When Sean Bonnette of Arizona-based folk-punk band AJJ talks about his songwriting process, he brings up that C.S. Lewis quote about how you can’t get to the magical kingdom of Narnia the same way twice.
“Sometimes the songs will pop into my head,” he says. “A complete thought, almost. Sometimes it will take five years. Sometimes I write shit down on paper. It’s really different.”
Whatever path the songs take to creation, AJJ is known for assertively personal and existentially fraught acoustic punk songs that recall early Mountain Goats, Violent Femmes and the Dead Milkmen.
Together since 2004, AJJ originally hailed from Phoenix, Arizona, but now they call Tucson home.
In 2018 the band released Only God Can Judge Me More, with characteristic song titles like “We Shall All Die Alone Someday” and “Let Us Get Murdered.”
From the rarities compilation Ugly Spiral: Lost Works 2012-2016, also out last year, Bonnette sings over a Dylan-esque “Times they are a-changin’” 3/3-time signature: “Blood, hatred, money and rage… that’s the juice box I crave.”
It all rides a fine line between funny and ugly-crying in public. Bonnette is inviting a caring hand on the shoulder, and a “You doin’ OK, buddy?” until something like a playful kazoo solo or, like on “Let Us Get Murdered,” a tinkly xylophone interlude cuts the tension. Kazoo or xylophone because, well, why not?
Most of all, AJJ plays punk-folk protest music for our times, infused with the dread of Flint’s poisoned water, late-stage capitalism and the nihilism of climate-change denial.
“I want nature to die!” Bonnette shouts along to the vague topography of a melody on the track “Unicron,” because that’s the only kind of absurdist statement that makes sense in a post-Trump world, when “our entire notion of truth has been called into question,” he says.
Elsewhere, Bonnette reminds his audience of student-debt laden, post-college millennials. “Harry Potter and Voldemort are works of fiction!”
When Bonnette talks about his earliest inspiration as a performer, he doesn’t mention a musician at all but instead a juggler named Brad French, whom Bonnette would watch when he was a kid at Balboa Park in San Diego.
“I would go and just punish this guy, fan out on him,” Bonnette remembers. He says he liked the way French engaged with his audience.
When writing music, Bonnette tries to keep the notion that anyone will ever hear the song out of his head. But, in the end, connection with a live audience is what he’s after.
“I love the connection I can feel with another person” while playing music, he says. “It makes me feel less alone. Music is therapy.”
“Open yourself up to human connection,” he adds. “We need to do that.”
AJJ with Antarctigo Vespucci and Lisa Prank
Tuesday, April 9 • 8 pm
Sessions Music Hall
$15 adv., $18 door