28 Sep Chris “Jonezen” Jones Interview
Chris Jones, aka Jonezen, was the 2013 Los Angeles Music Awards winner for Hip Hop Artist of the Year and is nominated this year for Hip Hop Artist of the Year and Solo Performer of the Year. He has performed at SXSW (South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival held in Austin, TX), and has a distinct musical style with a lot of heart and clever lyricism – and he’s sober!
I met Jonezen at a party a few weeks ago and was struck by how humble the man behind the music is – we talked about our shared fear of heights, thoughts on skydiving, and of course…getting sober. Chris has 2 1/2 years sober, is active in his recovery and doesn’t shy away from the topic in his music. His first mixtape “Live from Rehab” was actually recorded in a treatment center while getting sober, and the way he has married his passion for music with his own personal recovery caught my attention. Jonezen has a story that goes from recovery to record deal, he recently signed with Concore/Universal in June. His artistic rise in recovery is an example of how sobriety can empower us to achieve our dreams and he isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. I had the opportunity to ask him a little bit about music and sobriety.
So what was your relationship with music like before you got sober?
Same as it is now – a love/hate relationship but something I have to do to keep my sanity. It’s something I don’t know how to quit. My passion. I started writing when I was in 4th grade. I decided to do this professionally when I was 20 and moved to Cali. I had always loved music and knew it was what I wanted to do. Back then life was a party and my identity was completely wrapped up in that aspect of the business. I thought that’s who I had to be. I had made a living being “that guy.” A member of a party hip hop group. When I was told it was sober or death, I had no clue how I would keep going. It felt like my world just ended. I should also say that before I got sober I was unable to elevate my career past a certain level. I flat lined. After getting sober I really started to learn the business, network, and saw where I had gone wrong for a lot of years. Being sober has helped my career more than I can explain.
Do you play any instruments in addition to your lyricism?
I play guitar. I like to incorporate that into my live shows and if the songs call for it, in the studio. I can also produce but haven’t in a few years. My main focus is lyrics, executive producing, writing, and doing the business side of things.
When did you really recognize your drinking problem?
I’d have to say it was undeniable at 24. That’s when I started getting the shakes and going through withdrawals. I couldn’t function without alcohol. I’d start every day with 3 shots of vodka and a couple smokes.
Some artists say they were afraid that sobriety would make them less creative. What are your thoughts on this and have you found this to be true?
Not at all. When you get sober your brain starts working properly. In turn you’re more creative. At least that’s the way it was for me. It’s a funny thing: you only think that drugs and booze make you more creative when you’re on drugs and booze. When I got sober my fear wasn’t that I wouldn’t be creative – it was a fear of not knowing who I was without that stuff.
Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
It looked a little something like this…alone in my apartment most of the day. Law and Order locked on the TV. Fighting with my girl constantly. Shaking, twitching, going through withdrawals daily. Broke. My liver was shutting down, completely depressed, moving from my couch to the wood floor in front of the air conditioner because I was hot and cold at the same time. Taking shots of vodka in my kitchen staring at my dog crying promising him and myself I would stop. On top of all that I was beat physically. I had blown out knees, black eyes, a broken hand, cracked ribs, burns, and a stab wound on my arm. It was a disaster. But shit…it could have been worse.
What did your moment of clarity look like?
There were several. Most of which I don’t remember. But my parents have told me about a few phone calls I made in a black out saying I needed help. There were conversations with my girlfriend at the time. Convo’s with my brother. I knew it was bad. The real moment though was when my girl and I broke up and my Dad flew out from Detroit. He showed up at my apartment after hearing about the breakup and said “it’s either rehab or homeless.” I had no money, my lease was up, my girl was moving out, I hadn’t worked because of the injuries I had and he knew that I would need his help getting a new place. He seized the opportunity. At first I wasn’t going to go. I had places I could crash but I remember when he left my apartment – he opened the front door, turned around, and we locked eyes. That look on his face was it. When the door shut I sat down and decided I would go. I wrote a song about it called “Fathers Eyes.” It’s on my Live From Rehab mixtape.
You created some powerful material in early sobriety. What were your first 30 days like?
Shitty. I was pretty calm and nice to the staff but my therapist and I didn’t get along. I hated her and she knew I was full of shit. They almost kicked me out because, according to them (and I will vouch and say it’s true), I did what I was told and asked but I had a “silent middle finger” attitude toward the whole process. I was stubborn, didn’t want to stay sober, thought life was passing me by. In the end though staying there for 90 days was the best decision I have ever made in my life.
How has your sobriety influenced your passion for what you do?
It gave the music a whole new meaning and purpose. I don’t ONLY rap about recovery but it’s part of my story and that’s what I put in the music – my life and my experiences. The music means more and has more depth. It carries more weight. It hits people in a different way and really makes an impact on their lives. I get messages from people all over the world letting me know that my story and songs have inspired them, helped them stay sober, make a change. That’s priceless. That sort of thing wasn’t happening before.
What are the three best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
I stayed sober. My relationships with friends, family and people in my life have improved ten-fold. And the way I think about life, process my thoughts, and deal with the good and bad has changed for the better.
If you could go back in time and offer your young self advice/suggestions about life, what would you say?
Be more self aware and stop lying to your self. Everything matters. Everything counts.
Where do you hope to be 5 years from now? As an artist and as someone in recovery?
In my recovery I hope that I’ve taken a bunch of guys through the steps and continue to grow spiritually. I want to stay teachable and always learning. As an artist I think big. I want the Grammy’s, the world tours, the platform and exposure to make a difference in peoples lives and give back to the community. That’s where I’m heading.
Jonezen’s single Bombs Away is out on iTunes now and you can check him out on social media as well: