My Inspiration: Andrew Johnson – Suzie Wants To Boogie | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Prolific, Teesside based, songwriter Andrew Johnson will be dishing out a single a month in 2021 which, by the end of the year, will take the form of a concept album. Each track sheds light on the rock-opera-esque narrative that will only make full sense come December. The first offering in January was glam-disco stomper and title track Suzie Wants To Boogie, which was followed by February’s melodic folk track Life and Soul. These and other tracks released from the album, are available from Andrew’s Bandcamp page as a ‘pay what you want’ item.

Without giving too much away and to not spoil any surprises, Andrew tells us about what inspired his expanding concept album…

The idea to create a concept album that’s being rolled out over 12 months came from a few different angles. 

Firstly, I had a fair few songs that are about the same people. I write a lot from real life but usually wrap stuff up in metaphors or apply a heavy dose of artistic license in where the initial spark ends up. I also seemed to be in a bit of purple patch in terms of writing a lot of songs all of a sudden. I’d put out a double album’s worth of solo material last year plus six singles and an album with Crimson Bloom and a few other things so I wasn’t expecting to have another flush of inspiration so soon. I needed to figure out an interesting way of presenting these new ideas. 

Suzie Wants To Boogie
The title track and first single – Suzie Wants To Boogie – was just a phrase that came to me while driving around and I built the track up to be a glam / disco, semi-instrumental piece which drew on 70s artists like Hamilton Bohannon, The Fatback Band and some sci-fi synth elements. It’s a bit of fun really. I don’t think there’s enough of that in independent music. People are usually too worried about having a cool exterior or wanting to seem artistically “worthy”. The track does, however, introduce the lead character in the story. 

Suzie is a fictionalised version of a real person (I don’t know anyone called Suzie). While the music will draw on all kinds of influences the story is actually a very modern one which deals with social media, life choices and sexual liberation. I’m not entirely sure where the story is going in terms of a complete tale as it’s still playing out and maybe the tracks will just end up being a series of vignettes on a few interconnected lives. Time will tell.

Rock Operas
It’s hard, once you’ve decided to create something akin to a rock opera, not to look back at the classics. For me, Tommy, Quadrophenia and Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS) are the three main touchstones. They’re all great but flawed (usually in the story) and I fully expect mine to be too. I did complete about 70% of a rock opera about 15 years ago called The Lights and a few of the songs appeared across solo albums I made and more demos are available at my bandcamp. I got really into the idea of using recurring motifs and counterpoint in the music to tie the songs together. JCS does this really well because it comes from a more classically-minded writer but if I had to choose one of those three I would say Quadrophenia is my favourite because of the power of the music. I’m not a Mod, although I do love a lot about the music and style I find the overall scene too prescriptive, but the central element of identity, being young and unsure of where you fit in is pretty universal and anyway the music isn’t really mod music but 70s rock with a bit of Country in there. There is definitely a slight lean towards the 1970s in the stuff I’ve written already with Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust being a bit of an unwitting influence and some early Roxy Music too. I’m also using primitive drum machine sounds here and there. Sly Stone is a big influence and his early 70s output has such a distinctive feel due to the use of a Maestro Rhythm King machine which ties down the looseness of the playing to a strict beat. 

Life and Soul
The next track to be released, Life and Soul, is a much more traditional “song” compared to the semi-abstract opener and the characters and situations will start to emerge over the first four singles. I’ve got about 8 of the 12 songs written and that much of a story mapped out. The tracks should stand alone outside of the whole concept and I’m experimenting all along to present music people maybe haven’t heard from me. I’ve listened to a lot of different styles of music from very pure pop and rock music to funk, EDM, Krautrock and soundtracks and I expect there’ll be bits of those in there somewhere and more. I try to treat every song I write as a separate entity when recording them but now have to, somehow, also tie them together to work as a unified piece. Wish me luck!

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