Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Tunes can fall from the sky

He’s written songs that are timeless, marking points in history, and as he gets set to tour his Aotearoa again, Greg Johnson is as keen as ever to reveal new compositions on home soil, writes PJ TAYLOR.

Like all great songwriters who captivate with relatable storytelling, Greg Johnson can turn a moment in time into a beautiful enduring memory. Especially when adding equally interesting melodies, chord progressions, just the right instrumentation and enhancing harmonies.

He’s done it a long time now, three decades, and there’s no indication he’s going to turn his hand at something else any time soon. Songwriter, musician, sound-recordist, and producer, and that’s the way he likes it.

“I decided to build the album around five main elements: the piano, analogue synth, a classic 808 drum machine, trumpet and voices. I’m really pleased with this album. It’s close to the sound I’ve been trying to achieve my whole career.”

The California-based Kiwi national music treasure is heading Downunder in March for another series of homecoming concerts, the 1000 Miles Tour. And he’s bringing his NZ-based band of legends to Howick’s Uxbridge Arts and Culture for what will be a very special Sunday evening show on March 17, St Patrick’s Day.

Greg Johnson’s on a continuous roll when it comes to producing his own music—song ideas always flow—and an example of his undoubted talent for capturing a short-term event in life, his latest released single, Rooster Tail, describes a unique cloud formation seen in Santa Monica one Monday evening.

“It’s a wee urban vignette inspired by a rocket launch, the remnants of which I witnessed in the sky at dusk a while back,” he told East FM at New Year.

“Everyone was looking up and there was a very strange and bright cloud sinking down. It was already dusk. Incredible colours. The sun’s reflections. It turns out it was the remnants of a rocket launch from an air force base, about 60km up the coast.

“It was amazing how everyone was captivated by it, this very unusual cloud sifting down. This was the initial idea for the tune.

“Most of my songs have a visual aspect to them. A little vignette in my mind that triggers the whole thing.”

“Ted Brown and Ben King join on vocals and David Sutton on bass. The video is shot in my studio and was directed by Kelli Barksdale and yours truly. I hope you enjoy the tune. It’s my first from Tropical Noise studio and the old upright piano that found me,” Johnson announced on Facebook upon Rooster Tail’s release.

About two years ago, he moved from “my little studio to a much better one,” he said. “It’s not huge – a proper room with voice booths, room for everything you need – nice high ceiling.

“It’s been great. I’ve been busy in there working on a project which I can’t announce yet but will be in the new year.”

That announcement came recently, a new album Thunder In Fall, out February 22. “I decided to build the album around five main elements: the piano, analogue synth, a classic 808 drum machine, trumpet and voices.

“I’m really pleased with this album. It’s close to the sound I’ve been trying to achieve my whole career.”
He tracked online listenership of Rooster Tail and after two weeks said, “It’s interesting with Spotify, you can see who is listening and where they’re from, and there are new American listeners”.

Most of Johnson’s music life is spent working on personal creations, though he has time to “occasionally” produce other artists.

“And I’m based next to a music school. My friend runs it and gets me to record some of her students. Mostly vocals. It’s fun to have the kids in the studio. They really are good fun. Singers – they enjoy the experience.

“The room I’ve got is vibey. Lots of lamps and interesting stuff, a bit of a curiosity shop.

Everyone who comes in loves that. “It’s in a very creative area, in east Santa Monica – TV and recording studios. Around the corner there’s a cool second-hand record store, and an Australian café with good coffee and great food. It’s a neat place to hang out.”

Talking of other neat places to hang out, Johnson’s positively intrigued by word of the grand old Uxbridge Theatre’s renowned acoustics and charm.

“It sounds really good. I’ve seen pictures of it and looks beautiful. It’s a Sunday evening show. Love those.

“I’m really looking forward to coming down for this tour. I’m going to be playing a few tunes – my usual suspects [well-known songs], a couple of new ones, I’ll debut Rooster Tail on stage. There’s lots of new tales to tell.”

And of the “new-old” upright piano in the studio, with Rooster Tail being his first recording with its matured tones, he concludes: “I haven’t had one of them for quite a long time. Got it for a bargain, so I was pleased about that.”

More information about Greg Johnson’s 1000 Miles Tour of NZ in March is at www.plus1.co.nz

Opening verse and chorus of Rooster Tail:

I sometimes wonder where we are,
What’s the purpose of this world?
Beside the universe and stars,
Sirens wailing speeding cars,
Out in nature silence waits,
No matter what we try and take,
As we search for heaven’s gate,

I saw a rocket heading out,
It made the neighbourhood
fall quiet,
The rooster tail that drifted down,
Disappeared before the crowd,
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
It’s only love, it’s only lust,
And we cry in God we trust…

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