- Luke Awtry
- Jer Coons
Nostalgia is a strange beast. It can lead to all sorts of trouble: You revisit a movie you swore was a comedy classic, only to find out it's a problematic, unfunny mess. You hear a song that triggers a memory, and suddenly you're thinking about the ex you listened to that song with. Hell, you might even buy tickets to see Weezer because when you were 13 they fucking ruled, although Rivers Cuomo hasn't written a good song since Bill Clinton was president.
Or, if you're Jer Coons, you might meet up with a stranger in a gas station parking lot to buy a vintage Furby. Risking an encounter with a Craigslist killer over a frankly off-putting '90s relic isn't on anyone's bucket list, but Coons just had to have that toy.
"Everything in our society is a constant nostalgia cycle," Coons told me by phone from his home in Jericho. "I'm very aware of how capitalism uses nostalgia to manipulate our core memories. But I don't know — it's a delicate balance, because I'm not trying to be the old man shaking his fist at the sky."
Coons managed to procure the Furby, which graces the cover of his new single, "90s." The song dropped on streaming services on February 2, marking the first solo release in 15 years from the singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer.
Its predecessor, 2009's Speak, and its single "Legs" were the work of a young songwriter actively courting pop stardom. As then-music editor Dan Bolles noted in his review of Speak, Coons' debut "will elicit comparisons to any and all of the following dudesmiths: Jason Mraz, Howie Day, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, etc."
The Jer Coons of 2024 is a far different proposition.
"It's not like I stopped writing music after Speak," Coons said. "I just didn't want to be the focal point of what I was doing — still don't, really."
Coons said the evolution from his "beaver-haired pop days" to more mature genres happened after he met singer-songwriter Caroline Rose while touring at Massachusetts' Wellesley College, where she was a student.
"Caroline's music and voice blew me away; her shit was just awesome, and I wanted to be a part of that," Coons explained. "That led me to being this kind of sideman that I've been in a lot of other instances over the years, like Madaila."
Coons became a sonic jack-of-all-trades, engineering and performing on Americana, punk, hip-hop and psych-rock records for other artists and "spreading my wings into any genre I could," as he described it. He was also a founding member of Burlington recording studio Future Fields before going his own way.
Even as he worked on other people's music, Coons recalled, he was waiting for the right moment to put out his own material again. After he and his girlfriend moved into an old farmhouse in Jericho in 2020, Coons wasted no time in converting the garage into a fully functioning professional recording studio.
"Suddenly I have my workspace right outside of my door, and it just became so easy to create," Coons said. "I've got my childhood upright piano in there, a drum kit, amps ... everything I need to make whatever record I feel like, whenever I want. It's the dream, really."
Meanwhile, Coons observed some familiar trends seeping back into youth culture.
"First I noticed that there were guitars in pop songs again," he said. "Thank you, Olivia Rodrigo. Then I was at the University Mall and saw kids wearing Nirvana and Tupac T-shirts with giant, baggy jeans, and I realized that whole aesthetic is back in full force."
So, like a good musical anthropologist, Coons wrote a banging indie-pop song about watching his youth resurface.
"Everything reminds me of the '90s / Try my best to put my past behind me," he sings on the new track, lamenting how "nothing is as good as we remember."
"I didn't want to make some kind of listicle type of song," he said of the tune, "or just some sort of an angry rant. It's about the illusion of simplicity in youth and how that spills into our adulthood."
"90s" is also a catchy-as-hell pop song, a genre Coons strayed from after his debut but has learned to love as he ages.
"I was really reluctant for a long time to embrace how much I love pop songs," Coons admitted. "Of course, there is so much more horrible pop music than good pop music, but there's such a clever way to be subversive with a three-minute earworm kind of song. I mean, look, I still love all that Max Martin, NSYNC stuff."
Writing in that mold allowed Coons to get even more creative as a producer on "90s." While the song itself is the definition of a straightforward pop tune — it doesn't even have a bridge — the production offers hidden gems, Easter eggs that Coons added to tweak the nostalgia button that much harder.
The song opens with the sound effect of a 56K dial-up modem, setting the stage for peak member berries right off the bat. The second verse features the ejection of a VHS tape, and Coons layers video game noises into the chorus. The whole thing adds up to a subconscious assault on Gen X and millennial nostalgia triggers.
"I really wanted to use the old AOL Messenger door-slam sound effect, but the fucker was copyrighted," Coons revealed. "Definitely not worth the lawsuit."
The new song is no one-off comeback; Coons plans to drop a string of singles in early 2024, leading to the release of a full-length LP in the fall. With years of material in his backlog, Coons said he's whittled it down to 13 songs that will make up an album he plans to call Songs I Wish You Heard.
"The title applies to people that aren't around who I wish I got to play these songs for," he explained. "But it's also for people that are still here. I've been holding on to the music for a while, and I always wished I could play them for people."
He'll have his chance as he releases music throughout the year, continuing a very long comeback. As for whether he's done with random callbacks to the days of his youth ... well, his mother recently mailed Coons two boxes of the Beanie Babies he collected as a kid. Looks like he'll have to grapple with a little more nostalgia.