Next week UK based songwriter, Rob Johnson releases his new record, 'Upon A Painted Ocean', an instrumental record described as "deluxe soundscape comprising of 14 tracks that create the soundtrack to a film within your imagination".
Most notably, the record recived some attention for the inclusion of a guest vocal appearence by Max Bemis (Say Anyhing/Two Tongues).
Sean recently asked Rob about how 'Upon A Painted Ocean' came together, his influences, future plans and of course, the collaboration with Max Bemis.
Before being a solo artist, you played in various bands including Forward Is The Farewell. Why decide to go down the instrumental route instead of the singer/songwriter one? I practice guitar alot and over the years I had built up this mass of material that I knew I was not going to be able to sing over (as I did with Forward). So after that band kind of petered out I tried to think of a way to try and go it alone and make an impact that wasn't just the typical band route. Combining this with all the material I had amassed I thought a guitar instrumental album (like what later became 'Upon a Painted Ocean') hadn't really been done before so I decided to focus on making that and to see if it was possible. After taking whatever material I had and wrangling that into acceptable songs I then started writing more and more until the rest of the album came about.
ATP: Tell us how 'Upon A Painted Ocean' came together? 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.