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Todd Johnson and the Revolvers release new video

What got you into music?

It was something I picked up kinda myself. Im not from a musical family or anything. I always grew up listening to different music army brother was always big. I was fortunate to have a brother who was ten years older than me and he would always by records and CDs. So I would always jump into his CD collection.

I started playing, when I was serious about it, I found a guitar in the attic that was my step-dads that he had bought at one point and was like “I want to start lessons, I want to learn how to play this.

I was about 15 or 16 and got into a local cover band on recommendation from someone. I started playing out pretty quickly at bars ya know until like two in the morning at like 16 and stuff. So I kinda really started in middle high school sorta time.

Before you picked up the guitar, who did you listen to before you started playing and now that you play, has your style of music you listen to changed at all?

When I was a kid it was all 90s alternative, just as a young kid because I had an older brother and that’s what he listened to. So I would be 6 or 7 and he would go to his pizza delivery job and stop at Turtels Music in the mall and just waste his whole paycheck on that. So every weekend there was just a pile of like 20 new CDs and we would just sit around and listen to them, That really got me into song writing really hard. Because as a kid you just turn them up and dance around and sing to them.

And what was funny is my brothe, I remember listening to Smashing Pumpkins “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” as a little kid thinking what does that song mean. You know now there isn’t alot to read into to understand the teen angst of the 90s. But as a small kid, you’re like “despite of my rage I’m still just a rat in a cage.” That got me thinking and those sort of things I really tapped into lyrics and what song writing is and means. As a kid I remember having little concerts and friends would come over and changing words to songs and having heated song discussions as a fourth grader.

As far as when I started playing I got more into stuff my mom or step-dad and would listen to more classic rock and stuff that was more guitar centric. I kind of branched out to more older classic rock stuff and it was always like 7 or 8 other kids who had a guitar and the competition was always like “Will Jimmy learned how to play ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zepplin, now you have to go home and learn how to play ‘Black Dog.’”

So all that kind of stuff. I always wanted to be a singer but never knew where you really go to be a singer. You buy a guitar if you want to be a guitar player, I didn’t know what you bought if you wanted to be a singer. So I didn’t really start doing that until the cover band I was in. The first time I wanted to sing, they told me I would never sing – absolutely sucked. They were like “we’re sorry, you’re not gonna sing.’

It was actually the song “Hold on Loosely” the 38 Special song. I came into band practice at 16 and these guys are like older, closest to my age was 25, the oldest guy was 40 something. I just came in and there was a microphone just where my amp and all my stuff was. I got really excited because I didn’t know how to really as “how do I sing?”

I kind of branched out to more older classic rock stuff and it was always like 7 or 8 other kids who had a guitar and the competition was always like “Will Jimmy learned how to play ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zepplin, now you have to go home and learn how to play ‘Black Dog.’”

So they wanted to see if I could sing. I was like I would absolutely love to. We started in and got through the first three lines and they just stopped and were like no, just no. Sorry you can’t sing. And that was so heartbreaking for me because even though it wasn’t on a massive stage or some American Idol moment, but to me I was just like this is it. This is my chance to be a singer and when I failed at it I realized OK I need to figure out what to do.

That definitely drove me and eventually a few weeks later I bugged them to let me sing one song, then another and so on.

But as far as that sort of stuff, once i started getting into singing and vocals I got harder into writing … that’s when the flood gates eventually opened. As far as inspiration I really started getting into Johnny Cash, I started getting into different styles of song writing. Now I find myself gravitating toward Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and those styles of artists. Nathaniel Rateliff a little bit as far as a newer artist where there is a classic element to it but still strong song writing. That is the number one thing. Strong song writing.

From the cover band to now an original band, what are those learning experiences like and the differences?

