Los Angeles resident Greg Johnson is celebrating 20
years as a solo artist with an album and Kiwi tour. He talks to
Lydia Jenkin, of the NZ Herald.
Greg Johnson. Photo supplied.
Phoning in from his home in Santa Monica on a Sunday
afternoon, Kiwi songwriter and new father Greg Johnson has
his wee daughter Ruby in his arms.
"I'm sitting here with a bottle feeding the little one, and
my wife is at a bachelorette party for a friend, so we're
just kicking around really, strumming guitars and mucking
around in the studio. Maybe I'll have a beer later, might go
for a swim.
Quite a relaxed day, ideally," he laughs.
Johnson has made a good life in the US over the past 11 years
with his wife, stuntwoman Kelli Barksdale, and with his own
studio set up at home he is able to work on TV and film music
(he recently wrote a track for an episode of hit show
Castle) and the occasional commercial, as well as
producing for other artists, and of course working on his own
songs. Rock 'n' roller married to a stuntwoman, living the
dream in LA - it almost sounds like a sitcom.
"It kind of is sometimes, there are definitely moments of
hilarity. But there's also fear because we both rely on the
phone ringing to an extent to survive.
"But I've managed to survive for the past 25 years and
Kelli's done very well. She's had some quite big movies,
which pay quite well when they come through, so it can also
be like glamorous sitcom land, but there are also plenty of
times when it's not. I know I'm one of the lucky ones
though." It is not just down to luck - after 20 years in the
business, and more than 10 albums to his name, no-one could
say Johnson has not worked hard for the life he has.
In fact, he has just released his 10th official studio album
Exits, which, much like his previous release Secret
Weapon, was funded independently with the help of his
fans and features a wide array of guest contributors, which
Johnson sees as pretty much essential when you have been
working as a solo artist as long as he has.
Singer Flip Grater and guitarist Geoff Maddock, fellow Kiwis,
join him on The Sheriff ("a kind of reinvention of the
Bob Marley song I Shot The Sheriff, but more with a Bonnie
and Clyde twist"), and there are other contributions from LA
Philharmonic bassist John Kibler, singer-songwriter Ted
Brown, guitarist Darren Tehrani, drummer Wayne Bell, singer
Martha de la Torres and several others.
Also, in what sounds like a bit of a typical LA story,
Johnson ended up doing a co-write with old-time soul
songwriter and producer Richard Rudolph, whose late wife
Minnie Riperton sang his well-known hit Lovin' You in
Rudolph is also the father of Saturday Night Live and
Bridesmaids star Maya Rudolph, who is married to star
director Paul Thomas Anderson.
"We were at dinner with friends at a Spanish wine bar just
down the road here, and we were sitting quite close to
another table, all jammed in there, and I hear a chap
mentioning a recording studio. So I leaned over to ask him
about it, and we got talking, and it turned out he lives on
the same street as us - though at the much richer end - and
he turned out to be Richard Rudolph.
"We ended up hanging out a bit, and then writing this song
Meant To Be Mine, which we were both very happy with.
"I learned a lot from him while we were collaborating. He
really stuck to these classic song forms, especially in the
lyrics, and whereas I would often bust out of those, thinking
'you don't need to match that rhyming there', he would adhere
to it quite strictly, but it made for a really strong song.
It was a very interesting lesson in old-school songwriting
for me, and we've got some more projects coming up, which is
great." It is a dynamic, wide-ranging album with many
inspirations (including a trip to St Croix in the Caribbean,
which Johnson describes as a dark and fascinating place), but
importantly, it has already had the stamp of approval from
"She thinks it's her favourite since Anyone Can Say
Goodbye, so that's cool. She can be quite a harsh critic,
actually," he says with a laugh.
He will be celebrating the release, and marking his 20th
anniversary as a solo artist with an extensive tour of New
Zealand and this time he will be taking a full five-piece
band of Kiwis who will all be singing four-part harmonies
too, making it the biggest sound he has had with a band.
"We always have an excellent time, five old dogs roaming the
country," he chuckles, "but hopefully the music reflects that
Hear him, see him
Greg Johnson plays at Sammy's, Dunedin, on November 30 as
part of an 11-date national tour. His new album, Exits
is available now.