Lightning Bolts & Southern (California) Rock: Robert Jon & The Wreck to Perform in Macon on 3/21

Outsiders discussing Orange County, California, bands usually focus on the region’s legendary punk rock scene, a culture responsible for iconic groups like Social Distortion, Agent Orange, or Adolescents. But the O.C. has also given us Robert Jon & The Wreck, a group that reminds us that a band need not come from the Southeast to deliver heartfelt Southern rock. “We’re from California,” says frontman Robert Jon Burrison, “We’re all born and raised out here. We just started playing music and writing music and playing what we love doing. The sound is what came out of us. We love all the bands from Georgia and Florida and everything. We love that sound, so whatever comes out of us is a representation of what we’ve been soaking up our whole lives. We’re still from the southern part of California, so it’s just Southern rock from the West coast.”

An overexposure to punk sent Jon and his bandmates in search of something different. Jon says, “I think [the embrace of Southern rock] happened because of what was played on the radio and what the hype was out here was the pop punk and punk in general. We’ve all been in punk bands, even hardcore bands. We’ve all been through it. It was probably a need for something different. We had all the friends in the punk bands, and I think from an artistic standpoint, sometimes you have an inkling inside to do something different than what’s going on directly around you.”

Discovering bands like Allman Brothers, The Black Crowes, and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Jon began to rethink his approach to songwriting. For him, writing under the spell of Southern rock produced songs that were more mature and consequential: “I think it was more about the songs than anything, putting more emphasis on writing songs that have a little bit more meaning and soul than an upbeat tempo that’s going to do really well in a live setting when whatever you’re singing about might not matter as much. I think it came down to the songs, and then the way that we create the songs is whatever is best for the song, then that’s the sound that we created.”

Since then, Robert Jon & The Wreck have been prolific, releasing 10 albums since their debut, Fire Started, in 2011. Jon says there is no secret to the band’s creative abundance. “If I could tell you,” he says, “I would. We set out to write records and we put in the work. There’s a lot of ideas that get washed away because they’re not hitting any of the signals in our brain. I think the more that we write, the better it gets. It’s always good to have a plan.”

Even more impressive is the band’s resistance to templates. Each record carries with it a new set of songs that contributes to– not undermines– the band’s legacy. If earlier records are ragged and occasionally furious, later records reflect a love for the blues, bar band heroics, and gospel. The wide range of styles is intuitive, never calculated. Jon says, “I think it’s like lightning bolts. You have an idea and if it’s a heavy riff idea, then we go with it. Something like Shine a Light on Me Brother had a super gospel influence, and we were going towards what we were feeling at the time. It’s not like we’re trying to make sure all of our songs are in the box that people think that it needs to be.”

He continues, “Every song is different in every way. And we’re a whole band. It’s not just me. We’re five writers in the room. We all present ideas. We really just go in the room, and we try out all the ideas, and after you leave that room, you’re humming one of the songs in your head. We know the next time we’re in the room, let’s work on that one first. Sometimes we’re just in a room jamming, and we have ideas that we wanted to try, and we ended up writing a song that we weren’t even planning on doing just because the lightning struck at that point, and that’s what happened.”

Democracy doesn’t always come easy, but the band makes it work. Jon admits, “I mean, there’s five dudes that all have great opinions about what they believe in. It’s definitely taken time to figure out how to go about it. But we all respect each other, and we try everything out, no matter what. When you’re able to try everything, everyone can hear which direction it should go. We’re all brothers in the room, so sometimes we disagree, and you move forward and you get through it.”

On March 10, Robert Jon & The Wreck will release the One of a Kind EP. The track “Come at Me” was produced by the near-mythical Don Was (The Rolling Stones, Brian Wilson, The B-52’s) at Hensen Studios, where Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Carol King’s Tapestry were recorded. Jon says, “You walk in, and you’re in awe. The first fifteen minutes you’re there, your mind is going through everything that was recorded there that you love. That intimidates you, and then you just let it go. If you let something weigh you down, you’re not gonna make a good recording. It’s a mental thing and it’s also just living in the present, not worrying about what’s happened in the past and just moving forward. It was definitely an honor to be in those rooms and to work with the people that we worked with. It was a great experience.”

The band also recorded two tracks– “Who Can You Love” and “Pain No More”– with Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile). Jon understood he and the band were in the company of royalty, but they never felt overwhelmed: “We hadn’t worked with a producer of that caliber before, and we didn’t really know what to expect. We worked with Don first, and it was just great, just comfortable. It didn’t feel like there was any intimidation or anything. We just kind of said, “Hello,” and it worked. And working with Dave was the same. And seeing how differently they worked. Don’s a very vibe guy, and he wants to get the vibe of what we’re trying to put out and capture that. Both of them were in the room while we were recording. They weren’t sitting behind the desk and looking at us and saying, ‘Take it again.’ They were in the room and a part of what we were doing, which I think is a really cool thing, for someone to be a producer and to be a part of what’s going on.”

The experience was yet another reminder of Jon and The Wreck’s good fortune. “We get to play music for a living,” Jon says, “That’s incredible. It’s something that is rare in this climate, and I’m in awe every day when I wake up. I’m just blessed and happy to be doing what I’m doing and wanting to do it the best that we can. We don’t want to go out there and half-ass a thing.”

See Robert Jon & The Wreck LIVE at the Capitol Theater in Downtown Macon on Tuesday, March 21st! Get tickets now!

Charlie Farmer is a Georgia writer and professor who loves his wife, his daughters, his students, his cats, his books, his LPs, and everything else one should love in life.