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WITF Music: Jon Smith’s Voyages

The theatrical-rock musician talks about his name, his retro style and his latest album.

  • Joe Ulrich
John Smith of John Smith's Voyages performs.  Jeremy Long - WITF

John Smith of John Smith's Voyages performs. Jeremy Long - WITF

Jon Smith of Reading is the songwriter and leader of the band Jon Smith’s Voyages. Smith’s music, and the band’s attire, have a distinctly retro style that has been likened to a cross between David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. Smith recently released his album, Unattended Symphony, which he performed and recorded himself. But since enlisting a band, Smith’s music has taken on new life. He and his shipmates Kevin Beerman, Brendan Quinn and Charlie Wanyo stopped at WITF for a performance and chat with WITF Music.

Listen to the radio feature:

Joe Ulrich: The name. Where did the “voyages” part come from? Is it a voyage of some description?

Jon Smith: It’s a play on words because Captain John Smith from Jamestown and Pocahontas. And growing up it was like, oh, I’m Jon Smith and it’s like, oh, you’re the guy from Pocahontas.

I cycled through a couple of different names and landed on that. I was like, what if I take this annoying reference I’ve gotten my whole life and spin it. He’s not the only Jon Smith who can go on a voyage.

Joe Ulrich: On the recordings you play all of the instruments and you play a lot of different instruments. I’m curious how you came to play so many different things.

Jon Smith: I take a lot of influence from ELO [Electric Light Orchestra] and The Kinks and The Beatles. All those bands had such a variety of instruments that they played around with, a lot of different textures and tones.

And so I always really enjoyed that and so when it came to writing my songs I heard these flutes and clarinets and all sorts of things, but I couldn’t form a band. So I was like, all right, screw it. I’ll learn these things myself. And it became a means to an end.

Joe Ulrich: Tell me about the album.

Jon Smith: It was weird because I recorded it and then the band started forming and then I was like, what do I do with this? Do I shelve it? Then the pandemic happened. The state of the world was very depressing and still is frankly. But so I wanted to get it out and it was something that I wanted to be genuine to myself.

[Talking about the band he’s formed] These guys are super, super fun musicians, just like really great guys.

Kevin Beerman: I would say it’s some of the best people I’ve ever played with, ever.

Jon Smith: I wouldn’t want to cram into a Subaru packed with gear with anyone else, really.

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