Eric Johns interview June 24, 2006 for Metal-Rules.com
Eric Johns of Southern Gentlemen interviewed by Rick Maloney.
Southern Gentlemen has just released the best CD of their career called THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM. This is also your debut as vocalist for the band. How did you come to join Southern Gentlemen?
Eric Johns: I had known David Chastain for years as my old band, Simple Aggression, was signed to his label in the 1990's. We had opened some shows for Chastain and I had talked to him from time to time. Apparently, David T. had always liked my voice because he would contact me here and there and ask me to record some stuff for him. Out of the blue one day he asked me to demo some songs for what would become "Third Time Is The Charm" and next thing I know he is asking me if I would like to do sing for the band. It was an amazing opportunity and I am so thankful to David T. for giving it to me. Thanks, by the way, for saying this is the best of the Southern Gentlemen CD's. I like them all, but it is cool that the one I was involved with is your favorite.
On the previous 2 Southern Gentlemen releases David Chastain handled all the vocals. What do you think of David's vocal abilities and did he give you any guidance when it came time to lay down the vocals for the CD or was the direction and style of the vocal performance left totally up to you?
Eric Johns: When David T. asked me if I was interested in singing the demos for him, I asked him if he could send me copies of the first two Southern Gentlemen CD's for me to listen to so I could really get a feel for what the band was all about. I had heard the first CD, "Exotic Dancer Blues" when it was being mixed. I am friends with Jeff Higgens, who mixed that album, as he also worked on Simple Aggression's "Gravity" record. I had never heard the second Southern Gentlemen CD, "Double Your Pleasure" until David T. sent it. Before singing on any of the stuff I demoed for him, I spent a long time really referencing the band's catalog to get myself in the right space style wise to sing for the band. I thought David T. did a great job singing on those records. He doesn't have an exceptional range or anything like that, but he has a great ear and can sing within the limits of his range very well. I actually think he could have done a fine job with the new CD himself, but I wasn't going to tell him that. I wanted to sing for the band too much to speak up. As far as David T.'s input on the vocals, he was very cool about letting me do what I thought would sound cool on the front end and then offering his input on what needed to be tweaked and improved. It was a very good working experience we had.
Southern Gentlemen is quite a departure from your previous band Simple Aggression. How do you compare your time in Simple Aggression compared to Southern Gentlemen?
Eric Johns: That is a very good question. Ten years has past since Simple Aggression's "Gravity" was released. "Gravity came out in March, 1996 and "Third Time Is A Charm" came out in April, 2006. People change a lot in ten years; at least I know I have. Simple Aggression was a band in a state of evolution and chaos in 1996. We were a band struggling very hard to find our place. Things in that band always felt like they were just about to explode and drift into chaos. Things in Southern Gentlemen are different in a million ways. Everyone in this band is so talented and professional. There is no tension or pressure other than the desire to bring your best performance every time we play.
How has the new CD been received by established Southern Gentlemen fans and the media?
Eric Johns: So far, the reviews to the album have been very positive. Both the fans I have heard from and the reviews I have read have been very encouraging.
Do you think that the addition of your vocals will open some doors and help the band gain a wider audience?
Eric Johns: I hope so. I feel like I did the best I could do with the vocals so I definitely hope people will like the record.
How much input did you have into the writing process on the CD. Considering that most of the songs were written by the time that you came into record were you given any latitude to change lyrics or arrangements to suit your voice and style?
Eric Johns: I was fine with the lyrics as they were written so changing them was never an issue. We did make some minor changes to a couple of tracks to make them work better with my voice.
Will you have a bigger part to play in the writing of the next Southern Gentlemen CD and what if anything could you bring to the table that right now the band might be lacking?
Eric Johns: I don't really feel the band is lacking in anything. Everyone in the band is very good at what they bring to the table. I do hope that David T. will allow me a chance to write the next record with him. I love the style of music we do and I think I could bring some good ideas to the record.
Do you have any favorite tracks on THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM? Are there any songs that you either feel a connection with lyrically or that you enjoyed doing vocally?
Eric Johns: My two favorite tracks on the CD are "Heaven Help Me Now" and "It's Not True." "Heaven Help Me Now" has the feel of something off a Robin Trower record. I dig the synchronicity of the guitar and the vocal together in the verses. "It's Not True" has a riff that reminds me of the Black Crowes. It's one of the most jamming and energetic tracks on the record.
The band covers the song "Caught You Red Handed" which was originally done by one of David's former bands Spike. Did you have any input into the decision to cover that particular track and what songs would you like to see the band cover on future releases?
Eric Johns: David T. had already recorded the song before I was in the picture. It was a cool choice, though. It was pretty cool to have a chance to sing a song I used to hear the guys in Spike play when I was a kid. As far as songs I would like to cover, I would love to maybe do an Allman Brothers song or something from Robin Trower. I would actually like to be able to play a different cover song each night of we get the chance to learn them.
