JOHN DRAGONETTI VS JACK DRAG-ONE IN THE SAME By Sandra Castillo
John Dragonetti is somewhat of an anomaly-a creative, dynamic life force strapped with enough propulsion to launch a satellite into space. His ambition, as a songwriter, performer and composer of symphonic overtures, is testament of his unwavering, relentless dedication to his craft. On those rare days he’s not spearheading his next musical project or distilling esoteric lyrics in the rushing waters of his imagination, he can be found cruising along the banks of the L.A. River on his bike or on the mean prowl for some mouth-watering grub at one of his favorite restaurant jaunts in the greater Los Angeles area.
Dragonetti is currently celebrating the release of Summer of Cuts and Bruises. The multi-faceted musician, who also employs the moniker “Jack Drag” when he performs as a solo artist, recently sat down with RG Magazine to discuss his album and a life abundant with music. Here is what he shared with the publication…
Introduce the readers to John Dragonetti.
I was born in Michigan. My family moved to Cairo, when I was five. We were there for two years and then moved to Dubai, where I spent most of my childhood. This was old-school Dubai-a couple of supermarkets, video stores and stale Cheetos. Not the place you think of today. Then it was high school in Nicosia, Cyprus. I moved back to the States to go to music college in Boston and then finally moved to Los Angeles, where I am today.
Somewhere, along the way, music beckoned you to its lair. When did that defining moment happen for you?
Started knocking around on the drums…had a kid’s kit, when I was four-years-old or so and then a real set when I was 12. My dad had a classical guitar that I taught myself on. But the real kicker, probably, was seeing The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” From that point on, it was starting bands with your friends, even though none of us really knew how to play.
Where have your travels taken you as a musician?
Touring consisted mostly of North America and Europe. Pretty much every major city and a lot of small towns in between.
Are you self-taught or were you mentored?
Mostly self-taught. I had teachers along the way, but none connected as mentors. The inspiration always came from friends, artists and bands. I managed a year at Berklee College of Music, but that was the extent of my formal training. I was more interested in starting a band than analyzing Barry Manilow tunes in Arranging class. Total respect for Barry though.
How would you describe your style of music? What instruments do you play?
How did you know to ask my favorite question of all time? I really don’t know how to answer that one. Some hybrid collage of pop music, perhaps. I’m all over the place, which has been a detriment to my career. Just throw it all in the pot, y’ know? With regards to instruments, drums were my first. My primary instrument, as a songwriter, has been guitar and piano/synths. But composing has led me to other instruments, string sections, etc. Not playing well, necessarily but at least writing for them.
What are some of the names of the shows and films you’ve composed for?
I recently scored a film called “All About Nina” with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common, directed by Eva Vives. I’m currently working on a Netflix series with director Brian Knappenberger. The score was recorded with the London Contemporary Orchestra. It’s still in the works, so we can’t talk about that one just yet. Some older projects include “Surfwise” and “The Internet’s Own Boy.”
The Submarines had a lot of luck with songs in movies and television shows: The Good Place, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Nip/Tuck. Commercials, too-the very first iPhone spots. It was bananas.
You and your former wife, Blake Hazard, were in The Submarines, which witnessed the dynamic symbiosis of two great artists.
We had a great run. Proud of those records-the first two, at least. The collaboration just worked. We each had something the other didn’t. We made our records the way we wanted to and without outside pressure. It just felt like we were doing it on our terms, and it flowed very naturally. I think that really translates to the listener. The European tour with Aimee Mann was a highlight. We did a few with her. The Apple ads weren’t too bad either.
Let’s talk about your new EP, Summer of Cuts and Bruises.
It’s a 3-song EP. Short and sweet. I wanted to have something out there for 2019. The first single, “It’s Something,” was accompanied by an animated video by Danna Grace Windsor (aka Cult of Dang). She’s an incredible talent. The title track, “Summer of Cuts and Bruises,” features guest vocalist Morgan Kibby from White Sea and M83. A real force. Great composer, too!
When you’re not busy plotting your next musical project, composing or performing, describe what a day in the life of John Dragonetti is like.
If it’s a slow work-day, I love to take a long ride on my bike…maybe the coast or along the L.A. River. Exploring the east side, where I live. A mellow run or a hike is a great way to start the day, too. I love going to the movies alone. I see tons of them, more than seeing live music these days. And then, there’s food. Always looking for a great meal. So much amazing stuff here in Los Angeles.
You are currently using “Jack Drag” as your moniker. Is Jack Drag your alter ego or simply a brilliant disguise?
When I was getting started, even though I was mostly working alone in the studio (aka my bedroom), I wanted to have a band name rather than the solo artist vibe. My birth name is very long. Jack Drag is just a short version of it.
Who have you collaborated with over the course of your music career?
Blake Hazard, of course. Aimee Mann collaborated on a song with me from the last album, 2018. That was something else. Sarah Martin from Belle & Sebastian sang on two songs, on her day off from tour, which was very cool of her. I’ve produced albums for a band called Dispatch and a young artist named Dylan Gardner. Some fun collabs for the Jack Drag 2020 album coming up, but I’ll tell you about that later. On the composing side of things, it was an incredible learning experience working with Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), who did the orchestration for the London Contemporary Orchestra.
Who are some of your musical influences?
All over the place. Different eras, different inspirations. It’s a cliché, but The Beatles and ABBA really hit me when I was a kid, combined with KISS and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then it was Punk, New Wave and the British wave of Ska and Reggae. The Clash and The Specials really hit the spot for me in my teens. But I was also drawn to bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, Chameleons, even super-early U2. And at the same time, there was Syd’s Pink Floyd and The Zombies. I love contemporary pop music, even if it’s just for the production. And still always digging deeper into classical and jazz.
On your official site, it states you are “currently working on Brian Knappenberger’s latest TV project for Netflix. The score will feature the London Contemporary Orchestra.” What’s it personally like for you to work in this capacity, given that symphonic overtures applied to one’s creative endeavors manifests a whole, different vibe and emotional latitude to it?
It’s my first score with an orchestra. It was very intimidating, mostly because I don’t have a schooled, classical background. Having Nate there orchestrating and being able to get feedback from conductor Hugh Brunt, along the way, really helped and made it feel like it was under control. It also was very validating, in that the compositions actually worked. I give Brian a lot of credit for trusting me with it. We’ve worked together on several projects. It took away the stress and pressure that might’ve been there with a big studio picture. I mean, it was probably there, but I didn’t feel it. I was so excited for the challenge, and it felt like a natural progression in the direction I really wanted to move in.
What would you like written on your tombstone?
I don’t think I’ll have a tombstone. I’ll just vanish along with the digital ones and zeros.
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