miércoles, 4 de marzo de 2015

Penn Johnson: singer and writer talks about the upcoming generation

         “I'm a big fan of dis-establishing capitalism,” says Penn Johnson, singer, writer and young iconoclast. We met at a debate on climate change.  I thought it would be great to exchange ideas with him to him on a lot of issues, so I said: “Let’s talk.”
Are you in love? An admirer of the Beatles? Do you worry or have nightmares thinking what brand of car or tooth paste to buy?
         I was in love once, I think. It's hard to say, but honestly, right now I don't think I could love anything more than mother earth and the music I'm inspired to play about her. Maybe somewhere down the line I'll "meet a girl and settle down" as I say in the song 'Wander' on my new album, but for now I'm still searching, I guess. I'm a believer in free love, man. Old-school style. That's me. I'm a huge fan of the Beatles and the musical movement they and their music represented. John Lennon is a big inspiration to me, for sure. I love his custom Gibson acoustic. Been looking into buying one.
         I actually just bought a 2014 Prius c 2. I know hybrids may have an arguable environmental footprint, but I think being able to drive is important and being able to save gas (as a folksinger who travels all the time) is important, too. I think consciously about all the things I buy, but when I'm presented with a lack of options due to the consumer corporatized economy we live in, sometimes I need to hold my tongue and purchase something that isn't so environmental friendly to get me through. I bought a double shot of espresso at dunkin' donuts the other day and it just about killed me inside. I haven't eaten fast food in years, though, which is good. Gotta stay away from those GMOs. 
Poetry, music, ecology, writing...you seem to have lots of interests. Is it all one package or is there one that you pursue with more passion?
          Yeah, I guess I just love to write. Expressing my thoughts with words has always been a strong suit of mine. I've done theater since I was young and mostly musicals. I always knew I could sing and people have been telling me that for a while, but I guess I recently started singing more and people really dig it, especially when the message is so universal––what's more important than protecting the very planet we live and rely on? I used to write traditional, or I guess, experimental stories, a lot more than I do now, but being able convey stories through song is so much more impactful and far-reaching––the audience is huge. People are constantly singing/humming songs. I wanna be that songwriter whose songs are in everyone's head. I want corporate CEOs, truckers, veterans, kids, students, activists, older folks, and everyone else to be singing my stuff. I want it everywhere. Hell, put that shit on the radio at Cabot Oil & Gas's headquarters in Houston.
Your poems and lyrics suggest a strong political and social compromise....
         I grew up in a progressive household, ya know? Then I went to college and learned all about fracking and sustainability (a buzzword, I know), and mountain top removal coal mining and how "recycling" really doesn't mean anything most of the time. I've taken classes in environmental law, policy, conservation, garbage, sustainability. I've read a lot of Aldous Huxley and Junot Diaz and I recently read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, which is a recent favorite. Huxley's Island is probably my favorite book because it takes so many controversial topics (natural drugs, sexual freedom, family structure, political constructs, and stewardship of mother earth) and shows a way in which they can work together and feed off each other and form a utopian reality.
How do you and your generation relate to North American society? What are the big issues that stir or should stir young people to action?
        I'm a big fan of dis-establishing capitalism and smashing the patriarchy, equal rights, anti-slavery, anti-racism, anti-oppression, all that stuff we saw in the peace movement and all the other stuff that was missing. The fact that people are having a hard time going through life because of stereotypes is a damn shame. People should be able to be whoever they want, love whomever they want, and be totally free of judgment. I know a lot of friends who might turn someone off because of how they dress or act or smell (common amongst hippies and Occupy Wall Street people Ha Ha), but they're great people. They're loving and passionate and they're worth so much. All of us are. It's all about love, when it comes down to it. Loving the planet, loving each other, loving yourself, being at peace. That's the real American dream, man.
Do you believe there is any possibility of a significant change in a country governed by two political parties whose views on essential issues do not differ significantly and by a military-industrial-financial complex which exercises real power...
