An Incomplete History of Jon Pontrello's Ride Toward Youth Is a Train

From getting lost in the woods to getting burned in Italy.

2000 Jon Pontrello starts playing drums in Everett's the Familiars, featuring Kevin Murphy and Bobby Terreberry—half of today's Moondoggies, a band which he occasionally joins on banjo.

Spring 2004 A two-day hike in the Olympics' Bogachiel Valley turns into a near-death experience when Pontrello and a friend get lost and spend eight days in the rain before finding their way to an emergency station. They walked out of the woods on Pontrello's 18th birthday. "I was hallucinating and losing my touch on reality," he says. "And it got really, really bad, to the point when I realized nobody was going to come and rescue us. I felt like I was kind of on the other side of life." The experience became the inspiration for the song "Lost," a track on his self-titled release, Youth Is a Train, out Nov. 4.

Late 2004 Pontrello decides he's had enough loud rock, and gives up the drums and the Familiars to focus on banjo and songwriting. Today he spreads banjo fever as a private instructor, also teaching guitar and piano.

Spring 2008 Pontrello walks a 500-mile Catholic pilgrimage across Spain and stumbles across some choice pop-music fodder when he falls in love with an Italian girl. "But then I went to visit her," he says. "After I left, I never heard from her. She had, like, this boyfriend and stuff, I think. I wasn't sure. It just didn't work out, but I've been writing ever since."

Summer 2010 Pontrello descends into the studio to record his solo debut, after a single release under the moniker Gene Pool. ("There were a bunch of other people named Gene Pool.") The result, Youth Is a Train, is a lo-fi collection of tracks that sound like Neil Young demos. Pontrello has the old man's squeaky yet arresting vocal aesthetic down pat. OK, pretty close.

Present Day After more than four years spent studying acupuncture, Pontrello is gearing up to take his final certification exams and start pricking. "Through acupuncture, I learned a lot about people," he says. "The kind of acupuncture that I studied, it's about the elements of nature and how they relate to people in health and sickness. For me, everything turned into metaphor, and metaphor became really strong to me. So writing about it was another way of expressing the elements of people and life, I guess."

Thurs., Nov. 4 Pontrello is joined by the Moondoggies' Kevin Murphy and the Maldives' Kevin Barrans—all three grew up in the same neighborhood in Everett—at Conor Byrne in Ballard to celebrate the release of Youth Is a Train. "My plan is to have multiple choices of unreliable income: teaching music, practicing acupuncture, and trying to make some money off of music," he says. "I work temp jobs, too."

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