365 Days in the Life of Lawrence Bonk
Lawrence Bonk can't do things in moderation. When he moved to Brooklyn from Tallahassee, Florida, in 2003, he planned to record "the perfect album" with his best friend: 15 songs they'd been tinkering with for two years in a skate shop/recording studio they'd built by hand before deciding to split for the big city. But shortly after the move, Bonk's friend stole and pawned his equipment before fleeing the state. When Bonk found out, he was so crushed that he burned their reels—all gone, smoldering in a big metal trash can. For five years after that, he produced virtually nothing until January 1, 2009, when he decided to write and record a song every day for a year and post it online for free. He has just passed his six-month anniversary.
Tall and disheveled, the 33-year-old Bonk looks like an extra in an early Noah Baumbach movie: an avoidant-but-charming oddball. His project, which he calls "Another Day on Earth" (anotherdayonearth.net), is gaining momentum: He churns out lo-fi pop gems with astounding consistency, favoring jangly guitar and fuzzy vocals as well as drum-machine-driven dance-pop anthems. Each day's song is posted around midnight to his website. And though he occasionally invites guest singers/collaborators, he's mainly a one-man show, relying on guitar, keyboard, bass, and a combination of electronic beats and loops.
His songs are a bittersweet marriage of layered disappointment and relentlessly catchy hooks, as if Neil Young and an aging Brian Wilson sat down for dinner, and Teenage Fanclub crashed in with a case of beer. "I just can't find the door," he sings on January 14 in a twangy, ambling song called "We're Just Floating Away." "I don't know what I want anymore/But I just know for sure/That I want it." He's singing about self-defeat, chronic little failures that he can't overcome despite his desire to, yet his tone is carefree. Bonk loves to do this: temper dark revelations with nonchalance and humor. "I've thought of a couple of hazards regarding this project," he notes on his site. "Deafness and obesity."
For a person who once spent years obsessing over a dozen or so songs, the sheer volume of his output, to say nothing of the quality, is remarkable. "I'm not always brilliant enough to think of the right thing at the right time. Some things need to gestate," he admits. "But it's good because a lot of things I probably would have doubted away if I had time."
As galvanizing as the project has been for Bonk musically, it can be hard on his personal life. Aside from the 10 hours or so he devotes daily to his music, he doesn't work much: He squeaks by on his weekend gig installing computers at the U.N. and the occasional donation to his website. He doesn't get out much, not even to perform. "This is my year to be a total scumbag," he says to me one night, absently stealing a sip of my tea. He wants to be sure I realize this, that I note it in the story, as if it will absolve him of some perceived judgment for being so immersed, for missing friends' weddings because he can't afford a weekend away. "When I finish this year, I'll either somehow make ends meet making music, or just be a regular Joe with a regular job."
He doesn't expand on the likelihood of the latter. Even if he wakes up miserable every morning with an impossible deadline looming over his head and ends the day manic, high from having actually met that deadline ("It's very bipolar," he admits), it's sort of the perfect system for him. It may be the only system for him, a person who gravitates forever toward extremes. Everything exposed, or nothing at all. Every day, for a year. He says it has a ring to it.
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