Eric Johns interview July 17, 2006 for Rock Detector

Interview by Dave Borgioli-Jones

From Eric Johns Vocalist of Southern Gentlemen:

1) What are you up to right now?

Eric Johns: Right now, I am on my computer answering emails and listening to Coldplay. As far as what the band is up to, I am writing some songs, and hoping that David T. Chastain will like them and want to use them on the next Southern Gentlemen record. I am mostly sitting with my fingers crossed hoping that we will play some live shows before summer is over.

2) What are your present obsessions?

Eric Johns: I guess my biggest obsession is going to the gym. I go probably 6 times a week and just beat myself to death. It's probably when I am most at peace. My other obsession goes kind of hand in hand with my gym obsession and that is filling up my MP3 player. I listen to it mostly at the gym when I am working out.

3) Recommend a book that has truly inspired you. Why did it make such an impact?

Eric Johns: "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson is probably my favorite book. I loved the way Hunter always wrote with honesty, even about some really ugly things about himself. It inspired me to always try to be honest in my own art.

4) Where is 'home' and why do you live there?

Eric Johns: I live in Northern Kentucky just south of Cincinnati. It's where I grew up and where most of my friends are. I have moved away and lived other places, but somehow I always seem to end up back here.

5) What is the album you haven't got in your collection but really should have, and why?

Eric Johns: I don't have the new Johnny Cash album, "American V: A Million Highways", yet. I have all the other Johnny Cash albums on the American Recordings label and I love them all. I think cash's collaborations with Rick Rubin are phenomenal. I will probably get it soon, though. I just haven't been to the record storeŠ

6) What record recently has really surprised you with its quality? Any album you own (and enjoy) that might surprise your fans?

Eric Johns: Probably most of what I listen to would surprise our fans. I like many different styles of music and I switch around all the time. I think its boring to listen to the same thing all the time. One of the best albums I have heard in a long time is "Powder Burns" by the Twilight Singers. It is that rare record where I like every song on the disc.

7) Who are your musical heroes?

Eric Johns: God, I have so many. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morisson, Stevie Nicks, Bono, Bob Marley, Warren Haynes. I could go on forever.

8) If you could collaborate with any musicians to do a project album, who would they be any why?

Eric Johns: How about Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman on guitar, John Bohnam on Drums, Pigpen from the Grateful Dead on keys, and John Entwistle from the Who on bass? The reason would be just to hear them all play again.

9) Name some musicians that really should be getting more attention.

Eric Johns: Gov't Mule should be one of the biggest bands on the planet. They are the best live band I have seen in ages. The Twilight Singers should get more attention than they get to. I also recently got turned on to a band from Scotland (I think that's where they're from) called Ash that I think are great and would do great in the U.S.

10) Other than music, what other types of Art do you appreciate?

Eric Johns: I love comic art. I am a huge comic book fan. I have been collecting them since I was 6 years old.

11) Besides the instrument you are known for, which other instruments can you play?

Eric Johns: I can sort of play guitar, but not very well. I can just barely do enough to get by. I can play basic scales on the piano. Nothing elaborate, but I can do well enough to play scales to sing along with to warm up my voice.

12) The first concert you ever attended was...

Eric Johns: Believe it or not, it was Mickey Gilley and Johnny Paycheck. My mom was a backup singer in Mickey Gilley's band. I got to watch the show from the side of the stage. My first rock show was Motorhead. I was 12 or 13 and deaf for about a week after the show.

13) When and where was the very first time you performed music?

Eric Johns: I used to watch my mom practice singing and that made me want to do it. I think I sang my first song in front of people at about age 4. It was at Christmas time and I am pretty sure it was family gathering type of thing. The first time I performed rock music in front of people, I was probably 16.

14) From a performers point of view, what has been your most memorable concert and why?

Eric Johns: Man, I don't know if I can pin down just one. There have been lots of shows that meant something to me for lots of different reasons. I do remember a show years ago with my old band, Simple Aggression, that really stands out. It was the last night on tour opening for Souls at Zero and they asked us to come out and jam with them for their encore. They were a band we really looked up to, so being invited to play with hem was special to us. It was a great show with a really awesome crowd. I remember another show when my grandmother who basically raised me came to see me play for the first time. After the show, she and my dad were waiting for me outside the stage door. She had tears in her eyes and she told me that she was so proud of me for doing what I was meant to do. That meant a lot to me.

