Bringin’ It Backwards: Interview with Will Johnson

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Together with American Songwriter, we had the pleasure of interviewing Will Johnson over Zoom video! 

Will Johnson’s 7th solo album “El Capitan” is out now. Recorded over three days in June 2020 at Ramble Creek Recording in Austin, Texas with contributions from Britton Beisenherz, Thor Harris (of Shearwater, Xiu Xiu), and Lindsey Verrill (Little Mazarn).

It’s a more subdued album than last year’s Wire Mountain, with Johnson using only his Stella acoustic guitar to record. Here’s his description of these songs:

There’s a simple “mornin”” that is exchanged amongst many early bird runners as they pass. I’ve noticed this since I was nine or so, and have taken different interpretations from it: Have a good run. Good luck. Have a good day. Stay safe. We’re a part of something, moving in harmony. Look at us fucking go.

It’s pleasing in its way; a show of support. The location might be a utility road in Wyoming or a city park in St. Petersburg. I don’t know the root of it, or how this transfer of pleasantry started amongst this cut of humanity. It’s never been: “morning..” or “good morning” or even “g’mornin”. It’s just: “mornin’”. There’s a musicality to it, and I think it means more to me these days, as do the moments outside. It’s where the lines, the choruses, and some full songs are coming from, now more than ever.

This new record started years ago at a friend’s dining room table in Portland, building up on long desert drives, in hotel bathrooms, at casino bars, and on these regular runs. Over years, the songs mortared themselves together into something I thought fit together. Some are now quite old, and a couple are pandemic-new. It feels like we’re at the mercy of nature now more than ever, and the quietude of this patch of time made sense to document them and finally get them out. I took a hundred-dollar Stella guitar to my friend, Britton’s, and we spent three days, distanced, building something. We let go of old habits, peeled things back, and tracked it all to a Tascam 388. We ate tacos, drank Tecate and found happiness in the act of moving again in the early summer heat. There’s tape hiss, and there are imperfections. Thor Harris and Lindsey Verrill contributed beautifully from afar.

The other night I took to another run to feel the night’s breeze, and maybe see if another melody might be out there. It was late, and now I sometimes take to running right down the middle of once-busy streets. Another night runner approached and moved over, giving wide berth. He put his mask up, and I pulled my bandana up from my neck. There was compassion in the movement of the dance. He flashed a peace sign, and I flashed one back. It was a needed reminder that most of us are still moving together, just from different places now. I headed back to the middle of the road, and we headed our opposite directions, giving chase to whatever kind of solace and satisfaction we could find in that quiet night. Chasing clarity in the stillness of the world’s new, oft-strange chapter.

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