INTERVIEW: TONIE JOY PT III (FINAL)
In the third and final installment of my interview with Tonie Joy, we delve into his post-UOA groups such as The Great Unraveling and The Convocation Of . We also yap about his most recent musical ventures as well as the 'legacy’ of Moss Icon.
Universal Order of Armageddon Photo: Joseph Gervasi
How did the break-up of UOA happen and what led to your next band, The Great Unraveling?
UOA broke up and I feel the majority of the problems were caused by me. I was so fucked up mentally and trying to survive that I couldn’t handle it all and buckled under the pressure. It all goes back to money because money is evil and has always been a problem for me. When I first lived on my own in Annapolis, I was living in this old, fucked-up, dilapidated house with a bunch of people and it was really cheap. Then I moved into an apartment in Baltimore and was barely making rent because I was unemployable. I would get hired for a job, go in the first day, and have a panic attack because someone there set me off. I’d end up walking out after a few hours!
But pretty quickly after UOA, our bass player Anthony (Malet) began playing with a drummer Randy Davis - who ironically lives behind me right now. I can see the house he owns from the bedroom of the apartment I rent here in Baltimore. They were playing together and Anthony got out on a far-out, amazing level with his bass playing. Plus when The Great Unraveling started, he got a really good bass amp, so I could finally hear him! I heard what they were doing was unique, so I figured I should join them. When we started, we couldn’t find anyone in Baltimore who could be our singer. After Moss Icon and UOA, I really wanted to do something with a female vocalist. But we couldn’t find a singer let alone a female singer. So, I thought, fuck it, I’ll be the singer. I always liked the idea of a power trio.
We only did one U.S. tour and I would say it went crappier than the UOA tours. The UOA tours had crappy aspects to them, but they were successes in the way that we went out and got stuff done. When The Great Unraveling came back from tour, both me and Randy were in this position of wondering how to pay rent. He wanted stability and got a pretty good job for someone as young as he was. I felt that band had a lot of potentials, but it fizzled out. For a lot of years, my assessment of that band was: Amazing bass playing, and cool drumming, but other than that, fuck that band! I’m just really embarrassed by the vocals. It was really hard to sing and play guitar. I liked the guitar parts I was coming up with, but if someone was singing, they would have been better. So, I don’t really like my contribution to that band, but it was really cool.
What was the situation with the next band, The Convocation Of?
George France and Guy Blakeslee had already been playing together as a band with Guy on guitar. They were way younger than me and maybe they thought having someone who’d been in bands already would be good for them. I had already been through the wringer!
With that band, it seemed like you were playing in a more traditionally psychedelic style than previous projects.
That was a conscious effort. I had got better at playing and figured out how I wanted to sound equipment-wise and tone-wise. The funny thing is I always played a Marshall amp, even in Moss Icon. At the end of Moss Icon, I played a cleaner sound because I felt it lent itself to what we were doing then. I had a distortion pedal in Moss Icon, but when it broke, I didn’t even get another one! I was just so inept and poor. But playing in that clean tone worked because the bass was always really thick and she didn’t use any pedals. It was just the old Rickenbacker she had and the way she played with her fingers. But with the later bands like The Great Unraveling and The Convocation Of, I looked at them as power trios like Blue Cheer or Mainliner. I just wanted everything to be louder, thicker, and heavier. And that helped because I was still singing and playing guitar and I still wasn’t good at singing!
The Convocation Of was an active and prolific band from 1998 to 2001. It was the busiest musical thing I’ve been involved in. Similar to every scenario, it was rough on people to tour and not make money. I was probably a bit of a tyrant in every band and even though I was older and a little more mature, I was probably still a pain in the ass. Guy wanted to do his own thing. Before he was playing with George and me, he was doing his own music. He could pick up a guitar and do a singer/songwriter thing and make it pretty good. He wanted to do his own thing and didn’t want to be on the crazy train that was my life. But George and I still wanted to do the band. We dropped the ‘of’ from the band name to differentiate the time periods. We couldn’t find a bass player for three years and then in 2005, we found a part-time bass player. Between 2005 and 2014, we played off and on with four different bass players. Then George graduated college and started on a career and it was the same thing all over again where my band members got careers, a mortgage, and had kids. I never did any of that because I was a stubborn fuck-up. I was willing to live in my car to do music. But by 2012, I was getting tired of it. For me, it had to be all or nothing. I wanted to be in a fully functioning, full-time band where everyone was focused. I didn’t want to do things part-time or half-assed. Life shit gets in the way. Life shit is a part of life! And you can quote me on that!