15) When was the last time you really felt you were struggling in your career and faced extreme adversity?

Eric Johns: Right before David T. had asked me to demo some stuff for what would become "Third Time is the Charm," I was in a pretty dark place artistically. I was dealing with issues both personally and professionally that were really taking a toll on me and I was feeling like I was just about done and ready to head off to pasture with the whole band thing. I really owe David T. a great debt for keeping me active in the business.

16) What has been your career highlight to date?

Eric Johns: Probably signing the deal to sing on the new Southern Gentlemen record. Getting to play in a band with David T. was unbelievable. Growing up in Cincinnati, where David T. from, he is like a legend in this area. To be asked to join a band with one of my heroes growing up was pretty damn cool.

17) What do you believe constitutes the heart & soul of Rock music?

Eric Johns: The heart of rock music can be summed up in one lyric, "I hope I die before I get old." Pete Townsend said it best and no one has topped him yet. Rock music has always been about youth, rebellion and energy, not to mention a hardy dose of sex. Sex sells, you know?

18) The big three - Your favourite amongst LED ZEPPELIN, DEEP PURPLE and BLACK SABBATH. Why?

Eric Johns: God, that is like asking which is more important, your eyes or your ears? Your brain or your heart? All three are legendary bands. I love them all.

19) What's the last piece of music you made that put a big smile on your face?

Eric Johns: When I cut the vocal for "Ladies of the Night" on the new Southern Gentlemen record, I remember thinking after the first run through that I had nailed it pretty good. Our bass player, Dave Swart, was with me in the studio and he said to me, "I wouldn't change a thing." We ended up keeping that first take and that is the one which appears on the CD.

20) What's the most daring piece of music you've made?

Eric Johns: I think personally for me it was the song "Why?" off of the Simple Aggression "Gravity" album. That song was very autobiographical and dealt with some really heavy issues from my childhood. It was about the very painful relationship between me and my dad. The first time my mom heard the album, she cried.

21) Have you ever clashed with a producer / label / manager over a particular piece of music? (That's a cue for a storyŠ)

Eric Johns: This experience with Southern Gentlemen has been clash free. Simple Aggression did have some clashes with our label over a few things when making "Gravity," but that all seems like a hundred years ago now.

22) As a public entertainer, how much responsibility do you feel towards providing a role model for your fans?

Eric Johns: I am a singer, not a role model. I'll be the first person to tell anyone who asks that I am a flawed and confused person most of the time. Just because I can sing a song well doesn't mean I have any answers for anyone else. I think people who are looking to other people for guidance or answers in their own lives, should probably spend that time looking inside rather than looking outside.

23) Inevitable - When was the last time you were involved in a 'Spinal Tap' moment? All the embarrassing details please Š

Eric Johns: The most recent that comes to mind is when we were recording the vocals to "Third Time is the Charm." There was a really severe thunderstorm that came through that totally knocked out the power in the studio. We saw a huge flash of light in the windows and heard what we thought was an explosion. It turns out that a giant 60 foot or taller tree right in front of the studio was struck by lightning. We went outside to see what had happened. Just then, I got a call on my cell phone. I was talking on the phone and saying that the tree had been struck by lightning when all of a sudden the tree started making a creaking noise. Next thing I know, the top half of the tree breaks off and falls right in front of me. It literally misses hitting me by about 5 feet. I was still on the phone the whole time. I remember saying to the person calling me, "I have to call you back. I was just nearly killed."

24) How difficult is it to run a band as a democracy / functioning unit?

Eric Johns: I don't know if I have ever been in a band that was a true democracy. In every group dynamic, there are leaders and followers. In Southern Gentlemen, it is clearly understood that this is David T.'s project and the final decisions are pretty much his. He is very open though and I think he likes to get input from the band.

25) When was the last time you were really excited about visiting a country?

Eric Johns: Recently, it looked like Southern Gentlemen might be going to Mexico City to play a show. I had never been to Mexico City and that sounded like an awesome place to visit. Unfortunately, the logistics of doing the show couldn't be worked out.

