Ed Bedford 11:58 p.m., May 20
It’s another Thursday winter night in Linda Vista. Inside the tiny building, scattered smokers huddle near the deserted entrance as Morena Boulevard turns in for the night. Inside, the stage lights suddenly flash on, illuminating the room. The lights reveal an assortment of casually dressed twenty-somethings. All of a sudden, a young man in a suit breaks away from the group he has been talking with. He walks over to a brunette sitting alone at a table across the room. She recognizes him, and they share a brief embrace. They chat for a while, until he excuses himself to prepare for his band’s upcoming set. As he walks away, the girl smiles widely, amazed that he remembered her among his thousands of fans. Another loyal fan of Jonathan Jones is born.
Across the nation, this scene occurs in similar fashion whenever indie-rock band We Shot the Moon performs. Jones, lead singer of We Shot the Moon and former lead singer of Waking Ashland, released his first full-length solo album, "We Were Young," on March 19, and has a We Shot the Moon album entitled "A Silver Lining" scheduled for release in October 2009.
Jones grew up in Cardiff-by-the-Sea as the eldest child of two now retired local teachers. His parents brought him and his sister up in Encinitas' San Dieguito United Methodist Church, which the family still attends to this day.
Jones' musical training began when his mother enrolled him in piano lessons at the age of eight. Initially, she had to encourage him to practice. But soon that became unnecessary, as Jones fell in love with the piano and started to become quite proficient. “After about six months, I passed her [his mother]. She stopped practicing with me because she was like, 'Well, you're better than me now. I can't help you,' ” he recounts.
In 1997, Jones began attending San Dieguito Academy High School in Encinitas, which boasts such notable musical alumni as Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam), and Jon and Tim Foreman (lead singer and bassist of Switchfoot).
Following in Switchfoot's footsteps, Jones founded a Christian band called Formula316 with two friends during his freshman year. The type of music Jones composed for Formula316 developed into what he would later compose for Waking Ashland and We Shot the Moon. Formula316 enjoyed four years of local success before its members graduated and went their separate ways.
During his time with Formula316, Jones started to realize that his calling was music. “When I was 16...I would treat it [the band] differently than everyone else. I would get really angry if people were late to practice, and I was the guy who was like... 'We have to rehearse,' when my friends would just want to go surfing...I think it was at that point that I realized that, 'Whoa, I have this drive and I really believe in this. I want to play music'. That was when I realized that I wanted to make a go at playing music professionally. ”
In the fall of 2001, Jones began his studies as a music major at California State University, Northridge. However, earning a degree was not his primary objective. His true intentions were to find and form a band, which is what eventually happened. Two years later, he met guitarist Ryan Lallier and drummer Thomas Lee, both fellow music majors who shared his taste in music, and the three of them started practicing and writing together. They eventually formed Waking Ashland that November.
In May of 2005, Christian alternative label Tooth and Nail Records released Waking Ashland's first full-length album, "Composure." The album debuted at #19 on Nielsen SoundScan's ‘Alternative New Artist’ chart and at #53 on their ‘Top New Artist Album’ chart. Composure logged the best first week sales in Tooth and Nail’s history for a debut, selling over 2,400 copies in its first week, according to the website of Waking Ashland's former publicist (the Mitch Schneider Organization). Jones had finally attained his goal of musical success, as Waking Ashland had cemented a place in the hearts of fans all over the country. Their fame and fortune would continue to rise for the next two years, until things came to a crashing halt.
Waking Ashland’s next full-length album, "The Well," came out in April 2007, and was a drastic departure from their previous material. Instead of the lush piano pop ballads that had dominated "Composure" and their 2006 EP "Telescopes," it featured mainly upbeat rock songs with less emphasis on the piano. It sold nowhere near as well as their previous albums and was generally panned by both fans and critics.
On July 9, 2007, Jones announced on Waking Ashland’s MySpace page that the band had broken up due to irreconcilable differences. “It [Waking Ashland] had just become a nightmare,” Jones explains. “Ryan and I wanted to be friends but it wasn't working. It became a chore...”
This breakup forced Jones to mature, specifically in the business side of music. “He knew when things were over and when he needed a new beginning…he knew he had a lot more to give than what he was giving with Waking Ashland, “ says Jon Upson, Jones’ close friend and unofficial band photographer for three years.
Jones describes the breakup of Waking Ashland and the starting over process with We Shot the Moon as the greatest difficulty he has faced in his musical career thus far. “It's the hardest thing I've ever done. It messes with your mind a lot, “ he says.
Jones next shifted his energy into creating We Shot the Moon. Depressed and looking for direction, Jones had taken some time off from music. One day, Dan Koch (the lead singer of Sherwood and a friend of Jones') called and offered to join up with Jones in doing some songwriting, in hopes that it would cheer him up. Jones agreed, and on July 21, 2007, they posted four demo songs on MySpace under the band name The Honor Roll. (Sherwood drummer Joe Greenetz also collaborated with the pair on these songs.)
In August of that same year, We Shot the Moon (having changed names that month) officially formed, with the lineup of Jones, Trevor Faris, Paul Wheatley, Matthew Doughty, and Nathan Scott. (This lineup has changed several times since then, with only Jones and Faris remaining throughout.) Jones put all the money he had into buying a van, a trailer, and merchandise, as well as into paying for the recording of their first record. In April 2008, We Shot the Moon released this record, called "Fear and Love. "
But as We Shot the Moon began touring after the release of "Fear and Love," Jones realized that starting over would be more of a challenge than he had expected. He would have to almost completely rebuild his fan base. “There wasn't even a big turnaround. I thought that the people who followed Waking Ashland would follow We Shot the Moon. I thought there would be a larger amount of people,” he says. “The percentage of people that followed Waking Ashland that followed We Shot the Moon was about 10-20 percent, depending on the part of the country. It really was like starting over, completely. .” .
We Shot the Moon toured nearly nonstop around the U.S. for the next several months, trying to expose as many people as possible to their music. In January of 2009, they entered the studio and recorded "A Silver Lining," which Jones describes as “the first record [post-Waking Ashland] that I feel, like, OK, I'm back to where I left off.” He says that the upcoming record has “more of an element of spirituality, and more about growing up Christian....”
After "A Silver Lining," Jones has no specific plans about how long he will continue in the music business (beyond the two-record contract We Shot the Moon signed in June with Minneapolis-based label Afternoon Records). He says that he just “will do it until it doesn't feel okay,” adding, “I don't think you can set an exact date, but I feel there will come a time and place where I will know. Something will hit me like, 'OK, you're done.'”
Until that day comes, the future holds promise for Jones’ musical career. Although We Shot the Moon has not yet achieved the popularity of Waking Ashland, they are making a mark on the alternative music world. Through their seemingly endless nationwide touring and nonstop promotion on MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook, We Shot the Moon is quickly gaining quite a following. Before long, Jones and his band may be back at the top of the music world once again. As he sings in “Hope”, “I’m going for broke, but I’ve got hope.”
(We Shot the Moon is playing at 7 pm on 9/17 at the Epicentre (8450 Mira Mesa Blvd in SD). Tickets can be purchased at http://epicentreconcerts.org/.)