Interview: New End Original

interview by brian greenaway

Germans love New End Original.
But, unlike David Hasselhoff, Americans dig them too.

New End Original’s fans are very devoted, especially when it comes to singer Jonah Matranga. One young lady was contemplating whether or not to stand by the speakers then decided, “If I go deaf, I’d be going deaf for Jonah,” and remained planted by the stage. There was a line of about 40 or so people after their show at the Troubador just to say hi and he and guitarist Norman Arenas waited to greet each one. Jonah sang into one girl’s ear at the Che Cafe show and brought her to tears.

Even with all of this praise and adoration, Jonah voiced his conflicted feelings about doing double-time with two projects. He talked about the frustration of feeling torn between the band and his other project, onelinedrawing. Onelinedrawing is Jonah, his guitar, a toy R2D2, and occasional guests.

New End Original released their first album, “Thriller” on Jade Tree in 2001. They lost two of the members soon after that. They regrouped about six months ago with original members Jonah and Norman, (who is ex-Texas is the Reason) along with a new drummer, Jeremy and bass player, Daniel. The Che show was their first night of the U.S. tour after a three-week break and Jonah was feeling restless. He was about to go for a stroll, so I joined him and chatted about the pros and cons of his current situation.

How did the European tour go?
It was fun. We played the biggest shows that we have ever played.

Do you feel that you got a bigger response in Europe? I was trying to find previous interviews and pretty much everything I found was in German.
Germany in particular has been strange. They really, really like the record over there. I don’t know what exactly happened. It is good here too though.

I was just surprised by that. And the translations are not very good.
Yeah, me too. The translations are terrible but they are funny.

You played some shows with the band and onelinedrawing on the same bill?
Yeah, that was weird. I opened some of the shows. There were some really, really great nights. I am feeling restless right now…so that is sort of clouding everything. But when I really think about it, it was nice.

Why do you think you are feeling so restless?
Because I have to make decisions about things and I don’t like being in-between decisions. I have to make decisions about whether New End is going to keep going or not.

Which way are you leaning on that?
It’s still pretty up in the air. My gut right now is that it is not going to keep going on. But, I am really trying to just sit through this junk on the other side of it.

Is there any particular reason?
No, that is the problem. The guys are really nice. Everyone is playing really well together. I love Norman as much as ever. I like rocking. There is a lot that I don’t enjoy about rock. The whole culture of rock, clubs most of the time, the mentality of shows the general lack of desire to talk about anything that is not sort of light. I do like being in a band. In a band there is a lot more of an infrastructure to hold up, there are more people and their needs to take care of, you have to have bigger cars, bigger equipment, all that stuff. All of that is fine, but it pushes it more towards the business end of things. I don’t mind the business end of things, but I don’t like when you get pushed towards that because of needs.

And these are things that you don’t have to deal with when you do onelinedrawing?
Right, even if I want to play with a band for a tour. I can just figure it out for that tour and then move on and it can change. There are some fears of commitment issues coming up for me, too. I was in Far for a long time and that was great and everything. But, that ended mostly because of personality stuff. Then New End started and it was exciting to be in a band again…it got all messed up when the guys left. It really depressed me and I tried to get over it.

How do you decide whom to pick as replacements?
Exactly, I don’t know. I don’t know how that works. Other people seem to have such an easy time doing that. I just don’t understand it. It is torturous for me. Jeremy is someone that Norman knew through different bands. He lives in Minneapolis, actually. A really nice guy, good drummer. We tried playing with not too many other people, we didn’t have try-outs or anything. We just really took it easy. He was the first one that really fit. Then Daniel, I think we met through mutual friends. Then he just came and played with us. I am the type of person that I know within two bars whether it will work.