26) Ever done a gig when you've been really ill? Again, all the gruesome details pleaseŠ

Eric Johns: I have been pretty fortunate that during my time with Southern Gentlemen, I haven't had to play a show when sick. Over the years, though, I have had to do several. Being sick and trying to sing is one of the worst things you can ever try to do.

27) On tour, what are your daily rituals before you get to the gig?

Eric Johns: I always try to have a quiet place to warm up away from everyone before going on stage. I also always check myself to make sure I have fresh batteries in my in-ear monitors and my wireless microphone before going on stage. I usually try to have a glass of wine before the show to help lube up my throat. I know this sounds weird, but I try to make sure that my last meal before show time is something like salad or lean meats. I try to avoid any dairy products before singing because it can impair your voice.

28) Can you pinpoint the moment you made the decision to become a musician?

Eric Johns: I don't know the exact moment, but I am sure I was very young. Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up listening to my mom practice singing and right away I just took to it. I have always just loved music and singing.

29) What absolutely has to be on your rider?

Eric Johns: Fresh towels. Bottled water. Wild Turkey 101 whisky. A nice bottle of wine.

30) What is the most extravagant thing you have purchased?

Eric Johns: I have never been very extravagant. When I got the money for singing on the new Southern Gentlemen record, I bought a new laptop. That is as about extravagant as I get.

31) Truthfully, how important is it to you the way you look?

Eric Johns: It has gotten much more important as I have gotten older. Probably hitting 30 was a wake up call that I needed to get off my couch and get to the gym. It has become one of the biggest joys in my life. When the stress of living gets to me, I go to the gym.

32) Rock n' Roll is famous for its extremes in the hair dept. What's the worst hairstyle you have ever sported?

Eric Johns: I have been pretty lucky in the hair department. I went from a bowl cut in the fifth grade to just letting it grow and not cutting it. It has been all one length and long ever since. I did dye it with Manic Panic vampire red once back in the Simple Aggression days, though.

33) Describe your strangest celebrity encounter.

Eric Johns: Believe it or not, the weirdest thing that comes to mind is giving Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top directions in the Las Vegas airport. It was kind of surreal. I had just flown into Vegas and was walking toward baggage claim when I saw Billy Gibbons staring at the screens where it shows the planes' arrival and departure times. So I am walking over to introduce myself and say hello to one of the guitarists I grew up listening to and thinking is amazing. Before I can get a word out, he says to me, "Man, do you know how to get from here to C terminal?" It was really weird. But, I showed him where the map of the airport was posted on the wall.

34) Have you ever NOT signed an autograph?

Eric Johns: Nope. I have always signed them anytime I am asked. It just kind of goes with the job.

35) What's the biggest scar on your body and how did you get it?

Eric Johns: I have a pretty big scar on my left knee from crashing a motorcycle when I was 15.

36) Have you ever come close to death? What happened?

Eric Johns: I was in a pretty bad car crash when I was 17. I was a passenger in a car that went off the road and down a hill into a tree. I was the only person in the car who didn't get seriously hurt. I almost drowned in the ocean off the coast of Seattle trying to save a crazy ex-girlfriend who decided it would be a great idea to jump in the ocean in September (when the water there is about 50 degrees). She got back to the shore just fine but the undertow nearly carried me out to sea. That was definitely the most scared I have ever been of dying.

37) What subject is guaranteed to get you into a heated debate?

Eric Johns: I try very hard not to get into debates with people. Probably, though, religion is a big hot button with me. I don't like it when people assume that just because they believe something, that is must be right.

38) What is the last injustice you saw?

Eric Johns: I suppose it would be war. I try to stay away from the TV and the news as much as I can because I find it so depressing. I mean, here we are in the 21st century and people still can't find a better solution to their problems than trying to shoot each other.

39) What do you hope to achieve before you die?

Eric Johns: I just want to make good music that will be here when I am gone.

40) What happens to you after you die?

Eric Johns: Well, physically, I'll be turned to ashes and put into an urn or something. Spiritually, I have no idea. I do have a great deal of distrust for anyone who claims to know for certain what happens to any of us.
Great interview. Thanks for having me.

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