Just above the Sierra Nevada mountain range from the Sacramento Valley is the city of Reno, Nevada. Its proximity to Sacramento makes it a popular destination for entertainment and its casinos attract recognized talent. It was during one of these gigs that serendipity kicked in, and I met the charming and eclectic indie artist, Jonathan Louis. Drummer in a local band called The Band Cell, Louis goes solo with new songs “The Next Big Thing” and “Bouncy”. Broadway World spoke to Louis about the post-pandemic music scene, his quirky style and how The Who inspired his musical career.
Banker by day, drummer by night, how do you manage to launch a solo career while juggling The Band Cell’s drums and working during the day?
Very carefully. I have to hold myself accountable when doing projects with my employer, my band and my side projects. I do this with the good old calendar app on my IPhone 10. Every Sunday or Monday on my current days off, I schedule appointments for that week and set up notifications to remind me what’s happening on a particular day. . Keep it simple.
The Reno area has grown lately, how has this affected the local music scene? Have you noticed a change in the dynamic?
Reno has grown despite inflation, housing, gas, and food prices. It’s affected our local music scene with many bands stepping down, but those who are still with us are doing better than ever. Events are on the rise again and, as in many parts of the world, crowds are furiously happy to have live music again. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I think there’s been a positive change in the dynamics of the musician/audience interaction. The way musicians feed off the energy of the audience and vice versa can be seen as a symbiotic relationship. Sort of like the mitochondria in a cell. Except the audience seems to be more forgiving of making mistakes live than they were in my opinion. Everyone is happy that everyone who is still with us is back!
I love chatting with local artists and Reno is only a short distance from Sacramento. Do you plan to play alone or with your band in the Sacramento area? When is your next performance?
Yes! Reno is a getaway from Sacramento. I played Naked Lounge with the punk rock band Frankly Fictitious. It was my first “serious” band that some old friends of mine formed in high school. The Naked Lounge used to be on H Street if I remember correctly, but it no longer exists. I don’t intend to play or tour seriously as a solo artist, but in Cell, absolutely! Cell is currently working on new material and once we have a full set of original material I will put my marketing degree to good use for the first time in a long time and put the wheels in motion to perform on the hill. Our next performance would be the opening for Liliac from Los Angeles, who started performing on the street at the Santa Monica Pier and later took over Dio’s Holy Diver and Rainbow in the Dark, became a YouTube sensation and is now making waves in the industry. We at Camp Cell are privileged and excited to open for these cats!
How did you start playing music?
I love telling this story: When I was growing up, I only listened to the top 40 pop radio stations. As tantalizing as those nameless female voices were and how outrageous those music videos were, the music didn’t resonate with me. It wasn’t until I was 10 years old in the backseat of my dad’s BMW in the late 2000s that I discovered the power of track 7. In this case, track 7 belonged to The Who’s Greatest Hits and was the song “Won’t be wrong anymore.” As the 30 second keyboard intro dragged on, I woke up to the power of Pete Townshend’s sharp power chord and found 8 more minutes of pure rapture and ecstasy. At the time, I couldn’t understand the concept of a song longer than 4 minutes; then I heard Keith Moon’s drum solo. That’s when the battery came into play. What really appealed to me was that Rock Band came out at that time and had the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on it. I had to learn it! So my goal was set for me on the spot. I spent over 2 years playing easy to expert tuning on Rock Band and those skills translated into the kit more than I could have imagined with the guitar. But that’s what Rocksmith is for!
Your solo work can be described as unique and quirky. Where do you find inspiration for your music?
For this particular project, my first solo album, I credit my inspiration to Keith Moon’s 1975 solo album, Two Sides of The Moon. The story with this is that he was dating his wealthy music peers in Los Angeles and then recorded a drunken karaoke session with them. The likes of Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Flo & Eddie of Turtle fame all played on this record. They took all sorts of drugs and alcohol and released the record, much to the horror and dismay of MCA Records. Keith Moon does not play drums on much of the album. So, I took drugs and alcohol out of the equation and decided to take a similar fun and eclectic approach for the album. I got as many people as possible from the Reno music scene, and got almost no hits or responses, so most of the people you’ll hear on this album are from California. Bastards!
My objective with this disc is to leave a memory behind me if ever my career and my existence fell into oblivion. Maybe someone in the future would laugh and have a good time while scratching their heads. I want the record to capture people’s attention! He tackles genres as diverse as jazz, glam metal, rock, folk, pop and rap. There is something for everyone, but not everything for someone!
Conversely, The Band Cell is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, Sublime and a few other older bands. What do you like about working with a band? What’s next for them?
It’s interesting that you mention Sublime. This is a band that none of us would imagine being compared to, but as a band we are androgynous in terms of gender. We would never be taken over by a record company with the way we sound now. I’d even argue that’s the case for many bands these days, helping the DIY indie musician scene we’re seeing now thrive as much as it can in a pandemic/post music industry economy. -pandemic.
To answer the question, I find it very helpful to surround myself and connect with people who provide feedback and have a conversation. I enjoy discussing, creating and overcoming musical differences within a band. I love playing with people who grew up playing completely different genres than mine. This fosters a creative, yet frustrating environment, which resolves into the music composed by working in this manner. Being in a band is a bit like being in a marriage… And I’ve never been married. I’m too young and financially unstable for that, but that’s beside the point. It’s like a marriage because there’s a lot of give and take, it takes time to do things you could do before, and it produces more debt and responsibility. That said, it’s definitely worth it if the right group of people, in this case, come your way.
What are your future goals for your solo and band career?
A saying in the industry goes something like this: “You have your whole life to create your first album, and a year or less to follow it.” What this means to me is that I would be more than happy to be a successful wonder as a solo artist. In terms of career, the goal is to make a living from music. Be financially independent. My dream, however, is to become “The Next Big Thing”:
As for being in cells and groups, the short term goal is to do the best you can with the little time you have, but the long term is to “take control of the world” and rocking until dead exhaustion!
Where can we find your music?
People can access all of our music on all major streaming platforms. If a reader is inclined to purchase our music in a physical format, unfortunately it is not available for purchase at this stage as we do not have enough material, but for my solo career and my latest band, Frankly Fictitious , you can get physical products on Bandcamp:
https://jonathanlouis.bandcamp.com/ (once the album is finished, I will make physical copies available here)
To be brutally honest, Bandcamp currently has the fairest pay scale for indie artists that I know of. If there are any struggling or not-so-struggling artists/musicians who know of a good business or would like to start a business together that will do an even better job, please send me inquiries.
What’s next for me and Cell? Big things. Big things to come is the generic response that many will vaguely give to their fans. My response to the audience here is metamorphosis, change, evolution, bigger, better, stronger, power, passion. Drums!
The Band Cell can be seen on July 28 at Alturas Bar at 1044 E. 4th St., Reno, NV. More information can be found at thebandcell.com or by emailing Jonathan Louis at [email protected].
Photo credit: Tony Contini