Wednesday, October 27, 2010

al johnson

(photo by chris nightengale)

al johnson

the twitchy,awkward looking singer for the bands shorty and u.s. maple

i've decribed the man as "mark harmon having a stroke while drunkenly mocking david yow"

and i'm sticking to that

and now...i've somehow convinced him to answer a few questions

SGM: i run a blog called shiny grey monotone...and apparently folks like it for some reason (there are a lot of drinkers out there)...and shorty was the flagship does that make you feel?

AJ: Too little,too late you rotten bastards...where the hell were you when I was there dying beneath the wings of Helios Creed? Let me re-phrase that: 2 GOOD 2 B TRU. I am actually quite surprised at the attention given to the band as I always felt it was only a couple of dimensions deep. I never considered the shelf life. Our first 6 week tour of Europe with The Didjits should have been pre-dates "Jackass" and makes their actions nothing short of soft-core anime.

SGM: when i'd first discovered shorty...i drove everyone around me (mostly the girlfriend) crazy with the song "last one in my mouth is a jerk"...i'd like to thank you for putting those words together as i want them on a t-shirt that i'd wear to every family function ever...also...did you realize that you may have given birth to that whole nu metal thing with that song as this band called korn adopted it's sound (on their first album anyway)?...also...what is it all about?

AJ: All members of Shorty began at an early age tangling with metal,especially Mark Shippy,(Guitarist) and myself. I was a huge Priest fanatic,I remember going to the Chicago Amphitheater to worship them and Iron Maiden. "Eddy" waved at me. Mark was sooo metal. He still is.

SGM: how did shorty come to be?

AJ: Shorty began in Dekalb,IL while we were flunking out of Northern Illinois University. Originally called Dragster,we opened our first show with Das Damen. Original members were: Tony Ciarrocchi,(Later US MAPLE's documentary man),his cousin Todd Lamparelli on drums,Mark Shippy and myself. Mark and I put an ad in the paper and these two wonderful clowns answered the advertisement. I believe Tony was wearing a mint green suit with a matching plaid hat. They were immediately hired.

SGM: before going by the name were called snailboy (which is a term in horse racing that means..well...simply put...a slow horse)...were there any members of the band that bet on the horses?

AJ: Tar’s original bass player Tim Mescher came up with the name. We asked him to be in the band. He and I later had a falling out and I had to let him go. In later years, I heard he was entirely still pissed at me and desired to poison me. It’s a lovely story really. He was very talented, had a most original sound. I miss him actually.

SGM: what was it like working with steve albini? do you have any crazy,wacky stories?(as most folks that have worked with steve albini have)

AJ: Steve is an an incredible, generous human being. We were quite close, I learned a lot from just being around him, early on… way back when he had an eight-track. He was a mentor and a close friend to me and I used to sit around his place while Urge Overkill, Tar and Slint practiced in his basement. We held each other tight during those “tough times”, like when Brit Walford from Slint was house-sitting for him, broke his toilet and began shitting in Steve’s backyard. I am not joking.

SGM: which member of the band was it that said “man…we need to cover van halen’s “hot for teacher”? it was you…wasn’t it?

AJ: Yeah, it was me… I don’t even have a band now and I say the same thing except for wanting to cover, “Jaime’s Crying”.

SGM: after shorty split up…u.s. maple came to be…what’s the story behind the band’s name?

AJ: am decent with workds, conceptual, ideas etc…So, this is a personal sore spot for me. I never liked the name, couldn’t for the life of me come up with a name…I don’t know why, I have no explanation. Rob Syers, an artist on the Skin Graft Council came up with a name; we needed a name to record under. I later came up with the name You Fantastic!, which I believe to be a great name but had to sell it for 17 dollars, no shit.

SGM: with u.s. maple…you set out to deconstruct the rock and roll…and I gotta say…if doing that sounds like a drunk david yow going into a studio and recording his own tribute to both bob Dylan and the rolling stones by himself…you succeeded…there have been many times where I’d be listening to the band and have folks give me a “um..what” look…was that what you were going for?

AJ: I wanted a band, a sound that couldn’t easily be defined or described but had an intensity and an originality that couldn’t be forgotten. I believe we did that and it is and will be one of my fondest memories.

SGM: what’s the story on the u.s. maple documentary? will it ever go beyond the promo on you tube?

AJ: I really wish for its completion. Tony Ciarrocchi and Amy have spent time on it, both are busy and well, we cannot afford to pay him…not that he’s asked for compensation, he’s a great, great friend and well it’s complicated…I hope it gets done. He spent many of tours with us, time, energy, on his own dime.

SGM: I have to ask this as I’ve noticed that I’ve done it a few times during the course of this business…and it seemed to be the go to comparison for most critics…the jesus lizard…did you ever get tired of the comparisons?

AJ: We only received those comparisons early on, the few I read…I was flattered. I think we soon came into our own. We shared a practice space with them. I love and respect all of them. Mediocre writers need a tag to hang their reviews on.

