LORD SONNY THE UNIFIER on Bob Dylan, Recording Journeys, and More

Fresh off the release of his EP All New Information in November 2020, Lord Sonny the Unifier took some time to talk with Alternative Control about this recording and his artistic inspirations.

This unique Brooklyn-based solo artist has overcome many trials and tribulations to get his music out into the world. Now with a new lineup, Lord Sonny (a.k.a. Gregory Jiritano) has created psychedelic rock with tougher edge than his previous material.

How has 2020 treated you?

Thankfully,  I got lucky and I’m grateful for it. In the beginning of  March, I booked time at  Studio G in Brooklyn — with a new band and Tony Maimone as engineer — recording a full length album that will be released after All New Information. This of course was  the time when all the Covid signs in NYC were hovering like the Hindenburg, but I had booked the studio and so we all went in.  In most studios, as in this one,  there are no windows and there were  5 of us  in there sweating away in relatively small rooms…  And 3 of us got it — including Tony who, being the oldest got it the worst. Gary the bassist got it as well. Gary  being the youngest had the least of the dire symptoms. I was knocked out for 4 weeks but it didn’t get too severe: only extreme fatigue, chills,  a weird dry cough and a loss of smell and taste. Tony, thankfully made it through as well.

Out of those studio days emerged all the basic tracks which I am very, very happy about.  It took forever to get the masters out of there to add the vocals and guitars and synth which I do in my studio as the entire city shut down two days after we finished and Tony was holding tight in his apartment and didn’t get back to the studio for quite some time.

Once I got the masters, I began recording the remaining tracks in my studio. So I stayed very busy doing that. I confess I have  the type of personality that one could say is monomaniacal,  that is,  an obsessive focus to strive and complete one thing; of course that one thing is writing and recording music. If it was up to me I would disregard all other aspects of life and do only that. So, regarding the stay at home orders, you might say I obeyed them wholeheartedly. For better or worse I am also in the midst of building a new studio and home after my last one burnt down and so I had other obligations that impeded my monomaniacal goals… prompted by my girl who thought it best to devote half my time completing the home we’ve got half built than to recording more music in a half built home. She of course is right.

How did you come up with your band name?  I really want to know, it’s a moniker that sets a high bar.

Consider band names objectively for a moment, most of them are pretty bad. They become less bad the more we like the band of course but that’s because we don’t really think about  the name itself anymore ….Deep Purple? Pearl Jam? The Guess Who?  But try to think of really good names objectively. How many come to mind?  The Kinks,  Motorhead, The Clash (but maybe I choose those because I love those bands?)  Choosing a band name  becomes a matter of how bad the name  ISN’T …and then we’re good to go from there.  

I like band  names (regardless of whether I liked the band itself) who are a person’s nickname, an honest application set upon you by a friend (or enemy I suppose) and that name out of all the others miraculously  sticks to you. These seem the most authentic: Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, LL Cool J,  Blind Lemon Jefferson.

This is the base I started from,  a nickname, using a name that I liked. I liked the name Sonny. It held interesting contradictions. There was the famous Sonny Corleone (mobster) contrasting the phonetic sunny (disposition).  (The name Sonny derives from the name Santino in Italy.)  I had a gangster Uncle named Sonny and always admired his presence. His real name was Xavier (not Santino); he was 6 foot 6 with greasy black hair and he was silent most of his life except when the basketball team he bet on lost. He  lived in Queens, where you went to enjoy the good life after leaving the lower east side of Manhattan.

I also always loved those ancient monikers,  those kind of addendums, those impressive descriptives added to a person’s first name, before last names were used, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Eric the Red, Peter the Great.  Something about those names somehow humored me, I loved their simplicity as well. I imagined some Lord,  long lost to history who unified some city states into a country back during the times of Plagues or some such nonsense and off I went…ha!  Now it’s a matter of how bad the name ISN’T … so maybe it’s ok.

 You’ve had to restart your musical endeavors from the ground up more than once.  How did you figure out the process that works best for you?

Yes, I had to embrace my enemies indeed and I did find ways to love them and apply the creative benefits they had. Because of a variety of circumstances, I’ve had to build five studios thus far in my career — studios that would not be considered “home studios”  I should add. I had, since a very young age the love of recording and writing and realized it would be best to have my own studio for the many convenient and financial benefits this affords. My love for all things analog had me completing these studios solely with all things analog; I had no digital anything in there. 24-track tape machines and mixing boards, all tube compressors, tube pre amps and outboard gear….after finishing an album (just one) in the latest  new studio, there was an electrical fire on the floor below mine (I was away for the weekend) and all was lost.   Many years of saving for all this equipment all my guitars and amps everything gone.

