Today’s Feature, September 22nd and 23rd: Greg Johnson

September 24, 2007 at 12:55 am (Today's Feature)

If I ever find myself in the Los Angeles or New Zealand area, I know exactly who I want to give me the tour – the unceremonious, slick-tongued, and unruffled gentleman out of Auckland, New Zealand, Greg Johnson. Honestly I’ve never met the gifted musician, but simply listening to his lyrics and clever repartee, I know he’d show me what was really important about a town, as well as that corner pub that reeks of unreserved style.

If you’re wondering who Greg Johnson is, then you’re clearly not from New Zealand. Johnson is a household name there, the country where he has recorded several hit albums and has won numerous Tui Awards (the New Zealand Music Award), as well as the coveted Silver Scroll Songwriter’s Award. His time spent in New Zealand is probably part of the reason why he is such a refreshing voice and personality here in the states – he first started playing when he was 14 years old in Auckland, where his first shows included “a murder, a shooting, numerous beatings and a hippie thrown through a plate glass window.” If you can take these events in stride, then you must have a fascinating persona.

And Johnson does – he’s an interesting character, comparing the flow of his songwriting to “a head wound” and claiming that friends and family have reacted to his success with “law suites, abusive e-mails, hate mail, water bombs and horse-bites.” His music is just as intriguing – just listen to his latest works, “Me and Joanna” (Joanna is actually slang for “piano”), and “Anyone Can Say Goodbye.”

“Anyone Can Say Goodbye” is currently receiving noticeable critical praise as an album “laden with delicate pop craftsmanship and superb vocals, a record full of tales of love gone wrong, love gone right, and all the feelings in between.” It’s what one should expect from a performer so gifted with words. Keep an eye out for Johnson on tour around the U.S., but also keep your ears peeled for his tunes on the shows “The Hills” and “50 Pills.” Now, check out his XXQ’s.

XXQs: Greg Johnson (PEV): How and when did you first get started in music?

Greg Johnson (GJ): I think learning the recorder was compulsory for all New Zealand School kids, so that was first, it just degenerated from there really.

PEV: What was the music scene like for you growing up in Auckland, New Zealand? How did that impact on your musical style?

GJ: Well it was the end of the new wave era when I got involved in bands as a 14 or 15 year old kid and Auckland was very violent. In my first few ever shows we clocked up a murder, a shooting, numerous beatings and a hippie got thrown through a plate glass window…I’ll never forget the blood and hair everywhere…of course that stuff never happens these days!

PEV: Was there a certain time or event that made you decide music is going to be a profession?

GJ: It wasn’t those early days! It began when I got offered 100 bucks a night to sing like Chet Baker and play the trumpet…old blues and the like. I thought, let’s see…5 shows a week meant only 15 hours work, 500 bucks cash and the boss pays for all our boozin’, which we are encouraged to do at work…no brainer really.

PEV: What was it like the first time you performed live and when was it?

GJ: Joseph and His Techni-Coloured Raincoat, in the choir, not really singing… Epsom Primary School, 1914

PEV: How is performing for the crowds in New Zealand different than that of the US?

GJ: Well the crowds in NZ are obviously a lot bigger at this stage, since I’m known there, and they expect me to play a lot of my back-catalogue, which I’m happy to do for them. But as a rule American audiences are more vocal and less drunk. Generalizing of course.

PEV: What was it like the first time you stepped into a recording studio? What was going through your head?

GJ: I honestly can’t remember the first recording sessions and it’s just as well. We were awful for a long time, not like the kids these days who can play Hendrix note for note at age 4 and have a second album in the Charts by Junior High.

PEV: When you write music, what kind of element do you prefer to surround yourself in?

GJ: It doesn’t matter where I am long as I have access to a piano…or maybe an acoustic guitar. When it flows it flows…it’s like a head-wound.

PEV: Is there one aspect to your music, be it the type of songs, acoustic/electric, range in vocals; you find yourself leaning towards more then others?

GJ: I love pop. Real pop…I’m a sucker for a strong melody. I simply don’t get music that doesn’t have melody. To me that’s a bloody drum circle. And lyrics…if you wanna say something, you better at least try to make it interesting!

PEV: What can we expect from your latest release, “Anyone Can Say Goodbye”?

GJ: All of the above, but wrapped in lush guitars, strings, pianos…with perhaps a little less bleeding.

PEV: How is music on “Anyone Can Say Goodbye” different from earlier works (Vine Street Stories, Chinese Whispers, Sea Breeze Motel, The Best Yet and Here Comes The Caviar)?

GJ: I’ve got such a great band now…two really. Ted Brown is my long time mate who moved from NZ with me, he plays guitars and sings backing plus we’ve co-written a few tunes. Sid Jordan and Malcom Cross from Minibar and the Pete Yorn Band are just exceptional players and same can be said for my NZ guys Wayne Bell and Mark Hughes. So, I’m spoilt for great collaborators and that makes the songs really come alive…I know they all like playing on them and coming up with parts and so on, even though the working conditions can be extremely harsh.

PEV: How is “Anyone Can Say Goodbye” different from other albums out today?

GJ: It starts off strong, the middle is really great and it ends on a high note! I’m not scared of iTunes people downloading my whole albums.

PEV: In all your travels, which city has been your favorite to perform in? And which offers the best atmosphere for music appreciation?

GJ: It’s hard to go past the hometown shows of course, but for sheer fun New York has the honors. The music appreciation award probably goes to the Mid-west states like Kentucky who are also home to some great radio stations.

PEV: Who would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t had a chance to yet?

GJ: Maybe Daniel Lanois or Tom Waits…or perhaps Lily Allen.

PEV: In your opinion, who is an artist to watch today?

GJ: Hmm…maybe a NZ band called Evermore, they got the pop. Or Brett Hool, a young folkish chap from LA.

PEV: What’s something we’d be surprised to hear about Greg Johnson?

GJ: At this stage of the interview, probably nothing would be a surprise. I like to read history, and I find talking shop with other musicians rather dull generally.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your success?

GJ: With law suites, abusive e-mails, hate mail, water bombs and horse-bites.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Greg Johnson show?

GJ: I try to make the shows entertaining. Ted is funny sometimes. God knows life can be dull enough without paying for it. The songs speak for themselves and we speak to the room.

PEV: How has life on the road and touring been for you? Any great stories?

GJ: My tours have generally been wonderful. We usually fly. I’m afraid of driving you see. There are always stories, plenty of stories and an occasional truth.

PEV: Describe the feeling of hearing fans sing along with you when you perform?

GJ: A blend of pride and horror!

PEV: So, what is next for Greg Johnson?

GJ: More touring in the US and elsewhere, more songs on TV, in commercials and at Diners…and start work on another record soon as well!

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