“These songs come from my experiences,” singer-songwriter and pianist Jon Fuller says of his latest 7-song EP, The Art of Denial. “After all, what is the meaning of a moral if there isn’t a story behind it?”
Jon’s theatrical piano-pop is derived from the singer-songwriter tradition of the 1990s, that swath of pop that melded instrumental virtuosity and thoughtful and confessional lyrics with sophisticated compositions. These were songs that were complex and dared to dig deep into a vulnerable core, and put lyrics on equal footing with music. Further informing Jon’s songwriting is the iconic musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim. It’s no surprise then, a careful attention to wordsmithing permeates Jon’s lyrics—his songs brim with imaginative rhyme schemes, thoughtful word selection, and interestingly crafted phrases.
Jon recalls the formative influence of these inspirations: “I was raised in a conservative environment growing up, and my favorite songs helped me figure out who I was. Hearing people like Tori Amos and Rufus Wainwright as a closeted 13-year-old boy, I was like, ‘holy shit, I am okay.”
Jon has been performing and recording since 2008. Select career highlights include performing on PBS, as a featured guest at PorchFest in Somerville, Massachusetts, and his live appearances at colleges such as Vassar and Smith. In the summer of 2018, Jon embarked on an ambitious national tour crisscrossing the country in a minivan. Jon's debut album, Skipping Away from Dissonance, earned airplay on independent and college radio stations and was featured on WVIA-FM's end-of-year “Best Of” list. In addition, Jon was nominated for two 2018 “Just Plain Folks” awards, and his music was licensed for promotional materials for the Broadway show Peter and the Starcatcher.
His latest album, The Art of Denial, is an artistic high watermark. For one, prior to recording, Jon was able to live with these songs for three years and he road tested them on tour before recording them. The EP is also special because of its warm and vibey instrumentation: the result of an organic recording process where ace musicians that have passed in and out of Jon’s life dropped by the studio to lend their talents.
The Art of Denial is a refreshingly diverse album, traversing funk-pop, jazzy folk, and acoustic balladry. Jon’s strong musical voice holds the prismatic collection together, as does the EP’s focused thematic bend. “The through line in the songs is relationship in all forms,” Jon reveals. The Art of Denial surveys relationships with yourself, family bonds, and romantic connections. The EP’s title is also intriguingly layered, referencing denial of reality as well as the Buddhist tenet of denial as a way to alleviate suffering. “I love nuanced wordplay and double meanings,” Jon shares.
Select EP highlights include the tracks “Divide by Zero,” “Get Down,” “Stop the Ocean,” and “Dopamine Machine.” “Divide by Zero” boasts rocking loud/soft dynamics, alternating between crunching guitar passages and sweetly subtle melodic passages decorated with inventive vocal rhyme schemes, soulful piano passages, and lush harmony vocals. This song is a song of the self where Jon bravely, and poetically, grapples with his own anxiety and depression through an allegory-like story.
The theatrical and poignant “Get Down” pairs whimsical musicality with the weighty subject of a coming out story. “I like giving a serious subject light-hearted music because no experience is monotone. Though it wasn't easy, there was almost a sick sense of fun every time I successfully tied myself up in knots to live up to outside expectation or hide my life from the world,” he explains. The elegantly emotive “Stop the Ocean” is a gorgeous autobiographical ballad that chronicles the slow unraveling of a romantic relationship. Adding more poignancy to the track is the stunning performance courtesy of guest female vocalist Manjula Raman, Jon’s close friend of 20 years. The slinky “Dopamine Machine” is a bluesy and funky commentary on disconnection in the age of digital connection—the track is rife with playfully irreverent social commentary.
Jon grew up in Ohio, but found his way in the Tri-State area—he recorded The Art of Denial in New York City. By the miracle of modern technology, Jon’s first pivotal moment in music is forever captured on video when, as a preschooler, he was documented picking out the melody to “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman” on the piano by ear. Jon’s mom and dad nurtured his prodigious talents though never crossed the line to being stage parents. At 11, Jon became fascinated by pop music, and, as a self-proclaimed “surly teen,” he quit studying classical music to explore pop, and, in the 7th grade, started experimenting with songwriting. However, classical music’s commitment to technical aptitude has made an indelible impact on Jon.
Up next, in the summer of 2019, Jon will issue a full-length album of all-new material. Mulling over meaningful moments in his decade-long journey, he recalls a show he recently played while on tour in San Francisco, California. In attendance at the performance was the whole former staff of a San Jose radio station who years ago would, interestingly, play Jon’s music at the end of a regularly-scheduled heavy metal show. “It was the first show I'd ever played in the area, five years after that album came out, and they knew, and sang, every word of my songs. It was wild,” Jon marvels. “It showed me how powerful this type of music can be.”