Yes, it was insured but they scammed me and all I got was about $35,000. I took that money and bought some land about two hours north of Brooklyn and started building this new studio up there as mentioned above…since I’m building it myself – it’s slow going….but going. 

Being the analog head I am, I freaked as the prospect of purchasing all this equipment again as it was paralyzingly daunting…and perhaps a fool’s errand….and there was no way I had the money for it all anyway.  I thought I’d record in other studios and get some basic equipment in this new one. The question was how to record/write demos now without my gear.

 I’d never done this with a computer…and this is where I learned to embrace and love my enemies. I must say it’s very convenient to write having access to any instrument imagined available to you and that has made me a much different writer. I used to imagine all the sounds coming from a guitar, but now I have no limits. Now I can spend more time writing more songs quicker and choose the better ones from the many. I think this is crucial to a songwriter,  get ideas down quickly let them sit and then go back and concentrate on the good ones. We can best hear if the song we’ve written is good only after we’ve written three more after it. 

Tell me about the writing process of All New Information.

As I mentioned above, the process that works best for me is to write a lot of songs as quickly as possible without getting too attached to them, until of course they’ve become the “chosen ones.” After all, most of the greatest songs “came in a flash.”  Once they’re chosen to be properly recorded beyond the demo stage,  then the microscopes come out of the closet…haha. I think it’s imperative to stay vigilant to the  tricky human trait that strikes many artists which can be described as the exaltation a person feels during the creative process, because we are after all, bringing something into existence that hadn’t been there before and this is inspiring, enlightening. Our deepest inner sense is  fulfilled and we now have a feeling of completion, the alchemists goal: a transmutation from absolutely nothing- and now there is something.  Whether this is  a song or a painting or poem etc.,  it’s the same feeling and this feeling can be confusing because we now think the thing we have created is the joy-  and therefore it is good….but sadly no, this is not what’s good about the creation,  the creation itself can actually be, well, not so enlightening to others…or it could be London Calling it’s just difficult to be the judge,  especially during the process.

Like I said above,  it usually takes me at least three songs later to know if the one I’ve  worked  on is actually a success, of course while I’m working on it I think, this was the best song I’d ever written! HA! It’s also best for me to move quickly because for me the part of the songwriting that takes the most time are the lyrics and so I’ve really spent much too much time on lyrics to songs that will never be recorded, this  kills me. As it’s very difficult to use those lyrics in other songs. This  of course is the dilemma of falling into the trap of thinking “no,  this one is a keeper,  I’ve got to write the lyrics, now!” 

I mostly use the mumbo jumbo “scrambled eggs” technique that Paul McCartney  uses when writing the vocal melodies and this of course makes things quick. I believe it also helps find the better vocal melody as well because we  are not limited to the confinements of the written word. Words are very restricting to me. They have their consonants and vowels and syllables and rhymes, meters and associations etc. This can get in the way of the best possible melody, in my humble opinion. One could argue,  as I do (!) that this is why Broadway musicals on the whole have less “hits” than recording artists (I know,  Cole Porter and Gershwin but let’s move things forward a century) — because musicals have got to first  tell the story. Therefore, the words come first and then the melody comes second. But it’s really the melody that we are most attached to. Writing great vocal melodies are the most important thing to a song and I don’t care who you like. Never Mind The Bollocks and The Ramones first 4 albums are still amazing and listened to today because of the amazing vocal melodies (as well as MANY other things indeed!) whereas other early punk albums don’t hold up quite as well because of the lack of great vocal melodies.

It took me a LONG time to realize this…because first I was a guitar player and thought well, if I write a great riff the song is done, it ain’t done till the fat lady sings. And it doesn’t matter if you can sing like Freddy Mercury or Aretha Franklin, if the melody ain’t there nobody’s gonna sing along. If you sing like Lou Reed or Dylan and it’s a great melody, we’re all gonna sing along…and if you don’t think that’s why you like a song and that you don’t “sing along” hmmm think about it…. So, I try to write as much as possible to pick out the better ones. In John Fogerty’s autobiography, he said that  he threw out 12 songs for every one good one…and he clearly wrote so many great songs. So he wrote 120 songs per album and picked 10. I think this is the best method as well. It would also ease the number of less than stellar songs that get added to playlists everyday thus inundating the already putrid swamp with more gaseous flotsam….but that’s another story ain’t it. 

