Eric Johnson: It's natural that when you're younger, you notice what's right in front of you [like rock & roll], and after you get familiar and have a scope of what's in front of you, then your head tilts up a little more and you look at the whole perspective. You start learning what's beyond your perspective. As you digest your situation, then you look a little farther -- expand your boundaries. I enjoy doing that. Checking out a lot of different music, you get that same spark that you got when you first got involved with rock & roll. It's all new, interesting. That chord's different. It's socially challenging.
I like Bulgarian music -- Bulgarian singers. I really appreciate African music. What I really love about African music is all the contrapuntal rhythms. I'm not a real huge fan of African music as far as the music, as much as of the rhythm stuff... I like Flamenco guitar a whole lot. I've always kinda liked Flamenco, and I've grown to love it even more, in the past few years.
I just want to learn more about music. I want to learn more about the harmonic relationship in music. More from the point of having a more comprehensive library to choose from -- or vocabulary to choose from. If you have that extra vocabulary you have more discrimination for what you want to impart, musically. It's like a writer knowing more words.
Scalewise, checking out other types of music is very interesting 'cause of the inflections and the different scales, and then checking out other groups that just have great grooves -- and people who write great lyrics.
When I was growing up, I would listen to guitarists and just learn note for note, and then it got to a point where I had to cut the reins loose a little bit: `Ok, now I've got a little bit of an idea about that.' Then as I started trying to raise my head up a little bit -- see a little bit bigger perspective -- I thought, well, if I'm gonna keep trying to write songs, then I need to think `What am I saying' and `What is it I'm trying to do?'...
It's like there's just so much music. What can I do that somebody might enjoy listening to? There seems to be, possibly, a certain kind of peace that can come with that eventually if you start thinking about that as a priority rather than `Well, how long is the lead break?' and `How fast can I play?' and `How much can I get in?' There's nothing wrong with that, but I think that's where I've come from for many years. I've taught myself to play guitar, I've learned from everybody, but then all of a sudden it's like `Well, what is it I can do to try and make somebody feel good?' I can still put the guitar thing in it, but I want to work on learning to put that vehicle together. If I put that first, then there's a little bit of peace that goes with it, like, well, maybe in this song I don't have to play every lick I know on guitar.
It's like beginning a voyage of maturity as a musician, where you try and think, well, what's the important fore-front of what you're doing? It's almost like it can make your chair a little uncomfortable, but there's a certain real positive, good feeling at the same time.
A.C.: How did all this affect the new album?
E.J.: The last record I worked really hard on the guitars, and the new one, probably one of the things I spent the least amount time on was the guitar leads and stuff.
When it came time for me to start doing the record, I was doing some demo tapes of some new songs and I felt `Well, this just sounds like the last record to me, really. What can I do to dilate the aperture a little bit? As I was beginning to record the real tapes it started becoming apparent to me the stuff I wanted to work on. That journey kind of paralleled with making the record. So as I made the record I was trying to teach myself new stuff.
A.C.: The new album. Did you have a clear vision?
E.J.: I did as far as the feel of the songs. Like I knew I wanted an Indian type of raga electric guitar/Indian vocal intro, and I knew it would go into "Venus Isle." I knew all the songs would happen. This album more so than any I've ever done. I don't know why. I just kept hearing it a certain way. I think the thing I didn't quite have a handle on was on a lot of the improvised leads.
A.C.: Seeing as the album took so long to finish, is Venus Isle old for you already?
E.J.: Oh yeah, for sure. I'd love to go on the road and be able to play some of the Alien Love Child stuff rewritten. I talked to Steve Barber; Steve write a song for the tour. But I was talking to Joe [Priesnitz, my manager], and he was saying, `Well, you know, you're really going to have to play the record.'
A.C.: Do you have the next album in your head?
E.J.: Yeah, I do. I've got a lot of songs. I've got, actually, three records. I'd like to try and do an Alien Love Child thing. I wanna record that. I'd like to do an acoustic record, and then I've got a whole bunch of new, electric songs. So that'll be 15-20 years to get those things out.
A.C.: Happy with the new album?
E.J.: I hear an improvement on this record. When I hear it, I think `That's a step in the right direction.' And somehow or another that ingredient that seems to have been kind of a pretty important missing ingredient that has kept the music maybe from becoming more of a universal musical vehicle I got glimpses of -- Oh, if I can get that together, then this will become more of a wider image of a composition that I'm also playing guitar in. To me, I feel it is a step in the right direction.
A.C.: Frustrated with your own creative process?
E.J.: I haven't figured out how to do it yet, but I don't want to keep making records that take forever. I'm sure it's always going to take me a long time, unless I want to do a live record or just a real quick record, but if I want to do this seriously produced record it's going to take me a long time. But I really want to get out of the thing where it takes 2-3 years. I mean it's just not healthy. It wasn't healthy for me. I got extremely unhealthy in the situation, and nothing's good enough. And that's kind of an incestuous thing. When nothing is good enough, all of a sudden your level of expertise is not happening. If you weren't playing that good, but you go `It's ok, let's move on -- let's flow with it,' then all of a sudden you start rising to the occasion, and you wouldn't have to come from that, `Nothing's good enough.' It's kinda like as you're filling the tire with air, you're deflating it somewhere else. I think it's a lot of the maturation process, me learning a better creative scenario for recording.
