These days most folks know Jon Lajoie as the guitar-toting stoner named Taco from the hit FX series The League, or from even a little further back when he became a YouTube sensation, performing comical songs and skits. While it’s been clear that Jon is a skilled artist, it can be difficult to break out from those characters when it’s time to craft more personal work.
This spring, he released his debut album I Remembered, But Then I Forgot under the moniker Wolfie’s Just Fine. It’s a collection of indie-folk tunes that show us another side of the songwriting actor. Having been using TuneCore for a number of years to release his comedic works, Jon was kind enough to answer some questions and open up a bit about Wolfie’s Just Fine:
Being someone who got popular on YouTube early, what do you think about the way the platform has evolved since then?
Jon Lajoie: Honestly, I think most of the platforms have devolved over the years for independent creators. Not if you’re NBC, but if you’re trying to create content with no budget, and trying to find/reach your audience, the cards just aren’t in your favor anymore, and it’s sad. I luckily experienced a fairly democratic version of YouTube and Facebook in the years where if people liked your content, or followed you, you had a direct line of communication with them, unencumbered by paywalls, advertising, and strange algorithms that decide on the percentage of your fanbase your post will reach.
But look, none of this is all that surprising, I also understand that these infrastructures have cycles, and I have faith that other more democratic forms of these platforms will pop up, and hopefully young creators can experience a version of the creative democracy (and freedom) I experienced as a young, inspired, broke kid.
What kind of opportunities do you see for independent artists when it comes to utilizing their YouTube channel?
That said, we still have these incredible tools at our disposal that are miracles of human ingenuity, and just because the platforms aren’t what they used to be, I still recognize that it’s extremely special that I can make something and broadcast it without having to sell a network, a production company, a theater, or anyone else on it.
You make it, you put it out, if there’s an audience, they’ll find it. Hopefully. I’m not one for dolling out advice, (I’m the “Show Me Your Genitals” guy, after all), however, the one thing I stand by is this: “If you are inspired to create, create. There is nothing in your way. Not many people do, and the more you do it, the better you get at it.” I knew NOTHING about video production when I started. And I mean NOTING. The first video I posted I think is called “Brent Horst for Prime Minister” or something like that. Watch that video, then watch the video I shot for my Wolfie’s Just Fine song “It’s a Job.” Same guy, about 75 videos later.
When you began releasing and recording comedic songs, how did you manage to balance your love of writing more serious stuff?
Well, I had been in a few bands in my late teens/early twenties and we were quite serious, sometimes depressingly so. So when we broke up, all I wanted to do was laugh, and not take myself so seriously. The pendulum swung hard to the other side… But not too long after it swung back, but by then I was a successful comedian who was on the rise, and had a following (which is mind-blowingly awesome).
I never stopped loving creating comedic content, but also I never stopped needing to write serious music either. So for years I played and wrote daily for hours and hours, compiling ideas in garage band on my iPad. When I was on tour, I would sing songs like “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” or “Girl From North Country” with all of my heart and soul into the mic during soundcheck. And when people would comment, I’d brush it off by saying, “Yeah, I used to be in a band, that’s why I can play that stuff…” I was a closeted folk singer.
Eventually, I got depressed, and uninspired, and felt like I was losing my creative spark. I was struggling to write stand up, hounded by my reps to write a TV pilot for myself, I tried desperately to come up with material for new comedy songs… But it just felt so forced. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time always saw me as a musician, and she never stopped reminding me and asking me when I was going to stop pretending, and just do the thing. She had heard dozens of my song ideas over the years, and never stopped pushing me to record them. When setting out to achieve your dreams, It really helps to know you have one person in the world who will still love you no matter what, even if you suck and fail miserably.
I realize that I’m sounding a little sappy right now, this is what indie folk music will do to person.
What went into the decision to release this album under Wolfie’s Just Fine? Did you want to remove these songs from the association with the ‘Taco‘ character?
