‘I’ve always felt to stay true to my own musical interests. It’s hip to be square.’

Only a culture with its priorities backwards would produce a sentence like that. Only a culture of stunted evolution and creative stagnation would dismiss staying true to one’s individual principles and interests as “square.”

“…Conventional or conservative in taste or way of life,” is how Merriam-Webster defines square. Indeed, the 21st century does not foster the individual. Through schools, jobs, summer blockbusters and top 40 playlists, individualism is discouraged and demonised as being merely subversive and obtrusive. There are no billions to be made in originality. Thus, conformity has become the new cool. 

This is not Michael Jablonka’s fault.

The pop-culture around Jablonka’s music is the antithesis of his own work: Staid, sterile, stale. His double A-side single I Found You/Peacefully contains no artificial colours or flavourings, but purely organic worth. He’s just a guy doing his thing. Passionately and with love. And he makes no bones about following his creative ambitions. 

Take that first sentence: “I’ve always felt to stay true to my own musical interests.” Jablonka is not treading charted waters, he’s walking his own path. And “It’s hip to be square,” is just him acknowledging that his individuality is unfashionable. That where once it would have been lauded, it is now frowned upon by many in the prevalent musical climate.

Rock n’ roll has never been more unfashionable. Hip-hop and electronic music are experiencing very fertile creative periods at the moment. But even many of those developments are outside of the public’s consciousness. Jablonka’s music is undeniably rock n’ roll, but not derivative. Unlike the guitar-based indie-lite bands clogging the airwaves at present.

‘There are some really legit bands out there, especially on the underground scene,’ Jablonka says. ‘But I would agree that yes, there isn’t too much on the commercial level that’s paving the way at the moment.’

A stark contrast to the last real high rock music had with the alt-rock boom of the early nineties. Where, before the rip-off artists and coattail riders hopped on the bandwagon, genuine musical expression landed a good right hook on the consuming public. But Jablonka doesn’t feel this stagnation is the end of the line: ’I think it’s the natural course of the music industry. Rock music will have its moment again though I’m sure.’

It’s this faith in the music that led Chris of label Lost In The Manor to sign Jablonka. ‘…There’s still an audience for many different types of music and we’ve always believed that good sounds will stand the test of time, whatever the fashions of the day.

‘As a label we sign the acts that excite us, regardless of genre, and believe their quality will shine through.’

One of the clinchers for the signing – along with Jablonka’s ‘soul-stirring songs, jaw-dropping guitar skills’ – was his ‘general rock n’ roll demeanour.’ The brand of cool associated with rock n’ roll – the guitar hero, the jet-set lifestyle, “none-more-black,” – has long been absent from both the charts and the subterranean music world. Simply because no one has managed to bridge the gap between the style of a rockstar with the credibility of an indie band.

But Jablonka is in a unique position to do just that. The hazy, distorted riffs he pulls out of his electric guitar are reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or Dinosaur Jr. But, his virtuosity calls to mind all the greats. Especially the melding of rawness and soul that was the hallmark of Jimi Hendrix.

‘He had that song ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ and for me was super inspirational. It’s super expressive and raw and you can’t help but feel immersed.’ Jablonka does not drink from the shallow waters of the musical gene pool. And as the tides of riffs and waves of lead guitar wash over the listener, one can’t help but feel total immersion in his music.

The guitar player has been relegated to sideman status in this present day. The emphasis has been placed on the songwriter, as opposed to a person who wants to further what can be done with the instrument. And Jablonka paid his dues as neo-soul singer Michael Kiwanuka’s lead player.

Jablonka says ‘The best thing about working with MK is that he gave me scope to be myself within his aegis.’ But Jablonka still had to work within Kiwanuka’s vision. With his solo career, the reigns are off. And the guitar has found a new mode of expression in his hands.

Influences and sounds that would have been ill-fitting in Kiwanuka’s band now present a fresh avenue to be explored. Distortion and effects lay a foundation for a new brand of soulful rock music. The eighties’ cynical taint still contaminates rock n roll’s good name. But Jablonka’s music simultaneously harks back to a more optimistic time in music as it reaches forward into the unmapped future.

He says ‘I guess all musicians get their inspiration from what comes before. I definitely don’t want to regurgitate the past, my aim is to develop music that could be suggestive of the future.’

And by staying true to his own musical interests that’s exactly what he’s doing. “The future’s uncertain” as Jim Morrison noted. But with the likes of Michael Jablonka pursuing individual creative goals, it’s just a bit less frightening.

Fear of the unknown has crippled many a creative soul. But for those who dare to look uncertainty and foolishness in the eye, the rewards are great. The satisfaction is unreal.

Jablonka, from under his mane of kinky dark hair, has met the future’s gaze. Between the quality of his output and the support of Lost In The Manor, his upward trajectory is assured.

As Lost In The Manor’s Chris notes ‘the corporate “music” business at the moment… is content to manufacture demeaning formulaic trash.’ Jablonka’s artistic endeavours are far from formulaic. And lightyears from demeaning. He doesn’t patronise the audience or insult their intelligences by churning out what he thinks they’ll buy.

He’s a square: an artist true to his musical interests.

by James Fleming

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