For 12 years, Minneapolis’ Jon Wayne & the Pain have been fusing reggae, dub, and electronic in a way that is uniquely their own. Over the course of several albums and hundreds of shows across the country, Wayne and his bandmates have honed a specific sound that audiences have come to love, with his socially conscious and positive lyrics elevating the feel-good nature of the songs. When all is said and done, despite their many influences and musical left turns, they’re a reggae band - and a good one at that.
The band is currently on a lengthy tour, and will be stopping in Savannah for the first time on Fri., May 31 for a free show at Barrelhouse South. We spoke with Wayne ahead of the gig.
The thing that jumped out to me right away was not just the music, but also that the lyrics seem to be pretty positive and often socially conscious. Who were some of the artists that were beacons for you in terms of what you’re writing about?
Wayne: That’s a great question. Early on, probably not so much in terms of the socially conscious or spiritual lyrics, I was listening a lot to Sublime. I think that music served as a warning somewhat, because Brad Nowell died from a heroin overdose. He talked a lot about the underbelly of probably the scene in California and the U.S. at large where drugs were a big part of it.
That was something that musically brought me to the reggae-rock vibe. Later, I’d say artists like Michael Franti and Matisyahu and more recently Xavier Rudd - those artists have given me more recent inspiration lyrically. But musically, Bob Marley and all the reggae that you’ve ever heard that’s good. Whether it’s mainstream or more underground, there’s so much good music in that genre.
Where did the whole electronic element come in? You’re incorporating not just that but also dub. Tell me about the genesis of that.
Wayne: When you say dub, some kids think that you mean dubstep. That is an influence, but dub really comes from Jamaican roots. An artist would record a song, and then the selector would take the existing track and add effects to it - then pull the vocals in and out, pull the drums in and out, etc. Dub isn’t even really a thing that is able to be performed live, but that sound that’s called dub is of course a huge influence.
Recently we’re more [in that direction] than the electronic stuff. We’re more on the reggae tip. But all of these things have come very naturally.
Touring seems to be something that you guys have really thrived in, and you seem to be really at home on stage. Would you say that’s the case? And how have you seen it grow your band since you started?
Wayne: Well, besides ticket sales - that’s an easy way to gauge if it’s grown. The comfort on stage, really. In maybe 2010 or 2011, we did maybe 250 shows in that year. Which is insane, man. And it’s not sustainable. But more recently, we’re doing maybe 70 or 80 shows a year. And it’s picking shows that seem to be more progressive. A place like Savannah seems like a town that we should be playing in.
So with that comes more enjoyment for each show.
And it’s not a grind as much as the 250+ shows a year can be.
Wayne: Oh yeah. Totally, man. So I’d say we’re having more fun on stage, and hopefully it shows.
So there was a book that came out a couple of years ago that chronicled your journey with substance abuse and launching your career. What was it like looking back on that time in your life, and do you think revisiting that impacted your art at all?
Wayne: Yeah, I think I definitely wrote more music in that reflective state. But I think I’ve always been that way, plus I think I’ve always been ready to share my story because hopefully it could be helpful to someone.
On the flip side, I spent the last six months in Thailand between tours. And that culture is very much about not sharing personal things about yourself. I think in America, addiction and maybe even mental health—mental health wasn’t an issue for me but addiction was—is easier for people to talk about now. Which is great. So many people struggle with that stuff. So if sharing the depths of my hell with addiction is helpful to someone, than that’s the main reason I do this.