For most of the last two years, singer/songwriter Jonny Sexton has put his own music career on hold while developing and promoting the music-career app Artist Growth in Nashville. Sexton, formerly of the Whiskey Scars and Jonathan Sexton and the Big Love Choir, has made a quiet return to Knoxville—and to performing—this year with a brand-new batch of songs and a new cast of musical partners; they're playing on Friday, Aug. 9, at the Well in Bearden. We talked to him about the new project, the status of Artist Growth, and what’s coming up next.
You were in Nashville for a while. Are you back in Knoxville full-time now?
Yes, well, sort of. For about the last two years I’ve been splitting my time 50/50 between Nashville and Knoxville working full-time on Artist Growth. About the first of the year this year, I decided to leave day-to-day operations at AG, although I’m still a major stockholder and involved on a high level. It was a tough call to make, but ultimately I had other business ideas I wanted to chase, I wanted to be home with my family more, and I needed to play music again. As a result, I’d say the Knox/Nash split is about 80/20 now.
What’s the new project? Who are you playing with, how does it compare to what you were doing before?
The new project is a collection of songs I’ve written this year. It’s amazing how quickly my self-inflicted writer’s block went away when I stopped working 80 hours and driving hundreds of miles per week. To me it’s a lot different than the Big Love Choir stuff. It’s quieter, it’s grittier, and, in spots, certainly has an edge to it. There is no real set lineup but the few shows I’ve done so far have been with Jamie Cook (former Black Lillies and everybodyfields drummer) and my cousin Charlie Bock, who just moved here after a 20-year stay in Louisville, Ky. Elodie Lafont still sings with me, and so does Maren Hilgert.
How long have you been working on this new gig? How many times have you played out so far?
Not long—a few months. We’ve played twice so far. The Aug. 9 show at the Well will be the third show, so it’s still coming together. I don’t think the full vision of what it can be has been realized yet, but I’m letting it take the time it needs to take.
What are your immediate plans—recording, touring?
As far as recording, I have an EP in the can already. It’s being mixed now. I recorded it with producer Kevin Grosch in Nashville. I’ve got an offer from a booking agent on the table, but I’m hesitant to hop back in the van and be gone 200 nights a year again. I’m really focused on finding a new way to do the same old thing. Instead of releasing an album once a year, I’m working out how I can simply release music as soon as its written, or, say a new song per month instead of one album per year. The same goes with touring. I will be touring some with this act in 2014, but I think I can make some of it come to me. I just started hosting OnStage With Jonny Sexton every Friday morning on WTNZ from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. I get to bring in other artists, interview them, and perform with them as apart of the Fox morning show. Playing each Friday with a new artist to a huge audience is a big win, and I hope I can grow that into a meaningful way for music to be a big part of my life. In a way, I look at people like Daryl Hall, who does “Live at Daryl’s House,” and think, he’s playing with every cool artist in the world and never leaves his house. It’s counterintuitive to the at-large music business and the way things have always been done, which is also appealing to me—carving out a new path and a new and different way to do things that fits my needs, and supports the kind of life I want to live rather than copy and pasting what anyone else is doing. I’m much more interested in carving out my own path and building the life that I want to wake up and live every day.
You’re going by Jonny now, right? Any particular reason?
My inner circle of family and friends, the people closest to me, have always called me Jonny. The people who know me best call me Jonny, and that’s the person I want to be publicly and privately—just me. What you see is what you get.