Johnie Burton


Johnnie Burton

Musical Discoveries: How are things going?

OK, well, things are going great. The album is finished and now I'm working on getting it out into the world. I'm getting a lot of interest in my music from so many different people.

For the moment I'm still unsigned and self managed. It's cool to be indie-for-real; I get to do everything. The hard part is I'm just one person doing everything.

On any given day, I wear at least ten different hats. So it's really fun and exciting, but I'm very busy.

What is your first memory of liking music and at what point did you decide that this could, should, would be a career path for you?

I guess my first memory of music is being very, very young--maybe four or five--I don't really know. I would just walk around the house singing out loud. Whatever I was doing I would just make-up a sort of stream-of-consciousness song about it. Making up songs and singing them to myself got me through a lot of difficult things. But I didn't have much musical training to speak of. I didn't really think seriously about music for most of my life- I just did it.

I grew up in Los Feliz, an area of LA where there were tons of musicians and artists around. So when I was in high school I became friends with some bands that were doing pretty well. They took me on tour with them and that was it--I knew I really wanted to do original music as a career.

Being a young woman into rock, who are some of the female artists you looked to for inspiration?

My taste is extremely broad. For a long time I didn't think much about whether an artist was a man or a woman. I wouldn't say I gravitated more toward one or the other. But I would have to say I've probably been influenced more by male artists than female artists only because there are more of them. As far as female artists are concerned my influences range from Patti Smith to Madonna and just about everyone in between.

As a "not so hard on the eyes" woman playing rock, how has your experience been so far, since it is still a dominantly male industry. Advantage or disadvantage?

First--thanks. Second, the experience of being a woman playing rock is extreme-–which I like. It is often times both an advantage and a disadvantage. The margin of error for taking advantage of the good things versus being taken advantage of is very small. It is very much a walk-the-line scenario. I feel like there is the opportunity to win big but there is also the possibility to strike out really hard too.

Like when we play gigs and the bill has a bunch of bands but I'm the only girl--When I rock it as hard as all the guys-–I win big time. But if I give anything less than 200% I'm 'just the chic singer.' To me it's a challenge and every challenge is an opportunity. But it is unfortunate that it exists at all junctures--even just going to the store to get a pack of guitar strings.

As a girl you've got to be strong and smart in order to hold onto the reins and steer it your way. You've got to know who you are. As I'm doing it, I'm getting an unbelievable response--people love it.

Johnie Burton

So when you decided it was time to make this album what kinds of goals did you set for it? Were there certain things you wanted the finished product to speak about you or was this about just letting the album come naturally?

This is my first album. I had about 40 songs written for it that I picked from and boiled down to eleven tracks. From the beginning I knew what I wanted but achieving that was really the hard part. I knew I wanted the album to reflect who I am in the most genuine and complete way. But really I'm a very enigmatic person; I often embody extreme opposites simultaneously and on top of that have experienced a lot of change in my life. Similarly I write songs that range from heavy punk influenced rock to intimate ballads. And I wanted it all on the album. So picking which songs to put on this first album was really tough.

Picking the direction for the production was similar; I wanted it to feel intimate but to sound huge, I wanted there to be an organic, live feeling but I wanted it to come across in a very modern way. These are all things that come naturally in my song writing but getting the production to reflect all the aspects--especially on a tight budget--was really hard. And still, on top of everything it was really important not only to make the best album I could but further to have a great time and enjoy the whole process--not just me but everyone working on the album. These were the goals that I set out with.

How closely does the finished product resemble what you had envisioned when you were writing the album?

I'm really happy with how the album turned out. I feel very blessed. I was extremely lucky to be able to put together a fantastic team of people to make this album and I feel that it very much resembles what I had envisioned. Everyone tells me that it's a rarity to be happy with your first album, but I am. Of course we could have done more with a real budget and more time in the studio- but with that goal in mind I'm already writing for the next album.

How has the response been to the album so far?

The response to the album has been unbelievable. The response has been one of the most amazing and surprising parts of the process- a lot of very different people are into it. I'm getting a bunch of people on myspace who are really young and are asking if we could play some all ages places. And at the same time I'm getting people in their 50's coming to my gigs telling me how much they like it. I didn't expect that. In fact, I didn't really anticipate how the response would be at all. My music is very personal and it was a very solitary experience for a long time. Now that it's out in the world it's a little strange for me. I'm still constantly surprised how much my inner thoughts are touching other people. It's a pretty profound experience.

Johnie Burton

Would you mind telling our readers a little about the song "Mockingbird" and the inspiration for it?

I've joked my whole life saying that "I've got a tendency toward the poles." But only the people who know me very well ever see it because when I'm vacationing down south I don't go out much. I like to think I'm a cup-is-half-full person but then the weather changes upstairs and the cup is bone-fucking-dry. It's really a Dr. Jeckle and Mrs. Hyde experience. When I'm there though – I fight it really hard. And that's what Mockingbird is about--the fight. Lately, I've been doing a bunch of acupuncture and taking lots of herbs that have only Chinese labels--I have no idea what's in them but it seems to be keeping things rather groovy. But if you like Mockingbird don't worry, I know the bird will be back. It always comes back.

Is there a song or two on the album that you think really captures where you are at in your evolution right now?

There isn't one song that I feel reflects where I'm at any more than the others. They are all moments of my life that are still present in me now. Often I don't sit down to write but just to play. Then a song just comes out of nowhere and I can't help it- like it's writing itself. Then when it's finished I look at it and its like looking into a hand held mirror. Each one is just a different angle.

What's more important to you, simply making the best rock song you can or connecting with your audience on a level beyond the music?

To me there isn't any difference. I know that some artists are not very song oriented so it's different for them, but for me it's one and the same. First and foremost I'm a songwriter. That is how I connect to my audience. And further it's how I connect to mySelf. I put everything I have into making each song the best it can be so that the song becomes the vehicle. And the best moments are when the song transcends itself and everyone feels the connection.

Johnie Burton


Now that the album is out, what are your plans?/p>

First I want to play the shit out of the album. The band and I are hitting the road, certainly to the UK because my response there has been fantastic. We are also going to do the US in a few different trips. How I organize that; which cities in the US will depend entirely on the response from my fans. Second, I will be looking for some aid on the business side so I can focus more artistically. And third, I'm already working on a second album.

Thanks so much for your time. Do you have any parting thoughts you'd like to leave our readers with?

I guess now that I've spilled my guts here in my very first interview--yes that's right--the very first one, I'd like everyone else to do the same. Meaning: everyone who's listening--I'm listening too. I haven't been able to respond to every e-mail but I read them all. And I want people to contact me and let me know what you think of the album. The responses I've gotten so far have meant everything to me. Thank so much!

My album is available through my website, on CDbaby, and is also up on iTunes.

More Johnnie Burton
Johnnie Burton (2006)

Interview, review and HTML © Mark Fisher and Russ Elliot 2006
photos: Greg Waterman, Ami Barwell, Kii Arens
images © Johnnie Burton 2006
last updated 30 December 2006

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