"I'm still learning all the time, but I've seen that music can be something that unites people and connects us with something bigger than ourselves. It's important that we connect with the raw experience of life, rather than always trying to define ourselves, and the moment of experiencing music you connect with is truly freeing. That's what I'm trying to create in my shows and in my music."
Eric Johanson: The Deep And The Dirty
Blues-rock guitarist Eric Johanson will be released his new 12-tracks album, The Deep and the Dirty, via Ruf Records, on July 28th. An electric whiz with a sweet slide game... A gang of fantastic acoustic and electric leads... His slide work on resonator is particularly noteworthy. While creating The Deep and the Dirty, Eric Johanson's previous album cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Blues chart. It was his fourth time reaching the Top 10. And for a Louisiana native who'd grown up idolizing bluesmen like Freddie King and Robert Johnson, it felt pretty good. Even so, genre success didn't discourage Johanson from reaching beyond the blues for The Deep and the Dirty's eclectic, electrifying songs. Produced by Jesse Dayton (Supersuckers, Rob Zombie) — another roots-rock innovator who, like Johanson, uses the blues as a springboard for a bigger, broader sound — The Deep and the Dirty (whose title refers to the American South) fires twin barrels of sharp songwriting and fiery fretwork.
(Eric Johanson / Photo by Kaylie McCarthy)
Johanson wrote these songs during an era that found him at home, live-streaming acoustic performances and releasing two volumes of his Covered Tracks series to a quarantined world. At the earliest opportunity, Eric returned to the road, gaining a fresh appreciation for the musical chemistry generated by a well-oiled touring band. The Deep and the Dirty captures these contradictions and subtleties with songs infused with messages about embracing the current moment recorded in the studio as a band playing together live. Bassist Eric Vogel and Grammy-winning drummer Terence Higgins joined him in the studio, recording 12 songs in two days.
Interview by Michael Limnios Archive: Eric Johanson, 2020 interview
Special Thanks: Pati deVries / devious planet media
How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?
When I first started playing guitar live in front of an audience, I fell in love with the feeling of improvising, and being taken for a ride with the music and the energy of the crowd. Having that sense of liftoff where you don't really feel like you're the source of what's happening, you're just witnessing the moment unfold. There is a freedom in that, and a primacy to it that goes beyond concepts of what a song is about, or who you are, or anything.
However, when I first started writing music, it was almost like I took a different role, and all the creativity happened in the writing process, to the extent that not much was left for the performance. I gravitated toward more complicated music, because that gave me a lot of freedom in the creation of it, but then very little freedom in the performance of it.
More recently, as I've been putting out music under my own name, I've stripped things back down to the essence of an idea, so that there is still room to have that magic moment with it performing, where the song can really elevate to another place.
You’ve one release with Ruf Records and Jesse Dayton. How did that relationship come about?
I was looking for someone to produce this record, and I wanted someone that had a different background than mine, and who was willing to really dig into the songs and give me feedback and ideas before we got into the studio. My management team had begun working with Jesse Dayton, and suggested I have a chat with him. We immediately hit it off, and I could tell that despite his own music being more in the Americana vein, he really understood what I was trying to do, and wasn't going to try to fit it into a neat little genre box. We started meeting up and talking about the songs. I'd send him voice memos and he'd send me some back with different ideas. "What if we added a part here" or "what about a bridge on this one" etc. I almost always felt like his ideas really made the songs better, and that's the first time I've had that type of collaboration.
I've been aware of Ruf Records for a long time, from back in the days when I was playing with Cyril Neville around the time he started doing the Royal Southern Brotherhood, and I'd seen other friends like Mike Zito and Samantha Fish really grow on that label. We had finished the record not knowing exactly where it was going to land, and when they expressed interest in taking me on, I was like, "Let's do it!"
Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album The Deep and the Dirty?
The first day of recording, we tried out a couple of musicians from Texas, who were good players, but just weren't capturing the feel I was looking for. I ended up calling Terence Higgins and Eric Vogel late at night on a Monday and asking them if they could be on a 7am flight to Austin the next day to finish the record. They said yes, and we cut all 12 songs in 2 days. I've come to realize that while a lot of people might see what I do as rock or blues, there is a level of groove and funk in my music that just comes from being a New Orleans musician, living here and soaking up the different rhythms. I almost take it for granted until it isn't there, and then I realize that beneath it all there is always that New Orleans funk in there.
What moment changed your music life the most? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?
There have been so many moments but I have to say that moving away from New Orleans, all the way to New Zealand, and exploring a lot of different music, really made me start to miss the type of jamming that we do down here, where people who had never played together before can get on stage and make music that is not only fit for an audience, but elevates everyone to a sort of religious experience.
To achieve that, you need a certain amount of technique. You need to be able to lock into a groove. You need to be able to figure out what key and scale or mode a song is in. But you also have to be able to get out of the way of your "self", and let the music flow through you.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
I'm still learning all the time, but I've seen that music can be something that unites people and connects us with something bigger than ourselves. It's important that we connect with the raw experience of life, rather than always trying to define ourselves, and the moment of experiencing music you connect with is truly freeing. That's what I'm trying to create in my shows and in my music.
Do you think there is an audience for blues/rock music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?
Well, the number of festivals and venues clearly indicates there is an audience, however people define the genre. I personally don't get involved in the definitions much, because they are just sounds, we are making to refer to things that are hard to describe. Genre labels can help people find things they like, but there will ultimately never be any firm definition of what they "really" are. I think there is always going to be a new audience for stripped down, human, organic music. When you see someone pouring their heart into what they are doing, you don't have to know anything about it to connect with it.
(Eric Johanson / Photo by Kaylie McCarthy)
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