"We used to be cool and now we're P.C. bitch-asses."
For a while, that was the sarcastic stock answer Sean Bonnette gave when explaining his band's decision to change its name from Andrew Jackson Jihad to AJJ.
All joking aside, the name change (announced on the band's Facebook page in February) doesn't signal any sort of softness or decline in the band's cleverly subversive essence. The simplified—and already widely used—abbreviation simply lets AJJ put more focus on its music, especially as the band readies this week's release of its sixth album, with the decidedly non-politically correct title The Bible 2.
"Changing the name allowed us to be interesting in different ways," Bonnette says. "Andrew Jackson Jihad is an interesting name, but you can't call an album The Bible 2 when your name is Andrew Jackson Jihad. You can't make any kind of statement because the name will eclipse it."
The album delivers more of Bonnette's trademark lyrical style: absurdist, hallucinatory, witty and visceral. The Bible 2 features songs like "Junkie Church" and "When I'm a Dead Boy" and on the peppy, macabre "White Worms," Bonnette gleefully unhinged advice sums up much of the album's attitude: "And if you want to hear the devil's music, you should probably listen to the devil's music."
"I don't feel there's too much of a difference in the AJJ that made this record and the Andrew Jackson Jihad that made all those other records. We're still the people we were," Bonnette says. "It was kind of an identity shift, not so much changing the band."
On their previous record, Christmas Island, Bonnette says the band set out to make "brutal acoustic music" like the Violent Femmes. But this time around, they didn't operate with such a specific goal in mind. As a result, The Bible 2 expands on AJJ's signature folk-punk sound, pushing toward psychedelic rock, synth-heavy post punk and even a smidge of piano balladry.
"We wanted to make a really short, furious record," Bonnette says. "We didn't have much in mind for a sound. This time, we let the songs guide us. We love genre hopping. We'll do a country song or a folk song or a synth pop song. It's super fun and it opens up the band a lot. But most of them fall on the heavier side, with really blown out guitars to make it a really rocking record."
The songs came about in part as a result of Bonnette's return to another form of art, putting lyrics to fanciful drawings he'd made.
"After Christmas Island, I got back into making visual art," he says. "For quite a long while I wasn't do that. I forgot that I enjoyed it so much. Once I got back into it, I remembered how different kinds of creativity influence other ones. There's a cool flow you can tap into making drawings and writing songs about those drawings."
Two songs in particular on The Bible 2 are what Bonnette calls siblings, taking inspiration from the same set of drawings.
Bonnette took a phrase from his journal—"No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread"—and wrote it down like a mantra at the top of his drawing pad. That phrase, unsurprisingly, found its way on the record as a song title and chorus.
Another song, the gothic and hallucinatory tale "Small Red Boy," is completely based on a drawing.
"I was in England and would draw pictures to sell for five pounds since I was broke," he says. "One was a little devil boy with a Slayer shirt, coming out of a person's mouth, flashing the horns. I thought about that as an idea, like your inner child escaping you and telling you it's OK."
At the end, "Small Red Boy" circles back to "No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread," repeating that same chorus, adding not only emphasis, but new depth and perspective to the phrase that had been guiding Bonnette's lyrics for the whole record.
"That song really did me in, in a good way, once I realized that part would be the pinnacle, to relate that story of a song to the main mantra of that writing cycle," he says. "I always go into writing with no goal. I let my subconscious lead me wherever it needs to. This time it led me around the adolescence a whole lot. There's a lot of really awesome anger that the songs were able to capture, but I was also reflecting on closure and forgiveness a lot of the time."
In June, AJJ released the first video for The Bible 2, signaling the band's subversive touch was alive and well. With a press release titled "Stuff this up your butts, OK Go!" from AJJ's record label, the band introduced "Goodbye, Oh Goodbye," a single-take video with simplified, low-budget choreography poking fun at OK, Go's elaborate videos. The concept came from director Joe Stakun, but AJJ was the perfect band to pull it off.
"That idea was on the director's scrapheap for a long time," Bonnette says. "It was an idea he wanted to do but hadn't found a home for it yet. As a person who also operates that way, I was excited to help fulfill that dream."