Discover more from Volatile Weekly
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
My first memory of wanting to get into music was when I was probably only about three or four years old and my father took me to a play that my mother was in. It was a musical and she was singing several of the songs in the script. I don’t remember what the subject matter was or what the play was, but I knew right then that I wanted to be able to perform musically. (I still remember seeing the whole thing like it was yesterday.) I asked for a piano at that point and started to learn to play but quickly departed from the lessons I was being taught started to ad lib on the keyboard. Started with chopsticks and developed into my idea of chords.
If I wasn’t a musician, I would probably do what I do with a great deal of my time already. I assist in pushing for a clean environment and also human equity. I do testify in court proceedings against companies that hurt people (commonly called class-action lawsuits). I also believe very strongly in stopping climate change and in that regard what I study is intergenerational equity, which is to say we need to save the environment for the generations that will come behind us. I am very active in those regards.
Another thing I would do is paint pictures. My mother was a very prolific oil painter. I took up water colors and for years I painted nature scenes. For a time I lived on the edge of a wetlands game preserve and I spent hours painting with water colors and a raphigraph pen. I always wanted to be an art student, but when I first went to college my girlfriend was an art student and when I saw what they were doing in classes I realized my limitations LOL!!
I’ve also written a couple of feature length screen plays. I love taking a story that is in your imagination and inventing characters, writing what they say to each other and building a story with twists and turns. When I watch a movie or TV I still hang on the character development aspects of the production.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I am a very avid reader. I read constantly and I study things that have to do with making life better. I’m kind of a science nut and in college I got a degree in chemistry. In graduate school I received a degree in economics and a PhD in public administration. I just love to study I love to learn and I have been on the faculty of four different colleges featuring many different subjects. All of that does end up playing into my music though, it’s all one big circle for me.
How long has your band been around?
I’ve had a recording studio in my house since 1990. I have always recorded music and I have had musicians come to my house to record original material. I’ve always like recording and I have become a good recording engineer. I have generally been the person who organizes bands around me. I have played as solo, duo, trio, and full bands. I have always tried different genres and formats. My first band, which was organized a very long time ago, was put together with some other kids I was with, and we learned how to play guitar together. I just continued playing in bands and I was usually the one who was organizing the individuals to get together and learn songs. My music history is very replete with different bands including southern rock bands, and many different pop bands along the way. I’ve played in weddings, played kids dances, played in musical stage plays. The current iteration of my band includes five musicians that are UK residents and professional musicians and a dedicated sound engineer who will be traveling with us as we do our tour in the UK in July.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’ve lived in a lot of different places and traveled quite a lot internationally as well. While I grew up I lived in New York and in my young adult life in New York City where the music was everywhere. I did my first album in 1980 and ended up playing performing on the Legendary Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village and I played at The Bottom Line, The Bitter End and CBGB which were all legendary places where many of the acts that became very popular. I lived in Amsterdam for a while where I did my senior year in college at the University of Amsterdam through an exchange program and while there I got together with many Dutch musicians and we played around quite a bit. When I was young I used to write folk songs, some of which I still play in my quiet moments. I used to sing them to my dog because she used to always love them LOL!
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Well, I was in a lot of bands with a lot of different names, but when I decided to just do my original music I had to come up with the name for my act. At first I just called my act that John O’Brien Band and I just didn’t like the way it sounded. I just couldn’t decide what to name the act and I was talking to the president of a major record label about how I should approach music now that I was only doing original material and he convinced me that I should call my act the John O’Brien Experience. He then started to shout at me JOBE!!!! I took that to mean that if I was going to have a live act that I had to make it something that audiences would experience and I decided to adopt that as the name of my act which is J.O.B.E. I have become very serious about creating a live act that is much more than music and provides a real experience to the audience that they can see through the songs that I have written.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
I have been in bands that played hard rock, metal, jazz, southern rock, reggae, blues, and so on. In one commercial southern rock band, which I fronted. We were asked to headline a major music festival in my hometown (St Augustine Florida) which was the Cathedral Festival. We came on to a crowd of well over a thousand people and started playing Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels and other stuff like that and the crowd went wild.
Another of my most memorable live performances is when I played with a jam band that I had organized for a few years and in that act we played a great number of covers as well as a few originals. One year we did a large concert in Long Beach New York right on the beach with musicians that I’ve been playing with in what we called the Baysiders Jam Band. We decided to have a live recording made of the concert and then we brought it into the studio where we could enhance it and turn it into a really good album. A lot of people still have it and seemed to really like it. The place was jammed, mobbed, and was throbbing with people dancing shouting on the beach at night having a great time.
Another show was very unique. I played with a bagpipes player which was an interesting experience. We had to play in the key of Bb with very few chord changes because that’s all the bagpipes can do. We did the Beatles song Julia which is all in one key. The crowd loved it.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Well to your second answer first, I’ve never played in the UK and I am looking very very forward to that experience. For several years not too long ago I had a favorite place to play and it was a place called Beaches which was outdoors and right on the intercoastal river here in St. Augustine. It was a great place to play and I enjoyed it immensely. I probably played their a couple dozen times and never once was a disappointment.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Right now I can honestly say that the act that I’ll be performing within the UK is exactly the act I want to perform with my music partner from back in the 60s when I was touring, Mark Connolly, is the keyboard player in the act and he will be accompanying me over to the UK. All the other musicians are professional residents of the UK and incredibly superb musicians. One reason I feel so positive about this is that we recorded six different songs remotely during the covid shutdown that are going to be on the album which I have coming out in June. They’re all just fantastic, good people, and very good musicians. It’s hard to imagine having a better set of bandmates to perform with.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Make sure you write songs. It doesn’t matter if they’re good or not and when you start writing songs they probably won’t be anyway but they get you thinking. They get you started and they sustain your interest in playing because you get to pour out your own emotions into music. You get to figure out that music is something more than just the stuff you hear on the radio or listening to Spotify and began to really realize that songs are stories about what really goes on inside someone’s head. Sometimes one can write a totally fictitious song if they try, but you can bet that elements of their inner soul will creep into it so no matter what you do when you write songs, they invariably are about you.
