More than a librarian: Mr. Jones’ hidden life as a surf band guitarist

Photo by Libby Bowie, Illustration by Darixa Varela Medrano

Photo by Libby Bowie, Illustration by Darixa Varela Medrano

Jono Jones is clutching his guitar, waiting off stage before a massive crowd of Japanese surf rock enthusiasts in Kyoto. As he steps onstage with his band, Pollo Del Mar, nervous thoughts flood his head telling him, Don’t mess up, don’t look at your hands, smile, make eye contact with the audience. The club roars with excitement and despite the foreign venue he feels the universal thrill of music. He is simultaneously scared, anxious, excited, and focused. Adrenaline is rushing through his veins. He listens for the count-off, he hears one, two, three, four, and begins to play. 

Jones has played around the world as the lead guitarist of Pollo Del Mar, a band that formed in 1994. (Its name is a play on the name of a well known brand of tuna fish.)  Jones and his band continue to perform, successfully balancing their artistic pursuits with family demands.

Jones was brought up within a family of musicians. Jones’s father played classical piano and his two brothers were avid musicians. His brothers made music for union labor protests during the ’70s and ’80s.

Jones started playing guitar seriously in college. When he was attending the University of New Mexico studying fine art, Jones was introduced to the Albuquerque music scene, and started playing at house parties and some local events. Soon he realized that he liked playing music more than fine art. “I got more validation for my art by playing on stage than showing in a gallery,” he said. After moving into a house with a fellow musician, Jones could dedicate more time to playing and making music. The house was big, empty, and they were out of the noise range of their neighbors, Jones said, so he was free to rehearse whenever he wanted. As he played more, he began to join local bands and picked up more gigs. 

After moving to San Francisco, Jones became a founding member of Pollo Del Mar. The five members focused on surf music, a fairly easy and enjoyable style that they all gravitated to. With  guitarist Ferenc Debronyi managing the band, writing songs, and using his skills as an engineer to record their music, the band began playing gigs in local bars and clubs, while frequently releasing new music. In their early years, Pollo Del Mar was playing as many as five gigs per month, and would routinely go on tour. From 2005 to 2007, they performed a total of 131 times all across the United States, and released two albums while doing so. Jones really enjoyed playing live. “I felt so lucky that I was able to play for people,” he said.

However, the regular playing and recording did not last forever. As time went on, Pollo Del Mar’s members found themselves taking longer and longer pauses from playing. Jones himself had to take a break from the band when his children were born in the early 2000s. “Whenever children were born, we would always take a six month to year long break from playing together,” he said. As the band got older, these breaks stretched out for months and started to take a toll on their performance. Practices were fewer and far between, and Jones noticed that when they were together there was less chemistry between them. “When I was younger, we would practice five times a week,” he said. In 2012, the breaks turned into a full-on hiatus. Jones didn’t think the band would survive. “I thought that that was it,” he said. “I thought that we were going away to never come back.”

But they did, after reuniting for a wedding party. Even though Pollo Del Mar doesn’t practice and perform together as often nowadays, they are still at it — and they’ve gone international. A few years ago, the band toured in Europe, playing in Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. They they played in Japan, touring in Japan with a local band called the Surf Coasters. It was truly an experience for Jones, especially in terms of the language barrier. “There were no signs in English,” he said. “At restaurants, there were just a bunch of Kanji and pictures, you had to point to the thing that you wanted.” The band ended up having lots of success overseas; the venues were always packed with people — more so than in the States. “Usually, if I had jumped off the stage in the middle of a set I would have smacked into the ground, but here if I were to jump out I would have landed on a crowd full of people,” he said. 

Despite everything that Jones and his band have gone through, they still have fun making music together. “I feel grateful that I’m able to continue playing,” said Jones, “We even have an album coming out in the next few months.”