For Jonezetta, 2006 has been a busy year. In January, after signing with Seattle-based label Tooth & Nail Records, the band took one month to write and record their first LP, "Popularity," which was released in October. Then, in March, the band set out on the first of three nationwide tours. Add to that their first music video for the single "Get Ready (Hot Machete)," and media attention from well-established music outlets like Spin, and it's obvious that the year has marked something of a breakthrough for the band.
Jonezetta has been on such a hectic tour schedule that they hadn't been back to Jackson since early October, when the band played a concert at the Pix-Capri for their CD release party. But the boys did finally get to come home for Thanksgiving for a brief respite before heading back out for another sprint of shows. They'll play one more show in Boston next Friday before finally coming home for Christmas.
Frontman Rob Chisolm called on a night that they played in St. Petersburg, Fla. He didn't sound tired, just excited. I knew he and the other band members—Ty Garvey, Kyle Howe and Mick Parsons—had already played four shows that week.
"It's all surreal. You don't really know how it feels. You're just trying to go with it," he explains, adding that the memories he'll hold onto from their latest tour have been the smaller, quieter moments, like sleeping in Boston's Fenway Park, rather than any flashes of rock-star glory.
Chisolm tries to take their sudden jolt onto the national scene in stride. The chorus of the title track asks, "Popularity, do you think it's scary?" to which Chisolm replies, "No."
"Spin did a review. Cool. Awesome," he says, shrugging off the implications of the early buzz surrounding the album. "You're never going to feel like, 'Wow, we've done this,' because there's always another step. You make this record and hope that everyone likes it. It's not guaranteed."
Whether or not Chisolm thinks so, Jonezetta's success is a big deal. Tooth & Nail Records has been home to artists that started off small and went on to gain acclaim and mainstream attention—bands like MxPx and Pedro the Lion. The fact that the label offered Jonezetta the biggest record deal in its history points to their confidence that Jonezetta will attain similar if not greater success. Several major labels vied for the band's signature on a contract, but Chisolm says Tooth & Nail showed the most enthusiasm about their music and would be willing to "really offer up our music."
"Tooth & Nail is in a really good spot," he says. "They sell just as many records as any other major label with a band like us, excluding artists like Justin Timberlake and Fergie."
As they waited for attorneys to work through the legal end of negotiations, the band packed up and headed to a cabin in Arkansas, where they began writing their first album. While many bands recording a first album set out to make their version of the ideal record, Chisolm says that, for Jonezetta, the music-making process was spontaneous. He would use the blackboard in their practice space to sketch out a structure for the songs.
"It usually started with a really vague idea. Like, I want to call a song 'Popularity,'" he explains. "And then we'd say 'What would a song called 'Popularity' sound like?'"
The answer is a catchy, quick confection that embodies the ambitious tone and obsession with pop culture that underlies the rest of the album. Influenced by the '90s singles they listened to during recording sessions, the band mixed pop rock with disco beats. Many of the songs contain adolescent celebrations of fun; the lyrics to "Man in a 3K Suit" are reminiscent of challenges to fight out in the parking lot. "Hot Machete" contains the wake-up call that "love isn't always a party," but given the dance-inducing vibe of most tracks, it seems as if Jonezetta feels that everything else is.
Chisolm says he hopes that one day people will look back at the album as a record of everything that was happening then. A few of the songs are more personal, though. "Welcome Home," which the band plays at the end of every set, questions whether the boys will ever feel at home in Clinton, their hometown.
But just as the lyrics of that song suggest, the band has found some sense of home only by being away for long stretches, playing everywhere from Boston to San Francisco. Chisolm says they always introduce themselves as "Jonezetta of Mississippi," and for the first time, that's a label that's become comfortable.
Jonezetta is now back on tour, spreading the buzz about their new album and pitching their single to radio stations. Meanwhile, Tooth & Nail is sponsoring a remix contest for "Hot Machete" at http://www.hotmachete.com, which will reward one grand prize winner with sampling equipment and signed paraphernalia from the band.
When I asked Chisolm what "the next step" is for his band, he dismissed the question, saying that he has a hard time looking into the future. The response suits the tone of their album, and it may be that Chisolm has become wary of making predictions after such a whirlwind year.
Chisolm does have one clear goal, though: He wants Jonezetta to keep playing music. He admits that "it would be cool to be a one-hit wonder," but Chisolm clearly understands the importance of the attention his band receives. After all, Jonezetta is a band that, just a few years ago, thought about giving up because they didn't think they would make it.
"There are entirely too many bands because of things like MySpace," Chisolm says. "You just got to keep going and keep your name in front of people."
Jonezetta will play an 18-and-older show at Mississippi College on Jan. 18.The show is free for students and $5 for non-students.