By Darren Lum
Like the rugged terrain of the Highlands, the album The Mess We Made is a raw expression of local experimental punk band, The Bones of Jim Jones.
Drawing on a period of life fraught with difficulties that can come with growing up in a small town, there is a pain and honesty that reverberates powerfully throughout the 10-song album, heard in the lyrics, the pace and power behind each song.
The four-piece band includes vocalist and lyricist Seamus Lynch, bassist and guitarist Cam Espina, guitarist Lane Brohm and drummer Braeden Sharp.
They are not only connected through their friendship, but also their shared and sometimes troubled experience growing up in a rural community.
The recent Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduates reflected on their album, produced at a professional music studio in Montreal last summer, and released on Halloween of last year.
Lynch said the album was years in the making, drawing on the lives they have lived.
It’s a raw expression of the emotions they felt during their coming-of-age period at school, whether it was with the loss of a friend to suicide, dealing with drug abuse, or the social challenges related to not fitting in with the mainstream crowd.
“I guess the sound is like raw, unfiltered, you know, at times very angry, but also, freeing, aggressive,” Lynch said. “It was just whatever we were feeling in that moment in that period where we’re talking about in a song. That period of life is kind of like the emotion we were feeling inside, and being able to portray that into a microphone, and into vocals and on drums, guitar and bass. It’s kind of just this unfiltered raw whatever came out, came out. It was just a very therapeutic way of helping with a lot of struggles during adolescence.”
The base of the band formed when its members were in Grade 7, its first incarnation called Turn on the Dark.
It included Brohm, Sharp and Lynch. Although there were a few years when Lynch left, needing to work through personal challenges, he eventually returned to play music with his friends, who had continued to meet regularly to play.
Lynch had been writing poetry and short stories during his absence, but he was missing something creatively. He said he had an epiphany and knew he needed to get back to music, and it led to him rejoining Sharp and Brohm as The Bones of Jim Jones. The band worked toward playing a gig held at the Youth Hub in Haliburton, where everything changed.
“That was the first time anybody really saw that side of me,” Lynch said. “I was pretty vulnerable on stage. Just how much energy and like sweat and anger and stuff like that, we put out on stage. I don’t think people really expected it a lot.”
Espina saw Lynch perform and at the after-party offered his bass playing skills, Lynch admitting he was too scared to ask his talented friend to join.
Lynch said the name of the band and some of the themes of the album are related to the feeling of being stuck in a place, which isn’t a commentary about Haliburton County, but has more to do with their experience.
“We feel sometimes, as youth in this community and during these times and … we feel sometimes we see the elements of being in a cult,” he said. “Kind of feeling stuck without resources and people kind of get caught and stuck in and don’t see an out. [This album is about a] guy named Wallace who’s stuck in a cult and kind of breaking free from that, and going and living his own life away from the cult. That’s kind of a metaphor for the small town mindset and breaking away from that.”
To make the album, the band lived together for close to 12 days, without any huge issues, Sharp said. There’s a level of acceptance among the group. Lynch said the band is unique for how they are all friends outside of music, with established friendships going back more than a decade. It’s enabled a strong connection between the members, who can speak their minds without worry of conflict.
The current album is available for sale online (iTunes, Amazon, Spotify), and locally at Russell Red Records and on a website the band plans to launch soon.
The band has also collaborated with other creative young people in the area when it came to their music videos, which were produced by HHSS alumni Rowan Tofflemire and Abe Churko.
Much of the band’s sound comes from a love for American singer/songwriter Tom Waits and his distinctive sound, said Lynch.
“I feel like a lot of that experimentation in our sound and versatility and kind of giving a voice more to the underbelly of society and outcasts and stuff like that comes from a lot of inspiration from Tom Waits and the White Stripes,” he said.
Lynch, who has listened to Waits his whole life, introduced the rest of the band to the well-known artist. They all fell in love with the sound, particularly bassist Espina.
Espina, a 2018 HHSS graduate, said the process of creating the album, working in the recording studio and then releasing the album, was a childhood dream come true.
“It’s like, I don’t know, finally having something behind your name … it just means a lot,” he said.
He adds the album took a lot of pain they all had and turned it into an unforgettable highlight.
“The fact we can listen back on it and it will bring the little memories and stuff,” Espina said. “That recording process was one of the best weeks in all our lives.”
Brohm, the guitarist, said he sees this album as a “stepping stone.”
He’ll never forget what happened during the recording of the song, War Boy, while in Montreal.
“In the hallway with the mic on the floor and we’re stomping around and then some other guys that were recording in the next studio over also came over and stomped with us as they were walking to their studio,” he said.
It was an example of the spontaneous experimentation that occurred while making the album.
Espina said how the album came to be was somewhat serendipitous.
“We had extra time and our drummer, Braeden was supposed to go to school, but [he] didn’t end up going to school and we’re like, ‘Let’s do this.’ ” he said.
Half the songs were written two years before and the balance of the song list was completed in the summer. There’s something powerful that comes with being able to channel all the pain and emotion into a tangible thing, Lynch said.
“It’s a physical copy of your emotions,” he said. “As I said, raw energy. And then other people are affected by it. I have had lots of people hit me up on the band’s account on Instagram, saying like, your music has helped me out through this rough time in life, and it’s really what I needed to hear right now. Thank you so much. Just being able to hear that and how it’s affected other people … it’s truly magical.”
None of this would have happened had Sharp not started playing drums in Grade 7.
He remembers how a teacher that year gifted him a drum kit, which was destined for the landfill.
“Me and Lane started to get together and hanging out at my house and playing music,” he said. “It just kind of never stopped.”
As the percussionist, he acknowledges the benefit of being able to hit things for therapy.
“Something that takes a lot of focus and a lot of energy. It’s a good thing to [use] to get away from everything else that would take up that energy,” he said.
Lynch’s message to listeners is to be true to yourself.
“If you’re different and you don’t fit in that box at school, be yourself and stick strong to it,” he said. “Always stay true to yourself and don’t conform because I feel like a lot of people, who like guitar, or like art, but they don’t see it as something they can pursue it as a career and make money off it. They think they need to go to school and get a doctorate. I think if you have that strong talent and that passion – passion is the most [important] and talent will come with practice. If you have that passion and keep going on it and don’t stop, and don’t let people tear you down for being different, stop you and make you question [yourself],” he said. “Kids beat me up in school, man, just for being different and stuff like that.”
The near future will include a move to Montreal where there is a strong arts atmosphere and will be convenient for travel for everyone, with Braeden studying music engineering in Ottawa this coming year.
The band has been busy working on their next album Mad Dogs and Bed Bugs, which will be more of a “DIY” effort than the first album, which required an investment of several thousands of dollars. The band will do all the work and welcome the opportunity to grow musically and use what they learned from the first experience.
The album needs to be done before Braeden goes to school in September, Lynch said. Possibly in August and with a launch on Spotify, iTunes, which could include a vinyl release if sales warrant.
After that it’s all about getting out into the world and showing what they can do.
“We’re just eager to play live shows,” Lynch said. “We want to get out there and play clubs and venues and really to just get out there and experience it all. Like I said, it’s all been put on the backburner. Just keep working on music. Keep just grinding. Success would be cool and it would be amazing, but this just feels right for us. It has nothing to do … we’re not making music to be one day, hopefully, be rock stars. It just comes out of us. We just like making music. If we’re able to release it, and people enjoy it, then that’s a bonus.”