JON RAVEN(TM)(R) - Singer • Songwriter • Survivor
“I always had a notion about the Raven; I always knew it was part of me.” Whether they are viewed as symbols of strength, totems of virility or harbingers of death, Nova Scotia native and powerful Rock/Americana artist, Jon Raven Visser identifies the raven as his benefactor: his spiritual guide. Flying headfirst into the Nashville music scene, his album, Love Hurricane , fills ears with a cyclone full of rock, soul and classic country, and spreads the message that, if we are to achieve love, we need a guide along the way. Survival is the essence, and with this in mind he has his listeners looking to the skies, running for their rain boots and headed out into the eye of the storm.
His actual name: Jonathan Allan Visser. Looking at him, we are immediately intrigued: heavy locks of dark hair lay curiously over his brown eyes, giving him an air of mystery. He leans lavishly up against his black 57’ Chevy which has it’s own light up jack O’ lantern in the back window. He wears two silver pendants of ravens on a chain around his neck, and over his Edgar Allan Poe t-shirt he dons a purple velvet jacket, which he personally designed. “I usually wear my top hat”, he laughed, “but I like to save it for my live performances”.
Born and raised in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the name “Raven” bears a huge significance to Visser, and he decided to make it official, due to a mystical vision from an Indian Shaman back in Pictou County. The Shaman told him when his spirit came through the portal to this life, there was a raven flying above him, and that was when he realized he needed to discover why this bird says so much about who he is. His interest in the bird started long before the shaman came into play, in fact he had many visions during the time he was sick with a rare form of cancer called, Rhabdomyosarcoma, which he miraculously survived: “When I was 6 years old I was going through chemotherapy, and I would have these fantastical visions of ravens flying over me, while I played music in front of large audiences.” With steady effort, he did some serious soul searching, and relied on the help of his family and close friends, but more apparently it was the universe that helped him thorough the journey, and it continues to do so. Visser was able to take his visions and make them happen-- this didn’t come easily.
Nashville appeared to be the utopian destination for Visser to spread his wing. He had incessantly dreamed of making Music City his nesting place. Just like a raven, he found his way towards success through trial and error learning--stopping at nothing--even if it meant feeling all alone and rejected.
In 2005 his perfect vision of living the songwriter’s dream lost it’s allure. After being shot down by labels small and large, and in one instance described as--no better than a street juggler-- by a major record label executive; he retreated to his friend’s apartment on Music Row, where he slept on the kitchen floor every night, seemingly left with nothing but his thoughts and the occasional cockroach. One night while staring out the kitchen window, he discovered RCA studio B, through the haze from a solitary street lamp and a few too many whiskeys: “It was a wake up call for me. It was awesome just to know the history behind that studio; and the fact that I was able to look at it every night was a blessing in itself. I was mesmerized by it’s dreamy appeal; sometimes I felt one could almost see the ghosts of artists past, like Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Waylon floating nearby.” This is the point where Visser packed up his stuff and moved onward and upward. It was a humbling experience for him, to say the least: “You have nothing to lose so you just go for everything--I had no money and I was volunteering--I mean seriously, how does that happen?”
