Interview: Josiah Johnson Knows The Trouble You’re In And Wants To Take You Out Dancing

Photo Credit: Sela Shiloni

Josiah Johnson has been on a soul-searching journey ever since his departure five years ago from The Head and The Heart. Hanging on for the shining light in a dark tunnel, addiction and recovery, and opening up a side of yourself that you have struggled to let free, are all major themes on his solo debut album Every Feeling On A Loop. Recently we caught up with him via email…

Your track Woman In A Man’s Life’ really struck us when we heard it for the first time at your Baby’s All Right show last Fall. What made this courageous revealing of a side many did not know about you, so urgent?

There’s that famous Walt Whitman line, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then, I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes).” I just keep seeing more and more that all the best stuff doesn’t happen in the either/or or the black and white places. There’s this real tendency towards putting other people, and then ourselves into boxes, where it’s easy to understand, or easy to dismiss. All the juiciest magical shit happens in those “I’m not just one thing” places, and I’d spent a long time not being love with the parts of myself that I’d been taught weren’t “manly.”

“You devoured me whole like a ravenous animal” is one of the most powerful lines on your album. Tell us how being co-frontmen in The Head and the Heart (THATH) with Jon Russell made you feel responsible for “(making) the void easier to bear (for him)” and “(solving) all (his) problems”?

Who knows where lines come from, so I can’t say for sure. I don’t think all of those lines are about Jon. The reading isn’t as straightforward as all of that. Nor would I want people to try to read that straightforwardly into all that.

I am much more interested in when and where and who was there for the times when you felt like someone devoured you whole like a ravenous animal. I’m curious how you felt empowered and/or swept along beyond your will in the service of those relationships. I want to know how you have reclaimed your power after realizing that you had given it away. How you began speaking your truth after periods of keeping it dammed up.

One major theme on your album is processing relationship break ups, romantic and THATH/Jon related. ‘Nobody Knows’ is the best blend of both situations and the hardest song on the album to discern, which kind of break up you are referring to. “I could be a savior in a white linen dress, I can learn to clean up every time I made a mess” seems romantic yet “when we’re lost and tired from the cold and the road and the fight I hope you’ll take me out to dancing again.” sounds like a post tour reliance of your old band members to keep the creative momentum flowing…

It’s a little bit of everything for those lines. Milan Kundera definitely doesn’t pass the literary version of the Bechtel test, but I’ve always related and loved this quote from “Unbearable Lightness of Being”: 

“We all need someone to look at us. we can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. And finally, there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.”

Can you envision collaborating with any of the other members of THATH in a different project, or their own solo projects, if a true reunion may not happen?

Heck yes. I don’t know the future, but I think all of us love each other like real fierce, and some of the trust that had been broken seems to be creeping slowly back into our relationships.

World’s Not Gonna End’, the first single on your new album, was released one month before COVID-19 put all our feelings on a new loop. Describe how the song may have taken on a different meaning in this time...

Well, that song was written in a time when there was a lot gone wrong in my life, and I was feeling a bit stuck in this pit that felt kinda never-ending. Like, will nothing ever be the same? Or am I totally forever screwed? And the answer to the first question is, of course, everything is changing, like, all the time. But I started just trying to remember that life is super long, that was like my mantra, “Life is hella long.” And it feels like forever right now, but there’s going to be a time in the future where I’ll heal, and this will be a distant memory. Which is insane to say in the middle of something awful. But it was helpful for me.

The pandemic has forced an era of social media livestream concerts and socially distanced creative workflows. Has this been an obstacle to your veteran skills of setting the mood in a crowded bar or music hall, or a promising new experience? How have you and your contemporaries attained the necessary studio vibes to record remotely?

We are all learning! It was disorienting for sure. Everyone, not just musicians, has had to learn new skills to feel like a they’re crushing it or even just surviving during the pandemic. I wanna play these songs for people! I wanna play in a packed sweaty club, some gracious person’s living room, an empty bar, sleep like sardines in a hotel room with my bandmates! I will say Phoebe Bridgers’ videos have been my favorite examples of an artist adapting to the pandemic. And we’re working on making some music videos and got to do some studio work with lots of testing and PPE, and it’s still an ok time to be a creative person. We are resourceful!

Josiah Johnson’s debut record Every Feeling On A Loop was released back in September of this year. Read our review of the album, HERE.

Interview by Scott J. Herman