Bonny Doon Are Who They’re Supposed to Be

For their second full-length (and debut on Woodsist), the Detroit folk-rock quartet stopped thinking too much and just went to the beach instead.
Bonny Doon Are Who They’re Supposed to Be

For their second full-length (and debut on Woodsist), the Detroit folk-rock quartet stopped thinking too much and just went to the beach instead.

Words: Alex Swhear

photo by Chloe Sells

May 14, 2018

MEMBERS: Bobby Colombo (guitar/vocals), Bill Lennox (guitar/vocals), Joshua Brooks (bass), and Jake Kmiecik (drums)
FROM: Detroit, Michigan
YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Their warm, rootsy self-titled debut album from 2017
NOW: Releasing their sophomore effort, Longwave, and supporting Band of Horses and Snail Mail on a summer tour

When Bonny Doon began sketching out a strategy to follow up their self-titled debut, they knew they wanted to do things differently. “I think everything’s always a reaction to how you did it the last time and what’s exciting you at the moment,” says Bobby Colombo, who splits vocal and guitar duties in the band with Bill Lennox. While their first record was a strong arrival, Colombo and Lennox characterize its creation as long and arduous. So the band snuck away from their native Detroit and rented a house on the beach in Northern Michigan, recording their next album in just five days, aiming for a looser, more instinct-driven process. “We were just thinking, ‘First thought, best thought’ with this one,” Colombo explains.

“We were just thinking, ‘First thought, best thought.’”

The result is Longwave, an album Bonny Doon might still have made if they weren’t holed up in a Michigan beach house, but probably not. Delicate and contemplative, the ten new songs feel very much like a product of their recording process—while Bonny Doon weren’t necessarily intent on tearing up the playbook, this record is still a totally different beast from its predecessor. Longwave embraces the stylings of Bonny Doon—folk rock with some alt-country sprinklings—but the band’s more spontaneous approach lends it a scrappiness that feels fresh. Rather than rein these songs in to the point of suffocation, the band allows them to breathe, rambling and untangling themselves in unexpected ways.

Just as Bonny Doon sought a different approach to their sophomore album, they bristle at the idea of a conventional live show. The band are hitting the road with Band of Horses and Snail Mail this summer, and are aiming to offer an inviting audience experience—but not one with a copy-and-paste approach. “The paradigm of live music is so old and stagnant,” Colombo laments. “We’re interested in and would like to figure out ways to push us further… We have sort of an unhinged live show sometimes. We play the songs almost like they’re falling apart, but they never really do.”

Whichever way it ends up manifesting itself on tour, the album itself is strikingly put together. And the solitude of the recording process is a crucial part of the album’s DNA; Longwave examines isolation at its most blissful (“I’m faking my own death so I can get some rest,” it sighs at one point) and gnawing (“I’m tired of having secrets but no one to tell”). “Those contradictions do exist in all of us—they’re natural, and they’re there, and they fight with each other,” Colombo observes. “Sometimes it can be hard to figure out how to move forward when you’re painfully aware of the tensions that are residing in you. And I do think the record is sort of a document of that for us.”

If that all seems a bit dreary, know that, in fact, Bonny Doon sound like they’re gunning to be spiritual successors to Silver Jews and Neil Young, with a pinch of Summerteeth-era Wilco thrown in. It’s because of this mood that the record never comes across as overly self-serious. The title track, which opens the album, ends in a knowing refrain, zen-like in its conviction: “You are who you’re supposed to be.” It’s delivered with the confidence of a band that believes it, and is comfortable enough in their skin to act accordingly. FL

This article appears in FLOOD 8. You can download or purchase the magazine here.