Instrumental rock guitar music is one of the few things that really gets white people amped up (Citation: Chapelle Show February 2004). In today’s saturated music market, few rise to the top as masters of their craft. I found one in Canada, and he was gracious enough to share a few words about his latest album, In a Locked Room on the Moon. Please meet Nick Johnston.
You recently released a delicious new album entitled, In a Locked Room on the Moon with album art featuring a lady astronaut watering plant guitars growing on the surface of the moon. The last album; however, was named, Public Display of Infection. I couldn’t help but notice that might be a storyline in this progression from infecting the public on Earth and then an exodus of instrumental guitar to the moon. Does this represent a change in your sound/songwriting or any personal developments that you’ve encountered since the release of your debut solo album?
Johnston: It’s funny that you picked up on that “story line!” Mark (Rehkopf), who does all of my artwork, and I were joking about how the scene on the cover of In A Locked Room On The Moon would be happening at the same time as the chaos on the cover of Public Display Of Infection. There’s that image of the moon on the front of PDOI, so why not, hah! As for the art, it was just a really cool idea Mark had. I gave him the title, and we messed around with several ideas for a while. Originally, we had this grand concept that would have ended up being far too expensive. We decided to simplify things a bit. I think Mark was outside watering his plants when the idea hit him: Space Girl watering guitars on the moon. What’s not to like?
Musically, I’m extremely pleased with how this album turned out. Everything sounds really good to my ears. I went pretty bare bones when it came to sounds. When I play live, I don’t really use any pedals or change guitars, so I wanted that to come across on the record. For me, the sound of a Stratocaster plugged straight into an amplifier is as good as it gets. The songwriting was pretty natural; I just let the music come out when it wanted to. I think the trick is to not to over think it. As long as I have a cool melody, I’m happy! Writing music is by far my favorite thing to do, so hopefully l continue to get a little more creative as I go. I actually wrote a good chunk of the music on this album before ‘PDOI’ came out, so I was itching to get started on it!
There are a lot of stylistic influences throughout this album, ranging from bossa novas to Western style blues/pentatonic tonality, synthesizing the sounds to create something uniquely fresh. How were you exposed to this variety of sound, and how did you decide to integrate it into your playing?
Johnston: I like listening to a wide variety of music. After a while, it just kind of rubs off on you. With music, the phrase, “You are what you eat,” certainly applies. I love the fact that there are so many styles of music! I always found it interesting to listen and understand what key differences made something one style and something another. You develop an ear for it, and it just starts to come out of you. I feel like it’s important to be open to everything. I’m certainly no master of any style, but sometimes I get a strong urge to try writing a gypsy tune, a mushy ballad or a song that sounds like it could be in a Tim Burton film.
Check out the song “Sandmonster”
This is an instrumental album, which means that emotions are conveying purely through melody, timbre, dynamics, etc. With that in mind, which song means the most to you?
Johnston: That’s a tough one! I think I would have to go with the title track, “In A Locked Room On The Moon.” I’m not sure if that’s my favorite of the bunch, but that song takes me back to a really great time. It’s weird how music can do that to you! There were a lot of new and exciting things going on at the time for me when I wrote that song. I also remember taking that song to my band and just having the best time with it. It was a riot! So much fun to play!
This album features solos from two iconic guitar players: Paul Gilbert and Guthrie Govan. Both of these players are also grand masters, and by that, I mean they are extremely renowned guitar teachers as well as legendary performers. What specific style/techniques would you say each of these players, respectively, bestowed upon you growing up? (Example: for me, Paul Gilbert = alternate picking and string skipping. Guthrie Govan = fusion guru).
Johnston: What an honor having Paul Gilbert and Guthrie Govan play on my album! Amazing! I just really love what they do. I’m not sure how much they influenced me as I could never really play or figure out how they were playing what they played haha! The thing I always loved about Paul was how his personality seemed to be stamped all over everything he did. From the song titles to the lyrics to his incredible guitar tone, everything he did screamed Paul Gilbert. Not only that, but he’s such a wonderful person. He’s so well respected and just a genuinely nice guy. He certainly didn’t have to play on my album, but he did. He gave me a shot, and I will always be grateful to him for that. Such an honor!
As for Guthrie, I discovered him a little later into my guitar playing days. I was always shocked by how natural everything he played sounded. He didn’t seem to be trying to impress anyone, and he never seemed to be caught up in this weird ‘guitar olympics’ that seems to grab a hold of a lot of players. He just played his guitar, and that was it. I love that. I try very hard to do the same thing.
Lastly, the artistry of the album art seems to convey the vibe of the album well. Knowing that you are also very into comics, including putting together your own, has the culture of comics had an influence on your sound in anyway?
Johnston: Absolutely! I find that I’m much more influenced by artwork, be it comic book or otherwise, rather than other musicians. Comic book writers/artists like Mike Mignola and Francesco Francavella just blow me away! Then you get into some of the legendary guys like Frank Frazetta, Drew Struzan and Bill Gold. Sometimes it takes one image, and you can hear these cool melodies start to build in your head! I also get really inspired by cartoons. I’ve written plenty of music after watching Samurai Jack, Bugs Bunny, and Ren and Stimpy haha! Yes, I’m weird.