Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Interview -- Freedy Johnston (Singer-Songwriter)


"Evie's tears,
are never gonna dry."
~ Freedy Johnston ~



I wouldn't necessarily call "This Perfect World" (1994) an underrated album.  After all, the critics loved it.  The fans loved it.  But if ever an album was under-appreciated and worth revisiting..."This Perfect World"...would fall under that heading.

Filled with catchy songs that are clever in the telling, Freedy never gives anything away too easily.  And though he sings of life-moments that shy away from sunlight, Freedy floats his words over ear-friendly melodies that leave the head spinning long after the songs are over.

"This Perfect World," after 25 years, has aged extremely well and is a wonderful lesson in song-crafting.  And finally, for the first time, is now available on vinyl.
Go get you some.

Freedy Johnston Interview -- May 2018
Freedy Johnston

Casey Chambers:  The 25th anniversary of your album..."This Perfect World" (1994) is approaching and exciting things are afoot, right?

Freedy Johnston:  Well, we are reissuing it on vinyl for the first time.  On my little label, Singing Magnet.  We started a Kickstarter Campaign for the 25th anniversary to try to make that happen and we're about 80% of the way to reaching our goal.  So it's looking like I'm finally gonna be able to put out "This Perfect World" on vinyl.  We recorded it on analog tape, but it was only released on CD and cassette.

Casey Chambers:  So where have the master tapes been all this time?

Freedy Johnston:  They've been at WEA...that's the Warner music warehouse in L.A.  I think that's where all the Elektra and Atlantic and Warner tapes are kept.  And here is the story of the tapes.

All the music exists in tape form there...but it also has been archived throughout the years into a high bit rate digital format.  A 96 case digital format. So, it is essentially usable to master onto vinyl.  But we wanted the tapes. And they told us, 'Hey, we can give you a very high-resolution digital copy to make your vinyl, but we don't release the tapes out to anyone.'

And our mastering guy, Scott Hull told them, 'No, that's not gonna work.'  And the only reason we were able to get those analog tapes is that Scott Hull has such pull.  He is such an esteemed masterer.  He told them, 'Send me the analog tapes and I will make the record from them.'  And they did.   Ordinarily, the magnetic format is just too fragile to ship basically to anybody other than the person who originally worked on the record.  But they delivered those tapes to Peekskill, New York where they now reside for the next couple of weeks.

And the packaging for the record is being put together by a really good graphic artist who works with Aimee Mann.  And that's what's happening.  I hope I made sense on this early Saturday morning telling that story. (laughs)

"This Perfect World" (1994)

Casey Chambers:  How strange is it to physically hold the tapes of those recordings you made 25 years ago?

Freedy Johnston:  It was strange.  Back in the day, I was there for the recording and the mixing, of course, so I'd seen the tapes.  I might have picked up the empty tape box and read the contents if that, but I would never have touched them.  John Siket was our engineer and, y'know, it was his stuff.  I'm not gonna touch his stuff. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  No handsies. (laughs)

Freedy Johnston:  If you saw the video I made, the process of cutting the acetate, or lacquer...I call it the lacquer...is fascinating.  I had never been to a vinyl mastering lab.  I was just stilled by the process.  Even though I had gone on that day trip, I hadn't really absorbed all the information...until after I watched the video with me in it.

The vinyl cutting is controlled by an analog computer.  This big refrigerator size thing right next to the lathe.  As the signal increases, it increases the distance between the grooves and decreases the depth. And it was just...I didn't know that.  That's why your grooves get lighter and darker as the signal gets louder.

"This Perfect World" - Freedy Johnston / "This Perfect World" (1994)


Casey Chambers:  That's interesting.  I spin records all the time and wondered about that.  Good stuff.

Freedy Johnston:  Yeah, it really was.

Casey Chambers:  I know you shy away from this a bit, but shortly after you released, "This Perfect World"... Rolling Stone awarded you the 1995 Songwriter Of The Year.  I realize these things are all subjective, but it's still a pretty awesome feather.  Your thoughts?

