At first glance, one would not assume Jamie ‘Jonny 5’ Laurie is the frontman of energetically outspoken hip-hop act, Flobots. He holds a calm and insightful demeanor, keeping a piece of literature in his back pocket for down time at venues. Sitting on a short ledge in downtown Kansas City on the last day of this particular run, his eyes show the wear and tear brought with night in and out of performing.
Flobots recently wrapped up yet another coast-to-coast run with special guests Wheelchair Sports Camp and Jonny emotionally reflects on closing the doors on another tour.
“It’s always fun to sleep in your own bed, but it’s always bittersweet when the tour’s over,” Jonny said. “There’s the rush of every night, getting to meet people who enjoy your music and getting to have new conversations and relationships…I’ll miss that for sure. But, then there’s the next tour,” he ends, positively.
Flobots have always had a distinct socio-political voice with their music and the new single, “Bradley Manning,” is no different. Eye-opening and convincing, “Bradley Manning” contains provocative lyrics in hope to educate public ears on Manning, a U.S. solider who was arrested and charged for passing classified information to Wikileaks. Jonny opened up about “Bradley Manning” and the motivation behind such a sensitive piece.
“The Bradley Manning story was in the background of our concessions,” Jonny said. “When he actually made his statement to the court, I was listening and I thought, ‘wow this guy sounds like someone I would know, if not be friends with.'”
He continued to speak about how he felt a lot of people, including himself, misunderstood Manning and what he stood for.
“I felt like I had been swallowing the stigma that had been cast upon him and I felt bad for having done that. I thought, ‘what could we do to make it up to him, for not standing up for him sooner?’ Then I thought, ‘we should write a love song for Bradley Manning.'”
At this moment, Jonny dives into a confession about the interaction he has with many of his fans in the military and the connection he makes with them through Flobots’ music.
“We get a lot of folks who come to our shows that are either active duty or veterans and they frequently express gratitude toward us,” Jonny said.
“What I’m always struck by is what a huge full spectrum of opinion there are among people in the military. Bradley Manning reminded us of these folks we talk to, of someone who would be a Flobots fan. Someone who wrestles with difficult decisions and tires to do the best he can do.”
The Circle in the Square was the last full-length effort by Flobots. Released in 2012, the record contains countless amounts of political activism. Jonny admits the record was political, but also very personal and religious at times.
“All these ideas melted into one thing,” Jonny said reflectively, while searching for the right words to define his work. “An idea like sacrifice is a personal idea, it’s a religious idea and it’s a political idea.”
When searching Jonny 5 online, one can easily stumble across his biography featured on Flobots’ website, which claims, “in 2013, he hopes to write a rap in 10 languages.” When the question of this topic is raised, Jonny laughs shortly before addressing.
“I must have phrased that wrong,” Jonny said with a smile. “In general, in my lifetime, I want to rap in 10 different languages. I’ve written raps in Japanese, Spanish and English. I’m about 30% there.”
Top-40 success, a vast amount of national and international tours, numerous festival slots and a fantastic catalog underneath them, the question must now be asked–where will the Flobots legacy fall?
“Whoa, that’s a big one,” Jonny said. “The destiny is in our own hands. We can keep making this work. All I know is we’re not done yet.”
Written and conducted by: Matthew Leimkuehler