Jon Worthy and The Bends Nashville Spotlight
Get ready to fall in love with the latest and greatest indie rock band on the rise, starting out in Nashville, TN.
As I approach the long standing Nashville venue The Basement, I hear the sound of the violin and electric guitar in perfect Americana harmony. Nashville based band Jon Worthy & the Bends are playing a rare home show before they head out on the road for more than 50 dates including several festivals this spring/summer. The Bends have a new album coming out June 28th called Something’s Gotta Give and as I watch them tear through a masterful rock n roll set I can’t help but be perplexed by what they tell me as we talk after the show. Front man Jon Worthy explains, “The new album is a total change up for us. Think if Nirvana had a baby with the Lumineers. We threw the high energy indie rock sound out the window and went for a more laid back acoustic vibe. The songs were there so we thought what the hell. Let’s see what happens!” And what happened was an album of loud to soft Americana folk indie rock songs led by the opening track and lead single “Chasing Dreams”. The song takes the listener through Worthy’s struggles as a musician trying to obtain success in such a brutal industry. Worthy adds, “We’ve been at it for over 5 years now in various bands constantly touring, writing, performing, and just doing every possible thing we can to make music our lives. It’s a total grind, but when we get up on stage and pretend like 20,000 people are watching us, it’s all worth it! And that’s what “Chasing Dreams” refers to. The struggle of pursuing music is huge, but we keep pushing and hope something gives”.
The new album seems deeply personal, as Worthy confirms, ”A lot has happened over the last year and a half. Music has gotten way more intense and taken up almost all of my time. At the same time we experience a lot of rejection and just do our best to keep our heads up and keep grinding along. Also, on a more personal note, a very important and meaningful relationship of mine ended and this album is me kind of getting out all the emotions that come with that”. Jon wasn’t always a frontman. In his previous bands he was solely a guitarist that would write some songs. “I knew I always loved writing songs and I felt like whenever I handed one of my songs over to whoever in the band was going to sing it, a vital part of the song was being lost because my emotional attachment to the song wouldn’t come through with another singer”. Watching Worthy on stage you can tell he is quickly becoming comfortable in the lead role with constant hair flips and an endless amount of energy. I ask him how the transition from guitarist to frontman has been, “At first for me I kind of hid behind my guitar. I didn’t do much in the way of entertaining. Now I’ve become way more comfortable being so exposed and I just go for it. I’m starting to relish bridging that awkward gap between the band and the audience and make it as intimate and fun for everyone as possible.”
During their song “Hot Bitch” Worthy is laying full out on his back playing a guitar solo while mulit-instrumentalist “Slice”, Luis Echeverria picks up his keyboard with one hand and plays a furious organ solo with the other. Slice is the most recent addition to the band and Something’s Gotta Give is his first album with the group. Playing piano, guitar, accordion, harmonica, xylophone, vocals, and percussion, he added some truly different sounds that the band has not previously explored. When talking to Slice you can’t help but pick up on his enthusiasm, “This is the first project I’ve been in where everyone in the band goes as crazy on stage as I do! We have so much energy on stage and so much emotion spills out that the on-looker can’t help but take notice. I tried to bring that same energy to the album, but in a way that serves the songs. Being able to add unique flavors with various instruments is what I strive for and I loved helping bring these songs to life”.
Midway through the set I notice how the band has a definite “showman” quality to their shows. Each transition between songs is filled with purpose. There are no awkward silences that you see at so many local shows. With subtle glances you can see the band is communicating in a way only they know makes sense. While chatting with the bassist Austin Mcfall that led this change to fruition. Mcfall explains, ”Jon and I saw Jack White at Bonnaroo in 2014. We noticed he does not use setlists. The band has a loose idea of what songs they’ll be playing, but Jack walks over to each member and tells them what’s coming or they just pick up on it. Jon fell in love that approach, but needless to say it didn’t work for us,” he explains with a laugh. “I kept stressing the importance of putting a show on and having smooth transitions between songs. Eventually we got to that point and I feel like we’ve got a pretty solid set that keeps our shows entertaining and fluid”. His easy to talk to and “not afraid to tell you how it is” style make him a great sounding board for the band and a valued opinion. If Worthy is the leader, Mcfall is the glue. And with groovy in the pocket bass riffs on Something’s Gotta Give his personality comes through in his bass playing. In particular, the bass in Song YW makes you nod your head with it’s stop and start rhythm and infectious tone.
The most laid back member of the band is clearly drummer Michael Sanborn. He has a snowboarder vibe and it comes across in his playing. As Sanborn explains “I love having the open landscape of a song in front of me and coming up with the drum parts to wrap the song together. I understand the importance of being in the pocket as a drummer, but I also like to add my own flavor and style to my drumming”. His style comes through impressively on the track One More Day. Sanborn’s subtle fills during the verses and the swing of his chorus beats help take the song from quiet to loud and gets the listeners heart thumping along to the beat.
As they approach the end of their set they settle in to fan favorite Have it Your Way, a groovy beat and sing along chorus, where the harmonies cut through. As Worthy explains the harmonies didn’t come natural at first, “Harmonies and background vocals are something we’ve really tried to implement in to our sound. Especially with the new album almost every song has backing vocals and harmonies. Slice did an awesome job orchestrating really cool parts and we did our best to execute them!” The seventh track of the album It’s So Lovely is the best example of it. With Beach Boy inspired harmonies, “It’s So Lovely” is a beautifully orchestrated song of endearing lyrics and harmonizing bliss.
The band ends their set with the loud to soft epic Never Lie to You with Slice jumping out into the crowd for a guitar solo. As they end, the reception is loud and long. You can tell people who haven’t seen them have a “what just happened” look on their face. They love to perform and write songs they feel passionate about. Most people would see changing their sound like that as a risk, but not Worthy, “No one knows who we are! So we might as well try something different. Even if only one person buys in to what we did with this new album then that’s one more fan than we had before”. Mcfall shares that testament, “One of Jon’s strengths is his fearlessness and confidence in what he’s doing or making up along the way. He just goes for it!” Worthy adds, “It’s fun for us to try something different and when you’re passionate about something and you enjoy doing it, then that’s when your best stuff comes out”. JW & the Bends are going to keep rocking out and keep writing songs they feel inspired to write. The band is tight, the songs are fun and meaningful, and their passion is real. Check out their catalogue and prepare yourself for their new album Something’s Gotta Give debuting this summer.