JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for Buzzy Magazine. With me today is paranormal modern folk singer, Jonah Knight, one of the guests of honor here at Madicon in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Jonah Knight: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
JMW: Got to ask you, what is paranormal modern folk music?
Jonah Knight:Well, paranormal modern folk is – the name is something that I came up with because I didn’t know what to call what I was doing. The way I think of it is – I used to be sort of standard singer-songwriter, playing songs about girls and bars and long lonely roads, and how my pain is a very unique form of pain that you’ll never understand, but here’s some songs I wrote about it. Sit down, please. And that was fine, and I just sort of got to a point where I got married, and I had a son, we had a house, and I wasn’t connecting with songs about girls and bars anymore.
So one day I said to my wife, I think I’m going to start writing about ghosts and monsters. She said, does that mean you’re going to stop writing about your ex-girlfriends? And I said, yeah. She said, okay, good, do that. So singer-songwriter modern folk as far as the music goes, but the songs are about ghosts and monsters, steampunk, strange things.
JMW: Have you always been a musician?
Jonah Knight:Yeah, if you want to go back, third and fourth grade I was in a professional boys’ choir called ‘The Singing Boys of Pennsylvania’. I was in that for about two and a half years or so. We did little tours and things like that. Then my high school actually had a really strong music program. I took guitar lessons and musical theory, electronic music classes there. Then in college I got my minor in music.
JMW: Were you always drawn towards folk music, or was that something that just sort of happened after you stopped singing about your ex-girlfriends?
Jonah Knight: No. I think that as a kid, I listened to a lot of what my parents listened to when I was younger. So a lot of Beatles, a lot of Jimmy Buffett, and then when rap started coming around, I listened to a lot of rap, and which lasted all the way up until grunge, and then I listened to a lot of grunge. I was in bands, and bands, and bands. Really what just happened was that it was hard to keep a group of people together and focused on the same thing, so it just became a lot easier for me to go out by myself to play a solo show, rather than coordinate a whole band.
So, I mean, really, that’s it. But once I started doing that, I started listening to a lot more in the way of what I think of as modern folk with people that can control a whole room with just a voice and a guitar.
JMW: Well, I noticed when I was listening to your concert earlier that your definition of modern folk is rather broad. I definitely heard Creedence Clearwater echos, Creedence Clearwater Revival ‘Bad Moon Rising’. How do you get from ‘Old Folk Roam’ – did I get that right – to Creedence?
Jonah Knight: Well, one of the things that I do is I try to find songs that people know. But when I perform a song that someone else wrote, I pick them based on the lyrics. So I do a version of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ because when you just read the lyrics to that song, it’s about armageddon. It’s about the world ending, and most people are like, ‘there’s a bad moon rising’. And it’s like, don’t sing those lyrics like that. So when I do it, I slow it down and I really point it out and perform it as though – almost like a prophet predicting the end of the world which is right now.
And then with the Stephen Foster song…
JMW: ‘Old Folks at Home’. It had a real twist to it.
Jonah Knight: Yeah, I added Lovecraft into the song.
JMW: Yeah, I noticed.
Jonah Knight: So it’s not really someone reminiscing about their youth, it’s about someone upsetting the creature, the old folk who live in that place in the woods and how you’re not quite the same after you meet them.
JMW: No, and they do roam. They don’t stay in one spot. Scary thought.
Was it hard to transition from the more standard songs to the more paranormal, the more ghostly, and what is the most important part of the transition? The music or the lyric?
Jonah Knight: It wasn’t that it was hard, it’s work plus time. It was a realization that I didn’t really connect with this old material that I had, and wanting to do something new. And then there was a period of time where I was sort of like trying to figure out what new was. So I would write songs about ghosts, but they weren’t more wistful, more, you know, less creepy, but just more sort of overall sort of haunted. And then it just kept growing from there into what it is now, which is deliberately creepy and spooky, a lot of it. But, I mean, really, it wasn’t – the real – that wasn’t hard, that was just process. That was just knowing what you wanted to do and then keep doing it until you’re good at it. The hard part was figuring out where the people were that wanted to hear that music, because when you’re playing sort of standard acoustic music, there are places that you go to play your songs about girls and bars. But when you go back to those places with songs about clones and pirates, the reception isn’t the same, it’s not what you want. So figuring where I was supposed to go to play these songs was really the learning curve, just figuring out where are these places.
Watch the rest of our time with Jonah on the video above!
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.