Putting on a show. I think that is the biggest thing. There is a difference between playing the 3-4 hour honky tonk show with songs everyone already knows or if you’re playing would music that really long concert thing. You play those really because it is better for bar sales. And that is what you are doing. The point of you being there is bar sales. Its not to make a concert or experience, its to raise bar sales. But I started learning a balance between the cover show style and original show style. What I didn’t like from the cover band thing is when someone would be like I dont like this song, but it will go over well and then there are bands that do original shows who dont care what the crowd thinks. You have to find that balance, do something that makes you happy so you can sell it and do something that they will also like, even if they dont know it yet. You gotta put on a show man, make it hit. It is harder to do when you are playing through a room of strangers that have never seen or heard you before. It is so much easier for someone else to sell yor band and be like ‘hey this band is playing here come see them,” rather than me going “hey have you heard my band?”

The thing with me is I remember like my third show I was just dead tired because it was a little much. Doing a 4 hour show straight through. Just dead tired and said “I am tired’ and this guy in the band said “if you aren’t dead tired and hurting by unloading at the end of the show then you didn’t do your fucking job.” And that always really stuck with me. So even if its a 45 minute show I need to be exasperated because that is what you are there for. I did learn that from the cover band. And if shit hits the fan I know my band is prepared. I think it helped me with the work ethic because it was like here are 40 songs you have to learn for next week.

29abbb7c-d6fa-4a84-9060-4b3523cddfea-929-000001b0ba403b7e_tmpHow did you come up with the band?

The Revolvers came about with me being a cover band guy. One of the things that happens is you start playing in a bunch of other bands. This happens alot with original bands too, but with cover bands no one really notices that its a different bass player or drummer every night. So I started learning other instruments to make money and become a full time musician. I would sell myself as a backing vocalist as well. So I got to the point where I started losing my voice playing 5 or 6 nights a img_0262week. I would have to go to the doctor about once a month for an endoscopy. After doing that for a couple months in a row they were like you need to take 2 months off or we are going to have to do surgery, then is was three months then it was just we may have to do surgery. Every visit it just got worse and worse. And this was 4 years ago and being told this as 24 I was like God Almighty why am I ruining my voice to play songs I dont have an emotional attachment to. I was literally playing contract dates in restaurants where no one was there just for the paycheck and I dont want to bitch because that is still a cool paycheck its your job but not the reason I started playing.

I wasn’t living in Charlotte yet, losing my voice and was in like three different bands. I just needed a reset button and I always loved the Charlotte area and my brother lives here and was like ” I know some people if you want a job and do something different for awhile.” That was the best thing.

I felt band telling bands I was in that in 2 months I’m moving. But the second I took a break from playing live that pressure kind of came off. My brother had a basement he wasn’t using and I had my drum set and my bass and my amp and all my recording equipment so I had my whole studio that needed somewhere to go so I asked him if I could put it all down there and then spent 2 months down there just making a record for myself. Playing the drums and doing everything on it. I was able to write. Then came the point of how do I play this live?

So I just put on the record and on Facebook just posted it and said “hey, check out the record.”

And I had friends message me they liked the record and tell me if you ever need someone to play, they would love to play a one-off show. And I got that from like 4 or 5 different people and thought that would be cool. And then here in Charlotte I was going to open mics and meeting people here and they would say the same thing and I got that because I was that fill in guy for years.

I just needed a reset button and I always loved the Charlotte area and my brother lives here and was like ” I know some people if you want a job and do something different for awhile.” That was the best thing.

And I didn’t want to just call it Todd Johnson and the Todd Johnson band, I wanted the band to be important still. So I came up with the idea of the Revolvers and the idea of a rotating band. Bring in certain members here or if I went back home to the Raleigh area it could be those guys. I think at last count we have had over 25 musicians in the past year or two. We are now kind of down to this five piece that it is but can still add people for special shows. But its really cool that a different band makes it sound different. And a lot of my favorite bands like Springsteen had the E Street Band and Tom Petty had the Heartbreakers, the band is important.

3454398f-9c66-47b4-8b7a-894c1af8dfbb-929-000001b0a8350eb4_tmpWith being in Charlotte now, what are your thoughts on the scene and the epidemic of closing venues we have here?

