Meet Jon Smoil. The main man behind Pg. 256. With the release of his latest record, I went ahead and took time to ask him a bunch of questions pertaining to his music. It is really a rewarding experience when you really get to know the things behind the albums you listen to. And this is exactly what happened during this interview. I got to ask his top 5 albums as of the moment, the story behind the name Pg. 256 and also the Revolutionary War costume.
What made you conceive this musical vision?
This project was conceived during the construction phase of the actual studio. The same day that Matt and I wired up the control room, we were also working on Shots to the Kneecap. I wanted to do something that incorporated elements from all the different styles of music that I enjoy, and so I just started programming in between framing out walls for the band room. There were no creative boundaries, but I know myself and so I kind of knew what to expect. Industrial, metal, hip-hop, progressive and occasional moments of whatever else comes to mind.
You’ve got interesting influences that I am sure also helped in shaping your music. What’s your promotional plan for Pg. 256?
Right now I’m learning how to promote as I go. I’ve read 2 books and a bunch of articles on marketing independent bands, and I’m more or less throwing things at the wall to see what sticks so that I know where to focus my attention.
The latest idea I had was to make a few cover songs that I hope will help with gaining exposure. Once we have a full live set tightened up I’m going to start gigging again. For the last few bands I’ve been involved with it’s been public performance that’s really brought in the most hardcore fans.
Why Pg. 256. What’s the story behind the name?
In high school my buddy Jeff noticed the number 256 popping up all over the place and eventually said something. Since then it’s been kind of a running joke between a small group of friends. When it came time to start showing some of the songs I needed a band name quick, and somehow 256 came up again, so I stuck “pg.” in front of it and called it a day. I like it because it’s a wide open name. It’s not tied down to a genre. Anything can be on that page.
Please tell me about the songwriting process for you?
Song writing happens one of several ways for me. Usually it starts with lyrics and a melody that I kick around in my head. That goes to paper, then it gets organized, and finally I can begin programming and recording it.
Sometimes I’ll just sit in front of a blank session and start creating instruments just to see what sounds good. If I’m doing a cover I won’t make an exact copy. I’ll use the same framework, but I try and fill it in different from the original. No matter what I’m trying to do I can guarantee that the plan will change along the way.
The song Stealth Bomber came from an e-mail conversation with my friends Andre about a painting he did. We went back and forth for a little bit, and concepts started presenting themselves. At the time I was working on the music for the song, and up shit’s creek for lyrics. After that email exchange, the creative ball started rolling and the song wrote itself. Find it and follow it wherever and whenever you can.
Care to share the challenges you faced in forming the project and what did you do to overcome them?
I can honestly say that in the studio, this project runs pretty smooth. If I end up not liking a part I just change it. If a song gets too far out of whack I just move on. The only real bumps in the road came when Matt and I were getting all the gear calibrated to work together. We ended up reading a bunch of manuals and watching way too many tutorial videos on the inner workings of various DAWs and pieces of gear. Matt, thanks for sticking that out with me bro.
What are the important things a performer should remember when performing in a new venue?
In a new venue I would be really worried about sound, but I was lucky back in the day. There were live sound guys that ran most of the shows we played, and for the bar shows Codeman did a lot of the work.
One place we played at was run by drug addicts who stopped the show half way through because they smoked everything that they skimmed off of the door money and decided to shake the people down for cash and beer mid-show. It was a BYOB show. So sometimes there’s that kind of thing to watch out for, but it’s rare. Most venue people are professionals and can be reasoned with.
Things one must avoid when playing for a much younger crowd?
I think you gauge what you can get away with by the tendencies of the crowd rather than the age. If you’re playing for a bunch of ICP fans then you’re safe to say or do pretty much whatever you want on stage. If you’re playing at a decent bar you might want to keep it dry, be less animated, and leave the penis and fart jokes in your left pocket for later. Instead say things like, “I never dreamed I’d be playing for crowds of five” or “(Insert Venue), the Taj Mahal of (Insert Town).” There’s also what I call the Gordon Freeman method where you say nothing outside of performing the song. Usually if you’ve had a few drinks it’s good to practice that one.
If you have a chance to tour outside the US what country would you surely go and why?
If we actually gain enough steam to support a tour that goes outside of the US then I’d play anywhere where we were received well. At this point it’s been Canada, the Philippines, and England that have responded more to Pg. 256 than even the US. If we ever get off the east coast I’d like to start in those three places. Of course at that point we’d have a tour manager and they’d be telling me where I’m going.
I am browsing through your videos/press photo via Sine Wave and what’s the story behind the Revolutionary War costume picture?
Good Question! At one point I had written a bunch of educational songs related to Revolutionary War that I was planning to perform at schools in the area. I went as far as buying the coat and hat, talking to history teachers about subject matter, and composing beats and lyrics. It just seemed like a fun project to me.
Eventually Pg. 256 took precedence over that idea, and it got put on the back burner. I still love the costume though. It’s really well made and actually very warm, plus it’s appropriate for a guy from New England to wear a French Lottery coat. At this point I put it on because it’s more interested than a hooded flannel coat. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll end up doing something with the material I have on the Revolutionary War, but one thing at a time.
Every genre has something about its fans having a common ‘culture.’ What have you found so far in terms of the kind of ‘culture’ you are in and the kind of followers you have?
A bunch of the fans carried over from a group called MIDI and Code that I was in a few years back. That would be the ICP crowd. I never really got into the band myself, but their fans have been super cool and open to our shenanigans. Beyond that we have the people stuck in the 90s (including myself), industrial metal fans, industrial hip hop fans, and fans of other obscure genres that we somehow fall into. It’s my feeling that the band attracts small niche audiences. We’re far from Pop Culture. Every review I get back from A&R reps tells me that I need more predictable rhyming schemes and lyrical content, and that the music itself needs to be less obscure and appeal to a mass audience. To me that spells out cliché, and that’s just not going to happen with this project.
Things you do when now working with music?
When I’m in the studio by myself for hours and hours (and sometimes days) on end I get the Keurig machine going and drink tons of tea and coffee. When something good starts to happen I’ll run with it until I either fall asleep at the keyboard, or the law of diminishing returns kicks in.
When I’ve got someone in there working with me I try to keeps things relaxed. I’ll have that person do what they do best whether it’s guitars, vocals, drums, or bass. No pressure during takes on my end. I just let the tape roll and let them do as many takes as they want, and save everything. Then I go back later on and find all the best parts and mix them into whatever track I’m working on.
Top 5 albums you listen to these days
I STILL listen to Peter Gabriel: So a lot. I first got that one on cassette when I was six years old. Tool: 10,000 Days has been in constant rotation since it was released. Lately Death Grips: Money Store has had me looking at music a little differently. That’s a cool album. I’ve been going back and listening to NIN, mostly Downward Spiral, for ideas and inspiration. I’ve also gone back to Ministry: Filthpig for the open drum style and Al Jourgensen’s vocal effect techniques. These are the albums that I will A/B with while mixing and mastering.
Jonathan Smoil: music/lyric composition, engineering, editing, programming, samples, mastering, post production, keys, guitar, vocals
Matt Tonges: music composition, engineering, samples, keys, guitar
Julio Sapere: lead guitar
Jessica Lee: vocals
Dan Brimberg: lead guitar
Joe Cipriano: lyric composition, house kit drum samples