Déjà vu washed over songwriter Andrew Jones like a tidal wave the day that Kobe Bryant died. The way the country collectively mourned this larger-than-life celebrity reminded Jones of the death of another superstar: Michael Jackson.
When Jackson died in 2009, it seemed like the whole world grieved — Jones himself included. Unlike most others, Jones says he had a personal stake in Jackson’s death. Jones, who lived in Los Angeles at the time, says he had just landed a co-writing gig on what was to be Jackson’s comeback record. Before they could finish the album, fate intervened.
“At the time, I felt bummed because I was a fan,” Jones says of Jackson’s death. “But the first thing I thought was like, ‘Fuck. This hurts me.’”
Had Jackson lived long enough to unveil his album, Jones says his career as a songwriter would have taken off. But in a flash, everything changed.
It was that letdown, coupled with the bitter breakup of Jones’ band, that made him realize it was time to move back home to Pueblo, Colorado. His experience living in LA, where he found a fame-obsessed culture, vapid celebrities and desperate wannabes, soured his love of playing music. So, he vowed to quit it entirely.
“I closed up and went to a musical safe space for a while,” Jones says. “And I didn’t write, I didn’t touch a guitar. It just turned me off. I’m surprised I didn’t sell everything.”
It’s a good thing Jones didn’t hit the pawn shop; this slash-and-burn approach led to the cultivation of his Berkley musical persona. With a brand-new music video for his first single, “Pueblo Nights,” Jones’ adroit songwriting skills positively sparkle.
Set for a March 6 release, Jones plans to unveil the single digitally and on a limited-edition 7-inch record, which will include a personalized playlist and handwritten lyrics.
The video for “Pueblo Nights” opens with a shot of a sign for Berkley Avenue, the street where Jones’ childhood home is. Jones says he named his solo project after it for two reasons: First, because Andrew Jones is a fairly common name, and second, because it’s a one-word pseudonym that’s full of meaning and memory.
“Pueblo Nights” drips with nostalgia, as vintage photos and video clips from Jones’ youth flash on screen. But he’s not stuck in the past. More than anything, Jones says he wrote the single as a form of catharsis: It’s a soundtrack to dancing away the pains of youth.
Equal parts catchy and groovy, “Pueblo Nights” recalls the carefully manufactured hits of pop kingpin Beck and songwriting savants Miike Snow. Shimmering synths envelop the listener like a warm bath, while a melodious electric guitar floats atop in the form of a rock-tinged bass line.
“I walked you to your car but don’t / Wanna see you go / We’re making out against your door / I wish I brought a coat,” Jones sings to the viewer, looking directly into the camera. “Would it feel the same / If we never met until today / Would we still say all those awful things / Would I steal your name?”
After moving home from LA, Jones returned to school to get his master’s degree in composition/rhetoric. After he graduated, he began teaching writing classes at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
Around this time, the French band Phoenix had just released its mega-hit album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and it was garnering considerable praise from fans and critics. But Jones, who was still enforcing his strict no-music stance, said all the buzz drove him crazy.
“I closed up and went to a musical safe space for a while. And I didn’t write, I didn’t touch a guitar. It just turned me off. I’m surprised I didn’t sell everything.” — Berkley
Finally, in another life-changing moment, Jones decided to put the record on: “I was like, ‘I should at least know what I’m hating.’” Then, inspiration bashed him over the head with a sledgehammer.
“I became obsessed with it,” he remembers of the record. “I listened to it and finished the album and was like: ‘I’m going to quit teaching and I’m going to play music again.’”
Jones did just that. He picked up his guitar and enrolled in a jazz studies program in Denver. He released a solo record under his real name to get the creative juices flowing again, even though he “knew it was going to be shit.” And eventually, he moved to Denton to join his wife, who’d relocated to get her doctorate.
But last year, Jones faced another frustrating false start.
After fully absorbing Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Jones applied his scholarly chops to concoct a mathematical equation for how Phoenix made its breakthrough record. Then, he shared the algorithm over social media with the album’s producer, Philippe Zdar. Amazed by the equation, Zdar — who had worked with artists like Kanye West, Daft Punk and the Beastie Boys — invited Jones to his studio in France.
To Jones, it seemed like this was shaping up to be another promising break. But just as he was planning his trip, Zdar unexpectedly died.
Jones says he was devastated by Zdar’s untimely demise, but the Denton songwriter says he hopes to keep Zdar’s memory alive by infusing the late producer’s spirit into the songs off his upcoming album, Pueblo. The 10-track LP, which drops in October, will serve as a kaleidoscopic soundscape reflecting Jones’ experiences growing up.
More than anything, Jones looks forward to creating an infectious pop album that boasts mass appeal.
“When an album is really good, you’re living in it. And when you fall in love with it, it kind of becomes your world,” Jones says with a smile. “I hope I can make that.”
Watch the video for "Pueblo Nights" below: