Eric Johns interview November 11, 2011 for "My Favorite Disaster"
The new album, "My Favorite Disaster" certainly has a darker and heavier feel than any of your previous work. What inspired the change in direction?
The songs I write are always an organic extension of what is happening in my life at the time I am writing them. My stuff is almost always autobiographical in some way. I was going through some serious personal upheaval in the period of time after "Valley of Fire" was finished. Coincidentally, I suppose, David gave me some musical ideas he had to work with lyrically that just fit the mood I was in. What came out certainly was a very cathartic release of that darkness that was wrapped around me.
When listening to the record, it is pretty clear that lyrically all of the songs deal with relationships and specifically relationships breaking up and ending. Is that intentional and what inspired it?
It definitely was intentional on my part. In the period after "Valley" was released in 2008, I went through the ending of a marriage, as well as two more pretty messy breakups in the year and a half after that. I was listening to stuff like Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" and the Afghan Whigs' "Gentlemen." I think that was where the seed was planted to try and write a whole album of songs about breaking up and all the stuff that happens when relationships become toxic. I had a lot of anger and resentment that was pointed at others. What I found, though, when I really started dissecting the corpses of all those dead relationships was that I was just as much at fault in their demise as the people I was angry at. Often, I was probably the person who was more to blame.
What would you say you learned the most from the experience?
That I am not very good at being in relationships.
What is your favorite song off of "My Favorite Disaster?"
Probably "Land of Canaan" is my favorite. It was one of the hardest to write lyrically but I am very proud of it now that it is finished. When the final take of that track went to tape, I really felt like I had closed the door for good on a lot of bad memories.
Was there one person in particular who inspired some of the anger on display on tracks like "Crawl" and "Revolving Door."
No one song of the eight on the record was written entirely for one person. Instead, it was more like I took all the memories and baggage I had from every relationship I have ever been in and kind of threw it all in a blender. There are pieces of multiple people on display in each song. Even "Spider's Lullaby" has elements of several different people I have dated in it, even though it is named after a particular girl I knew many years ago whose nickname was Spyder.
We have invited some of your fans from Facebook to post questions for this interview. We then picked some the best for you to answer. Here are a few:
If you had to name you five biggest influences...parents, family, peers, other musicians what/who would they be?
My biggest musical influence is easily Ronnie James Dio; he was the voice of a god in my opinion. My grandmother Marian Johns is biggest family influence for teaching me what being tough was all about. Leonard Cohen is a huge lyrical influence for teaching me lyrics really can make a song more than notes and chords. Chuck Palahniuk and his books are a huge creative influence for teaching me to find humor in tragedy. Keith Richards is a big personal influence for teaching me that everything they tried to teach me in D.A.R.E. class is a lie.
How did you get two first names?
Actually I have three. Hatred of immigrants probably got Johansson shortened to Johns Eric was supposedly chosen after a close friend of my mother who was killed in the Vietnam War. My middle name, William, was chosen for my Paternal Grandfather.
If a Lynyrd Skynyrd song is playing in the woods, and there's no one there to hear it, does it still suck?
It really depends on the song. Sometimes, alone in the woods, I swear I can hear a nest of squirrels singing "Tuesday's Gone with the Wind." I probably shouldn't just eat any old mushroom I find out there...
What was your first vocal recording?
I think it was on an old reel to reel recorder at a Christmas gathering with my Mom's family. I was 5 or 6 years old and sang Silent Night.
Do you feel you progression through the genres you have sang in is a natural progression or has jumping around helped your talent?
Jumping around to different genres and styles cannot help but make one better and more well rounded. If you only do the same stuff over and over, you limit the ability to grow and experience new things and ideas.
What advice would you give someone dating a musician?
See your doctor. Get a prescription for antibiotics and a prescription for Xanax. You are probably going to need both at some point.
Ok, that concludes the fan questions. What new music have you heard that you enjoy?
I am a huge fan of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. They are a great band and it is awesome that they are getting lots of recognition these days. "Revelator," the new record from Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeshi is just really beautifully made blues music. I also just recently discovered Adele. What an amazing voice she has. It's refreshing to hear some who is topping the pop music charts that can really sing with no production tricks and all of that.
You've joked that writing this record forced you to become an authority on breakup songs. What are the best breakup songs and why?
Probably my all time favorite is Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice; It's alright." The lyric where he sings:
"It ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin' anyway
So don't think twice, it's all right"
Is some of the most heart wrenchingly honest stuff anyone could ever say.
Another favorite that I come back to often is the song "One" by U2. The lyrics over the bridge where Bono sings:
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt"
Never ceases to break my heart every time I hear it.
Conversely, what is the best love song and why?
Well, I never claimed to be an authority on this one. I will say that my favorite lyric in a love song comes from Peter Gabriel's song "In Your Eyes". I think the lyrics kid of speak for themselves.
"in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
in your eyes
the resolution of all the fruitless searches"
One last question and it also deals with lyrics. If you could pick one lyric to sum up your life what would it be?
That is a tough one. I think I will go with a Leonard Cohen lyric from his song "Bird on a Wire."
"Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free"
I think that one sums me up pretty well.
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