Nick Johnston: Cosmic Interview with Jenn for Truth In Shredding

By Jenn Feather

Please give us a chronology of how you got to where you are today. Who Is Nick Johnston (Musically Speaking) And How Did He Get Here?

First off, I'm Canadian, so naturally I played a lot of hockey. Once I got sick of playing hockey, I needed something new and exciting.

I started playing guitar when I was 14 years old. My neighbor had a guitar, and I used to go over to his house and watch him play. That had a huge impact on me. I was completely in awe of anyone who could play a guitar. It seemed like an impossible magic trick, haha. I loved playing right from the start, and it felt so good anytime I made even the slightest progress, so I kept at it.

A very close friend of mine had started playing around the same time I did, so we were constantly playing and learning music together. It was great! I played in a couple of bands throughout high school that were more for fun than anything.

I finally decided to take some guitar lessons when I was about 17 years old. That was really important because although I could hack around on the guitar a bit, I didn't know what I was doing in the slightest. Lessons made all the difference in the world for me. After I graduated high school, I started teaching guitar.

Shortly after that I was offered a spot in a Latin/Mediterranean style band. I was in that band for several years and we played several hundred gigs. It was such amazing experience for me and I learned a ridiculous amount about rhythm. I'm so grateful for that!

I had been writing my own music during that time, so I decided it was time to put a band together. I put out my first instrumental record, 'Public Display Of Infection' in 2011.  The cover artist from my first album (Mark Rehkopf) and I decided to continue working together, so we released a comic book. This year, I'll be releasing my second instrumental album and second issue of my comic book with Mark.
It's been amazing!

Do you have the support of your family in your musical endeavors, and who are your past and present influences?

Yes, my family has always been very supportive. I've been really lucky in that sense.
My favorite guitar players have been my favorite guitar players since I first started playing. Those players are Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Yngwie Malmsteen. Each one of those players offered something so incredibly unique that I had never heard before. I can remember very clearly hearing each one of them for the first time and just being blown away. However, I focus a lot more on writing and just playing music these days. I get the most enjoyment out of that and for me it's the most rewarding. I find that I really get inspired by a great melody line, and that can come from any musician in any style of music!

Nick Johnston - Feat. Travis Orbin - Public Display Of Infection

Could you talk about your songwriting process a little bit?

When it comes to writing a song, I think simple is always better. I write primarily with my guitar and as far as the demo stage goes, it's extremely primitive. It's as basic as you can get in terms of production. It's usually just a rhythm guitar track and a melody/lead guitar track. I base everything I do around a melody line, so as long as I have that down in some form, I'm all set!

My second solo record is my main focus right now. That's the record Paul Gilbert and one more currently unannounced guest soloist are playing on. It's a really fun record with a similar approach to the songwriting on my first record, 'Public Display Of Infection'. I had more time to really focus on the guitar playing with this release, and I think it shows in the tones and the performances. The songs are really catchy and there's a ton of energy coming from each instrument. There's a unique blend of styles on this album as well. The first album had a strong blues feel throughout it, which I really like, but I wanted to play with some other genres and styles while still keeping a strong focus on the melodies. I think that anyone who liked my first album, will love my second one, haha!

Somehow, Paul Gilbert got involved, for at least one solo...

Besides being an amazing musician, Paul is an amazing person. He's such a nice guy and was so wonderful to work with. I had a tune that I really thought he would be interested in being a part of and much to my excitement, it turned out that he was! He liked my writing and what I was doing with my music - that was what did it! The other (currently unannounced) guest guitarist playing on this album had worked with Paul on a bunch of different occasions, so everyone involved knew each other. It all turned out really great. It's such a huge honor for me!

Paul Gilbert Guest Guitar Solo Announcement - Nick Johnston - New Album 2013

What's up with the outer space theme? What does it mean for you?

Because I write instrumental music, I like to have a strong visual connection with what I do. Themes of outer space, a futuristic world, or something unknown really help provide that. Those things have no limits, so it's all up to your imagination. I get inspired by comic books and movie posters a lot. Old monster movie posters in particular are great, because I can look at one and almost instantly imagine a theme or a piece of music to go with it. But that's me, I'm weird, haha.

Please tell us about the importance of good song-craft: creating rhythmic backbones to a tune, meter, and working on groove...

I actually don't think too much about those things when I'm working on music. If I have a piece of music, I like to record it the way it originally came out regardless of what the feel, meter, or tempo is.
With that being said, it can be very difficult to naturally write music with different feels. The best solution for that is to start listening to other styles of music. For example, if you're constantly listening to and playing metal, you're going to write metal. You are what you eat, and that applies to music as much as it does to anything else. By listening to many different styles, you're also exposed to different harmonies, rhythms, time signatures and tones. It all shapes the way you write. It's more fun that way too!

Chapman Guitar Handmade ML-1 - Guitar Solo - Nick Johnston

Please tell us a little bit about The Mothership.

The Mothership is a project that Spencer and Matt from Periphery started a little while ago. I had nothing to do with the writing process, as that's Spencer's brainchild. When I was recording my second instrumental album in Maryland, Spencer happened to come to the studio. He was into what I was doing, so we talked about collaborating on his new project. But as far as the creative side of The Mothership goes, I had nothing to do with it. I was very honored to be asked to play some lead guitar on some of the tunes, though!

What are your current favorite amps, pedals, and guitars, and what gear was used to record your second album?

My favorite guitar is the Fender Stratocaster, without a doubt. I basically grew up playing one. The way I play developed around a Stratocaster so everything kind of starts with that, as far as gear goes for me. I really like what Friedman Amplification is doing. I recorded my new album entirely with 2 of their heads. I used the Brown Eye/Hairy Brown Eye for all of the leads and The Dirty Shirley for all of the rhythms. I'm totally in love with those amplifiers! Depending on the situation, I use a couple of pedals from a great pedal company called 'Wampler', namely their 'Euphoria' overdrive pedal as it's incredible! I've used D'Addario strings since I started playing guitar. 10's to be specific, but occasionally I'll use 9's.

Recording my second album was very simple, as far as gear goes. All the leads were done with a Stratocaster straight into a Friedman Amplifier. All the rhythms were done the same way, except with a different Strat and Friedman head. I didn't use any pedals on this album. I love the sound of a guitar plugged straight into an amp. There's something really exciting about that!

Nick Johnston: Public Display Of Infection
Will your new one be shopped to labels, or self-released? Where can we purchase it?

I'm going to be self-releasing the second album. It's been a great experience doing that so far, so I'll keep on that path for now! It'll be available this summer from the usual online distributors - iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon... I'll also be selling physical copies through my website! I'll be announcing the finer details in the coming months, so definitely check back often to get any updates!

What does the future look like for Nick Johnston: do you have any more surprises 'in the works'?

Things are looking pretty good right now! There's lots of cool stuff coming up in the near future! I've got the new record and a string of shows to support that. Unfortunately, there are no plans to tour outside of the country as of right now. Hopefully soon! I've got the second issue of my comic coming out soon as well. There will be a ton of convention and comic shop shows lined up for that! Other than that, I'll be announcing the second guest soloist off my upcoming record in a few weeks! I'm really excited about that! There's one other massive surprise, but that's going to have to wait for another day!

Thank you so much for the interview! I had a blast!