I just wanted this to be its own thing. It’s still me, writing songs, but it’s a radically different approach. So, I felt like if I released them as Jon Lajoie, and someone heard a song like “It’s a Job” and liked it, then Googled my name to see if there was more music by that artist, they would get hella confused. So, I chose that name, because I’d been saying that phrase since I was a kid, and it felt right, and the rest is very recent history.
Was this album a culmination of songs you’ve written over the years, or does it tell a more recent story?
It’s mostly new stuff. I thought I’d use a bunch of my old song ideas, (as I mentioned earlier, I have hundreds compiled on my iPad and phone), however, when I sat down to write, all these new songs poured out of me. When I finally gave myself the freedom to write without having to anchor the songs with punchlines, I all of a sudden couldn’t stop coming up with new songs and ideas. I was rediscovering my voice, and it was exciting, and I needed/wanted to express that with new material.
The album in a real way is the year 2015 for me. It’s like a time capsule. Everything I was dealing with, the memories that resurfaced, the challenges, the environment, the sound.
Where are you coming from emotionally on this record?
Well, I didn’t set out to express any emotions in particular when I started writing, I actually didn’t really know what I was going to write about, to be honest. The only boundaries I gave myself were that I wanted to be emotionally connected to the material, and to stay as vulnerable as possible throughout the process I kept trying to come up with gimmicks along the way, or ways to camouflage myself, so I had to create rules to protect myself from my defense mechanisms.
What kept coming up, unprovoked, was the intensity of my emotional reality as a young boy. I’m fairly numb now (which I realize didn’t happen out of the blue), so when trying to dig in a little, I immediately recalled many moments of intense pain, sadness, joy, anger, and overall emotional connectivity, from my childhood. So a lot of the album is me, re-living memories, and examining them, and trying to draw a clear path from those moments to where I am today.
Did you ever dream you’d be able to one day release an album like I Remembered, But Then I Forgot circumventing the ‘traditional’ path to recognition?
It’s really beautiful, and I feel very fortunate to live in a time where I don’t have to blow an A&R guy at a record company for the opportunity to get my music to an audience. You guys aren’t paying me, so I won’t blow too much smoke up your asses, but TuneCore has definitely been an extremely useful, effective tool for me as an independent artist.
I was approached by labels to release both my comedy albums and this album, and in all instances, because of the direct access to all the digital stores that you provide without taking 80% of my sales, I get my music to everyone who wants it, and I maintain 100% creative control and ownership over my material (okay, you guys owe me for that endorsement, seriously). You are still responsible for making good shit, and promoting it, but I don’t think that’s worth the cut that labels and distributors are taking.
The album exudes a pleasant folk vibe. Who are some artists and songwriters you draw influence from?
Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Joan Baez, The Kinks, The Pretty Things, Nirvana, Flaming Lips, Willie Nelson…
Conversely, who are some artists you have been loving recently that don’t come through here?
Hmmm… I’m not really hip to what the kids are listening to these days. I like Lady Lamb’s new album, I like Sharon Van Ettem, Soak, Damien Jurado, Sujan Stevens, Dry The River, Villagers. I’ve been going through a George Harrison All Things Must Pass phase lately, it’s not new, but that’s what I’m listening to.
Given your acting success, have you been one to seek opportunities to get to know popular musicians and industry folks in LA (or elsewhere)?
I kind of hide in my own corner, it’s the only way I know how to stay sane in LA. I’ve gotten to know Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die, literally because both of us have been getting tweets daily for years about how we look so similar that people think we’re the same person. He ended up working with my friend Brandon who co-directs some of my videos, and we met and he’s awesome.
Aside from that, I’m fortunate as hell to be friends with all of my League co-stars. I’m still blown away by how lucky I was to land in that group of talented, beautiful people when I did. I was just some kid from Montreal who made silly vids in my basement. I’m very grateful and I love them all like family.