Here In The New Great Game

“Some people are so self-assured they’re busy tearing it up, their bust burning it down - burn it down.”

That’s a line from my single Dictator and it has been described as an anthem at a time when we’ve never needed anything more. I suppose the Trump comparisons are warranted, although the song was written years ago. As is often the case, the true meaning behind a song is often only revealed years later if at all.

In this blog post i want to talk about the story behind my latest album, the place i’ve arrived at in my music career, and the times we are all living in currently: a time of fear, uncertainty and amazing potential.

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The 45th Election For President !

About My Song Dictator

I’ve been asked to share a few words about the concepts and themes of my new record “the New Great Game” on this 8th of November release day and 45th presidential election. Yes 45: there have been 45 presidents of the United States - somehow that doesn’t seem like that many to me. History stretches back but I’m not sure about how far it goes. The heartbreaking narrative of Ken Burn’s Civil War series or his handling of the Second World War seems to chillingly suggest that these events came to pass in a not so distant past. In the 1990s I remember dressing up like a hippie, and in the 70s and 80s they tried to get back to the authenticity and simplicity of 1950s rock and roll. 50s rock and rollers didn’t want to end up like their parents that lived through a couple of wars and the great depression. The years may pass us by, but the game remains very much the same.

On my song Dictator which comes out today, I sing the following:

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Running Up That Hill

When I was about 10 (must have been 1987?) I was obsessed with 2 pop albums that I heard on the radio: Peter Gabriel's "So", and Kate Bush "Hounds of Love." I'm not sure why but Hounds has always just made the hair on my arms stand up and made me feel super emotional. It had this crazy run of 5 songs off the top of the record that will just wreck you. One of them is Running Up That Hill. Its funny how the true meaning of a song will only reveal itself to you over time, as your own experiences reveal the layers that went previously undetected. Or maybe I'm just paying more attention to lyrics these days - I don't know. Either way here is my version of "Running Up That Hill." Since I have been focused on improving my one man band approach as of late, I thought this song would pose an appropriate level of difficulty and help me figure out the inner workings of Ableton Live and my Boss RC-300 looper. Sorry that it gets cut off at the end - too much rambling at the beginning and the camera couldn't handle it! :)

Special thanks to Kent for the perfect guitar accompaniment :)

Ryan Adams Is My Buddy On Twitter

It was the summer of 2014 and Andrew Johnston and the Hurricane were set to play another one of our celebrated artist tribute nights at Bistro de Paris in Montreal, this time in tribute to the great Ryan Adams. One of the songs that I knew had to go on the setlist was “La Cienga Just Smiled.”

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Charles Warren McGough-Johnston

Or how my son came to have the middle name Warren...

When it came time to come up with a name for our son there were several front runners: Charlie and Warren. We ended up putting them together and calling our son Charles Warren. In time we stopped saying Warren, and now we just call him Charlie (its easier that way!). But his middle name is still Warren. So how did this come to be?

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The Importance of Being Ryan Part 2

As many of you know, a few months ago we paid tribute to Ryan Adams as part of our ongoing residency at Bistro de Paris. Its a monthly night, where the Hurricane and I can get together with some of our favorite local songwriters to pay tribute to the music we love. We try to dial down the local scene attitude, create a fun welcoming vibe, and put together an evening that is all about the music. Over time I have come to dub this night "Evening of the gang of losers," since I think that Dears song perfectly sums up what our little residency has become.

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This happened

Andrew Johnston To Pay Tribute to Warren Zevon

I am excited to announce that the 7th installment of my monthly residency at Bistro de Paris will feature Warren Zevon as our tribute artist.

I have been a fan of Warren’s music for many years, and have fond memories of performing “Mutineer” and “Accidentally Like a Martyr” with JF Robitaille back in the day.

More recently my son Charles-Warren bears the name of the the singular American songwriter with the genius pen and fiery temper.

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The Importance of Being Ryan: Part 1

When I was in my early 20s, I was living in a loft in the mile end neighborhood of Montreal, and playing in a rock and roll band called the Model Children. We were a hip, buzz band for about a year in Montreal, and we managed to get on some pretty big shows, opening for Interpol, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Hot Hot Heat just as the whole post-Strokes, 80s revival, indie rock thing was blowing up. It was an intense experience and the band was made up of some larger than life personalities. Being in that band felt like waging war: every time we went into the practice space, it was an all out street fight to get your ideas across. Tensions were made all the worse by the fact that some of us lived together.

Against this backdrop I fell in love with a whip smart, diminutive journalism student who had a small apartment across from the Beaudry metro in the gay village. Going there was a blessed retreat in my life. A sweet pocket where I could get away from the domineering personalities, noise, and intensity.

The journalist was also a music fan, and worked for a well known in-flight magazine. She would often score free CDs from the office and we would work our way through them in time.

One of these Cds was Ryan Adams’ Gold.

As a massive Ryan Adams fan now, I should disclose that my initial impressions were not overly positive. It all sounded a bit too lushly produced for my ears at the time, like a slightly more twangy Rob Thomas.

Then the songs started to sink in. One in particular, “La Cienga Just Smiled,” featured a simple, plaintive piano figure set against a gently strummed, persistent acoustic guitar. The song told the tale of the immediate aftermath of a break up, where the character wonders how he could “end up feeling so bad, for such a little girl.”

It was at the end of our second summer together that the journalist decided to uproot and move across Canada to Edmonton. During my last visit to her place I grabbed the CD and said “I’m keeping Gold.”

Over time, I have come to realize that Gold is that quintessential perfect album. On all levels it shines. Ethan Johns’ production is pitch perfect with just the right amount of big budget sheen and gloss, and some of the most full bodied yet gentle mixes released during the aughts. The ensemble playing between Ryan and his band is flawless. The parts are interesting and interlocking but never bland or stock. And then there are the songs: Gorgeous songs like “When the Stars Go Blue,” “Firecracker,” “New York, New York,” “Answering Bell” “Somehow, Someday” and “Sylvia Plath,” still stand out as some of the strongest of the RA canon.

This Friday at our RA tribute, the setlist will be heavily weighted with Gold.

I pledged to the new Jesse malin record and Don Dilego remixed LITFW!