Papyrus Exclusive: Jason Dunn Talks Faith, Music, Hawk Nelson Reunion Tour
Jason Dunn is a legend in Christian pop-punk. A founding member of Hawk Nelson, during his tenure as the band’s frontman, his music saw crossover mainstream success and was featured on NBC’s Sunday Night Football commercials, in the Nickelodeon movie Yours, Mine and Ours, along with a performance covering The Who’s “My Generation” in the NBC drama American Dreams. Grammy-nominated, winner of multiple Ignite Your Faith Magazine Golden Ear Music Awards, nominated multiple times for the GMA Dove Awards, Jason Dunn did it all. In 2012, he left the band he started and began a new project, Lights Go Down, before moving on to his solo career.
Now, reuniting with two other former members of Hawk Nelson (David Clark and Matt Paige), along with Jake Goodman on bass, he has a new musical project, Aid & Effect. The GU Papyrus’ very own Joey Clinton sat down with Jason via Skype to discuss this latest development in his music career.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Jason. So, your new band, Aid & Effect, I listened to your new single, it’s absolutely killer, I love it. So, how did this band come about?
So, I left Hawk Nelson in 2012, and while I was living in New York I got a call from Matt and Dave, the two original members of Hawk Nelson who I was in Hawk Nelson with. They had just called me out of the blue, just to see how I was doing, because, like them, they had left the band and so just that transition was, it’s weird, you know? So, they called me on what would have been the 10-year anniversary of our first record, Letters to the President, and I probably hadn’t talked to them for two or three years since that call, so it was just really good to just catch up with them a little bit. One of the guys just kind of casually threw out the idea of doing a reunion show. I don’t know if he was serious or not; I was like, “Oh, haha, yeah.” Obviously, I wasn’t ready to do anything like that, but the idea was kind of thrown out there and just floating around the ether. When I moved back to Canada three years ago, the idea was still there.
We got together and we just chatted about it and, actually, I presented the idea of doing a reunion together on Facebook. I just kind of did a quick little video on my phone like, “Hey, you wanna do this?” And two of the guys said yes, one of the guys said no, and so we just started. We originally just planned on doing a show just to say that we did it, and so then, when we started kind of preparing and planning the idea and jamming out together like we used to, it just felt so natural, and rather than just like, “Okay, let’s plan to do a show,” well, I got a couple ideas I’ve been working on. Dave was like, “I’ve got a couple ideas I’ve been working on,” so we ended up just shooting e-mails back and forth and, I checked yesterday, we actually have 21 demos.
So I was like, okay, this isn’t gonna be just a reunion show… Let’s make a band out of this, you know? So, Matt and Dave had been, when they first left Hawk, they started a project called Aid & Effect, which they ended up never doing anything with it. They just kind of sat on it and just, I don’t know. I like to think they were just waiting for me to come in, put my finishing touch on it. It’s just been a really cool experience because, you know, like I said, Matt and Dave and I, we started making music–especially Dave and I–we started writing songs when we were like 10 years old.
So, we’ve kind of been through a lot together musically and personally, you know? It’s just been really refreshing, I guess, because, like I said, we hadn’t talked in years. There was kind of a bit of a, you know… the flame kind of went out in our relationship… It was really nice just to rekindle that flame. We’ve all got kids of our own now, so hopefully, they’ll be playing music together and just become a next generation thing, who knows?
Oh hey, that sounds great! About the name, what’s the story behind that? Aid & Effect?
Again, this was Matt and Dave’s idea. So, the intent behind it was music is such a powerful thing, you know. I’ve seen it firsthand: music has the ability to change a life, and like anything, when you can assist someone, whether it’s through doctors or whatever, to have that effect on someone is just an amazing thing. I think that name really ties in perfect for a band that’s making music. And that is exactly our approach with this project. It’s gonna be fun to make just fun, feel-good music, but when you can have a message to go with it, then it’s a winning combo.
