JonEmery & The Unconventionals

The Unconventionals are a Sacramento area alt-country group blending country, folk, blues & cowpunk to create their own style of American roots music. Fronted by singer/songwriter JonEmery, their sound rides the line of rootsy country/folk and interstellar jam as they approach their life stories of highways and heartache, with a sense of humor and humility. Coupled with their raucous and inclusive live shows, The Unconventionals prove to be new breed of alt/country who know the rules enough to break them, in a traditionally unconventional fashion.

  • Genres
  • Alt-Country
  • Country
  • Awards and Nominations
    • SAMMIES 2020 Nominee★ Country/Americana/Alt-Country ★
    • SAMMIES 2019 Nominee★ Country/Americana/Alt-Country ★
    • SAMMIES 2018 Nominee★ Country/Americana/Alt-Country ★
  • Musicians
    • Bowhall — electric guitar, steel guitar, theramin
    • JD Vargas — drums
    • JonEmery — acoustic guitar, vocals
    • Mike Bacon Jr. — bass
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Q & A

Describe your show visually and musically.


Our show visually isn’t much to write home about. I mean, we dress the part. We all have pearl snaps and jeans. Its casual & comfortable but, not sloppy. Our visual approach is inviting though. We are very inclusive at our shows. We like to cheers a lot with the fans, we have a lot of stories that are part show and I think not putting on airs makes people feel comfortable when we involve them in the performance. Musically, we have a pretty tight band and a variety of styles in our songs which makes the show a lot of fun for us. And, if we’re having fun, they are having fun!

Do you have regular gigs around town?


The Unconventionals have a monthly residency at The Torch Club, and regularly perform at Pistol Pete’s in Auburn, Gaslight Co. in Folsom and Blue Note Brewing in Woodland plus have a couple of annual house shows that are a BLAST!

How do you describe your music to people?


The Unconventionals sound is still steeped in the traditional country/cowpunk style, but with the addition of Bowhall on guitar. It’s become a little edgier, funkier and spacey. We like to call it “Traditionally Unconventional Alt-Country.”

How do you feel about musical award competitions?


As far as the SAMMIES are concerned, we look at it as an opportunity to have people who don’t know us, to check us out and, for the people who do know us to celebrate the recognition. Its always an honor to be recognized for your hard work. Its also an opportunity for us to hear new music and meet new bands to partner with on showcases. We are of the opinion its healthy to spark interest in the local music scene, and not take the “competition” part of it too seriously. It is supposed to be FUN!

Tell us about how the band formed.


I dissolved Dry County Drinkers and decided to head out on my own, solo. I put out a couple of records with some fantastic musicians, I toured around the country and, after a while, the magic of touring and performing solo wore its welcome. I wanted to put together a band. Mike, whom I was living with at the time, was the first to join. I put an ad on Facebook about looking for a bass player with him sitting literally 6 feet away from me. He saw the post, turned to me and said “I’d like to try out”. At that moment he was in. Vargas had just been freed up from a band that week. I worked with him before and knew he and Mike would be a good fit for each other. Called him up and he was in. We played out as a three-piece for almost nine months. We were looking for a lead player but, nothing really seemed “right”. I put an ad on Craigslist with the head line “If Jack White Played In The Beat Farmers”—I got one response, months later … Bowhall. Bowhall and I emailed back & forth and decided to meet up. When we did, we hit it off and made plans for his “audition.” Audition day came. What was to be an hour audition, turned into a three-hour rehearsal, which led to him joining us for a show that night and, we’ve been pretty tight ever since. - JonEmery

Tell us about your best gig in Sac.


Our best gigs in Sacramento are definitely at The Torch Club. When you perform at a place where people go to hear the music, that is priceless. You really feel appreciated. Our Annual House Shows in at The Kurth House in Woodland and Burgie’s in Arbuckle are unreal. It’s packed, it’s loose, people are dancing, enjoying the music and having a good time. We get Don Chuy’s Tacos and a few barrels of beer and wine. Its like having a family reunion two to three times a year. Everyone pitches in and has the best of times.

What are your musical goals?


Some good short term goals, gig Harlow’s, The Crest Theatre, Concerts In The Park … Get in on one of the bigger festivals around, WIN a SAMMIE lol. But all-in-all, we have it pretty good for a local band. We’ll keep performing at the best venues and releasing records. We’ll keep opening for some great touring bands and (hopefully) continue getting nominated for SAMMIES. As far as long term goals, we just wanna see and meet new bands and, continue to help cultivate the music scene as a whole.

What artist or band are you a little embarrassed to love, and why?


I’m not sure we’re embarrassed by JonEmery’s obsession with Kelly Clarkson but, it is a bit of a surprise how passionate he is about her and her music.

What drives you to keep playing even though the music industry can be so harsh?


What keeps driving us to keep playing, even though the music industry can be harsh, is the appreciation people have for our performances & art. We feel blessed to be able to perform OUR songs at the best venues in town. We’ve worked hard to make the relationships we have but, seeing handfuls of venues closing up shop, that is concerning. Everyone wants to stake their claim but, right now, there is a small and shrinking market place to share. We just continue to do our best by doing the work that is necessary for us to continue doing what we love to do. Write songs, play gigs and record records.

What's a big media inspiration that would most surprise your fans?


I was a huge fan of the American Records label run by Rick Rubin back in the ’90s. Anything that was put out on that label I would give a listen to without a second thought. They just put out a lot of great music from The Black Crowes, Johnny Cash, The Mother Hips, The Jayhawks … there was a solid two to three years I was just obsessed with that label. To this day, anything Rick Rubin puts his name on, I will listen to. - JonEmery

What's next for the band?


Next up for the band is to write and record another album. Previous albums were recorded with a backup band to JonEmery. This next one, we will be recording it as “The Unconventionals” the band. Meaning, not only will the band members add their stamp to each song but, we can let the songs develop before we record them. With a more thoughtful approach, we believe the next album will have a more cohesive story to tell.

What's the story behind the band name?


The story behind the name “The Unconventionals” stemmed from the variety of backgrounds each of us has. Mike also fronts, writes and plays rhythm guitar for Rap/Metal band “Sour Diesel.” Vargas also drums for a bossa nova jazz band “Que Bossa” and Bowhall’s playlist includes Red Fang, Ennio Morricone and Elvis Presley. It kind of just came out one day … “Aren’t we an unconventional bunch to be in a “Country” band?” From then on, we have been The Unconventionals.

What's your favorite local artist/group?


To choose one favorite local artist/group isn’t really a fair question because we have so many. Tatiana & The Wayward Coyotes, Billy Hood, Heather Evans, MAU, The Vintage Find, 50-Watt Heavy, Loose Engines, Natalie Cortez Band, The Nickel Slots, Hannah Jane Kile, Instagon, Band Of Coyotes, Pets … good gawd … Sacramento has an amazing variety of talented artists.

What’s your favorite song to perform live right now?


Our favorite song to play right now is probably “She’s Easy To Dream About” from our newest album WRECKED. People like to dance to it, which is always fun!

When did you play your first gig in Sac?


The first gig we played as The Unconventionals was about a year ago at the beginning of our Torch Club residency.

Who are your biggest influences?


As “The Unconventionals,” our influences range from classic rock/metal like Rush, Pantera and Buddy Holly, classic country, punk, jazz and movie scores, but JonEmery as the songwriter, he is really influenced by the alt-country and jam scene of the ’90s like early Wilco, The Black Crowes, The Jayhawks, Fred Eaglesmith, Gerald Collier and The Ass Ponys.

Words to live by?


“Sometimes, the simple things are all you have to do.”

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