Jon Langford a man with many hats
Interview conducted on December 29, 2018
by Dan Locke
Jon Langford is a prolific and respected visual artist best known for his striking portraits of country music icons including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. His multimedia music/spoken-word/video performance, “The Executioner’s Last Songs,” premiered at Alverno College in 2005, and has been performed in several other cities. He illustrated the comic strip Great Pop Things under the pseudonym Chuck Death. Since 2005 he has co-hosted a weekly radio program, “The Eclectic Company,” broadcast on WXRT 93.1 FM in Chicago. He has contributed to This American Life.
Tell me about your background? How did you get interested in Music?
I was living in south wales and playing a lot of football and rugby football as a typical Welsh teenager and one night I heard jeepster by T Rex on Alan Freeman’s BBC radio one top 40 countdown – then I saw David Bowie on TV and started to play less football.
What type of music did you grow up with? Plus give me some of the artist?
When I was really little Tom Jones was huge in my home country so I knew a lot of his songs which were mostly kind of country and western murder ballads but I didn’t think they were country and western I thought they were about Wales – Tom Jones is a very important figure in wales.
Have you gone back to Wales and check out the music back home? And did you see any interesting bands there?
I go back to wales a lot and see lots of great bands but when I’m in Chicago I can check out Adam Walton’s BBC radio Wales show which only plays welsh bands – currently I like Abstract Man very much – playing some gigs in Wales in April.
How different is Newport Wales to Chicago?
Mostly I see the similarities Rust Belt cities Newport seems to be immune to gentrification though.
John I have shot you for either Chicagogigs, MidWestBeat, Unrated Magazine or PRphotos in many forms. I shot you,
while you were in the Mekons at Chicago School of Music, Yourself at the Abbeypub, Three John and Waco Brothers at Chicago School of Music. And I saw you at Lollapalooza on the kid stage? What band was that with? And how did you get to play at Lollapalooza? By the way I think that was the same year Lady GaGa played the kidstage and Patti Smith did also?
That was with the band called wee hairy beasties it was pretty scary. But not as scary as Patti Smith when she sang Hank Williams songs for the kids.
What band give you the must joy performing?
All the bands are playing have that special appeal oh I wouldn’t bother doing it but this year has been great all last year should I say doing lots of shows with both the current Mekons lineup and the original lineup from 1977 – A new extended skull orchard played the Hideout block party in Chicago this fall and that was really cool- Waco brothers trundle on triumphantly forever never failing to stir me up and possibly the coolest thing I’ve done this year stroke last year was a new project call Jon Langford’s for lost souls which is pretty amazing as a big band or just an acoustic foursome.
On the Mekons LP whose idea was to have a monkey with a typewriter?
It was collective always.
You have been performing since the mid-1980s. How has the music industry changed? And how have the audience changed?
The audience is now a much wider range of age groups and they don’t seem to fight so much the music industry is still a big shit hole but I have been lucky in recent years working with some fine and like-minded people on the independent end of it.
I know you were first a drummer, but what was the first guitar you ever got and who give it to you?
I bought a Squier Stratocaster when the three Johns started to get serious and somebody stole it from the stage at JB’s in Dudley one foggy night can I have it back now please.
Did you play any other instruments while growing up?
My great aunt bought me a piano when I was 15 which now lives in my cousins house in Pontypool its lovely and I taught myself music by fiddling around with it
I see while you are making new music, with artist all the time. Who is your favorite artist to work with and why?
I don’t play favorites.
Tell me about your video Drone Operator? How did it come to be created?
Originally that was going to be a sculpture a monument to drone operators who were whining in the press about how they don’t get medals That seems like a lot of hard work so I wrote a song instead I really think Obama’s drone campaign was a huge and lazy mistake which will come back to bite us all in the ass.
Do you write songs with other musician often?
Yes with the Mekons particularly.
You are a visual artist. You do art work… And you do a show every year down at SXSW at Yard Dog Folk Art. Tell me
about the show?
I go to Austin Texas twice a year and have a show during SXSW and the show during the quiet times of fall.
Being in Austin I have heard you like Johnny Cash (You did an art piece called Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues). During your time in Austin had you ever visited his bar the Mean Eyed Cat in Austin, TX by the rail road track.
I have been to that bar very late at night and enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Say a few words about Sally Timms?
How your new is band Four Lost Souls?
It’s been a really amazing. Project and seems to have some legs at the moment so will continue through 2018 it’s a very collaborative project and I’ve learned a lot. And improved as a singer and songwriter by work going with Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas and John Szymanski.
Four Lost Souls was recorded over a four day period. How were you able to put the basic tracks down on the cd?
We recorded in muscle Shoals Alabama with Norbert Putnam the legendary producer and bass player conducting the session all I had to do was sing.
Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Jon Langford at the Abbey Pub
Wee Hairy Beasties