I'm With the Band: Johnny Jewel
Over the weekend Chromatics and Glass Candy played the Converse Rubber Tracks Live x UO event at the Tower Theater in Los Angeles. Before the gig, I interviewed Johnny Jewel, a man who wears many different hats. The L.A.-based musician is a member of both Glass Candy and Chromatics, and is currently scoring a television show and an upcoming Ryan Gosling-directed film. Needless to say, Johnny is one busy guy. Interview by Maddie Sensibile
Hey Johnny! What have you been up to lately?
I just had my first vacation ever for Christmas, and it was really cool. I went to Mexico. I never end up taking vacations during Christmas or New Year's, and if I'm traveling or try to take an extra day off, some work always comes up. This time of year everyone is on vacation, so nothing happened, and I didn't take a computer or a phone. I didn't listen to music for two weeks. It was pretty crazy. I was a little scared at first. I view myself as being okay with that, but I was worried I was going to have withdrawals and be embarrassed by myself. So, I did that, and since then I've been scoring a TV show that I've been working on for 20 hours a day. With film and TV, the music is important, and it's always the last thing. They don't think about the fact that music has to be made in real time. It's crazy cross-training for making pop music!
You performed twice at the Urban Outfitters Rialto launch party, with Glass Candy and Chromatics. What do you enjoy most about being part of two groups?
The bands are really similar in certain ways. We sound more like each other than Bon Jovi and Garth Brooks or something. Live, Chromatics is...there's more people, so it's more choreographed. Glass Candy is kind of a loose cannon. I never know what Ida is going to do. For me, it's fun to have the improvisational aspect of Glass Candy, which is always after Chromatics. Chromatics builds up this thick mood, and Glass Candy is like this huge explosion. Chromatics is more suspenseful and disciplined in a way, and Glass Candy is really punk. It's just me and Ida, so anything goes. Emotionally they are really different, too. I enjoy playing with Glass Candy more after I've played a Chromatics set, and I enjoy Chromatics better when I'm on tour with Glass Candy.
Regardless of what band you're playing in, who are some artists or eras that have long influenced you?
Well, I grew up in Texas, like in the '80s, pre-internet. You kind of felt that you were really alienated because all of the action was on the coasts. Now it's different, because everybody travels everywhere. It was hard to even get certain records in our town. You would just see things on MTV or in magazines, and you lived vicariously through that. My relationship with music and art has always been through a distant looking glass. That's just the way I learned to interact with art. That hasn't changed, but I developed a kind of fixation for climates or regions. I'm really into tropical. Like I just went to Cancun, you know! I didn't do anything but build sandcastles and chill out. I've always been really fascinated with bodies of water and things like that. I like fashion photography from the '70s and '80s, like Helmut Newton: Really tropical fantasies. We're all huge fans of Andy Warhol and the whole Pop Art era.
Do you create all the art for your releases?
I do. It's not silk screened, and a lot of it's photocopied and cut paper, whatever I could do at Kinko's. I was trying to emulate Andy Warhol and Interview Magazine in the '80s, all those pencil drawing faces and stuff like that. To me, it was a cross between Art Deco and Punk. Again, growing up so isolated, ideas were everything. You'd see a photo and sort of fixate on it, and you didn't know anything about that place or time. I didn't know what New York was, and I didn't know what Paris was. I was in Texas and that's the center of the universe if you're Texan.
I know, I've grown up out here in L.A. my whole life, so everything is kind of happening here. I don't have that smaller town viewpoint.
What's weird is that I moved here in March, because I have to come out here so much for film [work]. And now I live here and I don't do anything. I stay in my house and my studio. I kind of live like a bird on a hill. I travel so much, I have more weekends in a year than most people because of touring, you know. So when I'm at home, I don't do anything. It's ironic. I'm in L.A., a big city, and it's a great city for music and art, and I find myself just kind of being at home almost like a hermit. And this would've been my dream growing up, like Los Angeles! Crazy!
What's your favorite part about having your own record label, Italians Do It Better?
I'm not a perfectionist, but I refuse to answer to deadlines, which makes me kind of annoying in Hollywood, but they put up with it. The best thing about running your own label is that you can do whatever kind of packaging you want, and I can release any artist I want, any song I want. There's no fiscal pressure, none of the bands have deadlines, none of the bands have contracts, no employees, no overhead, no office. It's really cool. I call this guy, like, "Hey, I want to press 10,000 records," then I wire him the money and they disperse internationally. You can do anything with a phone and computer. It's cool to have this huge indie label and to have that freedom.
Since the new year has just begun, have you got any music related resolutions?
I want Chromatics to start practicing. We all live in different cities and haven't practiced in, like, five years. I'm excited about getting a tour space and doing a tour in the spring. I also have a few records I want to finish this year, so that's a resolution, and finally I want to commit to this poet from Texas, Farrah. I want to finish her album. Obviously there's a new Chromatics record, too. The project I'm most excited for outside of the bands is this film I'm scoring that was written by Ryan Gosling [How to Catch a Monster]. It's his first feature-length as a director. He's not in it. It stars Christina Hendricks, Saorise Ronin, Ben Mendelsohn, and the dude that plays Doctor Who [Matt Smith]. He's crazy, he's the villain. He's really disturbing, and psychotic. He has a shaved head, and he wears this gold lamé jacket and drives around with a beat up chair on top of a convertible in dying Detroit. The soundtrack is incredible. We've been working on it since February. It's gonna come out in October, and it's gonna be really cool. This French cinematographer shot it, so it's absolutely gorgeous if you like beautiful but strange cinema.