Freedy Johnston:  Oh, that was a long time ago.  It was really nice.  It's hard to remember what my reaction was.  I frankly don't think I understood.  I don't think it sank in at all.  I certainly know that I didn't understand the import of it.  I know that much.  I know this now...25 years later.

When I started my career, I lived in Wichita, Kansas where you live...for a while.  But I'm from Kinsley.  So I got the hell out of Kansas...like everyone does if your at that age.  Y'know, you don't have to, but...whatever. (laughs)  And I had never been in any bands at all.  I had a day job.  When I got my record deal, I had done maybe like...10 gigs.  And so, I didn't really know a lot, frankly.  I knew about songwriting.  But that's different from being on stage and being a professional in the public eye and around people.

I was meeting musicians who were already veterans when I put my record out at 30.  I met guys in Austin who, when I had put my record out and was barely able to tune my guitar, had already been in several bands and were thinking about retiring.  I was at a different place.  I was a different guy then.  I had different motivations.

So when I got this record deal, it was like, 'Oh my God.'  And I will say this now.  Not to cast aspersions on anyone.  But the most important thing I needed right then was a manager.  I mean, anybody knows that.  It was great to have the record deal, but...

And I was given the highest accolade in the freaking land, and I didn't even really know it.  It was like, 'Hey, you got Songwriter of the Year.'  "Oh cool."  'No, you got Songwriter...Of...The...Year!'  "Oh, really?"  It was almost like that.

If it had been my friend in Austin, it would've been more like...'Oh man, I freaking did it.  I did it!'  I mean, I'm not making judgment good or bad.  That's just the way it went.  I'm like everybody...I know all that stuff...now. (laughs)  I noticed, I never really answered your question...but it's by way of that.  I guess it's an answer.

"Bad Reputation" - Freedy Johnston / "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (1994)


Casey Chambers:  Hindsight doesn't wear glasses, does it?  So, when "This Perfect World" came out, you began making appearances on all the big talk shows.

Freedy Johnston:  Well there again, in retrospect, I guess it's better to be honest and admit I didn't really know what was going on.  I was on TV and I was just trying to take it all in stride.  I think maybe I was in shock. (laughs)  I was like...a stunned fish or something, y'know?  I didn't know what to do.  It's still out there.  I see it now as such an incredible honor.  A piece of recognition.

But look, I started making music and being a singer-songwriter here in New York.  And there were, of course, lots of people who had been doing what I was doing for awhile.  Or were doing it at the same time.  So I come along...this guy from Kansas.  Here I am...less than three years later on Conan and the Letterman show.  And these people I was playing with are like, 'What the hell happened?  Where did he...?'  Y'know what I mean?  That's kind of how it was.

It wasn't, 'Wow, that guy's been working in the trenches forever and look at him...he finally got on TV.'  That is the element that I think needs to be pointed out.  That maybe is not known.  Because I think if I was asking the question you're asking, I'm wanting to know what the real story was.  Well, that's the real story. 'Look how hilarious this kid is.  This kid doesn't even know how to act.'   I'll tell you about the weirdest thing.

Casey Chambers:  What's that?

"Two Lovers Stop" - Freedy Johnston / "This Perfect World" (1994)


Freedy Johnston:  I was on the road with Sheryl Crow.  She had just won all these Grammys, and it was the biggest opening gig in the nation.  I was told this.  I was given this cherry.  This golden ring.  Whatever you wanna call it.  Six weeks opening for Sheryl Crow.  And I realize that now.  It was fantastic.  She was beautiful.  And I was kind of a dick. (laughs)  It was like, 'Freedy, you gotta calm down.  You gotta be happy.'  And it took me awhile.  I had to be told, 'Be happy. 'Cause you're being given this great thing.'  I had to be told to be happy.  That's an example of how weird it was.

But during that tour, this famous journalist guy said, 'Hey, let's go up to the White House.  My friend Nicki, who runs the travel office is a fan of yours.  And we're going to have lunch at the White House.'  So after the gig the next morning, I say to the guys...'Uh yeah, I have to go over to The White House...for lunch...and then I'll meet you guys after that.' (laughs)  It was just too funny.  So we go over there.  I don't have a tie on, but I did have my Leatherman multi-tool with me. (laughs)  They kept the Leatherman, of course, at the little white kiosk there.