Also take advantage of wherever you are to think about a song. I was in a flea market in Jamaica one time, and I was bored with shopping. I heard some guitar playing and I walked back into the closed part of the market – not a good idea since people get mugged and stuff, but I did. I came across three Rastas and they were drinking rum out of a bottle laughing and playing guitars. They saw me and asked if I wanted to join them. Silly me I did and we all drank and talked about how most tourists are monied and arrogant, but they liked me. I sat with them, drank rum and wrote a reggae song with them called Not Enough about how people never seem to be happy with what they have. It later became a hit.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to learn how to play lead guitar. I’ve always been a rhythm player because I started out doing folk music and there is no real lead guitar and folksong. If I had really learned how to play lead guitar, you know all the scales and the techniques a long time ago, I probably be a much more versatile musician than I am now. I’ve always concentrated on the piano and guitar but always on chord progressions which is why I like to listen to jazz music. Bands like Steely Dan and Van Morrison put together these incredible progressions that musicians would just thrive on. If I was a lead player, I could thrive on the progressions that I put together myself.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Well, my barometer for what songs really mean to me come in two different categories. One is the ones I feel strongly about as perhaps social movement like my song Mother Ocean about saving the oceans and my song California Wildfire about stopping all the wildfires. I have a song called Rock In The Sun and have rewritten it over the years half a dozen times with different lyrics but the song is always the same. It’s about finding a place where you can find some peace. But the reality is the songs that really move me are the ones that reflect painful or really happy personal experiences that I’ve had. My song I Miss You is about how you stay with one person long enough and somehow the fire goes out of the relationship. Even now when I sing it many years after I wrote it I still get a little choked up in a couple times I’ve been singing and had to stop just because I couldn’t go on. I have other songs that I have a hard time getting choked up on as well.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
That’s a hard question because, as anyone who writes songs knows, they have the characteristics of children that you have and you want to protect them and you want to love them. Also the songs come in all different flavors. A favorite of mine is That Girl Is Trouble which I wrote when I was walking down the beach one day and I saw a really pretty girl, so pretty that it was amazing, but she had a very big frown on her face and that phrase just popped into my head. It was only about a week later I had the song written and we will be performing that in our show. I wrote a song that’s called Dreams that I wrote from the perspective of a woman who is frightened that she will lose her lover. She is in a nightmare and she experiences him leaving and finally wakes up next to him in bed and she crys with happiness. We will be performing that song sang by our accompanying singer Livy. I just love the way the song came together when I wrote it. Lastly, I guess I would say the song Innocence is one of my favorites as well and I love playing it.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I usually start with an idea for a song, a lyrical theme. An idea that will spur a listener to thought in one way or another and create a vision of something in their life. There are so many types of thoughts that can be invoked. Of course, as always love, lost love, in love, family love, child love, and love of people. Most songs I think are probably written about love in one form or another. But I also like to write about things that have to do with people’s relationships outside of the confines of love. Friendship, happiness, our world and environment, politics, there are just so many different things that you can write a song. The one thing that I always try to do though is to tell a story. (I studied how Pixar can create a cartoon that makes grown people cry. They have the art of storytelling completely figured out.) There should be a beginning middle and ending and the lyric and music should go together to create the mood and the thoughts that will create a good song. I don’t mean to say that I set out to write “a good song”, I really set out to write a song that means something to me that I want to say. I just try to tell the story in a way that people can relate to.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
The first is just to do the right thing. If its for someone else, be gracious and helpful. If it’s about you, always try to end up happy or hopeful. The message should always be to do the right thing and push toward happiness.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
All bands have disagreements there is no doubt about that. I pretty much always been the leader of whatever band I’m in and it is like the old euphemism “herding cats”. The thing is that I value in a musician is when we can talk through things. So often musicians tend to be “artists” and there’s really nothing you can get through to them with. When I write a song, I hire the musicians who will record it. It drives me nuts when I hear a certain musical style in my mind as I write the song, say a rolling bass line in a certain part of the song, and the bass player tells me I’m wrong. I never get into a difficult discussion; I just bring in another bass player who will play the part the way I want it and rerecord the bass part. When a band is formed without a leader, they better be best of friends because those little disagreements can tear a band apart.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I’m coming to the UK particularly because in the US there is very little appetite for new original music. Audiences in the US either want covers of songs they know or to hear well established popular artists and their songs from the radio. In the UK, audiences want to hear new original material from artists that want to perform their own songs. I would like to do this tour and then consider coming back for more. Maybe a visit to the EU as well. My songs are very popular in Germany and I’d love to perform in Ireland. Who knows? I guess I’ve lived my whole life that way.