Jon Piotrowski might not be a household name, but he just released a greatest-hits record. Well, kind of.
“Yeah, this is ‘Best of Jon, Volume One,’” he jokes, referring to his new album, A Thousand Years. “And I mean that in the most narcissistic manner possible.”
Actually, Piotrowski, who’s been performing and recording under the name Cry for Us Black Swans for about a year, looks at the new record as more of a retrospective of the last decade. During that time, he’s been in a few bands, most notably alt-rockers Demasiado and the electro group Cats from Japan, but he says he kept wanting to work on the 10 songs that make up A Thousand Years.
“There are two songs on there that were recorded 10 years ago,” he says. “These songs have just been hanging around in my back pocket for a while. I was destined to put it out eventually.”
The casual listener could never tell that the record was a collection of songs from the Poway native’s entire musical career. The album seems thematically cohesive, as if the entire thing were recorded over a weekend in some dank studio. At times, it almost feels like a concept album with recurring themes of isolation, loneliness and unrequited love. If it sounds like a break-up record in the vein of Beck’s Sea Change or Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Piotrowski says that’s because it is.
“All the songs on A Thousand Years are break-up songs, but not about breaking up with a girl,” he says. “They are about the break-ups I went through with the four other members of Demasiado and the one other member of Cats from Japan. With these five guys I took a journey. Physically, we went nowhere, but spiritually, mentally and even metaphysically, we were off the charts—way off in another time and space. To come back from that with nothing but some dark memories and an acoustic guitar forced me to quit bands for the time being and purge all my songs out that I have been carrying around for so long.”
One of the album’s greatest strengths is Piotrowski’s undeniably affected voice. Sounding like a young Mark Lanegan, it’s an instrument in itself and one of the main reasons Demasiado gained a strong local following and appeared poised to break out nationally.
When they broke up in 2009, Piotrowski began garnering a reputation in the electro scene, playing with DJ Eric Flynn in Cats from Japan and collaborating with electro-rockers Shark Attack. He says he enjoyed dabbling with a new sound but that it garnered him a reputation he wasn’t necessarily looking for.
“People have asked me and still ask me if I’m a DJ, and I’m like, ‘Nah, man I’m not a DJ.’ I had to tell them, ‘No, I’m in a band, I swear.’” For someone who just turned 30, Piotrowski seems unaffected by the prospect of having to start over with Cry for Us Black Swans. He recently played the South by Southwest music festival, and even though he didn’t return with a record deal or media-hyped buzz, he says he’s just excited about playing music again.
“I think slowly if I just make albums and get on the road and tour and get people to know about me,” he says, “then maybe I’ll have the resources to sing with an orchestra or something like that.
“I feel the same hunger that I did when I was 16 years old. It got to a point with those other projects where I lost the butterflies,” Piotrowski says, referring to the feeling of nervousness before a show. “A lot of times, there was never that ‘Holy shit, I’m so fucking nervous’ moment when I played live. It was more like, ‘La-te-da, I have to go roll around on the ground again and act crazy.’ I want to challenge myself, pick up a guitar and get the butterflies again. I hate being that nervous, but you want to be that nervous, because then you know you’re doing something that’s completely challenging you and you’re completely vulnerable.”
Cry for Us Black Swans performs with John Brodeur, Echo Revolution and Wendy Bailey at Soda Bar on Sunday, April 3. Black Swans will also play a vinyl-release show for A Thousand Years on May 29 at The Casbah.