Gram Parsons is back! Well, not quite, but Daniel Hopkins’ new solo project, Bonny Doon, sure makes it seem that way. Based in Santa Barbara, Bonny Doon currently has few followers outside of California, but What The Sound predicts that this is soon to change. Gram Parsons’ signature country folk-rock sound lingers and combines with soulful Motown-esque R&B elements, with hints of gospel blues rock. What The Sound caught up with Bonny Doon to chat about his newly released track, his songwriting process, and the upcoming EP. Read and listen below!
What The Sound: How did Bonny Doon start? Were there any projects before this?
Bonny Doon: There have been many different incarnations of Bonny Doon over the years, with many, many ridiculous names. But it initially began as a name for an imaginary band.
WTS: Where does the moniker, Bonny Doon, come from?
BD: I lived in Santa Cruz, California for a while near an amazing stretch of beaches called Bonny Doon. My friends and I would run around all night there in a quest to find ultimate inspiration. I can’t say I encountered any life-altering, mystical visions but the name struck me immediately as an evocative name for a musical project.
WTS: You’re a one man band? What other one-person bands do you look up to? Compare Bonny Doon to?
BD: Bonny Doon is basically a moniker I can hide behind as a songwriter so I don’t have to feel egotistical by putting out my real name. I’d feel odd going by my real name. I feel like it diverts attention away from the music. Bonny Doon is a personae on its own and it’s meant to incorporate every musician who plays under it. It can work as both a solo act and as a band.
Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel was a huge inspiration. After hearing NMH, forming Bonny Doon was like creating a fictional nation to lead.
WTS: When it comes to songwriting, there’s nobody but yourself that you need to worry about. What’s the writing process like?
BD: It varies. But usually the writing process begins with a lyrical or musical fragment. It could be something someone says, for instance, that invokes a certain mood. And then the lyrics dictate the chord changes, rhythm follows suit, and the structure fluctuates until the feeling is right. But it’s rarely ever as straightforward. Most of the time a song is a sonic mess until the very last moment.
As any creative person can attest, inspiration is incredibly fickle and there have been many instances of frustration where I’ve gone, “I’m swearing off music forever and I’m going to become a monk in the mountains,” but in the end I’m always drawn back to writing and playing whether I like it or not.
WTS: The Church Rats EP, an older collection of yours has more of a country sound compared to the songs on World’s Not Ending Yet EP which give off a sunny California beach vibe. Why did you make this steady transition in genres?
BD: The main reason is because of how hard it is trying to find a good pedal steel player in Santa Barbara. If I had found one, I would probably be playing hardcore, Buck Owens-style country music right now. But I’m getting a chance to write with a soul-R&B groove in mind and I’m really excited about it. Naturally the guitars are going to be drenched in reverb.
WTS: How does your most recent single “King City”, compare to those past tracks?
BD: King City is actually a song I recorded years ago on a little 4-track when I thought I could play the banjo. Its a tribute to country music in a way and something I thought should be out in the world but it’s not very indicative of the more soul-inspired direction the band is going in at the moment.
WTS: What did you grow up listening to? Are there specific artists that you always return to when needing inspiration?
BD: My dad always had the oldies station on the car, so Motown was the first style that I was exposed to. And while Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield always manage to put my mind at ease, I find Gram Parsons’ music and voice inescapable. It would be safe to say I’m pretty obsessed with Parsons and his style. I’ll know I’m successful when I can afford to design my own, custom Nudie suit. That’s the only way I’ll know I made it in the music industry. Or, rather, in life.
WTS: How has growing up in Santa Barbara affected your music?
BD: I guess beach culture is going to be an influence, with the incessant sunshine and surf music as well as the West Coast psychedelia thing but ultimately the goal to transcend those things and break into something new. Instead of relying on 60’s retro sound, trying to add elements of more contemporary sounds is much more exciting.
WTS: What’s the name of your next release?
BD: Beach Gospel. I think...
WTS: Where does that name come from? Why Beach Gospel?
BD: I thought making up a musical genre would help define our current sound.
WTS: Do you have any aspirations? Where do you hope to see your music take you?
BD: My main goal is to record at least one mind-blowing album. That’s my one aspiration, really. Something influential that can withstand the test of time. On the other hand, I make sure to keep such low expectations for my music career so that any positive development will elicit pure joy.