Like a lot of music fans, A.A. Bondy has delved deeper into the rich past of American music as he’s gotten older. Only he’s done much of his exploration on record, starting out with the Nirvana-inspired indie-rock band Verbena in the ’90s before moving onto the Dylan-esque folk of his 2007 solo debut, American Hearts. Released without much fanfare, American Hearts slowly became a favorite of bloggers and roots-music fans thanks to Bondy’s rigorous touring schedule. He followed up with last year’s When The Devil’s Loose, a mature and wraithlike sophomore effort that pushed Bondy’s usual themes—death and religion—to even deeper, more placid depths. In advance of his headlining show Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Hi-Dive, Bondy talked to The A.V. Club about recording in barns and chicken coops, and how much he tries not to let that constrict him.
The A.V. Club: Because you’re a guy who plays acoustic guitar, you get compared to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash a lot. Does your music fit in a contemporary context?
A.A. Bondy: No, but what’s contemporary music now? It seems like people now have access to all kinds of music at once. My teenaged brothers and other kids I know seem to have recognition of a far greater scope of music than I did at that age. I don’t sound like Johnny Cash. There are probably things I’ve stolen from Bob Dylan—certainly if you play harmonica in a major key against an acoustic guitar you always run that risk. But so did Neil Young. So did fucking Billy Joel every once in a while. I haven’t gotten that one yet. [Laughs.]
AVC: There’s a lot of baggage that comes with being a “lone troubadour” type.
AAB: There was a time when I think that was probably a better thing, like maybe the 1920s. [Laughs.] It’s this other thing now. I did this show in Brooklyn one time and this girl was like, “When you got up there I was like, ‘Oh great, here we go.’ But it was actually pretty good.”
AVC: You’ve played in bands and by yourself. Is it tougher to stand up there with just an acoustic guitar?
AAB: Yeah, it’s pretty different. In a band, you can rest. Even if you’re singing and playing guitar, you can still coast from time to time. Whereas if you’re playing by yourself, you can’t—not in the same way, at least. It’s like you’re connected but you’re disconnected.
AVC: You recorded American Hearts in a barn and parts of When The Devil's Loose in a converted chicken coop. How much of an influence does the setting have on your music?
AAB: It has some. I’d find it hard to write or play in a rainforest-themed Motel 6 or something. I like pretty blank spaces. I don’t like to feel completely constricted by the environment, but I’m sure I am to a degree. The odd thing about this record is, out of all the records I’ve made, this is actually the first record that was made in the South. When I was in a band, the whole time we were in a band we lived in the South, but we never made a single record there. I don’t know what this means. [Laughs.]
AVC: Now that you’ve had a couple of years to look back on American Hearts, what do you think of that record?
AAB: I think it’s okay. But I never look back on something I’ve done. At best I can go, “Well, that’s honest.” To try to go back in time and experience a song when it was first written, or how I felt when something was just being put together, that’s the ultimate and then you don’t get that again. Unless you bump your head and forget everything.