In late 2010, Jon Hardy & the Public released an EP titled A Hard Year. The band couldn't have known what kind of year lay ahead of it. In September of last year, a few weeks after the Public's well-received performance at LouFest, Hardy took a tumble out of a tree and landed on his head, fracturing two vertebrae and leading to cancelled shows and concerns about Hardy's health -- as well as the future of the band. That period of uncertainty and convalescence came right as the band was poised to record and tour the Midwest. There may never be a good time to fall out of a tree, but the timing of the accident seemed to derail a band that, for some, has long been a favorite to break out of St. Louis and gain national exposure.
But over an afternoon drink in South St. Louis, you'll hear no self-pity from Hardy, only excitement for what's to come and an eagerness to play his songs in front of an audience again. He and his band mates make their return to the stage at Off Broadway on Friday night along with Jon Bonham and Chicago's Hemmingbirds.
Christian Schaeffer: Tell me about the preparations for these shows - this will be your first show since LouFest last year.
Jon Hardy: I guess the preparations started in spring, when we decided to do a show. We had been working on ideas for new material for a while and thought it was time to talk about performing. It wasn't on our radar for a while, but late spring was when we said we should figure that out. Then it's been trying to polish up some new songs that we haven't performed yet, and then once we got those tightened up, we started to run the set and did that til it was solid.
Does it feel like this is a show to kick off the dust? In terms of song selection, will it be markedly different set from your last show?
I would say, if I was looking at the set, it is picking up where we left off. We'll be playing a lot of stuff that we already played and adding in some new stuff as well. It's probably more a show that is just to say, hey, we're still working. It's been a while since we've been on stage but we're still doing stuff.
How long has it been since you got the band back together after you had recovered from your accident?
We started that in late December or early January. That's when we got back into our practice space and started working.
Do you think had you not had your accident that you would have stayed away from the stage so long? Were you looking to hibernate a bit or workshop new songs?
Oh no, I think we had to cancel two or three shows, and once we got through LouFest the plan was to start booking a lot more shows. We were looking at Chicago and Nashville for that fall. How long did the physical recovery take for you?
It was basically, I'll say that it was me in a tree and then winding up on the ground, on my head. I had two fractured vertebrae and a small brain hemorrhage. It took a solid three months to get the doctor's OK to go back to your normal life. It was three months in a body brace. It took three months of recovery to be able to walk and take care of yourself?
I was progressively able to do more and more. I think it was in November when our producer from Chicago, Benjamin (Balcom), came down for a couple days and did some rough mixes of some songs. I was playing guitar, sitting down, for that, but I would have to lay down for a while when my back hurt.
What's the plan for these songs you're working on? Do you see yourself making more EPs or going back for a full-length?
We actually started two songs in the studio in Chicago last spring with Benjamin, and we decided that we wanted to finish those up. That's also partly what we've been doing. Right after the show, we're going up to Chicago to get those nailed down. Part of the process is figuring out how to put them out. I'm pretty sure that the plan is to put them out on their own, for one reason because it's been over a year since we started them. But after that, the general consensus is to focus on a full record. Will that full-length conceivably made of songs that are already written?
I don't know - I think that's up in the air. I could see it being a combination of stuff that is unwritten and stuff that we're playing with now. I could also see it being a totally fresh start. I think getting those two songs finished up and also performing these new songs at the show will help us to start to figure that out.
Why do you think your band gravitated towards EPs for your last few releases?
I think it was a matter of the practical side of it, of getting five people who have to have day jobs, and that was the way to actually get stuff accomplished and out in a timely fashion without getting lost in the process of a full length. It's been long enough since a full length that we need to figure out a way to do 8 to 11 songs. Do you as a listener gravitate more toward LPs than singles?
I don't, and honestly I think that's a good question - maybe that's the million-dollar question. How much does it matter to people? I've heard people say that it still really matters to critics, people who will promote you still want stuff in a traditional format. Other people have said that you should just put stuff out in whatever way you can. My sense, though, is that there is still a certain amount of an expectation that if you're serious enough about it that you will be making full lengths. But I'm sure people will make the argument that that's not the case. Generally, I don't listen to stuff in an album format all the time. I bounce around a lot.
Interesting. You pull from a lot of influences that are album-artists as well as pre-LP singles artists.
It seems to me that things are coming back around to the single and focusing in on one song. At least when I was growing up, you bought an album and that's what bands put out. I think from a perspective of the person making the stuff, I can see an attraction on both ends of that. Certainly very attractive to say, we've got this song that we really like; let's go into the studio, make it, and put it out. But on the other side, there's also something attractive about putting together this mini catalog of songs and we feel really emly about all of them. There's something really - at least in my mind - ominous about the record, in a good way, that could suck you in and take you to another place because it's such a larger endeavor. But we've certainly enjoyed the short runs. Do you feel like your last LP, Working in Love, had to be told in an album form? Could you have chopped it into three four-song EPs?
I don't know - I don't feel like I'm all that good at song order and that question. I think that was more a matter of those songs coming fairly quickly, and we got to that number and said, hey, let's record all of these. Why wait? The last time you and I talked like this was almost five years ago, when Working in Love had just come out. I wondered if you could talk about how different you are, or the band is, in the intervening years. How has five years changed Jon Hardy & the Public?
Yeah, it's changed a lot. We have an almost totally different line-up. I think when you interviewed me, Glen (LaBarre, guitar) was playing us, and Johnny (Kidd Jr., keyboard) had just joined. So that's not as big of a change as I had thought. But this is our third drummer since then and our third bass player, although our second bass player is still in the band though he lives in L.A. A lot has happened. That record was coming out of a divorce for me, and now I'm gonna be getting married in October. I met a great woman and she's agreed to marry me.
One of the thing that feels the most different to me is that we're not sitting down and talking about something that we've just put out, and maybe I notice that because after LouFest we felt really good and had our set locked down. We were feeling really good, and then all of a sudden it was a dead stop. That's been a big obstacle, I guess, having to re-frame my mindset and not think too much about that change of feeling like things are getting going. There was not only that positive momentum from LouFest and having to deal with personnel changes; we finally had everyone together again and had the set down, had LouFest under our belt. One of the big things that has been going on from December til now is trying not to think that everything was going so great and then it stopped, and now we have all this ground to re-trace. It's like, don't think about it like that. Here's where you are and go forward from there.
What kind of momentum do you think is available to a St. Louis band?
One of the things I've heard from people in the industry is that you guys have to leave, you can't stay in St. Louis. But I don't know - I guess I'm an idealist and one of the things that internet has changed is that if you are making good stuff and are putting in the work to get it in front of people, good things can happen. We've seen some of that, getting hooked up with NPR, at least having conversations with people in New York and L.A. That didn't turn into anything concrete, but at least talking to people who had heard of us. I won't speak for the guys, but my mindset is I am positive about what you just described. I think we need to make sure that we are staying in front of the people that know us here and getting in front of new people. That means traveling and continuing to get music out there.