Singled Out: Ian Jones' Athens Smiles

Keavin Wiggins | 04-10-2023

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Ian Jones Album art
Album art

Seasoned Seattle singer-songwriter Ian Jones just released his new album, "Results Not Typical". To celebrate we asked him to tell us about one of the tracks and he selected "Athens Smiles". Here is the story:

Results Not Typical is a record that was born out of a conversation I had with a friend and industry professional a while back. We were talking about making records and he suggested that I "pick a lane" for a record. "Pick a lane" and do a bunch of songs that are similar in theme and musical background.

So, I set out, going through a bunch of back catalogue songs and started to write a bunch of new material with this "lane" in mind.

The result was about 15-20 songs that we had to cull through to get to the 11 that were finally chosen for the record. Working with producer Jesse (Siebenberg) on this was a really fun process. We joked about some songs, had serious conversations about others, and finally agreed on the 11 and how they were going to be done. The order of the songs came later, but that's another story.

A lot of the songs originate in the mindset of traveling around the country, playing music, writing, moving to new towns, moving again, and eventually moving home.

I've chosen to tell the story of the song "Athens Smiles" which is track 5 off the album.

Athens Smiles is a story about a girl who was from Athens, Georgia. She was out on tour, and my band played a show with her and her drummer (they were touring as a two piece) at a small club in Seattle.

I had been lucky enough to spend some time in Athens back in 2001 when my band was on a US tour. We did an entire southeast run based out of Athens and drove back every night from where we were playing in Florida, South Carolina, and towns in Georgia. I fell in love with Athens and held those memories dear in my mind.

Anyway, we did this show, and it was a catastrophe! She and her drummer played 40 minutes past their set time and my band only got about 15 minutes on stage that night because of a curfew. The only thing I remember about that night is that her tour consisted of shows in Athens, Seattle, San Diego and then back to Athens. I figured that was a lot of driving for 4 shows that didn't pay!

Fast forward a few days and I went to go see Merle Haggard and Niko Case at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. I was blown away by how Merle's band, about 12 folks up on stage, sounded like a 4 piece. They all played so little, and there was so much space, that it sounded like a small band, even though there were so many on stage.

I went home and gave myself an assignment to write a song that was very simple. Where you strum one chord and sing an entire line. Then, strum another chord and sing another entire line. It was a departure to how I usually wrote, but many of my favorite songs had this format. Anyway, I needed something to write about, so I made up a story about her tour and started working.

Now, I've driven around this country on tour, and I know what it's like to drive for hours and hours and have the scenery outside the van seem like it hasn't changed. I've driven from LA to Austin on Highway 10 (never again hopefully!!) and I know what it's like to lose track of time while driving. I used these memories of my own to help construct the song.

The song turned out better than I expected, and I still play the original version when I do solo shows. I'll tell the story about the girl from Athens, then go into the song. Of course, Jesse sped it up for the album version, and we added Nashville style strings, along with the drum part that Joey (Waronker) came up with, which really drives it home.

So, in a way, I used my own experience of traveling to construct a story about someone else's journey. This is one of the wonderful things about writing. There really are no rules. And at the end of the day, I got a cool song out of it.

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen and watch for yourself below and learn more about the album here

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