Interview with Ryan Downing of Jonas Sees in Color

AE_Shannon Neu_Jonas Sees in Color_Joey Kirkman

Photo Courtesy Jomas sees in color

Shannon Neu
   A&E Editor

“I was definitely that guy that would show up to other bands’ practices. I would be like, ‘Hey, I’ve got these words! And I’m gonna start singing!’ and they were like ‘Please shut up,’ and I said, ‘Nope! I’ve got something to say,’” Ryan Downing said as he explained how eventually became the lead singer of local band Jonas Sees in Color. The band is set to perform on Friday, March 4 at the Blind Tiger with Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Citizen Shade and Magnolia. The band is also currently working on a new album.

Jonas Sees in Color (whose name was inspired by Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”) consists of lead vocalist Ryan Downing, guitarist Jonathan Owens, bassist Mikey Deming and drummer John Chester. The band began playing together in 2005 when they were students at UNCG and Greensboro College.

“Every once in a while you hit those streaks in your life where you’re like, ‘Hey this is a special thing. If I don’t grab on to this there’s no other one’ and I grabbed on to it,” Downing said.

Since the band’s beginning, Jonas Sees in Color members have been working to evolve their sound to fit their evolution as individuals, as well as to make their performances more engaging with audience members.

At a Jonas Sees in Color show, one will almost always find Downing dancing off stage with audience members, hanging on the ceiling or climbing and jumping off stage equipment. Easily moved by the music, the band has become known for their energetic and engaging shows that often feature Downing’s thrilling stage acrobatics. Downing does not choreograph his moves ahead of time; rather, he decides them in the moment. When he performs while jumping from amps and hanging on light fixtures, he looks powerful and fearless.

“I’m absolutely and utterly terrified of heights,” Downing confessed.

“But it’s the same thing as when the music’s moving, there’s nothing else you can do,” he continued. “The way I want to be on stage and the way I try to live as a whole is like those moments. Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you were the only one home so you put on your favorite song and you just danced like crazy? Why not do that as an adult?”

Greensboro fans are will have the opportunity to get lost in the music and dance like crazy at the band’s upcoming show at the Blind Tiger on Friday. Though Jonas Sees in Color has a tour planned over the next few months in North and South Carolina, band members are particularly looking forward to playing in their hometown.

“Something about Greensboro shows – I guess it’s like a hometown thing for us – it’s the most triumphant of the triumphant cries,” Downing explained. “I feel like there’s so much [talk about how] you feed from the crowd and the crowd feeds from you, but I feel like [for us] it’s a much more mutual thing. It’s a very cooperative feeling. We get that feeling in a lot of places but there’s something special about Greensboro when that happens. It’s our community, it’s our home and so when we feel that unity here it means something different.”

In Greensboro, Jonas Sees in Color is able to build relationships with local fans and directly see the ways their music affects fans’ lives.

“We can play in NYC and have a packed out room and everyone’s like ‘Yeah, you changed the way I’m thinking!’ but then we leave the next day and we don’t see them again for six months,” Downing continued. “It’s different here because you see them the next day or two weeks later and you see if it’s actually working.”

When it comes to performing, Downing finds inspiration in the way that one song can have infinite meanings. When a person hears a song, they connect to it by creating their own meaning based on their individual experiences.

“Whatever room we play in or what different group we play for, that will shape the song,” Downing explained. “That’s what I like the most about live performance. I like how the people there will change the feeling of a song, or a particular lyric or moment.”

“Say I write a sad song – I play it in a room by myself, I intended the chords to be sad, the melodic structure is sad, the words are sad, and it feels sad,” he continued. “If you take that same song and you play it for a room full of people, who are in the right mindset, those people will have gone through something similar and they will be experiencing something cathartic – or some sort of epiphany – that turns this sad thing into a very happy, triumphant [thing].”

Jonas Sees in Color has finished recording the band’s third full-length studio album and are currently working on editing and mixing it. They have not yet set a release date for the album and are still considering what its title should be.

Jonas Sees in Color’s debut album was recorded in Denver and released in 2009. Though the band loved the city, they felt that when it came to creating their music, Denver was missing something.

“There was something about it that did not resonate with us,” Downing reflected. “Honestly, you can hear that in our first album. There’s a certain strength you get from being connected to your roots and we didn’t have that.”

Their second album, “Give Me Mine,” was released in 2013 and was recorded at The Fidelitorium, which is in Kernersville, with Mitch Easter.

“We were inspired again by North Carolina and by the things we feel here and the things that are very real to us,” Downing said.

For their latest album, Jonas Sees in Color has been working with the same producer at his new studio in Savannah, GA.

“We still had our Southern, haunted, weird, eccentric roots, but every day we opened our eyes and we were inspired by the things we saw,” Downing said. “It was all new and fresh and we wanted to write about it.”

According to Downing, the band put a lot of focus on channeling their experiences as a unified entity while recording the album, such as the loss of their friend.

“It was one of the first times as a band that we had a unified connection to a person that we lost and we watched that flame go out,” Downing remembered. “It was a bright flame. He was the guy at the front row of the shows, and when we saw him while we were playing we were like ‘Well, I’m gonna make this next song the best we’ve ever played because HE’S watching.’”

“We had a bunch of experiences like that as a band this year that we never had before, and we tried to tap into those while we were recording,” he continued.

Downing went on to explain that the band is known more for their performances than their recorded music. One of his goals for the future of Jonas Sees in Color is to find a way to channel the energy of their performances into other things, such as music videos. The band released their video for “Harvest II” at midnight last Sunday.

“We have fans in Mexico, Venezuela, all these places and they can never come see us,” Downing said.

“That’s my goal, to find a way to reach out to people like that, the people who can’t come to the shows,” he continued. “How do we reach out, touch them and have them affect us the same way that the actual physical crowd does?”

In everything he said, Downing revealed his true passion for his fellow band members, music and – maybe more than anything else – Jonas Sees in Color fans.

It is clear that he genuinely cares about inspiring listeners by not only sharing art with them, but by also sharing experiences and encouraging them to live their lives as fully and loudly as they possibly can.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Uncategorized, Visual & Performance

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