I’ve noticed you guys aren’t the only pop punk band getting back together. Bowling For Soup, Eleventyseven, We the Kings, Boys Like Girls, MxPx, Good Charlotte: all those different bands have been having either reunion tours or coming back together to kickstart an album. What do you think it is about pop punk that just keeps people coming back over the years?
I don’t know if it’s just pop punk or just music in general. Like I said, when I left in 2012, I wasn’t sure what I was even gonna do. I moved here back to Canada in 2016 and… I didn’t know if I was just done with music, I just kind of wanted to be… I wasn’t sure what I wanted, you know? And so, I actually just quit playing, but that was for, like, maybe a month or two. It just ate at me. You can’t take that away from me… I know, I don’t even think, I know, this is what we were created to do. And, whether it’s a career or just a passion, it doesn’t have to be the way to make money. It’s just… it’s in me, you know?
Yeah, it’s just part of who you are.
Yeah, so, like I said, I started just kind of working on material, here and there, not sure what I wanted to do with it. I’ve got folders downstairs of songs that I’m not sure what to do with, even to this day.
…you can’t take music out of someone that was born to make music.
-Jason Dunn, on his calling
There are certain ideas I could never use for this project, or whatever. So, I still don’t know, maybe one day, I’ll come up with some random, eclectic project. But, yeah, you can’t take music out of someone that was born to make music. And Matt, Dave, and I, along with our friend Jake (who plays bass in Aid & Effect), we’re all kind of in the same boat for that. We’re just… we just give our everything for it, you know? And it’s been a real excitement and a real pleasure to do it with these guys.
So, over the years, you’ve been on a heck of a journey, going from just being a Canadian teen playing rock’n’roll, to becoming one of the biggest pop punk Christian bands in the world. How would you say your faith has changed and grown over the years through all that?
Well, you know, as cliche as this sounds… I think… what was it, three years ago? I think I got saved.
I grew up in a Christian home my whole life (or from the time I was five years old, so, as early as I could remember, anyway). And so… I didn’t know any other way, and I just kind of went about my life without even having to… I don’t wanna say I didn’t have to try, but, you know, I didn’t. I didn’t try. It’s just that was it, you know?
I think as I got into the later years of Hawk Nelson… it’s not that I doubted, but I think I just stopped trying, to a certain extent. It just, it didn’t leave me, but I kind of left the faith, you know what I mean? And, it wasn’t like I became this super evil person, I just… I guess it’s easier to say that in hindsight… now that I’m plugged in a church full-time. So, I noticed going back to church slowly, it was very refreshing, you feel like you got something out of it. You’re like, “Wow, okay.”
So, just a real quick story: when I moved back to Canada, my wife and I were just dating, and she didn’t grow up in the church like I did, but of course, it was around Easter time. She was just here, visiting me, and my mom was–and I wasn’t going to church at this time, either. I was kind of just living, you know, just avoiding the church. I didn’t want to run into people, all, “Hey man, oh, heard you left the band,” you know? I just didn’t want to deal with that, you know? I kind of stayed off the radar for a bit, especially in my hometown, but my mom, of course, invited us. She said, “You guys should come to the Easter service.” And I’m like, “Okay, well, that’s what we’ve got to do,” you know. And, my wife… we were at that point where we were talking about getting married…
…it was weird, it was unexpected, because I wasn’t expecting to do that for me, you know? I was just doing it to throw my support, but, it actually–I knew my life was changed at that instant.
-Jason Dunn, on how he was saved.
[So] we went to church, and it was a powerful message, something that I’d heard all the time growing up. I guess it was kind of newer to my wife to hear this message. They did the regular, like, the altar call, you know, “If you want to make this decision, raise your hand,” and I… just passed it by, and then she kind of put her elbow into me. She’s like, “I want to do that,” she’s like, “Will you-will you go up there with me?” And, I was like–at that moment, I’m like, “Oh, that’s pretty cool, I guess.” She’s like, “If we’re gonna start this relationship, or a marriage, I want to start like this. Will you be there with me?”
