sound like a billy goat.”

From those humble beginnings, JonoJono delved into music, beginning with praise and worship at church.  A couple of years later, he fell in love with R&B music through artists like Musiq Soulchild, Luther Vandross, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys. He had a particular interest in Keys’ smash hit, “If I Ain’t Got You,” and noodled on piano trying to learn it. That prompted his mother to enroll him in piano lessons in Cy-Fair Music and Arts.

“I was getting classically trained. That was all the way from when I was eight up until high school,” he said. “I was learning the romantic period, learning Baroque music like Beethoven and Edvard Grieg and shit, you know, Chopin. I even got into a little bit of ragtime stylistic stuff. I basically utilized that stuff and once I got into middle school, like kind of in the middle of that time frame, I kind of was feeling like an outcast for a very long time because I was always choosing a different path than my peers.”

JonoJono’s father moved the family to Houston while scouting for Major League Baseball teams and JonoJono was athletic. He played baseball, basketball and ran track, “but I was always so passionate about music. I was the guy everybody knew as the guy who sings.”

“It kind of pushed me out of that everyday peer group, it kind of made me feel like an outcast, and so at that time I ran into thrash somehow. I don’t know how the fuck it happened,” he said with a hearty laugh. “When I got my own mp3 player I ended up downloading Limewire and getting all this free fucking music. I basically ran into songs from Metallica. I ended up hearing ‘One’ by Metallica and I think that was the first metal song I was exposed to. My life was changed ever since.”

As he did with his fixation on Keys’ piano playing earlier in life, he made it his mission to learn “One” on guitar.

“From there, it was I gotta learn more about this genre, I gotta learn this whole scene, I wanna understand what it’s about, I feel so at home when I’m listening to this stuff. And they’re talking about the same things that I think about when it comes down to social issues and politics and fighting the status quo and kind of saying fuck you to the standard of what government and society tries to set for all of us. Talking about life experiences that were traumatic, all that stuff.

“It put me into this mind space of really submerging myself into that scene so I ended up getting my first guitar around the age 13,” he said.

As he found bands like Rush, Black Sabbath and MC5, he didn’t shelve his R&B records.

“It was starting to become this concoction of all these different inspirations,” he said. “Even with the fact that I still had soul and R&B in my system as a youth, I was trying to figure out a way to bring that together because I knew I liked to sing soul and I just loved to fucking thrash it out because I’ve got a right hand like fucking James Hetfield. I’m not to be fucking played with when it comes down to my down chuck,” he laughed. “I was just constantly trying to find myself in that aspect and I started to really understand who I was as a young man and where my place in life was after being exposed to that genre of music.”

After high school, JonoJono immersed himself in sound production in college. He was looking for gigs and released his first music in 2017. He didn’t care if listeners heard soul or thrash when they heard the songs as long as they heard the messages he wanted to deliver.

“I’ve always never felt like I belonged, whatever setting it was – whether it was home, whether it was school, any of that stuff. All artists can say that or whatever,” he admitted. “I was like this moth to the flame, trying to find this light but then when I actually get to that light or try to feel like there’s a place I can fit in, it always fucks me over.”

The first grunge song he wrote was a track titled “Grizzly.” JonoJono said it’s “about not allowing people to trickle down what you have in your heart, what you have in your spirit, what you have in your mind. Not allowing people to tell you what you should do.

“And I use the term ‘grizzly’ as a metaphoric way of saying grizzly bears, they never are worried about any other organism in their habitat, ever. They're always minding their business, they're always doing what they need to do. If you cross a path, you’re fucked. And that’s how I kind of how I referenced myself for awhile. I always believed I was somewhat of a strong force in some way, shape or form. And me being a God-fearing man, through the Holy Spirit I always know I can do anything, through Christ I can always do anything.

“I’m just really big on wanting to encourage other people from a time when I was able to encourage myself,” he said. “I want to be able to talk to people from a healed place from the times when I wasn’t able to speak.”

We wondered whether there was any pushback against his music. He’s a young Black man doing metal music. And, he’s bringing thrash elements over to the R&B side of things. JonoJono said anyone with a basic understanding of American music knows these sounds emerged from the same place, from Black blues and gospel artists like Robert Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

“She is the godmother of fucking rock and roll, she is the one who really created fucking riffs and licks and all kind of shit,” he said of Tharpe. “People have to remember their history when it comes down to this stuff. It’s not outlandish for someone like me to feel a place at home when it comes down to metal and to rock and to punk. Now that I said punk, fuck it – Bad Brains. Bad Brains is the reason why hardcore is hardcore. Straight up. They’re the fucking reason.”

JonoJono is doing his best to be part of the progression of music. Last fall, he found a stable group of bandmates to help achieve his musical dreams.

“I just listened to them play and I was like, damn, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for for a really long time,” he said, and noted the band’s strength is “basically having the range of when they’re playing metal or they’re playing R&B or whatever in between, it’s authentic.”

They’ve played at Barbarella in Austin and have gigged in College Station and at House of Blues here in Houston but they’re spending most of their time in the studio. JonoJono said he’s building enough of a setlist for fans to see him live, where he feels he truly excels.

“We have different types of sets for different types of crowds and I feel like that’s so important when we’re genre-blending,” he said. “There will be a time when we’re at Numbers. Then, there’s gonna be another time when we’re gonna be at White Oak Music Hall. Then another time we’ll be at House of Blues playing a fucking R&B set. It just all depends because we have to be prepared for anything.”

JonoJono said mashing genres into something new is how new genres are born. He's following the trendsetters before him to set a new trend in music.

“If I go into my friends' playlists and my peers' playlists right now I’m pretty sure I’m going to discover about 15 fucking genres in those because that’s the type of climate that we’re in now. I believe that I’m just one of those artists – and it’s easily cliché to say, ‘Oh, I’m an artist for everybody!’ – but deadass, I’m an artist for everybody, for everyone’s tastes,” he said.

“Thing is, I have so much influence from the original trendsetters of a lot of these genres. Like Metallica trendsetted the fucking idea of thrash, you now what I’m saying? Erykah Badu and Mariah Carey and Bad Brains – I paid attention to the trendsetting artists of the day and of course the successful artists of now, they paid attention to that too because they wouldn’t be as great if they didn’t do that.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.