The notion of the rock renegade who rises from the gutter to touch the stars is so appealing that it’s become a cliché. And given the number of artists who like to embellish their humble backstory to fit the archetype of the due-spaying, struggling artist, it’s easy to be sceptical when one comes along.
You can leave your cynicism at the door when introduced to Ayron Jones. Because he hasn’t had to deal with just challenging early-life events such as his parents dying and spending time in foster care, as well as the many disadvantages that come from simply having black skin in urban America, but as a musician he’s had to battle with “constant” preconceptions based on racially related boundaries we place on music. But a black kid playing hard rock? Surely we’re all open-minded enough not to question that?
“It’s the questions you still get,” Jones says, grinning ruefully. “‘Are you a rapper?’ ‘Do you rap?’ ‘You a DJ? A producer?’ It used to frustrate me a lot, but eventually we started using it to our advantage. Now I almost want you to think I’m a rapper before I step on stage, so you end up having to question yourself on this preconceived idea, and where that came from, you know?”
It comes, of course, from stereotyping, which might also sometimes apply to, say, a white rapper turning up at a hip-hop club open-mic night (if the Eminem-starring film 8 Mile is to be believed), but which has a more sinister backdrop in Jones’s context, given the lack of opportunities for black people in the US.
“We had to deal with the tribulations that come with being a person of colour in America or, you know, any part of the Western world,” says Jones. “Which is that whether consciously or unconsciously, you’re seen as a second-class citizen. Then you have to fight through these preconceptions in order just to get the same kind of treatment that some of the other bands would get. It was an uphill battle. Still is, sometimes."
It’s one he’s winning, though, thanks to his growing reputation built first in his home city of Seattle, a place renowned for its rock heritage. His major-label debut album Child Of The State blends a gritty, indignant brand of grunge-inflected hard rock with a bluesy emotional pull, feisty grooves and frenetic sparks of lead guitar, which seems well-equipped to turn the heads of audiences far beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Jones has come a long way since first teaching himself guitar and drums in his early teens, back when he was living with his aunt and uncle, who had taken him in after the youngster had been in and out of foster care from the age of four while his parents struggled with drug addiction. He credits music with giving him a focus for difficult emotions as well as a way out of poverty, as last year's single Take Me Away alludes to.
“That song was about me putting all of my energy and my focus into my guitar and my music to take me away from whatever situation that I was born into,” he says.
After sharpening his act playing covers locally, as Ayron Jones & The Way, the trio independently released 2013’s Dream, produced by Seattle rap maverick Sir Mix-A-Lot, before he released 2017’s Audio Paint Job album as a solo artist, overseen by former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin.
Meanwhile, he enjoyed the patronage of local luminaries when, on Martin’s recommendation, he was asked by the producer, along with Duff McKagan and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, to front their supergroup the Levee Walkers for their 2017 single All Things Fade Away. McKagan also invited Jones to open for Guns N’ Roses that year. He has also shared stages with, among others, BB King, Public Enemy and Jeff Beck.
“Ayron is such a special and badass new Seattle artist,” McKagan told Rolling Stone. “I went to a show of his and it was one of those that made me realise how glad I am that I chose music as a path.”
Jones is an articulate and enthusiastic character who you sense would have got himself noticed in any environment, but he gives a lot of credit to a supportive local community, hinted at in his album’s title Child Of The State.
“My parents passed before I started with music, so they never saw me play,” he says. “My auntie and my uncle at the time, and my cousins in the state, those are the people I had to raise me. Here in Seattle, Washington, this is the town and the state that really gave me an opportunity to become who I am as a person and an artist.”
That fierce pride in his origins, both geographical and cultural, blazes from the speakers on the album’s opening track, Boys From The Puget Sound. It also displays an indignant middle finger to those people who made life difficult for Jones and his band on the way up.
“That song came about because people kept calling the cops on us for being too loud. Again it goes back to the stigma of not fitting the preconceived notion of what a rock band should be: you walk in on a bunch of brown dudes… So many times we got the cops called on us. We were in a venue in Utah, made for performing loud music, and they called the police on us anyway. So every time we stepped on stage, this song is like a big ‘fuck you’ to anybody like that who has gotten in our way.
“It’s like: [quotes lyric] ‘We’ll blow out all these fucking windows, here come the boys from the Puget Sound.’”
Once we’re allowed to attend indoor shows again, we look forward to seeing Ayron and friends pop a pane or two here in the UK.
“I was looking forward to playing Download [this year], man,” he enthuses. “So sad they had to cancel it. But I guess they don’t have windows to blow out there, right?”
True, but something tells us Ayron Jones will still find a way of grabbing your attention.