D ET RO I T J EW IS H N E WS
onny Polonsky is in the Chapel
Hill, N.C., Red Roof Inn. And
there's no mistaking what part
of the country he's in.
"Yeah, it smells like tabacky
even though we have a non-
smoking room," Polonsky says.
He's not complaining. The
26-year-old singer, songwriter
and guitarist is in the midst of his
first national concert tour, supporting
"My Name is Jonny," his major-label de-
but of cheeky, energetic power pop. He's
opening for ex-Pixies leader Frank Black,
one of his musical heroes and a patron
who helped Polonsky land the recording
deal he dreamed about.
"Everything's been incredible," Polon-
sky says. "I'm really happy making
records, being in the music business, re-
leasing records commercially. Obvious-
ly I want to sell records; it would be great
to be really popular and have people buy
the record and like it. But I'm just stoked
that I'm making records at all.
"I didn't know it would be this fast."
Polonsky is hardly an overnight suc-
cess. Though he was raised in the well-
off Chicago suburb of Wilmette, he's still
paid his share of dues, playing in a va-
riety of bands and diligently honing his
songwriting at home on recording gear
his parents bought for him.
Music runs in the Polonsky genes. His
mother, Naomi, is a pianist and folk
singer who toured internationally with
the Halevi Chorus; Polonsky woke her
SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
up at 3 a.m. one day to perform the hand home-made tapes as the Amazing Jonny
claps on his song "Gone Away." His fa- Polonsky. `They were more like comic vi-
ther — a financial analyst who died when gnettes, really short. Some songs sound-
Polonsky was 16 — was more of a mu- ed like spaghetti westerns. There was a
lot of varied instrumentation.
"I just made tapes, duped them, went
"He was a big jazz fan," Polonsky re-
members, "but he always listened to the down to the Kinko's and drew up a cov-
er and ran around giving them to people
stuff my brother and I would bring home."
saying, 'Here, listen to my albums.' I fig-
Older brother Dan teaches guitar and
bass at an Evanston music store and is ured, if nothing else, it was a way to get
in4 foot in the door of record company ex-
part of the Chicago punk trio Jaws of Life.
ecutives and musicians I re-
Polonsky himself became a
pop fan when he was young, in-
Jonny Pol onsky made
Most of those musicians
fatuated first with the Beatles
and Monkees before latching "My Name is Jonny" in were sidemen and studio
his bro ther's old
players, such as David Bowie
onto mid-'80s MTV favorites bedroom;
P olonsky plays cohort Reeves Gabrels, who
such as Duran Duran. He be-
all the ins truments on
Polonsky met during one of
gan playing the baritone
the a [bum.
his teen-age summer camps.
ukelele when he was 9, then
A mutual friend put him in
switched to guitar three years
touch with Frank Black, who
later. Over the years he worked
with a variety of groups, including the liked Polonsky's songs enough to help the
school jazz band, a country outfit called fledgling pop star find a manager and
the Durals, a jazzy "sort of Marvin Ham- record a professional demo tape.
That, in turn, gave Polonsky something
lisch rock band" named Dagnabit and an-
other pop group known as White Fat to pique the interest of record companies.
America bit, but the big-time didn't
And Polonsky learned to cook — liter- change Polonsky's approach; he upgrad-
ally. After high school, he spent 2Y years ed his recording gear and made "My
in Cambridge, Mass., doing an "informal Name is Jonny" in his brother's old bed-
apprenticeship" with Julia Child, an old room — christened Ground Round Sound
for the exercise. He plays all the instru-
friend of his mom's.
But Polonsky's real obsession was ments, though when the album was
songwriting and recording, which began mixed, Polonsky went to Atlanta to work
when his parents bought him his first with Brendan O'Brien, who's produced
tape recorder. "I wasn't really writing albums for Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pi-
songs," says Polonsky, who released three lots and the Black Crowes.
With Polonsky's "Semitic good looks"
filling the cover, his album is a pop lover's
feast — spare and short (the whole thing
is just over 24 minutes long); it's driven
by the kind of exuberant riffs that air gui-
tar players imagine as they leap around
their bedrooms. There are plenty of love
songs, as well as a sober remembrance of
a fatal boating accident ("I Don't Know
What to Dream at-Night") and an ap-
preciation of napping ("It's Good to Sleep")
that was the first of what Polonsky con-
siders his "real" songs.
"I've been trying to write since I was
around 10 years old; it's only in the last
two years that I started getting things I
was happy with," he says. "One of the
things that kept me back from writing
for so long was that I'd compare myself
to different writers and recognize where
I stole a riff or if something reminded me
of someone else.
"Now I don't care. I consider myself a
thief, but it's a good thing. Some songs
sprinkle down from the heavens, and
some songs blatantly rip off other people.
I can live with that ... and now I get all
the publishing money. It's a wonderful
Jonny Polonsky plays St. Andrew's
Hall Thursday, March 28. Former front
man for the Pixies Frank Black head-
lines. All ages welcome. Doors open at
7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance. Call
Ticketmaster at (810) 645-6666.