SGM: are there any funny/awkward/awkward/awkwardly funny things that you’d witnessed/instigated while out on the road?

AJ: Remember Mad Magazine? It was a lot like that only true to life, in hand-cuffs occasionally steeped in drugs, booze and mayhem. I could go on for hours. I will spare you that for now.

SGM: you had a small part in the movie HIGH FIDELITY as an anxious music nerd (aren’t they all? )…would you yourself pay $40 for a copy of the French import of captain beefheart’s SAFE AS MILK album?...and how did you land that part?

AJ: Honestly, I never owned a single Beefheart album, so I guess the answer is no… However, I do recognize that they were ahead of the times as well. I studied acting and was involved in theater during my time in Chicago. I love to act. I am still very much interested in the form… I was a Pawnbroker in a particularly bad section of Chicago; I had an opportunity to read for the part that was set-up by one of the film’s writers who liked me. I originally read for a smaller part, the director and I started talking about my life, pawn broking, the consumer habits of gypsies and their in-store trickery… and well before I knew it, they wanted to write me a bigger part knowing that I would have to read again and could get neither of the parts. I took the chance and got it. I had my own trailer on the set. I had my own stand-in. On my trailer door the sign read, “The guy in the store”. I later saw a preview of the film on Entertainment Tonight and I remember they picked the clip I was in… in kind, I just about shit myself.

SGM: and seeing as how we’re on the subject…do you have any albums that you’d consider “desert island specials”?

AJ: Television’s “Marquee Moon”…Pere Ubu’s”The Modern Dance” The Fall’s “Hex Enduction Hour”

SGM: are there any current bands out there that you’d like to name drop?

AJ: I do think Iowa City’s, LIBERTY LEG have something going on.

SGM: as a fellow illinoisian…I used to travel to dekalb all the time for the music stores…and I’m surprised that I don’t remember ever seeing any shorty show flyers anywhere…what were the shows like around there?...when was the last time you were in that area?

AJ: It’s been years…there was a scene. There was a scene.

SGM: musically…what's the thing you’re most proud of?

AJ: The guys in US MAPLE actualized and super ceded my initial ideas. I consider myself very, very lucky to have worked with them.

SGM: is there anything you’d go back and change?

AJ: Personally speaking, though the drugs felt good at the time…not very smart or helpful. I am glad for all the events that led to beating that.

SGM: would i ever be able to tempt you and the rest of shorty to get back together if only to play a birthday party like the one seen in the video for “coopie and me”?

AJ: I have been told two things: A Shorty reunion is warranted and also that it would be ridiculous. I don’t know what I think… I always wanted to play a show at McDonald’s. Could the party be there?

SGM: ok…enough of the music business…what do you do with yourself nowadays?

AJ: Finishing a degree in Advertising and now I am asking your audience for a job. I need to write. Taking care of my 5 year old son Van Martin...He’s a piece of work! Trying to figure out love.

SGM: well…i do believe that I’ve taken up enough of your time…thanks for doing this…and thanks for doing what you do…and if you have anything you’d like to say to the kids…here be the space to do so.

AJ: Artistically, take a look around you, know what’s out there, and run the other way. Make something provocative…try to resonate with the lowest common, human denominator. They need it the most. Also if you’re just starting out, now this is probably most important: learn a trade. It’s a smart thing to do, especially if you plan on touring. You will always have to come home after a tour and a lot of times you will need to get to work, if you weld, are a carpenter, an electrician like Pat Samson was from Maple; you can earn a decent buck and jump right back in to getting a paycheck. Trust me… it’s the most practical advice I can give you.

Thank you.

Al Johnson


Anonymous said...

That was a nice read, thanks

puss said...

i heard shorty are playing three shows in france with big n and the oxes next year, although somebody might be having a giraffe. great to read from the man anyway, good business

Gooboy666 said...

Nice to hear from the man himself.Shorty was an amazing band.As always I have a couple things to say.
1) The Cows.Holy Fukking Shit.Everytime I go back and listen to their CD's I wish it was like 1992 again.Just appreciate the vibe of songs like "Woman Inside" or "39 Lashes".SKEWED.
2) You need to put some XRXBX up on this site.Damn that band can slice and dice like no one AND usually do it under 3 minutes.Highly overlooked.Yet overhyped by those "in the know".
Oh well just keep doin' what ya do.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for putting up this interview. Enjoyable read.

I first heard Shorty in '95. It was a little too late to see them play, but it made me an Al Johnson fan for life. I have all the U.S. Maples albums. Good stuff.

(I completely agree about the lyrics to "Jerk." Now I also want to put them on a t-shirt.)


(My verification word is "diacked." I will use that in a sentence today, somehow.)

Kevin said...

Have you heard anything about the US Maple documentary. If I had money, I would donate to the cause so they could get it released. I really hope that this sees the light of day.

Please drop me a line if you have any idea what is going on with the documentary on US Maple.


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