- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

The mid-Atlantic swath between Charlottesville and Baltimore continues to yield promising new bands, among them a pop-rock outfit called Jonasay, which appears Saturday night at Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington.
Fresh off a month's worth of shows throughout the Baltimore-Washington region, the band is about to embark on a national tour in support of its sophomore album, "Spare Dimes for Dust."
Like its regional cohorts Vertical Horizon and O.A.R., Jonasay is of the pop-conscious school of modern rock: favoring the sharp vocal harmonies and sugary guitar hooks of early '90s bands such as Toad the Wet Sprocket and the Gin Blossoms.
"We're not reinventing the wheel; we're just staying true to what we do," Jonasay drummer Mike Leach says by phone. "People are really starting to get that."
The band got its start roughly six years ago, when singer-songwriter Justin Sheehy ran into Mr. Leach, a longtime friend and fellow Rockville native, at a 10-year high school reunion.
The pair took on D.C. session guitarist Mark Williams and began working Mr. Sheehy's demos into presentable shape.
As Mr. Sheehy already had made a name for himself playing solo acoustic shows in bars and coffeehouses, Mr. Leach says it was slow going initially for the band as a collective enterprise.
"We dabbled in some acoustic shows, and slowly Justin's crowd started accepting us as Jonasay," he says.
"After we finished the first EP, that's when we were really coming into our own as a band," Mr. Leach adds. Jonasay combined two EPs into a full-length album, 2001's "Portrait," by which time Baltimore's Michael Alban had joined the band on bass.
Along the way, the band has made some fruitful connections.
Through its manager, Paul Graham, a former Wheaton resident now based in South Carolina, Jonasay landed warm-up gigs with Hootie and the Blowfish and Edwin McCain, for whom the band opened this past New Year's Eve at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
For the "Spare Dimes" project, Jonasay also had the good fortune to nab as producer New York-based Jeff Juliano, whose resume boasts work with John Mayer, Ben Folds Five, David Gray and others.
"Jeff just has a really good ear. He's one of the best guys around," Mr. Leach says. "You need that outside person saying that isn't going to sugarcoat everything."
A 10-year veteran of the Baltimore-Washington music scene, Mr. Leach has worked as a sound engineer and stage manager at the legendary but now defunct Bayou in Georgetown and Max's on Broadway in Baltimore, where he got to know producer-engineer John Alagia.
Mr. Alagia played organ on "Spare Dimes" and has helped launch several area bands into the national limelight, including Vertical Horizon and O.A.R.
In the early '90s, Mr. Alagia also hooked up with a then-unknown Charlottesville bartender named Dave Matthews and his funky band, producing their 1993 independent album, "Remember Two Things."
The Dave Matthews Band began its climb to continental fame by self-financing that album with no major-label support and garnering an enthusiastic live audience a word-of-mouth formula Jonasay hopes to reproduce.
As for landing a record deal, Mr. Leach says the band is hopeful, but not exactly eager.
"This project is so dear to us, why would you want to just give it to somebody who doesn't care about it?" Mr. Leach says. "If the right deal came around, great, but it's not imperative to us right now."

WHAT: Jonasay
WHERE: Iota Club and Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
WHEN: Saturday, 9:30 p.m.
INFORMATION: 703/522-8340 or www.iotaclubandcafe.com

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