When singer-songwriter Hang Jones called and said, “This is Hang,” we weren’t able to let him finish the sentence.
We interrupted. “Is your name really Hang?”
No, it’s not. Hang Jones is an alias, a name that works for a one-man show or for a band, said Jones, whose birth certificate identifies him as Stephen Grillos. “It’s a proud Greek name,” he added.
Jones of San Francisco will play Saturday in Olympia with backup from Scott Sneddon, who plays guitar and mandolin and sings.
The show is in support of Jones’s album “The Ballad of Carlsbad County,” a concept album about a reluctant outlaw who finds himself killing for what he feels are morally justified reasons. (Although “Ballad” is Jones’ first album, it’s not Grillos’ – his not-quite-defunct band Del Bombers has released two albums.)
And if a concept album seems an incredibly ambitious project, it doesn’t stop there. Jones has a video that tells part of the story, and he plans four more. He’s written a chapter of the back story on his Web site (www.hangjones.com) and he eventually plans a chapter for each of the album’s dozen songs. He’s also at work on a screenplay.
The country-music blog Twang Nation named the album No. 6 on its list of the best of 2008, saying that Jones “takes the typical elements – lust, jealousy, whiskey, gunpowder and blood – and works his gritty magic to deliver a great album.”
Jones originally intended to perform the entire album in order at each tour stop. That plan, however, has been abandoned.
“I’m playing in bars, and people are rowdy and drunk, so I’m not sticking to the formula,” he said. “People want to dance and have a good time.”
But that’s not to say Olympia won’t hear the tale of William Bishop, whose father was an outlaw and who keeps finding himself in situations where killing seems to him to be the best choice.
Jones typically plays four of the album’s songs, including the last two, where Bishop realizes that he has free will, that he isn’t doomed to be an outlaw like his father, just after he’s been fatally shot.
“The undercurrent of the story is free will versus destiny,” he said. “I get that from reading Greek tragedies.”
Jones said he didn’t set out to write a concept album. He began with a couple of songs (“Caroline” and “Red”), each about a murder and each with a complex story.
“There are all these back stories to the songs,” he said. “I’m playing them and telling my wife, ‘What really happened is this.’ She said, ‘You are leaving out the best stuff.’”
That’s when it occurred to him that by tying the two songs together so that one murder avenged the other, he had the start of a story about a hero, his true love and the man who kills his love.
“And then I said, ‘I’m going to write an album about these characters. And what’s more fun than to set it in the old West?’”
Then he rewrote the rest of the album’s songs to tell the rest of the story.
Jones plans to release the story behind “The Ballad of Carlsbad County” one chapter at a time, with a free MP3 download to go with each, for those who can wait that long.
That means the project will be going for the next year.
But does he have any plans for what’s next?
“I don’t know how I could do this again and not have it be kitschy and lame,” he said. “My music is really cinematic. I’m a storyteller. I love Johnny Cash and Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt.
“I’m always going to tell stories, but I don’t think I’ll do another concept album.”
What: The San Francisco singer-songwriter is touring in support of his first album, “The Ballad of Carlsbad County,” a concept album complete with love, sex and gunfights.
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Le Voyeur, 404 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: Free. Open to ages 21 and older only.
More information: 360-943-5710 or www.hangjones.com