That was just something that I was curious about when you do the album with different people than you are currently on tour with.
That was never the way…I mean with onelinedrawing there are always different people playing on stuff and on different tours, but that was part of the deal. Even if certain people played drums on the record that’s what it is for the record. Then, if different people come…for some reason that doesn’t feel strange to me. It’s just sort of people playing this music. I believe in the idea of a band and a band sticking together. It is sort of like a relationship, you can’t just make that work because you believe in it. It takes the right people and it is hard to know what that is. There are so many factors involved so it’s nobody’s fault. I can just take it a little lighter- again the way that other people seem to be able to do it and just have a band and that would be fine. But for better or worse, I just think about things a lot. For the better part, I believe that in whatever choice you make it is nice if you really thought about it because then it is more of a choice.
When you write do you have it in your head that it will be an onelinedrawing song or a New End song?
That’s another thing that is really confusing. The New End record is all songs that I wrote for an onelinedrawing record, but then I met these guys and it was really exciting. I really wanted to do these songs, so it was like- let’s just do this record and then we’ll move on and write our own stuff and it will become more of a collective thing and then that got all fucked up. That’s still the plan. Norman has written two new songs that I love and we are working together on them and it is awesome. So, there are signs of that. If I write a song where does it go and how does it happen. Again, a lot of people just wouldn’t care. A lot of people would just be psyched that anyone cared about even one band that they had. And it’s not to say that I am not really grateful to have anyone at all care about anything that I do. And part of me is like- just have another band, who cares. I want to know that I am putting as much as I can into something. Neither one is really a side project, its not like one is all arty and strange and one is really populous- they are both like right in the middle of the two things. So, it’s hard to know how much time to spend on one.

Is that part of the decision that you feel torn between the two?
Yes, which I just don’t think that I have thought about enough. It might all work out, this is just my mood right now. It might all work out fine in a way that I don’t understand. I am totally open to that. I would like for that in a lot of ways.

Do you ever write a song and then decide it’s too personal?
Yeah, I am careful to not write things just to be shocking or like here’s my most private moments. That’s not really my goal. That’s sort of confessional song writing and that doesn’t really appeal to me. But it is strange because a lot of my songs are very personal. I guess here’s the thing- I always go back to this story when I think about any kind of writing. This guy in college, he was a local guy, and his older brother had died. Everyone knew him and his older brother, it was a pretty small town. I was in English class with him and he wrote this story about his brother’s death, which of course is sad. So, he reads this story and it just wasn’t that good. The teacher was like, “Okay I guess that I get to be the asshole here and tell you that we know that it is sad that your brother died and we know that you are sad and you know that we’re sad about it. But you didn’t make us understand what was so sad about it, what you miss, what little moment. Describe for us a little time when you were hanging out. We all know that he was a warm person, but we don’t know it from the story.” And so, if I am writing a song about a sad thing- I think that really changed my whole process of writing. To really not rely on the emotional resonance of the situation for me, or not to throw out cliches that would elicit a relatively known response from people by a certain combination of words or notes or dynamic. I really try to let the little thing come out. Even if that sounds kind of obtuse in the end, but it captures it for you and maybe that gets through on a different level. So on that level- yeah there have been tons of things that I write about, I don’t intentionally shroud them. If I am writing about something happy I just really try to do it justice. I don’t just write the tune and then expect, okay this is about my brother dying and then expect that to carry the weight of it. I am the kind of guy, if you write a song about AIDS or racism however big and heavy your subject is- make the song that good. Don’t rely on the subject matter to make it personal or whatever. That’s tough. I am not saying that I succeed all the time, but that is certainly my aim.

Have you ever written something and then decided that that’s not something that you want to share?
Yes, there are things like that. There are a lot of things where a line has come into my head and only when I am half way done with a song or done with a song does it really come to me- oh wow, I think I was thinking about this when these lines came out. All of a sudden I am in some ways chronicling everything that…I have songs that were written during my divorce and just after my divorce. I am not afraid to talk about that. Those, I did know what I was writing about when I was writing them and they just sort of poured out. I didn’t put some of them on records for a long time. There are songs on Visitor (onelinedrawing’s album on Jade Tree) that sat around for six or seven years, not because I didn’t love them but just because in a way I was a little bit uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t think that people can take my intimacy and honesty.

