mindyourmind recently interviewed The Grounbreaking Ceremony, from central Pennsylvania, upon their new self-released EP, “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do”. When asked where the name for the new album came from and what they were told they can’t do, they said it was “a result of the obstacles that can get in the way in life that try to hold you back. You can’t let anyone stop you from what you feel is right in your heart. No matter what”. Dubbed as “THE hardest working band” on the Vans Warped Tour this past summer, by lead singer JR Wasilewski of Less Than Jake, these guys are all about following their dreams and making them a reality, without letting anything or anyone stand in the way.
In this interview, we talked to lead singer Jonnie Baker about the tragic loss of a dear friend to suicide and the hard emotions that come with such a loss. Thoughtful and honest, when asked what advice he might have for someone dealing with a similar loss, Jonnie says, “It’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to grieve, and it’s ok to mourn -- but beyond that, it’s ok to seek help, and to reach out and talk to someone. It’s ok to move on, and it’s ok to keep living your life, and keep pursuing your dreams. And at the same time, it’s ok to remember sometimes and cry. Never underestimate the power of a good cry into a pillow, followed by a long nap or a long night’s sleep after that.”
Thank you Jonnie for sharing your stories with us. <3
Can you tell us a bit about how the band got started?
Dirk actually started this band right after he left high school, and it was something that just wasn’t taken very seriously until recently. It was just a fun thing to do, but eventually working so hard and not trying to jump to the next level, and not knowing how, makes being in a band pretty bleak to look forward to. So about two or three years ago, we started directing our efforts into recording quality records on a DIY budget, and began pressing them ourselves and touring. We gained enough fans to start entering contests and began winning them, and it all sort of piled on from there.
Your music has been described as being alternative/pop punk. How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t yet heard your music?
That’s actually a pretty good description, but really I think we’re identified less and less as a “pop punk” band nowadays. When we (in the band) think of “pop punk” -- we’re thinking of blink 182, Fall Out Boy’s earlier records, New Found Glory, Homegrown, Hidden In Plain View, MXPX, and bands like that -- the Drive-Thru (records) Era, as we refer to it in our band. Pop Punk is kind of the new hardcore now, when you think about it. It’s blast beats and scream singing, breakdowns, and gang chants. It just sort of evolved into something that isn’t what we used to call pop punk (man, that makes us sound old). If anything now, we’re more of a pop rock band, and we get likened to bands like Mayday Parade, All Time Low, and Yellowcard. Ultimately, when you ask us, we just say we sound like us. There’s so many influences and things that come to mind, we’d probably say, “If you haven’t heard us yet, pull up a chair, and put on your favorite headphones, sit outside and relax and listen to the record and see what you think it sounds like.”
I’ve read that following your dreams is something that is very important to the band. Does your new album “Don’t Tell Me What I Can't Do” (released this past July) have anything to do with this theme?
Yeah, that’s a big part of the record. That and LOST. We’re all big fans of the TV series, and that saying (Don’t tell me what I can’t do) was really something that began to reverberate within our band over the past year or so. There’s just so much in the music industry, and so much in life really, that can be daunting or make you unsure of yourself and what you’re doing. The record’s opening track “Eleventh and Bleecker” is really all about that. People come, and people go, but at the end of the day, you have to live your dream for YOU, and not for someone else. Timing is everything, and sometimes you’ll find that you arrived to where you wanted to be a little later than you had hoped, and sometimes if you’re lucky, you get there before you thought you would -- and sometimes even THAT’S unfortunate because you just aren’t ready to be there yet.
Also where does the inspiration for the title come from? What did someone tell you that you can’t do?
Again, this is really less a byproduct of people directly telling us we can’t do something (though in some cases it has happened), and more a result of the obstacles that can get in the way in life that try to hold you back. You can’t let anyone stop you from what you feel is right in your heart. No matter what. Life has been seemingly ganging up on us for the last two years or so (and admittedly, we’re sure a lot of people feel like that from time to time), and it just seems like it’s all there to tell you, “You can’t do that,” or, “You can’t do this.” We say, “To Hell with that. Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”
What are some of your musical inspirations and influences?
A lot of what inspires us musically and influences us comes from what our fans are listening to. Just like most people don’t listen to the same genre of music ONLY or with prejudice anymore, we don’t really want to write music of one genre ONLY. At the end of the day, we’re four dudes with musical influences that really range from hardcore, to pop, and everything in between. How do you marry that really, other than deciding that some things sound good together, and some things don’t. It can’t always be about implementing a perfected vision of what you want a song to be. Sometimes you just have to see where the music takes you -- and we hope that’s something that people get from us when they hear our music.
