To Play or Not to Play

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Tue, 07/07/2009 - 15:42

album promo image for To Play or Not to Play

By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor, GospelMusicChannel.com

From glove to guitar
Long before Jonny Diaz signed a deal with INO/Columbia Records, he very well could've been a Major League Baseball star. After standing out in high school, scoring a scholarship in college, and seeing his brother Matt become an Atlanta Brave, all signs pointed to the field. But God had other plans for the future artist.

"Freshman year of college, God called me to lay down my glove and pursue music as more than a hobby," Jonny says of what's since become a full-time recording and touring cycle. "A lot of people who get into music don't have a three-year buffer [of still being in school], but I still had my scholarship money and a little help from my parents, which helped me get the ball rolling. After graduating, I had enough contacts to make it work, and I've since jumped in full-time. I don't regret [the decision to give up baseball] at all because I know I'm where God wants me to be and this is the only place I truly find joy in what I'm doing. And I still get to catch games every now and then, either when I'm home or on the road in the same city where Matt is playing."

Though his brother may score the most ESPN headlines, the younger Diaz is making major music industry waves, including the CD More Beautiful You bowing to critical praise, plus the smash hit of the same name becoming one of this summer's standout singles. Boasting a "guy with a guitar" sound reminiscent of John Mayer, Jack Johnson or Matt Wertz, plus a series of storytelling lyrics a la Brad Paisley (minus the twang), chances are, additional homeruns on the airwaves are right around the corner.

"I'm basically into singer/songwriters of all kinds, though some of my favorite writing is done in country music," the acoustic rocker recounts. "I'm also really plugged into the Nashville indie scene and Christian favorites like Chris Tomlin, so I kind of pull from a lot of areas to shape my sound. I've tried to narrow down the age and demographic to what I do but I just can't do it, which is the beauty of the acoustic guitar. It kind of hits everybody – from students to the parents – and to me that's an honor to be able to play for such a wide audience."

A Shiny Toy gone solo
Across the dance/rock/goth circuit in the mainstream, the band Shiny Toy Guns is being heralded as the next Depeche Mode, with a GRAMMY nomination and deal with Universal Records to match. Though the group's major label debut hit streets in 2006, the multi-gendered troupe has been in business since 2002 and has since found initial member Stephen Petree pursuing a career in Christian music, ironically signing with the Universal distributed Dream Records for his August 25 release Moving In Pairs.

"Shiny Toy Guns is a very fashionable band and we had dancers at the time, but I wrestled with having girls dancing in men's underwear and wife beaters and then leading worship the next day," muses the lifelong believer. "I honestly felt God wanted me to do something different and the solo stuff allows me to fully express who I am as an artist and a man of God. It was just a different calling, but we still write together and collaborate all the time."

As for the sounds longtime listeners can expect on this solo sidestep, expect influences as diverse as Peter Gabriel, Delirious, Keane and Keith Green, wrapped around Petree's infectious songwriting that also permeated three of Shiny Toy Guns' top singles ("Le Disko," "You Are The One" and "Rainy Monday").

"From We Are Pilots to [Shiny Toy Guns' second CD] Season of Poison, the band goes from a more poppy and electronic sound to more of an organic rock vibe," Petree observes. "My music probably doesn't have as much as much of an electronic edge, but I'm probably somewhere in the middle of those two sounds.

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About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).


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