Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in England called Salisbury. Out in the English countryside a little bit.
Whats your first memory concerning music? When did you start making music?
Not really too sure – I have a distinctive memory of hearing ‘Layla’ by Eric Clapton / Derek and The Dominoes as a kid and just having the urge to play it on the guitar. My early experiences with music all pretty much came from hearing songs in my Dad’s car when he was taking us anywhere. Looking back these bands and songs are still the biggest influences on me today – stuff like Mike Oldfield which really influenced the last album, but now it’s all Peter Gabriel and the Police, and that all came from hearing these sounds at a very impressionable age I think. I started playing guitar aged 9 or 10 at school. Just chords and stuff and then when I started high school my parents told me I had to take up an instrument – so by then Guitar was a no brainer. For better or worse that decision influenced pretty much the next 20 years of my life!
Have you playing in any bands? If so what were they?
I have played in a few different bands and projects over the years. You can probably Google the band I was in the longest ‘Forward Is The Farewell’ and see what turns up. We had a couple of EPs and worked pretty hard on it from 2004-2007.
Do you have a method to writing/recording your music?
I’ve got to a point with it now where I am quite comfortable in my song writing – in that I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I have basically spent the last 10 years writing songs on and off so I am at a stage now when I know when is a good time to write and when isn’t. Although when I have deadlines or whatever I will just plough through it. But in terms of what actually happens, I try and play/practice for at least an hour a day and normally ideas will just come when I play. (But if they don’t, they don’t) Usually I’ll hear something that triggers something in my brain that says ‘that’s different’ or intrigues me in some way. So then I record it straight away just into my iPhone so I don’t forget it. When I know I have that I’ll either stop playing or play another song or whatever. That way I know if that part was any good when I next pick up the guitar by whether I want to play it or not. Normally if you come up with a new idea that you think is cool you just want to play it over and over. This is one little way in which I can tell if a new idea holds any weight. Then it’s just a case of working on it, chipping away, trying out new ideas and seeing if they work. It can be a very long or a very short process depending on the song. But it’s become something that I am much more comfortable with and understand much more than I did a few years ago.
What bands and/or artists inspire you? Are there people outside of music that inspire you?
I am inspired by just about a million different things! Music, art and the world in general. Bands and musicians than inspire me right now are people like I’ve mentioned before – Peter Gabriel, in terms of musical output but also everything else that he does – his studio, the film soundtracks etc. I’ve had an idea for a while about an interactive album, (I am always thinking of new ways to engage an audience with the music, mainly I think because I am an instrumental so don’t have the benefit of words to get a point across) and anyway I just found out the other day that in ’97 Peter Gabriel released this interactive cd-rom album called ‘eve’. I watched it on Youtube and it was pretty cool, kind of out there but so forward thinking. That’s what inspires me. And incidentally I have a new song called ‘EVE’ as well! So I guess I am inspired by forward thinkers – people / artists who do things that are so far ahead of what is expected and so therefore become a massive influence on everybody else. Bands like Brand New, filmmakers like Christopher Nolan – they basically have the whole world holding it’s breath waiting to see what comes out of their heads. I find that inspiring and exciting to me.
If you had to pick something about your music that defines it, what would it be?
Hopefully the fact that the listener doesn’t necessarily know what is coming next. Or the fact that it comes from my head. Other than that I can’t really answer that – tough question!
What’s your favourite part of being a musician?
Even though it can at times be exhausting I think I’d have to say the recording process – when one idea spirals into another and before you know it something has been created that you could never have possible imagined initially. That happened for instance with the intro to EVE on the new album. When we put that sound at the start I was bouncing off the walls. But I also love playing the guitar, it is always there for me you know, rain or shine. And with my music now and the film I’ve made for this album it’s sort of becoming this outlet for a whole host of ideas that I have, which opens it up in terms of possibilities of what I might do in the future.
What do you do in your spare time?
Play guitar, watch movies, the usual. But I haven’t really had much spare time in the last 7 months, this has been an all consuming project!
What kind of TV shows/Movies do you like?
I loved LOST, The Wire, Dexter, 24, the addictive TV boxsets, I haven’t actually watched one in a while. Need to get back into it! My favourite movies are Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Dark Knight, Fight Club, Transformers….
What do you hope to accomplish with your newest release?
I am just trying to get it out to as big an audience as possible. Ultimately I’d love to score movies or something like that. We’ll see…
R: After I had decided to make the record I spent probably around 6 months writing it. That literally consisted of me coming home from work every night and sitting down in my room in the dark with two lava lamps, my guitar and my 8 track recorder, just going over and over all the ideas I had, before turning those ideas into songs. Then when I knew that I had enough music and the running order was sort of in place I got in contact with Geoff Swan who has always recorded my bands before. He was really into the idea so we did a few evenings of pre production and then got stuck into the recording process in april of last year. The idea was to do it all on acoustic guitars - with a kind of bare bones approach to the programming - I only booked 10 days of recording to start with! A year and a bit later we finished the album - it was clear after the first few sessions we were onto something (we just didn't know whether it was any good), but also that it was going to take a lot longer than 10 days. Mainly because of the depth of the programming that was involved but also all the additional parts that we had to work on, test out and record. We exhausted alot of ideas to get to the recorded songs you hear on the cd.
