A Single-Question Interview with Jon Black

By S. Tremaine Nelson

The music of Fort Atlantic played in the backdrop of the hardest winter of my life. My childhood best friend Tim Coulter, the bassist of Fort Atlantic, had sent me a demo cassette tape he had recorded with Fort Atlantic’s founder, front-man, and primary songwriter Jon Black. It was the winter of 2017 in Vermont: my father had recently died and my son had been born seven weeks prematurely, trapped in the University of Vermont’s N.I.C.U. The Fort Atlantic tape arrived in the mail. Our old Jeep Cherokee had a tape-deck that still worked: there, in the freezing cold morning, I slid the tape into the Jeep’s tape deck, and—ZAP—immediately shorted the battery and killed the engine. Later, I would tell my friends Tim and Jon that their music had electrified my Jeep, had killed it with their sound. After charging the Jeep, I got the tape to play: Shadow Shaker Volume 1, the record that got us through that winter, which even now, reminds us that art can heal and carry you through times of struggle. Less than 18 months later, we were loading up a truck to move across the country to Oregon, where Jon and his family were living.

S. TREMAINE NELSON:
Is there a specific sound to the Pacific Northwest?

JON BLACK:
There isn’t a sound to the Pacific Northwest but rather a spirit There isn’t a sound to the Pacific Northwest but rather a spirit and texture. It’s an autumn day with a light rain in your granddaddy’s beat up truck that you borrowed to pick up 2x4s from Mr. Plywood. You’re not going to build a practical piece of furniture or even an addition to your house. You could, but this lumber is for a sound baffle so you can record drums in your basement. You’re going to use old techniques and designs to build it but it’s going to be tweaked enough to be your own. You could buy a sound baffle but it wouldn’t feel like you and what you need has to fit in a specific corner of your makeshift studio. Plus, it’s cheaper to make it yourself. We don’t factor in the financial cost of time here because from late October to June or July we have time to work on our projects. We’re in no rush. In simple terms it can be called a DIY spirit but it’s more than that. It’s a curiosity to see not only what you can make but also how much of something you can make. From the songs all the way down to the pre-amps and fuzz pedals, it’s using the tools you have to do the most you can. Listening to bands from the Pacific Northwest while growing up in the South, I couldn’t put my finger on what It was, but after living here for close to eight years I’m finally able to start defining it. It’s authentic and subtly crafted with the character of the person making it. It’s not about success. It’s about making something real.

That’s the sound of the Pacific Northwest. . .well, that and a meth addict yelling at you while you leave your rehearsal space under the Hawthorne Bridge.