That’s a heavy statement! I watched a few videos on YouTube of Slow Bull, the large rock ensemble you had about ten years ago. What happened with that one?
That was made up of younger people I met in Baltimore in the 2000s who volunteered to bring one of my weird ideas to fruition – which was to have a band with 2 drummers, 2 keyboard players, 2 guitarists, and a bassist. Looking back, I didn’t appreciate these people that were volunteering their time to do this with me and I handled it in a shitty way. We recorded a few songs, but I never felt like it was worth releasing. When I saw it wasn’t going to come together and become a full-time thing, I became apathetic about it. So, in a way, I quit my own band!
What about Rogue Conjurer, the most recent thing you did with Colin, the vocalist of UOA on drums?
Colin was involved at the end of Slow Bull playing drums because he just moved back to Baltimore. I was thinking of not playing music until I moved or something changed. Colin thought the songs in Slow Bull were cool, so he suggested trying to do it with fewer people. I started playing with him and some Slow Bull songs carried over to Rogue Conjurer and once again, we couldn’t find a bass player. But to me, the keyboards were more important than the bass, so we got Donny Van Zandt on keyboards, who was actually the last bass player in The Convocation Of. He’s a really good keyboard player who was in the early version of Pinback. He’s a San Diego guy that ended up in Baltimore. We played a few shows around Baltimore and people thought it was cool, but not a real band. They saw it more as a project.
We got asked to play a festival in the UK and we tried to book a European tour around it, but then the pandemic hit and fucked up our plans. I just saw that as a sign of being cursed and things never working out. I never had a career at a job, so I tried to get the best job I could and become a typical fucking loser. I still would like to do something, but my life is crazy and I can barely get through a daily routine, but I can come up with some far-out songs!
Moss Icon photo courtesy of Temporary Residence Ltd.
To close this thing out, what do you think it is about Moss Icon and other music you’ve done that continues to resonate with people?
The Hated recently played a reunion show where I reconnected with an old friend who went from a career in academic therapy to something that was more spiritual. She was referring to a couple of bands with Moss Icon, in particular, having a spiritual aspect to it. I’m not talking about it in a religious way but in the way of a very primal, arcane, fucked-up energy. As I said before, Jon was the hub. If someone was singing about something in a very pedestrian way, the music would have still been interesting, but what he brought to the whole thing was the brain and spinal cord running through it. None of us knew what was happening at the time, although I’m sure Jonathan knew what his words meant to him. For someone that age, to come up with important, interesting shit, opened up some energy portal from some bizarro dimension that people still connect with.
Jon is still one of my closest friends to this day. We hadn’t talked for years, but it wasn’t because I was mad or spiteful towards him. When Moss Icon and UOA ended, those songs were so intense that it felt like my children were pulled away from me or something. The 80s are looked at now as some idyllic time when everything was better. But if you’re an overly sensitive person tuned into shit, it was obvious how fucked up everything was in America during the 80s on all levels – socially, culturally, and economically. It was hard to be a teenager and not know how to make things better. But then I was thrust into these songs that were like another dimension. I was high off that music and trying to move into another dimension. To lose all that was jarring to my being. So the reason why it had a strong, kind of negative effect on me is the same reason it resonates with people in a positive way. It was the energy in that music. If the right person comes along and has a certain predisposition, they can plug into that world and get something out of it and that was the best thing about it for me.
Thanks to Tonie for his time and Anna Lopez for setting up the interview. Images courtesy of Hardcoreshowflyers.net