“Estelle Getty is really good, she’s kind of mean and she’s really small,” opens B.A. Johnston during a short breakdown of the Golden Girls. “She’s probably my favourite, but the four of them are really important for the show to work. They all have really set roles.”
For the Hamilton native, pop culture’s not only a source of inspiration, but also a way of life. The self-proclaimed “failed showman” has developed his name in recent years through his manically engaging live shows and self-deprecating lyrics that seem to hit home with a certain crowd of nostalgia-obsessed, basement-dwelling fans.
“Thank You For Being A Friend was about watching television, because I recorded it while I was watching television, and then the last record (Hi Dudes!) was just really nostalgic. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s about the ’80s,’ but I don’t know, I listen to a lot of Van Halen and go to a lot of arcades. It’s just about what I’m doing, but with this record I’ve turned off the TV.”
Johnston’s latest release, which is about “two-thirds done,” should see the shelves later this year. “Usually my albums are, to be honest, rushed. I’m frantically trying to finish and manufacture them, so this time it actually seems I can fine-tune things.
“I think we’re going to try and get more people to play on it than usual. So, there might be more musicians on it.” And while having other performers on the record would be a first for Johnston, he remains firm on sticking with his stripped-down DIY style.
“AC/DC are good because they are AC/DC: they don’t take off their little schoolboy outfits, they write the same songs. I just find when you update your sound you sound fad-ish or whatever. I’m so talentless, anyway, there’s no way I can sound like the popular bands of today. So, if you just keep on doing what you do and never change, you can’t really age as much. Does that make sense? I sound like a crazy grandpa.”
Johnston then leaves behind with some oddly profound words of wisdom: “Never evolve. Never change.”
Currently finishing a tour of the East Coast and Ontario, Johnston plans to hit the West Coast in March. Known for compulsively touring, Johnston does nothing to shed that label, as he plans to tour the country once more when his new album is released later this year. Playing for anyone who’s willing to pay him, Johnston has had his fair share of horror stories.
“Probably the worst ever show was my first tour. I played a laundromat that did shows in Saskatoon. The owner of the bar was so drunk, he fell down a flight of stairs and didn’t want to pay us and I had to wait until four in the morning. I had stolen everything in the bar of value and put it in a bag, like all the microphones, and if he didn’t pay I was going to rob him. He had also booked a hotel for me as part of the payment, but then I got there and he had just got me a reservation.”
Johnston finishes his thought, “The best part was when he fell down the stairs.”
Finally, when asked about his secret to the rigours of constant touring, he quips, “Buy cases of pop from grocery stores, because if you get them from gas stations it’s really expensive.” It’s sound advice coming from a man who’s toured the countryside in a Greyhound, his mother’s minivan and other cars in various degrees of disrepair.
Catch BA Johnston at the Windsor Hotel (Winnipeg) on March 9, at the Owl Lounge (Lethbridge) on March 12, at the Empress (Edmonton) on March 20 and at the Palomino (Calgary) on March 21.
By Cory JonesAB, Alberta