Your vocals are perfectly suited to the Southern Gentlemen sound. Your
voice is powerful and emotional. Do you have any formal training or is
your voice something you were gifted with?
Eric Johns: Well, I have always thought of my voice as a gift. I have had lots of formal training, though. My mother was a singer who worked as a studio musician and she recognized in me at an early age a love of music and singing. She always encouraged me to pursue music and pushed me to take lessons and learn how to sing properly.
Vocally who are some of your major influences and how do you incorporate those influences into your own vocal style?
Eric Johns: My earliest influences are 70's hard rock legends like Robert Plant, Ian Gillian, Roger Daltrey, and Ronnie James Dio. As a kid, I discovered those voices in my father's record collection. These days, some of my big influences are guys like Warren Haynes and Chris Cornell. I have this habit of listening to a singer I like over and over and just dissecting their style. I latch on to the things in their style I like and gravitate to and try to incorporate it into my bag of tricks vocally. When we were working on the Southern Gentlemen record, I spent hours and hours listening to Warren Haynes' work with Gov't Mule and with the Allman Brothers. There were subtle things in Warren's cadence that I wanted to incorporate into my voice for the record. If you like the mix in my voice of the gruff rumble and the more soulful blues singing, it came directly from listening to Warren. Lots of reviews of the album have compared me to David Coverdale, which is totally an honor. But, in all honestly, I was doing my best to channel Warren Haynes in the studio and never even thought of the David Coverdale comparison until it was mentioned to me.
Since David is in Atlanta and you are in Cincinnati have you had the chance to have the band all in the same place at the same time?
Eric Johns: Yes. We were all in Georgia together last September to do photos for the record and to jam for a little bit at Mike Haid's studio. I can't wait to see all the guys together again, though.
Are there any plans to get Southern Gentlemen out on the road for any dates?
Eric Johns: There have been some offers that look promising. I would love to go on the road with this band if we get the chance to do it.
If you could book any shows would you like to see the band headline or
go out on the road with a bigger act?
Eric Johns: It wouldn't matter to me wither way as long as we get out there and play. I think there might be some cities where we could draw well enough to headline. It is always cool though to get to play for a bigger, established band's crowd and expose their fans to what you do.
What bands would you like Southern Gentlemen to tour with and why?
Eric Johns: To me, it would be awesome to play on a tour with bands I would like to see play every night. Gov't Mule, the Black Crowes, and the Allman Brothers are all obvious choices for band I would totally love opening for. I think it would be really cool to play with Black Label Society too, though.
When you are not working with Southern Gentlemen what other bands and projects do you have on the go?
Eric Johns: Southern Gentlemen is my priority these days. I have talked with Dave Swart, who played bass on the new Southern Gentlemen CD, about putting something together with our old guitarist from Simple Aggression, James Carr. All of us are so busy, though, that it might be forever before we get it off the ground.
Do you think that the exposure of working with David Chastain could help you in the future and become a stepping stone to bigger and better things?
Eric Johns: I am totally grateful to David T. for asking me to do this record with him. It was very much an honor to play with someone who is a legend in the guitar world. I never really thought about if it would lead to other opportunities. I was just worried about giving the best vocal to each track that I could give. If something bigger comes from it, that would be a welcome surprise.
When you are at home what kinds of music and what bands do you listen to?
Eric Johns: I bounce around all the time listening to all kinds of music. I think that my MP3 player is possibly the greatest invention ever. It is like having your own personal juke box. Right now, I have everything from the Allman Brothers to Slayer, Bob Marley to Johnny Cash and lots in between on my player.
Are there any new bands on the scene that you enjoy listening to?
Eric Johns: I don't think they really count as a new band, but I am totally enthralled by the new Twilight Singers album, "Powder Burns." I cannot stop listening to this record. It was written by Greg Dulli, who was the creative force behind the Cincinnati legends, the Afghan Whigs. This is the first record I can remember in a long time where I have liked every song on the CD. It is a beautiful, dark record.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
Eric Johns: I have made mention in every interview I have given to promote our record that everyone reading this should check out www.musicrising.org, so I am not going to stop now, Music Rising benefits the musicians in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who lost everything, even their instruments, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Please, if you can, give something to this very worthwhile cause even if it is only a dollar. New Orleans is like a second home to me and it hurts me to see people there still suffering so long after the disaster that was Katrina happened. Some of the best music I have ever heard has come from that city, but without a lot of help, that incredible legacy could be lost. Please don't let that happen.
Okay, I am off my soapbox now. Thanks for taking the time to see what I had to say. I hope I get to see you all when we hit the road.
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