Last year, Stan Johanson released several albums-worth of material that he recorded from 1988 to 2014. Originally, he started writing and recording for himself, but once he had the technology to record and share his music, he jumped at the chance to do so. Today he discussed with us the process of writing and recording 55 tracks in one year and the meaning behind some of the songs.
Johanson’s journey into music began in 1986 at the age of 12, when he used to sing soprano in the school choir. He attended a summer music camp that consisted of seminars for choir, rhythm, and so on at the University of Alberta Augustana Campus, located in Camrose, Alberta, Canada.
“This was the year my voice changed, and was how I blew out my voice,” said Johanson. “In a course of two weeks or so, I went from soprano to alto to mute. I lip synced the entire final concert at the end of the camp. The end of it all resulted in me being able to sing high notes, to sing low notes, but I lost everything in between for a very long time. I think it was in my 20s before I figured out how to bridge the missing gap.”
Two years later in 1988, Johanson received his first electric guitar with a tiny amp from Sears for Christmas. His original intent for starting to write music was solely for his own entertainment. The first chords he learned were A G D and C at the first three fret positions. One of the earliest songs he wrote was “Keep on Moving.”
Another one of the earlier songs was “I Like My Honey Hot,” which Johanson said was a song that resulted from sex education.
“The original version of the song was playful, then a couple of years later I dropped the guitar tuning down a whole step and made it more of a combination of playful and grittier and the final recording that I have now, more of a boogie feel to it,” said Johanson. “The funny part about those songs and publishing them in 2014 is that some people think that they were recently written. And if someone thinks the lyrics were written by a 14 year old… well yeah, they were.”
Johanson’s main goal during 1988 to 1992 was to write as many different types of songs as possible. Some of the songs leaned towards country, some towards hard rock, and others metal. Pop songs in the sense of Duran Duran or Michael Jackson did not enter the equation. So in terms of finding a genre to fit his music in, there wasn’t one easy fit. For some of the songs he would play the victim, others the narrator, other times the heroin, or just the observer. Johanson would blend in real life experiences with imagination and would sometimes walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to get the feel just right.
For instance, the main theme in his song “Jennifer’s Doll” came about when Johanson was watching daytime talk shows such as Donahue and Oprah and how when someone is abused appears on the show, no one believes the victim, especially when the attacker is of great upstanding or importance in the community.
Another example is the song “Party at My Place,” which Johanson said is the combination of understanding the effects of bullying, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the influence of Alice Cooper, and a touch of realizing mental illness.
“This song predates all of the school shootings that have went on since then and I was a little reluctant to release this song,” Johanson said.
Eventually, Johanson submitted his country-sounding songs to the record label Killer Records, located in Nashville, and they called back.
“I actually received a call back and was invited to do a compilation disk,” Johanson said. “However, I had to turn them down due to lack of funds at that time. Was that a missed opportunity? Maybe. I will never know.”
In the years that followed, Johanson took some time off from writing new music until 2000, when he changed his style and wrote more pop songs. A slew of songs were written during this time period, and once he got those songs off his chest, he did not have the need to write any more songs until 2012 to 2013. The guitars were put away to rust and collect dust during this silent period.
Johanson then tried his hand at writing bubble gum pop rock.
“My initial rules were: one minute duration, have a simple song structure, have the song fit any age group, and have each song be very one dimensional,” Johanson said. “Once I actually recorded the songs, I expanded them after adding the intros, guitar solos and outros.”
In 2014, Johanson finally had the technology to record and release the songs he had written since 1988.
“It was either now or never so to speak,” Johanson said. “The funny thing was I forgot that when I did my solos earlier in the 80s and 90s I used lighter gauge strings, and I dropped my tuning as well and because of this and the fact I did not do any solos for 12 years I fought with the solos a bit. I was forced to simplify them a bit.”
Johanson recorded all 55 songs the same year. He wanted to have a back log so that new fans can look at and explore and to decide for themselves if they like the songs or not. He has released all the songs across three albums on iTunes titled “Where It All Began,” “Slow and Easy,” and “Voices.”
“By the time it was time to do the ‘Voices’ album, I said f*** the solos,” said Johanson. “None of the songs have solos. I never really viewed myself as a lead guitarist anyways. Another funny thing about laying off all those years is that my voice changed a bit. I lost some of my highs with age and inactivity so I fought with that as well.”
“Voices” was a group of songs that tells a story of one character. “Where It All Began” is arranged mostly with songs that tell stories of multiple characters and contains darker matter. “Slow and Easy” contains some storytelling, but is primarily the popish album.
Overall, Johanson is happy with the outcome of the recordings. He said his next album is going to be only eight songs and jokingly said he’s never going to do 55 songs in a row again, hinting that the new material will most likely be darker and more mature than the last two writing periods.
All the years of writing songs has taught Johanson what it takes to write songs that resonate with others yet are still unique to the artist. He said it is important to study the works of other artists, citing the influential work of The Beatles, Sia, Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Tina Turner and James Brown as each bringing something new to the table that up-and-coming artists could grab something from, such as for song structure, lyrics, showmanship, and stage presence.
Johanson said is also necessary for artists to study as many of the artists in multiple genres including the ones they have no interest in. By doing this, they will start seeing similarities and differences between the genres and may also get inspiration from places they never thought of.
“Challenge yourself to write in different styles of music,” Johanson said. “Most of all believe in yourself and trust your instincts.”