Your lyrics are honest, heartfelt and full of meaning; is there one person who writes the songs, or do you write them together as a band?
I (Jonnie), write the majority of the songs. A former member wrote “Don’t Be A Dream” when he was still a part of the band, but every other song on the record’s lyrics were written by me. I appreciate hearing you feel that they’re honest, heartfelt and full of meaning. I know sometimes certain lyrics can come across as juvenile or trite, but really, every line is meant to be analyzed. Words come with a great deal of gravity behind them, and I think people lose sight of that sometimes in lieu of wanting to sound witty or clever -- and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. But sometimes I like to write so that every line or sentence is meant to be reflected upon.
I’ve read that your song “Psalm 51” was written for a friend who has passed away. In addition to dedicating a song to him/her, how else have you dealt with the passing and with the process of moving forward?
This is a pretty good question, and one that I wish came about more often. My friend Chris passed away on February 29th this year because he committed suicide. It’s really hard for me to deal with that some days, because when we were around each other, we kept each other anchored. We weren’t out of control or reckless or anything like that, but we both chose to live with our hearts on our sleeves, and it often got us into a lot of trouble with ourselves. I don’t think I’ll ever truly move forward from losing him, because I honestly and truly in my heart know that if I was still around him in Pennsylvania (I moved to St Louis almost a year ago now), that I would have been able to prevent his suicide, just by being there in the first place. The night of his passing he had been drinking and drove home. He was in an accident that set everything into motion, and the reality plain and simply is that if I was home in Pennsylvania still, I would have been out drinking with him, because I always was out drinking with him when we went out. And I always was the one that drove. It’s a weight that a lot of people tell me I don’t have to bear, and that it’s not really my fault, but you can’t shake what you know to be true in your gut. I loved Chris as a brother, and I’ll never truly be the same without him. I was a good friend to him while he was alive and we were around each other, and it’s not like it was wrong of me to choose to move to St Louis (and believe me, I never would have left had I known this was going to happen). I just know in my heart that if I had still been there, things would have been different. I visit his grave every time we pass through the area, and I chase my dreams with more vigour knowing that he will no longer be able to go after his. It’s almost like I have some making up to him to do for all the years him and I wasted not going after our dreams with more intensity.
Based on your experiences, what is some advice that you can give to teenagers who are also going through a tough time from the loss of a friend or family member?
Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. There are people that care about you, in more ways than you will ever be able to fathom or imagine. If you can’t get ahold of someone you love, seek help from a professional. Life is so short, and truly, it should be spent with the people you love and care about as often as possible. It’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to grieve, and it’s ok to mourn -- but beyond that, it’s ok to seek help, and to reach out and talk to someone. It’s ok to move on, and it’s ok to keep living your life, and keep pursuing your dreams. And at the same time, it’s ok to remember sometimes and cry. Never underestimate the power of a good cry into a pillow, followed by a long nap or a long night’s sleep after that.
On your 2011 Vans Warped Tour, you drove 22 000 miles in 55 days! Can you tell us a little bit more about your travels and your favourite part of the tour? Also, do you have any funny or embarrassing stories to share?
Though we drove considerably less miles this year on the tour, due to a better tour routing, and a few less dates, we had a blast. That feeling you get when you camp in the backyard with your friends, or take a small 4 hour road trip to see your favorite band play -- that’s what being on tour is like. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and we know it. We fight like brothers sometimes, and we get tired, and exhausted, and hungry, and thirsty, and sunburnt, and worn out -- but it all disappears the moment you step on stage, or sign an autograph, or give a hug to someone that tells you your music moved them. Our favorite part of the tour, and touring in general, is meeting fans you’ve never met before, and seeing ones that have been there all along. Of course we love to perform, and of course we love signing stuff, but the fans -- our friends -- are what really matter. Honestly, most of the time when we play shows, we just do our thing, and walk off stage ready to hang with the people that came to see us. To know we have so many friends in so many places, and so many floors to crash on -- it’s unlike anything you can ever imagine. Scott performing with All Time Low this past summer was awesome, and me filling in for Ian Watkins for the Lostprophets in St. Petersburg, Florida this year was awesome. There’s just too many to count.
Any words or actions to live by?
Follow your dreams. All of them. Sometimes that has to be done one at a time, and sometimes if you’re lucky, you can chase them all. But don’t ever stop. Life is so short. What haven’t you done today?