And Bill Clinton is President, by the way.  So, I go in.  I meet Nicki who ran the travel office and she's really sweet.  The West Wing.  And I'm like, 'What am I doing here?'  And she's kinda like...and you can tell they do this just to stun you...just walking around looking at this and this.  She did all of those things.

Then we go to lunch.  We go down to this little bitty submarine canteen...a little four or five table place where everybody eats.  Like a buffet.  Chelsea Clinton was sitting there and so forth.  Her assistant comes in and says, 'Hey Nicki, we're meeting in the Roosevelt room.  There's a party.'  It was her goddamn birthday.  They were giving her a surprise party.  And I had to go.

So we all got up from our lunch.  We left our 'soup of the day' there.  And I walked into the Roosevelt room and everybody in that room was there.  The whole government was there.  They were punking me.  They were both big fans and they brought me into their environment. (laughs)  And the look on their faces.  Everybody in there...every man had a tie and suit on.  Even security.  Even the waiters.  And I'm standing there in my regular clothes...like this rock shirt.   And they're taking me around to The President...and Janet Reno.  And the Vice-President.  And they were all having their cake and stuff.  That was my day at the White House.

"Dolores" - Freedy Johnston / "This Perfect World" (1994)


Casey Chambers:  I just finished watching "The West Wing" a few months ago and I'm imagining that whole scene going down. (laughs)

Freedy Johnston:  I remember giving Bill Clinton a signed copy of "This Perfect World" while I was there.

Casey Chambers:  No kidding!

Freedy Johnston:  I had some with me, yeah. (laughs)  Well, they told me to bring some along, so I was that smart.  One thing I'd heard about Bill Clinton...he had the ability to walk up to you, shake your hand, look you in the eye, and make you believe that he was so glad to see you.  That he totally understood you and only wanted to talk to you.  And that's really how it was.  He had that kind of mojo.  Anyway, that's my one story from like...one of the guys waiting their turn at Floyd's Barber Shop. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  You don't ever want to lose that one.  Good stuff.  You're writing songs and banging strings in Wichita one minute.  Handing out CDs to the President the next.  That's a mind-blow.

Freedy Johnston:  I just want to say this...all of these things come out of Wichita for me.  Because I met my friend Jake Euker and my friend Bradley Jordan who are from Wichita and Goddard...while I was in Lawrence, KS.  They were kind of my introduction into music.  And Wichita's...The Embarrassment.  They were my first favorite band. And still where I mostly learned to play guitar...from Bill Goffrier.  I was the guy that went away.  But it all started with those guys.  Their influence.  And it amazes me honestly.  I know what it means.

"Evie's Tears" - Freedy Johnston / "This Perfect World" (1994)


Casey Chambers: To bring this full circle, "This Perfect World" is finally being made available on vinyl.  Much anticipated and long overdue.  Fans can jump on right now by visiting your Kickstarter Campaign.

Freedy Johnston:  Yeah.  It's a very simple campaign.  We're trying to raise, frankly, just enough to get it done.  As many copies as we sell on this campaign will be signed, numbered and delivered for $40.  I think we're going to sell, who knows, maybe 300 copies?  I would like to sell more.  And they can buy the LP with a T-shirt for $70.  Really, really simple.

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah, Kickstarter is very easy to navigate.  Super easy.  This has been a real honor speaking with you this morning and I can't wait to finally get my hands on a copy.  Thanks so much, Freedy.

Freedy Johnston:  Thank you, Casey.  I appreciate it.

Freedy Johnston Official Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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3 comments:

Jim Uslin said...

Really good interview. Not some meaningless drivel. Very enjoyable. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Freedy Johnston sounds like a man I would love to have as a friend. So down to earth.
Thanks for promoting his new project. The process was really interesting to learn about.
Very good interview, Casey. I'm proud to know you.

Anonymous said...

Cool interview!