Just Jonny: An Interview with Social Distortion’s Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham
Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham has made a career out of being a punk rock journeyman of sorts. He’s spent time in bands such as The Cadillac Tramps and U.S. Bombs, but it was over 14 years ago that Jonny joined Social Distortion and found his biggest success. Over all that time this seemingly content sideman had been harboring notions of taking center stage. With the April 1st release of his debut solo record, Salvation Town, it would appear that the man known as Jonny “Two Bags” couldn’t ignore his unaccompanied aspirations any longer. Being a longtime fan of many of his bands, I jumped at the chance to ask Jonny about going solo and his philosophical thoughts about music in general.
SLUG: What were the geneses of doing a solo record?
Jonny Two Bags: It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time actually. To have my own band and to have an opportunity to perform my songs the way I want them with the compromise of being a band member or being in someone else’s band essentially. The record itself started in a weird way, a good friend of mine David Kalish, who recorded and co-produced the record with me, had built this really great studio about ten years ago and he was always telling to come and record something and not being to sure confident in myself I just always put it off, but when contacted and told me that he was working with Pete Thomas, the longtime drummer for Elvis Costello, and that he was willing to play a few tracks with me, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. That’s what really got me started working on this over the last year. I’d be out touring with Social Distortion and I’d home and almost forget that I have a record I’m in the middle of.
SLUG: What was it that kept you from doing a solo record earlier?
Jonny Two Bags: I wasn’t really confident in myself enough. I didn’t think that the material was strong enough. I always felt safe in a band that having these guys as band members around me made me feel okay, but as a solo act you’re very exposed.
SLUG: Why not start another band? Why just Jonny “Two Bags”?
Jonny Two Bags: Well initially I wanted to start a band and call it Salvation Town, which ended up being the title of the record. So, first of all there are so many different players on this record it would be impossible to call it a band record. The whole record is just my experiences and stories about growing up in southern California, and growing up in the punk rock scene, and very much about growing up in a musical family. My dad was a working musician my whole life, so all the music he exposed me to is way more present on this record than anything I’ve done up until this point. So many different things about me manifest themselves on the record, whether it be through lyrics or whatever.
SLUG: Obviously you’ve reached beyond your punk rock influences to make this record. Why is it that roots music sits so well with punk rock guys?
Jonny Two Bags: When I first started getting into punk rock all this music kind of just coexisted together. I mean I’d see Black Fag and the Adolescents and at the same time I was seeing the Blasters and the Stray Cats. I remember I had this compilation called L.A Rockabilly and bands like the Paladins and Billy Zoom’s band were on it, and immediately I got the connection—it all came together for me. So many bands, even from the beginning, have had that roots music streak. Look at Gun Club or even The Clash. So I feel like it always been there whether most punk fans have noticed it or not.
SLUG: What are your thoughts on stepping into the lead vocal/front man spot?
Jonny Two Bags: It’s a completely different experience. I think about it a lot—my primary concern being is “How well am I going to sing?” But beyond that I think, “What am I supposed to say in between songs?” We’re not a fast paced punk show—we have instrument changes and things that take time so I’ve got to feel that dead air, so it’s something I think about at this point. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for Mike [Ness] and how easy he makes it look. When I go back to Social Distortion I’ll have a completely new perspective on things and a new level of understanding of why he does and says the things he does.
Jonny has put together an eclectic record that plays like a musical autobiography of a guy that has made music his entire life. Check out Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham’s solo show when he performs live with Chuck Ragan and White Buffalo on April 11th at The Depot.