I think that my typical process of recording -- although I don't mean to do that -- I think there's certain inefficient habits I have that do that. It's like the guitar tone's never right -- the part's not quite right. Where do you draw the line? I kept hearing, `Well, this song could be better.' Then I'd go off and listen to some record and go, `Listen to that.' There's a good side to it, 'cause you push yourself into a place where maybe you wouldn't, but somehow there's gotta be a way to do that without deflating yourself. I still need to learn that. I hope I can figure out a way to do that. I don't want to keep recording this way. It's too much gravity. I don't know. I've got to be open to suggestions.
It's a matter of allowing yourself to get into some vortex where the potential can happen. My deflating process is as I'm getting into this talented situation where I can really inflate... It's not so much whether you allow yourself to get into that flow, but whether you can find out where the flow is. The first step is, `Yeah, ok, I will allow this flow to happen,' but it's like where do I find this flow? I have trouble finding that in the studio. It's easier for me to find it on stage than in the studio. Okay, I want to step into this stream of light to where things will be a little more expedient.
In the Rehearsal Space
A.C.: How did you find your house?
E.J.: My mother saw it in an ad, and I bought it with a royalty check from Ah Via Musicom.
A.C.: Ever thought of living somewhere else?
E.J.: Yeah, I have. I thought of it recently, too. I just like Austin, so it wasn't really an issue... I like the weather except when it gets too hot. I like the fact that in the winter it can still be kinda like spring. I like the Hill Country. I like the Highland Lakes a whole lot. I like the fact that it's somewhat cosmopolitan, but it isn't right in the middle of Hollywood & Vine. I like the fact that it has the rural Texas kind of vibe -- that kind of Texas ambiance. I always loved that. Just the diversity of Texas. I like the culture here... Just the same, sometimes I reminisce, and think I should've moved to Manhattan. I lived there for a while in the late Seventies. Or maybe I shoulda gone to Santa Fe or Nashville or L.A. I guess nothing has to be forever.
A.C.: What makes you a Texan?
E.J.: I think just being bred here, and all the different personality and angles of Texas are part of my breeding, and part of what I love. I mean I love country western music, but I'm not a country western player. I love Hank Williams, George Jones. I like hanging out in small Texas towns. I just feel a part of it. I guess it comes out in different ways in different people.
E.J.: I'd like to. Not over 12 though. And at the rate I'm going, I'll get one out, I guess.
A.C.: Desert Island Discs?
E.J.: Wes Montgomery, Nat King Cole...
A.C.: Which period? Piano player or crooner?
E.J.: Both. I like 'em both. Just like I like both the Wes things, the early days when he was playing jazz, and later when he was playing pop. I like it all.
Sabicas -- He's, like, the greatest flamenco player.
Kind of Blue
All three Hendrix Records
A.C.: Plans after G3 tour?
E.J.: Yeah, there are. We're just gonna play it by ear. I know Brannen has his own group, which we totally want to respect, And Steve does other stuff. Roscoe does other work. My intention is to try and keep touring and make some more records soon. Or get started on them at least.
In the Studio
A.C.: Tell me about Alien Love Child.
E.J.: It's just a real blues-influenced thing, but definitely rock also. With Chris Marsh, Bill Maddox and myself. We've put together some material that we've all written. I'd say there was a good percentage of it that's worth recording. We're gonna try and do a spontaneous recording of it. See what we can do... That's one of the next recording projects I'd like to try and do.
A.C.: Do you consider yourself a player?
E.J.: My roots are definitely blues, 'cause that's where I learned to play guitar. After first hearing the Ventures and the Beatles, I went into almost totally a blues things for years. I love it a whole lot. I like the persona of it, and the magic of it, but I enjoy taking it and using it with different styles of music.
A.C.: Next recording? Will it be Venus Isle II?
E.J.: It'll probably be a new release. There's a couple of songs on it that might have a real faint bridge between them and this last record -- at least that's the way it was originally planned. It might change. Somewhere in there, I'd like to make an acoustic record.
A.C.: First single?
E.J.: "`Pavilion.' The one on the radio is actually a little different than what's on the record. It's a little shorter, and has a different ending. Same take, but little different parts edited on the end."
E.J.: We haven't talked about it yet. I'd like to do one, but my whole reason for doing one would probably be different from years ago. At my age, I don't feel there's a whole, big pressure for me to go out and make an MTV video. I don't even know it would be worth doing. I don't feel there's an insatiable place in me that I need to do that. I mean, I'll do one if they want, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's something that we don't do. It might not be applicable for me. I'd like to do a comedy video, actually. That'd be more fun.