Ravens stay visible best when in flight, and Visser did just that not too long after his epiphany, befriending many musical talents by playing well known venues around the city--Limelight, Exit/In, Hard Rock Café, BlueBird Café, Tennessee State Fair--Along the way he met engineer/producer/artist, Michael Estok, who would later become a big part of the recording process. He began booking a variety show called, Musical Chairs, with his manger Mike and well known photographer, Sherri O‘ Neal, bringing together an invited showcase of striving, and talented songwriters who were looking to play their hearts out for the sake of making Nashville shine. It started at the Best Western Hall of Fame Lounge--a Nashville landmark for up and coming songwriters--drawing many more people than expected; it wasn’t long before they had to change venues to accommodate the size of the audience. It made it‘s final resting place on the notorious Demonbreun St., at Club Gravity, where the walls were cloaked with red velvet, and the stage was prominent. Here, Visser met Mark Collie, a Tennessee native who went on to become a great country recording artist, and later played the role of Harry Heck in the film The Punisher. He also met his guitar hero, Ric Latina (John Berry, Ballie and the Boys, Hank III, Suzy Boguss, etc…), who came to see him play a show one night after he (Visser) had told Latina he was going to be his guitar player--he received a phone call from Latina the next day. Club Gravity sold to a new owner--who knew nothing about the business-- and soon after the showcase started, people began to lose interest, including the performers themselves : “it’s a shame we stopped doing this; we just grew apart and got busy on different projects, but it was one of my favorite memories here and I met so many cool and talented people--just when I thought I had nothing, everything was there--” Visser claimed.
In 2008, Jon Raven moved into his own home, built a recording studio, and called it The Nest. He had visualized the finished structure long ago, and was able to manifest it in a comfortable shaded nook beneath the kitchen of his own home. This habitat is much like you would expect a raven’s to be: a well woven nest tucked safely underneath a rock overhang. He built the studio by collecting bits and pieces of recycled equipment from sites like Ebay and Habitat, along with the magical treasures found at various garage and yard sales. In three months time, with the help of his good friend, Mike Hossman and a few others, The Nest was complete. From the black full glass insulated doors, adorned with gothic dragon door handles, to the 1966 Bassman guitar amp (handed down to Jon by a victim of Hurricane Katrina) that greets you when you walk in, all of the materials you find here have a certain purpose and story behind them--take for instance the purple velvet duvet covers that elegantly drape the walls--these were picked up from a yard sale somewhere in Nashville: “They were perfect. Not only were they purple and velvet, but they were originally from Opryland, and I paid 5 bucks for them.” Even the studs and drywall he used came from an old haunted house structure downtown: “It’s all about the story behind my materials.”
Visser will be the first to tell you that the intricacies of his studio came: “dirt cheap”, but inexpensive embellishments are hard to find. The hidden gems that he found took great amounts of time, and weren’t sought out purposefully-- they were gifts from the universe.” : “I want my studio to be able to tell it’s own tale,” he says, “when I finished building it I knew it was time to start recording my album, and what better place to record than from the comfort of your own home?” …and so, Love Hurricane began it’s surge.
Forget about the typical top 4o country album--Love Hurricane is far from it. It’s comprised of 10 songs that weave their own nest of truth behind the word: survival. Much like the actual bird, Visser’s voice is distinctive, deep and resonant. The sound is reminiscent of Marc Knopfler, Jimmy Rankin and The Counting Crows--all of which are great influences--He brings forth a harsh sense of reality by incorporating haunting, dark and raspy guitar tones, yet doesn’t leave out feelings of triumph and courage, by blending strong bass lines, focused drumming and uplifting piano tones (Shannon Wickline). Ric Latina plays lead guitar on this album, along with Steve Bowman who previously played drums for popular bands--Third Eye Blind, The Counting Crows--George Hawkins (Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Loggins, Richard Marx etc…)taking the role as Visser’s bass player, and Cheyenne Medders and Michael Estok working their magic as engineers, the results are obvious: Love Hurricane is an unstoppable force of musical manifestation.
The Ancient Celts believed that raven’s were the messengers of great secrets and mysteries. Jon Raven Visser takes this ancient belief and carries it with him--his journey to Music City statred out bleak and weary-- yet he knew something that the ordinary man didn’t: he knew he had the power to shift his focus and manifest his dreams into a reality. Whether it be through surviving a deadly cancer, being told he’s a merely a street act, or donating money he literally didn’t have, he kept soaring to great heights--and he continues to do so. Love Hurricane proves that there is a survivor in all of us, and that ravens are truly the messengers of storms. This album is destined to reach high altitudes, and Jon Raven , is in fact, a magnificent creature.