I was just thinking that it would be difficult to share certain feelings and pain, especially performing them live.
It is. I still don’t sing most of the songs that much live. It took me a while to put them on a record. Songs come out when they come out for whatever reason. I try not to worry about if something is too personal or not personal enough. I just try and focus on if it hits me when I sing it, I guess that is the main thing.

In your writing there seems to be a lot of the past is in the past themes. Do you think that you live more for the past, present, or future?
I would love to only live for the present. I am hopelessly nostalgic and regretful. But I am also worried and overly concerned with the future too. My ideal would be to live in the present. I know rationally that is the way to live. Do I? No.

That is more something that you strive for?
Sure. I think that the future and the past, we can just indulge them. They are like drugs. All of your aspirations and hopes and dreams and your fears and worries about the way things will turn out. When you talk about the past- memories, regrets, hurt and also glorious times that we never think that we will ever relive again. The whole thing is really toxic. But do I do it; yeah I do it all of the time. I think that I have gone through a lot of shit and I think I am doing all right with it. But, that in and of itself is a trap. Once you start thinking that you have it all together, you are really in trouble then. No, I definitely don’t know the secret. That is the funny thing- we all know this stuff, it’s just a matter of doing it. It’s really strange.

In “Weary Progress” you say, “I want to be misunderstood.” I was wondering what you meant by that.
That’s a song that really poured out. That’s a song that is super, super personal and means a lot. When I think about the I want to be misunderstood line, mostly I think about a song called “Music and Politics.” A band called The Disposable Heroes of Hypocrisy did it. One of the lines in it something about the pain of being misunderstood or more poignantly the refusal to be understood. It just struck me so deeply that we obscure things so that we can say, oh well no one understands me. I mean I am wildly and pathetically insecure. That is the paradox of being a performer. So many people take that as- well, what are you doing on stage? So, like the rest of the world- I want to be misunderstood. Likable, creepy, underrated, braggart, busy, really good- all those are things that literally they are kind of me, actually. They are me, honestly sort of appraising myself in a relatively calm and rational way. But they are also just terrifying to think of people thinking about me that way. That line is definitely about me and self-perception and how people might perceive me.

Is it true that Norman is a house DJ?
Yeah, he’s really interested in that, broadly speaking that kind of music. I am sure that he wouldn’t call it house though. He would call it…he knows so much more than I do about that music. I haven’t heard a lot of the stuff that he has created.

Would you ever try to incorporate it into New End stuff?
I am always interested in singing over things and in context that I don’t normally get to sing in. Yeah, it would be exciting to me, but I am also very weary of just jumping on a genre. I hate it when people in bands do that. I take a real long time to assimilate any different influences. I really let it digest and let it come out in what feels to me a relatively organic way. But, that said, it does interest me. I’ve never tried to sing over anything like it. I was just listening to music today and always when he plays it. I just sort of toss little vocal ideas around in my head. It is a possibility. I doubt that he would be up there with a turntable. Again, I don’t really like taking the imagery or the superficial aspects of another genre and sort pasting it onto my music or pasting my music onto it. But I am really interested in different perspectives that different genres have on a pop song. So, I wouldn’t rule it out at all.

Do you have any idea what is going on with New End now?
I really have no idea. I wish that I did. But it is okay; I don’t really want to know right now. I just want to play and have fun with it. I want to reflect on it. I don’t want to jump to one side or the other because I am scared to be in the middle. The whole plan was to do the tour in Europe and do the dates in the U.S. These dates are all of the dates that got canceled when the other guys left. So, it felt right to Norman and I that we should play these dates. I am not pretending that anyone else cares, one way or the other. We have a couple of new songs and we might go and record those. I am not going to make a decision anytime too quickly. Although I want to, I hate being stuck and not deciding.