A Q&A with Ellis Johnson

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Singer-songwriter from across the Pennines, carving his own niche…

How did you get the title of your latest release, and what does it mean to you?
‘Something Criminal’ came when I was writing the lyrics. I was going to call it ‘criminal’ at first, but it sounded a bit too dodgy! It’s not written from personal experience at all, but I guess the focus is around the feeling of insecurity, and the need for reassurances. Which I can relate to, and I’m sure a lot of people can.

What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
Nothing about the release was particularly difficult, the hardest part is getting it heard, when you know that if it was heard, a lot of people would most probably like it.

Who produced the release – what did they bring to it?
I had previously recorded a version of the track myself, and although the vision is the same, the guys from The Animal Farm in London, really helped shine lights on all the aspects of the song, bringing it to life.

What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
At a very basic level of listening, I hope they enjoy the music enough to want to hear it again! But in more depth, hope it can be helpful. Music can be such a positive outlet and it’s beautiful enough to be yours to interpret. Some people may hear it as a ‘Fuck you’ song, some people may hear it as a pick me up song, but the point is that it’s ok to struggle, and have things that hurt in life, but it’s even more ok and important to talk about it. We all have our unique quirks, but we’re not all that different that someone won’t understand how you feel, or at the very least, just listen to you.

How does a track normally come together?
Each song is different really, sometimes the music comes first, sometimes I’ll hear something that inspires me to write lyrics, and weirdly enough sometimes I can wake up in the middle of the night with a random idea, that I just have to record there and then, sometimes they are shit ideas! But sometimes they’re pretty good and worth keeping! It’s always funny to look back on the idea later on that day, and it makes you question the mystery of the mind, because you could be in some lucid state where the idea seems genius, but then taking a step back, and looking at it or hearing it with new refreshed senses, it can reveal a big fat bag of dog shit. Which I don’t think there is a market for.

Can you tell us something about the process?
I kind of answered it in the previous question, but I guess what I was trying to say, is it always comes from an initial idea, whether that be lyrical or musical, it always forms a skeleton or blueprint towards something that may be workable into a piece of music. My phone is absolutely full of voice notes, of me singing or humming. If anyone heard them I’m pretty sure they would deem me certifiable, but I understand what each hum or beatbox means! And the fun thing is, sometimes I will completely forget about an idea, go back and listen to it and maybe misinterpret it for something else but then that becomes an idea anyway! In answer to your question I don’t really know.

What band/artists have influenced you the most since you started this project, and why?
It’s weird really. The more time goes on, the more of a complete mixing bowl full of different styles and genres and artists, form the recipes of my inspiration. That sounded really shit baggy! I know. But it’s kind of true, because as a kid I grew up absolutely loving rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, as I got older I started to really get into punk music. Nothing has changed in that respect because I still love both those types of music. However, these days I have become more and more inspired by all types of music, I never used to focus on the lyrics of songs when I was a kid, I just cared that it was noisy and something I could get all that teenage angst and aggression I had, out. But sometimes you can really appreciate a song based on its lyrical intent, rather than the musical ability of its writer, we all know Bob Dylan doesn’t shred arpeggios at 200 bpm, or have pipes like Beyoncé but he knows his way around a really peaceful and meaningful song. If I was to narrow it down and actually get to the point of answering your question! My playlists are full of artists such as, Gang of Youths, Phoebe Bridgers, Mac Miller, Anderson Paak, Ice Cube, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, The Flatliners… I could go on, but you get the picture, it’s mixed. Each artist offering their own individual inspiration whether it be emotionally, musically, or lyrically. I fucking love music.

Ellis Johnson interview songwriter

When the world is back to normal where would like to tour, and why?
I have been lucky enough to have travelled the world, as a paid musician. And I have fallen in love with lots of places, and the people. Southeast Asia was just superb, the people are so welcoming, the culture is so inspiring, the food is amazing! It gave me a lot when I was there, so I would love to go back and tour around Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan and give back to them wonderful places. I’d also obviously love to tour the UK, and have some really Well attended gigs in my beloved Manchester.

If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to in order to get a taste of your music, what would you pick, and why?
I would probably say my latest release, ‘Something Criminal’. Because it starts off quite solitary and acoustic, up close vocals, quite intimate. And it leads to a kind of beat driven verse and chorus, and then ends up quite epic at the end if I do say so myself, in that it’s almost a rock/indie crescendo. I love it and I’m proud of it, and I hope people like it too!

What ambitions do you have for the band/your career?
My ambitions are somewhat out of my control. Because I’d love to say Ill have a big and loyal following, but that all depends on the music being heard enough. That is certainly something I want. And my ambition of being a long-term successful artist in the music industry, can only drive that want in the right direction. I’d love to collaborate with more musicians, and players many shows as possible, all over the place.

Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
At the moment, they are quite generic. I say the usual stuff; thank you so much my name is Ellis Johnson, hope you’ve enjoyed what you heard, if you’ve already seen it before, then surely you do enjoy my music, thanks for coming, check everything out on Spotify, and then I politely ask people to follow me, but only on social media because it’s fucking weird if they follow me in public. It usually guarantees at least one laugh. In the future I’d like my stage outro is to be more obscure.

For more info visit: facebook.com/ellisjohnsonmusic

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