So, I went to the front with her and I said the sinner’s prayer with her, audibly, you know, out loud… and I don’t know, as soon as I said that, man, it–something changed inside of me. I felt it, and, it was weird, it was unexpected, because I wasn’t expecting to do that for me, you know? I was just doing it to throw my support, but, it actually… I knew my life was changed at that instant, and… it’s been full-fledged from there, man, and it’s been really great. We’re both serving in our church full-time now, and it’s just been an incredible journey, and I never expected this in a million years, that this is what I would be doing, you know? I love it. God is good.
Now, one more thing I want to ask you: here at my college, there’s a lot of aspiring creatives. There are musicians and artists and everything, so my question is if you could go back and give young Jason Dunn, 17-years=old, playing in SWISH-
Haha, you did your homework.
Haha, yeah, I did my homework. I wanted to make sure I did this right. Getting ready to take on the world, some words of advice… what would you tell him?
Jason, do not sell your band name. Go down with it. It is what it is, man… Obviously, in hindsight, everything’s easier and clearer to see, but… I wish, I wish we ended that a bit differently. I wish we kind of went out with a bang and finished strong, and, you know, maybe revisit the reunion again. But, at the same time, I guess not, because everything does happen for a reason, and I know those guys, Hawk Nelson, they’re still going and I know they’re making music still (and just put out a new CD). So… yeah, I think that I retract that statement, you know. If it wasn’t for that, then we wouldn’t have Jake and Aid & Effect, and… I know there’s gonna be some big things done with this. So, yeah, I don’t know if I would change anything, to be honest with you. I’m really happy with what we accomplished as a band, and I’m excited for what the future holds.
That sounds great. One more thing before I sign off… this is a more personal thing. I just wanted to personally thank you, because, back when you were with Hawk Nelson, there was a song you did (I’m sure you remember it): “Zero”. When I was in high school, I struggled really bad with depression, and anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, and that song… On the album version, during the bridge, there’s a part where you basically just scream, really frustrated, “What was he thinking?” I just want to thank you, because that really stuck with me, and that helped, that it didn’t magically make everything better, but it gave me enough hesitation to where I was able to…basically, stay alive long enough to get some help and get better. I’m better now, but I owe a lot of it to that song, so I just wanted to thank you for that. It really meant a lot to me.
Thank you for telling me that. That’s one of those songs, man, that… again, that’s the power of music. Like I was saying, that was the intent for that song, you know, that… mental health is a huge issue right now (I mean, it’s always been, but I don’t think it’s really been recognized until the last few years), and that song was written for a friend that took his life. Again, those are the questions that, I think, all of us have when we lose someone that is close to us, or, just in general, can it be stopped? Or, what can we do as a society and as a culture to help prevent this kind of illness? What we can do that at least makes it better, you know? Yeah, that’s–I’m so thankful you told me that, it’s very encouraging to hear, so thanks.
No problem, thank you. So, finally, Aid & Effect: if someone wants to go listen to Aid & Effect, how can they go about that?
Yes, as I mentioned, Aid & Effect is our project, that… we aren’t doing as a stab at a second career or anything like that, we’re not trying to relaunch anything, so we are giving away all of our music for free. If you visit our Bandcamp page, you can download the song. There is an option to buy it, you don’t have to do that, you can just click zero or whatever. And that’s it, we’ve got two songs there now, and we’re currently getting ready to release a third one in next couple months, and, yeah, man. We’re stoked, so check in!
Any live shows coming up for Aid & Effect anytime soon, or any in the works?
The offers are coming in, man, it’s crazy! So, we’re just–we want to make sure we have a full EP or a full record out, and we want to still maintain doing that Letters to the President reunion, so that’s definitely gonna happen too. So, we wanna have all those songs learned, relearned, and polished up, so we don’t suck.
Thank you so much to Jason Dunn for this interview! Follow Aid & Effect to keep up with the band!
This interview has been edited and condensed, below you can find the entire uncut interview.