      Revolution is the only real chance we have. We need to demonstrate the power of the people. Either way, with climate change, a lot of people are going to die. Are we going to let them die in vain? or are we going to lay our bodies down on the frontlines, stand with our brothers and sisters, and fight? You know where I'll be.
How do you go about writing stories or songs? Do you meticulously plan them previously, let's say as Poe did, or are they compositions which surge from your subconscious?
       Eh it depends, really. I can write songs in one sitting or in one year. Usually, they come fast because I'm a writer, that's what I do, and I'm always writing something. Sometimes I'll write a song while traveling. I've written a few songs in my car on road trips (when I wasn't driving of course haha) and sometimes I'll make notes while I am driving if something really hits me. Mostly, I knock some whiskey or whatever and grab my guitar till I find something that inspires me. A lot of the time it's a combination of being inspired by others or current events, being intoxicated in some form, and having a guitar or a pad of paper nearby. I've still got a lot of old songs written in journals scattered throughout my room back home in Massachusetts. It's hard when I'm constantly thinking of new things. Just wish I knew more music theory, but I'm working on that. Trying to get away from just strumming and get into the fingerpicking styles of people like Todd Snider who take after Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley and Jerry Jeff Walker and the older folksingers.
In your opinion what is the state of writing and creative activity in general in the U.S.A.? Does the anti-terrorist and "homeland security" apparatus produce any form of self-censorship?
        Hm. I know personally––and you'll hear this in all of my songs––I don't worry about that kinda stuff. I like taking a daring stance on something and having people disagree with me. It's part of being a singer/songwriter and an activist. There's this song To Be The Devil by Kris Kristofferson and he says: ‘And you still can hear me singin' to the people who don't listen, To the things that I am sayin', prayin' someone's gonna hear. And I guess I'll die explaining how the things that they complain about, Are things they could be changin', hopin' someone's gonna care.’ I think that's "folksinging" in one chorus. A lot of pop songs and stuff, they talk about things like love and cars and material possessions and all that, but folksinging has always had that neglected, dreaming, idealistic message. Songs like John Lennon's "Imagine" and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changing," are two good examples.
         Fracking is huge right now because of the Keystone XL Pipeline and climate change and all that stuff we don't like to think about. And nobody's singing about it, really. Certainly no one from the shalefields where this stuff is happening. I say this all the time. I might not be the only one who should be singing about this stuff, but someone's gotta do it. It is definitely controversial, at times, depending where you are. I probably wouldn't go to, like, the Bakken shale in North Dakota and try to play bars up there––I'd probably get beaten up haha. I played a gig with a girl I was seeing this past summer and when I started talking about fracking onstage the manager told me to "be less political." I just laughed so hard, man. Like backwards progress was this guy's game or something. Someone's gotta sing about this stuff, put themselves out there, take that hit. Someone's gotta get the message out. So why not me?
What are you aiming at in the near future?
        Yeah I'm going on tour March-April and there's a schedule for that. I also recorded a video for one of the songs on the album 'Spouts' with my friend Tony Smith down in Marco Island, Florida and that's on YouTube. I've got more gigs coming up and you can find out more about them and buy tickets and as they pop up by tracking my stuff on Bands In Town and Reverb Nation. I've also got a new online store that I'm pretty stoked about.
What’s there?
        I haven't revealed it yet, but I guess now's a good a time as any, right? That's over at Galloree.com. I've got a bunch of different sizes and colors and all that. There's a cell phone case on there, a spaghetti top. All kinds of neat shit. And I've got a bunch of t shirts and free stickers and stuff at all my shows so definitely come out for that and bring your friends!Yeah, it's all happening fast, but the album should be out soon, downloadable on my Band Camp account, I'm trying to get on some radio shows, book more gigs, get a manager, and make this life happen for real. I'm dedicated to these people in Northeast Pennsylvania, I'm dedicated to educating people about fracking and extreme energy extraction and stuff, and I'm dedicated to changing the world for the better as much as I can. If you're into that, join my email list and keep track of what I'm doing.
         Someone's gotta speak for the trees. Why not all of us?
Penn’s contacts: email: pennjohnsonmusic@gmail.com


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