Following the release of their new album and single, we caught an in depth interview with the uniquely creative and passionate Johnny Stranger – to find out more about their journey so far, and their hopes for the future. Here’s how it went.
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Hey – thanks so much for your time! Big fan of the music. What can you tell us about your sound – how long have you been making music, and when did you start to really find a style that was your own?
I’ve been making music my whole life, since I was a kid. My parents were both musicians and I learned a lot through osmosis. In terms of finding my own style… I recorded a lot growing up. Putting in my 10,000 hours. My dad had a little home studio that I taught myself to use. A lot of my early songs were just sort of trying to rewrite other people’s songs. I’d say it wasn’t until I started Johnny Stranger back in 2005 that I actually had a refined sound.
Follow In My Footsteps is stunning, classic rock vibes with a heavy edge and a thread of essential melody. Rock seems to be making a much-needed return to mainstream festivals and airwaves – what are your thoughts on that?
Thanks for the kind words about the song. Yeah, it does seem like rock is making a return… which is a breath of fresh air, after all these years of pop music being called ‘rock’. Now we’re seeing a re-emergence, and that’s really exciting. I still think the movement is in its infancy. Hopefully it really blossoms, before it gets swallowed by pop culture again.
Who impresses or inspires you lately, and how do you plan to connect with a wider audience now that you’ve mastered the songwriting and recording side of things?
Reaching people through all the noise is a major challenge. Luckily I have my manager/bassist/fiance on my team. Her name is Maddie and she’s put a lot of work and brain-power into getting Johnny Stranger back out there, after our 10-year hiatus.
What does the album Valkyrie represent for you?
Valkyrie to me is about power and oppression… and about breaking out of it. A lot of the songs use historical or fictional examples of these massive cultural forces, but a lot of them ring true to me in a more personal way. They are about breaking out of everything that culture heaps on us. For example, Pharaoh is a track on the album from the point of view of the masses, all decrying their devotion to their god. It’s a song about how we as people will hunker down into our echo chamber with our elected ‘truth’ and commit horrible atrocities as a result. The album is a collection of songs that deal with similar ideas, from different perspectives.
What’s the live scene like where you are, and how has the reception been at gigs so far?
Los Angeles has a really thriving rock scene. It’s really great because there are shows going on all the time and we’re able to connect with a lot great musicians out here. The reception to the shows has been awesome.
If you could play any event or venue in the world, which would it be, and why?
I’d love to play the Troubadour. So much history there.
What’s the songwriting process like – lyrics first, riffs first, melody? Who else is involved along the route from idea to release?
The songwriting all happens in my head, kind of all at once. After that, I usually demo the songs pretty extensively, with midi drums a lot of other elements. Then I’ll bring the songs to whoever I happen to be collaborating with at the time and get their performances locked in. From there, I finish up the track, mix it, and master it. It’s a long process… and it’s a little bit like diving down into a submarine for chunks of time… but it’s the only way I know how to make records work.
How did the artwork for the single come about?
The artwork for Valkyrie and all it’s singles come from a fan actually. Shelby used to come to our shows back in WA when we were just getting started, back in 2006/2007. When I saw her artwork a few years later, I knew they’d be perfect. She’s an incredible artist and a rad person.
If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, which would you choose, and why?
Baby Shark. Because it’s about a baby shark. Haha. Seriously though, I wouldn’t be able to choose one song or even one album.
What are the main values you want to represent in the music world right now?
Real creativity. Not just impersonating the rock music that has come before, but trying to take it somewhere. I try to inject my love of sci-fi/fantasty, Jungian psychology, and storytelling into JS… to hopefully tell stories through our music. The future JS records (which I already have written) will illustrate this even more clearly than Valkyrie.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received on your journey as a musician?
“There’s a market for everything.” Which I took as permission to be your most unabashed self.
Is music a full-time endeavor for you now? If so, how is your day built up, and if not – how do you make sure to find the time to create and perform to such a high degree?
Yeah, music is like having 3 full-time jobs. In addition to Johnny Stranger, I make music with my band Polaris Rose… which is more of a pop/surf rock band. That particular band (which I also do with Maddie), does really well in ways Johnny Stranger doesn’t (there’s a market for everything, after all). I produce and play with a couple local bands here in LA (Beers for Fears and Outside Animals). I also record music for sync licensing, which is a challenging job because the music is oftentimes very different than what I do with Johnny Stranger or Polaris Rose.
If you could interview your favourite band from the past or the present, but you could only ask one question – what would you ask?
I’m not sure I have any questions that their music doesn’t already answer.
What’s the best thing that could happen for you during the next few months?
Instead of having 24 hour days, I get 48 hour days to get everything done.
What is it about music that draws such passion from you?
It’s a mystery to me.
What’s next for you?
More music coming out soon! A new single in late September and some music coming out for the holidays. Working on a million and one projects, including the next Johnny Stranger album.
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