Hope Country: I love to be open about what I'm feeling
The name of Wisconsin farm-bred musician Brent Johnson's band Hope Country says it all, as does that of his debut EP, I Hurt, I Heal; his music employs a number of personal themes related to Johnson's own tribulations and his mission to inspire hope in others, and it represents his return to the musical genre of his raising.
In advance of his spot opening at the Turf Club tonight for the raucous gypsy Americana of San Diego preacher's sons the Silent Comedy, and legit honky-tonk hero Sturgill Simpson, Gimme Noise chatted with Johnson about his desire to blend genres and scenes, and how he made a roundabout way back to country music.
Gimme Noise: You have a really nice, emotive voice -- you'd no doubt be able to find an audience on contemporary Top 40 country radio, or alongside the other folk acts making it big on the pop charts lately. Do you have aspirations to hit Nashville, hit the mainstream, get yourself in rotation on CMT? Maybe try to become a crossover sensation? Or just lay low?
Brent Johnson: First off, I love Nashville. One of my favorite towns. So if I can get involved in Nashville, I'm down!
I just want to write songs and play music, the more people we can reach the better. I don't want Hope Country to be just a band, but a movement of hope. I'm really not opposed to stepping into any scene or genre, I'm a fan of all types of music.
You grew up on a farm in Wisconsin -- how did you start playing music, and how has a rural or Midwestern background informed your music since?
I grew up listening to country radio 'cause my mom thought the cows milked more while listening to country. When I was 17 I went to my first real show that wasn't a "cover band" -- Blink-182 at Midway Stadium. I started playing pop/punk music which led me to metal which led me to hardcore which led me back to country/singer-songwriter. Sometimes the cows go out on pasture but they always come back to get milked.
Your upcoming show at the Turf Club will be a solo performance, no? Hope Country seems to be largely led by your efforts, but you do occasionally perform with a band. Whom do you collaborate with, and how do you choose when to work with others versus go out on your own?
Yes, the show at the Turf Club I'll be playing with just one other person. Tommy, who usually plays drums, is going to pick up the banjo and tambourine and sing some harmonies. Our guitar player Willy is getting married later in the week so he's busy as can be. If I could play full band every show I would, scheduling can be a bit tougher the more people you add, but if there's an opportunity and at least I can make it, I'm playing! The guys in Hope Country are also in a metal band from the area called Your Memorial. Like me they love all types of music!
The lyrics on your I Hurt, I Heal EP sound intensely personal, as does that title. What inspired both?
Well I love to be open about what I'm feeling and going through. Maybe in some way people will relate to my stories. Stories of hurting and stories of healing -- "I Hurt, I Heal." I believe no matter what we go through, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Hard times will always be harder without the hope for a better day. I gotta bring that type of inspiration!
And what other musicians or songs do you look to for inspiration?
Honest, heartfelt records. Just got the new EP from a band called Green River Ordinance. It's called "Chasing Down The Wind." Really loving that right now. Also been digging Night Beds' "Country Sleep." So so good - I love music!
Tuesday's show at the Turf with San Diego's The Silent Comedy and Kentucky-born, Nashville-based solo artist Sturgill Simpson features a loosely-related lineup, though each act including your own is fairly eclectic in terms of sound. How did the bill come together, and what can we expect from the show?
The show is a First Avenue Presents show, and we've played a show at 7th Street Entry and have been in contact with Eli who books shows for them. They needed an opener so we hopped on. The Silent Comedy looks like they put on a great live show. And Sturgill Simpson just released a new album and it's fantastic. Super old school country. Really looking forward to that. But like you said it will be quite a diverse show.
And what's on tap next for you and your music?
We are planning to record a full length album in the fall, most likely an early 2014 release. Then once that's out we will be hitting the road. Not 100 percent how much touring, but we love playing shows and meeting new friends so I'm guessing a lot!