I think it is absolutely heartbreaking. What worries me is this is all about cultivating community and that is one thing that has worked for my band is having a large amount of people involved and that is how venues grow and scenes grow. And Charlotte seems to have this real need and want to grow – which is great- but sometimes when you grow to fast you grow out of what made you great and neat. Like with Double Door and the college buying that, you cant really be like “that sucks a college is expanding” you have to understand it. It does really suck culturally for a city to lose its heartbeat a little bit. To lose those outlets. Now I think its also different in today’s game, 40 years these were the only places you could meet other musicians, now it’s much easier with Facebook and YouTube. But there is something lost in not having a venue.

I think it’s really important if these venues not just in Charlotte but across the state, like Ziggy’s in Winston, what are the new forms of that community cultivation for music? Because it’s got to be there because it”s really important.

I think the music here is great. And going back is just that is how I find new bands and I like to go to a show of a band I have no idea who it is and it’s really fun. Charlotte seems to have a lot of good artists its just finding where they are. My biggest problem is I see it and hear it but almost dont know where to start. I almost need a guidebook. I think the Evening Muse is one of those places where I swear to God I’m gonna cry if that place closes. But it does suck as a musician because when I moved here I said I’m going to play the Double Door one day and that is never going to be. I loved going to the open mic at the Muse and its the only open mic where anybody who has driven over 500 miles or whatever to come here on a Monday night, that says something and it’s because the Muse is a church, it cultivates that community. There is something special about being on that stage where thousands of thousands of people have played. Its just got that magic to it. That’s me personally though.

Lets talk about the new music and the video.

Thanks again for doing this. I think this is a great thing and you have a great way for musicians and artists to break into something.

So this, I am excited about this because this is our first song that I didn’t produce myself. I was joking when we were on the way to a show saying the next album I want to do it in a studio and I want someone else to be the guy and it was very awkward about ten minutes from my house as I said that and one of the other guys in the bands says “You mean like that place?” And to my left was a sign that said Silver Star Recording Studio. So called him and hung out with the guy, his name is Daniel Garner and was a great producer. I really loved his studio and talking with him so we hired him to produce the song and I think it is one of our best things yet.
The song is called “Best That You Can Do” and it kind of came from just, it can easily fall into a breakup song type of category but to me it was more about a battle, just a self battle. I feel like it’s appropriate to sing into a mirror. It talks alot about ya know the chorus says “is that the best that you can do” and then Angela, our other singer in the group sings “best that I can do.” And it ind of takes the two ways of when you’re upset with yourself there are kind of two people with one guy saying “come on, what are you doing this could be better” and then the other one saying “it’s ok if it doesn’t work, you’ll get there.”

Then I was writing songs for years and kind of took that idea of “is this the best that I can do?” And took that idea and opened it up from songs I didn’t like that I had written.

I really wanted there to be a showing of whether its a relationship, or song writing or anything that anybody does, these things you get frustrated with are still the things that no matter how frustrating you get they will never be over. And to me that is the point. Like there is a part where it talks about all these problems but then the line is “but I would never give you up, and you would never let me leave.” To me that is the real premise of the song.

And the video.

I kind of saw that idea before of the ink drops that we used in the lyric video and thought it was cool and couldn’t be that hard. So I went to Michael’s and spent like $50 and got my iPhone and clipped it on to a stand and put it on a desk and after tw days I figured out it was really hard. It was way hard and I had to go back to Michael’s and spend more money on more ink and paper but then once i figured it out I made about 20 pieces of art to be in the video. So all of that is real time ink drops and painted water with my iphone. So I did it over Labor Day weekend and sent it to the band and sad what if we just shoot us playing with this imagery. Everyone was like that’s a good idea. Because we had actors and a script and then places we wanted to shoot at and build stuff to break and it was getting just all too much. So we just got a guy that we knew shot good video, had him to the house and did it. I do think it turned out really well.

The artwork that we used, we are going to have a contest of some kind and give away that artwork to just kind of have something else for people. I always loved that stuff of “this was in a music video.”

We just want people to feel apart of the band and the experience.

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Brian Cetina

Co-founder of Nü Sound. Co-founder of MadPark Designs.

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