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A Dirty Dozen with BRIAN JOHANNESEN – January 2020

| 7 January 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “It’s been a rough year for Brian Johannesen. The same week he closed on his first house in Iowa City, IA, his mother-in-law went onto life support. Although she pulled through, her health steadily declined over the following months, leading to endless doctor appointments, hospital stays, rehab stints, and several months living with Brian and his wife. All the while,Brian was trying to finish his second full-length solo release, Holster Your Silver. Last April, she passed away in that new home.”  We get Brian to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

Photo Credit: Kyle Wolff

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Holster Your Silver is my latest album out January 31st. It largely deals with some of the most difficult years of my life and the personal hardships that have happened over that period – from anxiety attacks, to frustrations with my career and the current political climate, to having my mother-in-law who I was very close with pass away in my house after being very sick for a year. The record is made to be a songwriter album, with the lyrics forward. I guess the first time through, you may not catch that all these hardships were inter-connected, and it’s an album about coming to grips with adulthood in a lot of ways. The whiskey-drinking, fun loving days are over, not because I want them to be, but because that’s how life happens. The title track, which is also the last track on the record, works as a plea to the universe to put away its guns and let me move forward from these trials.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

It started with a lie… I was in freshman year gym class in high school and this guy asked me if I was Brian, I said yes, and he asked if I played bass, and I said, “Totally.” I hadn’t ever touched a bass in my life. He said we should jam sometime, and I shrugged it off and figured it would never come up again. A couple days later, he asked if I could fill in for his bass player at a gig that weekend. I said, “Totally.” I then begged my dad to loan me some money and give me a ride to Guitar Center. In hindsight, I am not surprised he agreed but at the time I was ready to grovel and make some ridiculous yard work promises. I stayed up a couple nights figuring out how to read tabs and learn the pop punk songs I had to learn. I wouldn’t say the show was a “success” per se, but I was hooked after that.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

I loved going to shows in high school, and I was pretty into the Chicago punk scene. Seeing bands like The Ghost, The Lawrence Arms, and Sleep Out, and how much fun it seemed to be, really motivated me. I am also so very inspired by seeing my friends play music, back in high school all the way to today. It all seemed attainable and that was the biggest thing to me. You didn’t have to play arenas and sell millions of records to have fun and make music with your friends. The song “Red Slippers, Red Wheels” by The Ghost epitomizes that attitude to me. My friend’s band would play it in our basement and we’d all scream along, and we were all part of the band.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

John Prine, Guy Clark, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch, and Nadalands.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

A dream scenario for me is recording a duet with Loretta Lynn. I love her so much.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I think I would describe it as Midwestern Americana; it is definitely rooted in the scenery and people of the Midwest, both lyrically and sonically. I have been pretty fortunate in that I don’t remember ever being compared to someone who I cringed at, although I do get put on bills with some head scratchers.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

I mostly play alone, so I guess I’m all three?

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I don’t often get starstruck, but some years ago, I went and saw Shovels & Rope play at the Ryman in Nashville. It might have been the first time they played there — they were opening for Dawes. I happened to bump into Cary Ann Hearst in the staircase at the Ryman and I was just at a loss for what to say. I am so in awe of her voice and her talent and her personality that I just mumbled something and had her sign my poster.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

The best part of being a musician is getting to meet and hang out with musicians who I really admire. I love traveling around and playing shows with these songwriters who blow my mind. If I had to do something else, I’d probably be a National Park Ranger.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I wish someone would ask me how many National Parks I’ve been to. The answer is 36.   I don’t get interviewed a ton so I’m not really sick of answering any questions! Just happy to be asked.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I got to play one song in front of Steve Earle once. I wish I would have done it in D instead of C.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Just being in the basement of Big Pink while Dylan and The Band were recording The Basement Tapes would have been a wild thing to witness. It also just sounds like it was a lot of fun. That record, like many of Dylan and The Band’s records separately, changed the trajectory of American roots music. I don’t think I would do what I do if not for that record, as a direct influence or otherwise.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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