ATP: What aims did you have when making the record?
R: It really is an attempt to create something completely different, something that will hopefully get people interested and want to hear more. There are themes, stories and whatnot placed throughout the songs and I hope that if people choose to listen and to delve in further there are many layers for them to read into and interpret in whatever way they choose. On some of my favourite albums of all time I can almost hear something different every time I listen to them - be it a bass line or to hear it differently if you listen on headphones, that sort of thing. I definitely want this cd to be one of those albums where there are different layers and you can hear different things the more you listen.
ATP: Did you play every instrument on the record or were you assisted?
R: I don't play every instrument. I play all the guitars on the record and wrote all the songs. Most of the additional parts that I hadn't already brought in to the studio were created on the day we recorded it and Geoff laid those down - most of the keyboards and bass is him. Drew Shipsey played drums on the record and there are also parts by Steve Bega on bass, my brother Duncan on percussion, and Gavin on trumpet. Mary Spender provides guest vocals along with Max Bemis. It was a very collaborative process and I was there in the background kind of directing everything.
ATP: What musical influences have inspired 'Upon A Painted Ocean'?
R: There a few albums that were specific influences on the record. I would say that these are obviously Tubular Bells; in terms of what is possible with an instrumental album and the potential effect that music can have on people. We listened to Tubular Bells 2 alot infact, and while no song sounds anything like tubular bells I think that that feel is there throughout the record, particularly on tracks like 'Cloak+Dagger' and 'Maimed Titles'.
There are a couple of songs on John Frusciante's album 'To Record Only Water For Ten Days' that showed me early on in my guitar playing what could be created just by having guitars on a track. The tone and feeling on some of his songs particularly on that record are incredible.
'Chroma' by Cartel - While I'm not a huge fan of the band I think this album is really good. Every track is great but its towards the end of the album when each song flows into the next perfectly that really struck me first time I heard it. I love albums that do this and really appreciate albums that do it and it works! Upon... is an album that is really meant to be listened to as a whole and having tracks that run into each other is something we have tried to emulate.
Other than that I am a huge fan of bands like incubus, rage against the machine, brand new, the police - these are bands where each guitarist has heavily influenced my style of guitar playing. I also listen to things like nin, mastodon, blink-182, say anything, peter gabriel, boys night out, minus the bear etc. Alot of soundtrack music influenced the cd as well, people like Thomas Newman, Daniel Licht, Hans Zimmer, Steve Jablonsky, Michael Giacchino - artists that have to create mood and feeling without the benefit of words which is exactly what we were trying to do on this record.
ATP: On the record, you seem to cover various genres. Were there any specific genres you wanted to include?
R: No - thats just the way it came out. There was absolutely no attempt to write in a genre, but definitely an attempt to create certain feelings, a mood and a tone. For me the record has a definite atmosphere and I hope this comes across to listeners. As for any genre we do cover - i think this just comes from my guitar playing and influences in general. I think the album is quite angry and aggressive in places though - the next one will be a bit quieter!
ATP: It has been well publicised that Max Bemis of Say Anything and Two Tongues makes a guest appearence on the record. How did the collaboration come about?
R: When I had the first meeting with Geoff about the album and my ideas for it I talked about how I wanted a spoken word part in one of the last songs - kind of as a shout out to the end of tubular bells, but also for a bit of narration to end the album, to add to the drama of it. At that point having Max Bemis on it was completely out of the question. He is one of my favourite singers and I love Say Anything but it seemed like just one of those ideas that will never materialize. Then luckily enough my brother started working for Say Anything on tour as their drum tech - right around the time we were recording the record. I asked him to ask Max and he hooked it all up. Max recorded his parts backstage in London at a Say Anything show last July. I think that that part came out really well - its kind of the crux of the record and we worked really hard on just that part of the song to get it exactly right. Then after he finishes speaking the song just goes nuts with guitar and the album ends. I'm really happy with how that came out.
ATP: What do you have planned in the future?
R: I'd like to do a painted ocean 2 at some point. And a third but we'll see what happens. I have alot of ideas about what to do - and how to distribute music nowadays but without the funds behind you its not that easy. Whether I'd record another album at this point I'm not sure. I think everyone has to see how the future in terms of music distribution pans out. It seems the only way artists can make money is by touring as that experience is something that can't be downloaded. So on that front I'm really keen to get a band together and see if we can pull off the painted ocean experience live!
ATP: Do you have anything else left to say?
R: I hope some of your readers will be intrigued enough to take a listen to my music and see what they think.
Also I have a new website that I've been working on www.apaintedocean.com to support the record. Thanks for taking the time to read this!
'Upon A Painted Ocean' is released on September 1st.
Visit Rob Johnson's Official Website for further details.