A.A. Bondy: Making His Own World

Originally published on November 18, 2011 8:02 pm

One Friday night at The Waiting Room in Omaha, Neb., more than 150 people are milling around waiting for A.A. Bondy to take the stage. His new album, Believers, came out two months ago and caught fans like Andre Steinbergs by surprise.

"It really struck me as being very different from the first two because it didn't have the finger-style picking, but I do like that it's very atmospheric, that it's moody, that it's dark," says Steinbergs. "It's one of those records that I would listen to when the mood struck me."

It's taken Bondy more than a decade to create a world he can call his own.

"I wanted to make a world complete with typography, weather and night and day, all that stuff," says Bondy. "I just wanted it to spin on its own, as untethered as it could be to the things that informed it."

From Grunge To McCarthy

Bondy's career started when he was still in his early 20s, as the leader of Verbena. The band emerged from the ashes of the 1990s grunge movement and was signed to Capitol Records. Its major-label debut was produced by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl.

The band ultimately flopped.

"We wanted to be like Led Zeppelin or something," says Bondy. "[We were] fooled by some shiny things left out in the dust and thought that we could just go out and collect them and we'd have our own plane," says Bondy. "It just went epically wrong."

After Verbena split up, Bondy quit music and fled to the Catskill Mountains in New York. He fixed well pumps, dog sat and read a lot — dark books by Cormac McCarthy, and classics like Moby Dick. And he continued to play music for himself.

"And that was also really good, because it was meditative just sitting there playing guitar for hours again," Bondy says.

Rebirth

It was then that he stumbled across records by acoustic guitar pioneer John Fahey, and was particularly entranced by a video of blues guitarist Mississippi John Hurt playing on the 1960s folk television show Rainbow Quest.

Three years after Verbena broke up, Bondy began writing his solo debut. He says it took him eight days.

"I couldn't shut it off," Bondy says. "It was almost uncomfortable. I had to go write another song. I'd be watching TV, and you're like, 'Here comes another one.' It was amazing, you know?"

Bondy was happy to be recording again, but he still didn't feel like he was offering anything original. With his new record, he does.

"Bjork probably started out completely original, but most people have to toil in the shadows as somebody else for a little while, and then they can eventually wean themselves off of that," says Bondy. "But it took me a really long time to do it."

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

A.A. Bondy knows a thing or two about the music business - good and bad. When he was in his early 20s, he was signed to a major label with disastrous results. His band broke up. He quit music for a while, made a solo comeback. Now, Bondy has returned with a new sound, as we hear from Clay Masters of member station NET Radio.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: It's Friday night at The Waiting Room Lounge in Omaha, Nebraska. More than 150 people are milling around waiting for A.A. Bondy to take the stage. His new album called "Believers" came out two months ago and caught fans like Andre Steinbergs by surprise.

ANDRE STEINBERGS: I don't want to sound disappointed, but it really struck me as being very different from the first two because it didn't have the finger-style picking, but I do like that it's very moody and atmospheric, that it's dark. It's one of those records that I would listen to when the mood struck me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MASTERS: It's taken Bondy over a decade to create a world he can call his own. His career started when he was still in his early 20s. He was the leader of Verbena, a band that emerged from the ashes of the 1990s grunge movement and was signed to Capitol Records. Its major-label debut was produced by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY GOT SHOT")

MASTERS: Verbena ultimately flopped.

: We wanted to be like - I don't know - like Led Zeppelin or something. We're, like, fooled by some kind of, like, shiny things left out in the dust, you know, and thought that we could just go out and collect them. And, you know, we'd have our own plane or something, you know? And it just went, like, epically wrong.

MASTERS: After the band split up, Bondy quit music. He fled to the Catskills Mountains in New York. He fixed well pumps, dog-sat and read a lot - dark books by Cormac McCarthy, classics like "Moby Dick" - and he continued to play music for himself.

: It was meditative, you know, just sitting there playing guitar for hours again. I've been playing guitar since I was 14 or 15 years old, but to do it in a way that's completely new to me was amazing. You know, I felt like a child or something.

MASTERS: It was then he stumbled across records by acoustic guitar pioneer John Fahey and was particularly entranced by a video of blues guitarist Mississippi John Hurt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GOT TO WALK THAT LONESOME VALLEY")

MASTERS: Three years after Verbena broke up, Bondy began writing his solo debut.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VICE RAG")

MASTERS: He says it only took him eight days.

: It was just like a torrent. Like, I just couldn't shut it off, you know? It was almost uncomfortable in a way, just kind of like I had to go out and write another song, you know? You'll be watching TV, and you're like, here comes another one. It was amazing, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MASTERS: Bondy was happy to be recording again, but he still didn't feel like he was offering anything original. Now, with his new record, he does.

: I don't know. Bjork probably started out completely original...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: …but like most people have to, you know, toil in the shadows as somebody else for a little while, and then they can eventually wean themselves off of that. It took me, you know, a really long time to do it.

MASTERS: Nearly a decade, a failed shot at the majors, some muddy boots and an acoustic guitar. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

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