How about the lineup of musicians?  Same folks as FINAL NOTICE!, or new lineup?  How did you get together with them?

The lineup for All New Information is  indeed completely different from FINAL NOTICE! and this  new album I’m completing now is again filled with a completely different  cast of Unifying warriors.

I have to thank Tony Maimone (original bassist for Pere Ubu) for the new guys.  Being the owner of Studio G, he works with so many great musicians every day. One day he finally put his foot dawn and said, ‘I’ve got the guys for you’ and he was right.  These guys, Josh Bailey on drums and Gary Atturio on Bass, Organ and Piano are absolutely insane masters of their instruments. I wish I could afford to  paid them what I really thought they were worth because I would have sold my unfinished new studio to do so. I only paid them what they asked for…Amy Gordon has been the one constant on backing vocals for all three albums because she too is a master.

All of these folks play exactly EXACTLY what is written on the demos the very first time they play it back and then add all their personal flair to it the second time…and so we keep the second take…every time. Incredible musicians. The respect I have for them is glowing, to be working and in their presence is an honor. Of course I’d work with them again in a heartbeat for the next one which I’m in the middle of writing now. They are very sought-after musicians so let’s hope they are available… I really hope so. I’d love to keep the band constant.

Who are some of your artistic inspirations?

What inspires most me are the innovators.  Someone who is telling their tale as only they can, with the least signs of  being derivative. This, to me is always enlightening, mind expanding, inspiring. Where did THAT come from?…. and of course the song must  also be a good one, just being original isn’t enough.

This is getting more challenging as time passes, but I always give a lot more love to bands who are speaking as only they can and not using formulas or formulaic ideas that have succeeded in the past.  That’s why I think the rock history that fascinates me most begins at  the time around the British invasion,  the early 60’s and then forward because those freaks began to expand beyond the blues based chord progressions and they really had no one to look back upon when they begin writing their own songs. Add some mind enhancing supplements, the new effects pedals being produced and synthesizers and let the party begin!

Music became limitless at this point and all sorts of sounds emerged up until the mid 80’s perhaps…and after the post punk era was over things got a bit played out in the rock world which is probably why Rap and Hip Hop came along and took over, and why in 2019 on the Grammys after 2 hours there was not one Rock band represented or even awarded or mentioned (on TV anyway) besides Aerosmith.

A simple answer might be, my favorite new band is probably Viagra Boys and every name on every major bridge going into every major city should be called Bob Dylan as should the 20 dollar bill have his face on it. Fuck politicians, why are their names on everything?  Bob Dylan and many other artists  have done more to help people’s lives than any politician… So have dogs.

Where are you hoping to take Lord Sonny in 2021?

Straight to the bank! HA! Just kidding…..Really looking forward to releasing this new album I’ve been working on and I’m hoping I can find a way to have it be reached to more people…god knows how. It’s the eternal question isn’t it?  Perhaps through a record label this time as opposed to being Independent. The music world is a turbulent maelstrom within an apocalypse underneath a super volcano at the moment and perhaps it will stay this way for smaller artists until humanity has succeeded in obliterating life on earth and we start all over again… After the radiation allows plant life new shoots.   

Music is free so unless you tour and sell tickets for $450 and make $70 million playing 40 shows you’re playing in small clubs getting ripped off at the door… and I’ve got to pay six musicians each night and rehearse them (with pay) etc., etc…

Of course before this mega boom for the mega stars,  before the internet and free music, one needed a label to love you and to sell your licks out into all the ice cream shops , if not you hit the local bars and got home in time  to change into your work clothes and swing a hammer.  I guess I’m hoping to become a TikTok sensation and get on the festival circuit and break even for a while until FM radio finally changes to the way it was back in the early 70s, and then I write a smash hit which lands there and has me opening up for The Who’s  Really Really Final Final tour. Is The Who  really  a good name for a band? The  Who, hmmmm.   Maybe I really just need to hook up with some “influencers.” 

I hope I don’t sound bitter I do often weigh the benefits of the expanded internet that brought free music against the alternative, nothing… Because if you didn’t get a record deal back in the day, only your circle of 100 people heard your band; now perhaps 30,000 can play a song because of some magical mystical tour that your song took over the internet unbeknownst to you… And all those nasty Facebook comments are always a delight as well. 

Connect with Lord Sonny the Unifier

Interview, photo, and review copy courtesy of Independent Music Promotions. All opinions are our own.

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