Often seen around Santa Barbara with his 1984 Gibson 335 Professional Deluxe guitar, 28-year-old Johnny McCann has just released “DraggleMe Musscrash,” his first solo album. If you haven't heard hit, you should. Here's what he said when I threw questions at him.
|Rincon Point frame-grab, 10-11-11.|
You know when you’re out surfing and you get these weird, random songs stuck in your head? For me, sometimes that happens and I sing the same chorus over and over again, but sometimes I’ll write one, and I’ll sing that same chorus over and over again in my head until it becomes a whole song, a whole piece of music. Sometimes I’ll stay out in the water and catch waves, even if it’s shitty, just so I can think about that one line. And sometimes I’ll even start singing it out loud, and other people get it stuck in their head. It’s kind of a weird way to test stuff out.
I was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, and then moved to Boulder, Colorado, and then from Boulder I moved to New York, then to Birmingham, Alabama, then to Gulf Shores, Alabama. I learned to surf in Montauk, New York – that’s where my dad lives and is from. I would go out there and live in the summers for a few months, and lifeguarded, and really got into surfing there. The whole I’d been playing music because my mom was a pro musician. She lived in Jamaica for a long time and played with Bunny Wailer and all the classic reggae bands down there in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She plays everything. She plays piano, guitar, flute, sings. She passed it on to me; I started playing when I was like 10. I didn’t really get into it hardcore until I was 15, and that’s when I started getting into punk rock bands and three-chord power chord songs for a couple years, all distortion and loud. But at the same time, I was always interested in the pretty-sounding surf rock style of guitar with the reverb and really clear notes.
|With his 5'7" Lovelace t.Rev.|
My first band was in junior high, just a punk rock cover band. We got together for the junior high talent show, played three songs, and that was it. So it wasn’t really a band. My first real band was called Life Left. We did a full-length album, toured the southeast; I guess I started out when I was about 19 and did that for three years. I had a job when I was in that band – Gulf Coast Panama Jack’s, sunblock and hats and stuff. My boss surfed and he let me surf when there were waves. But, yeah, that band didn’t last very long. I started another band called The Manuscript Division, which was kind of like the real deal, a more mature version of Life Left. We played melodic hardcore and toured for a long time with that band. Super fun, always had a good time, didn’t have a job. Had rehearsals when we weren’t touring and lived the life and surfed all the spots on the east coast. Everyone in that band surfed. When we broke up, I started doing more experimental looping and getting into electronic stuff, which is kind of where this album came from – all the experimenting I did and all the songwriting. I put it all together and decided to move to Santa Barbara and get more into my artistic side as far as music and surfing goes. I ran in to a cool crew of people and they’ve really inspired me to actually get on it and do it, because you can in this kind of environment out here. People here actually care about art and surfing. In Alabama, it’s like, yeah, you’re a musician and you’re good but you might as well give up now because you’re never going to do anything with it. It’s so small there that…I mean, yeah, you can play the bars forever, which is cool – I don’t mind doing that. Making people shake their asses on the dance floor, that’s fucking awesome. I love that feeling. But people there are hard on you – you’re a musician? You don’t have a job? And the surf there really isn’t that good. It was really hard being a surfer and living on the Gulf Coast.
The American Standards was a super fun band. That was the summer of 2008. We were a jam band. We had one rehearsal and were like, okay, we can do all these jams in these different keys, so let’s just go for it. We played all over town, made people dance every night. We did one little demo recording, and the last song on my new album is The American Standards. It was recorded at Coffee Merchants in Gulf Shores.
Living in Santa Barbara has gotten me further away from the aggressive side of guitar-playing and more into melody and a soulful style of reverb surf guitar. Not like Dick Dale or anything. Just melodic, mellow guitar. Santa Barbara got me into being able to feel the whole note and to hit a note and let it ring and really feel it. It’s such a beautiful place and I’ve enjoyed setting my gear up on mountains and hitting one note and letting it ring. It feels so nice. The group of friends I’ve met have all been willing and eager to listen and jam with me. Really open arms, which is something that kind of faded away in Alabama. I got older and people moved away, had kids, full-time jobs.
|McCann with Travers Adler at Russell Crotty's art show,|
Left Coast Books, Goleta, Calif., 11-4-11.
My main jam partners here are Travers Adler, Dylan Perkins. I’ve jammed with Lauren Campbell a lot. Travers and I have been jamming with Trevor Gordon, trying to teach him mandolin and guitar. It’s been fun.
The Groove Ons is one of my favorite things right now. It’s me and Travers Adler have been playing these sweet little awesome soulful soft mellow melodic jams at little events around town. We played Channel Islands, we played at J7, Cafe Luna, been playing at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on De la Vina and in Montecito, Goleta.
The new album came from just me having songs and nothing to do with them. I had 20 songs that I could play, but there was no goal. So I decided to take these songs, record them, make them sound the way I want them to sound, put them on a disc, and see what happens. The songs came from anywhere from three years ago with The American Standards to the most recent one, which was from last winter. When I moved to Santa Barbara, I wrote like five songs right off the bat. I was so inspired. We got really good waves that winter and I was surfing a lot, and the more I surf, the more I write music. Two of the songs are inspired by a couple of tragic deaths – my friend Payne, who played bass in The American Standards, and my mom – so they both made it onto the album. The other songs came from living a happy life, being in a good place.
|Left Coast Books.|
I’ve been inspired by a lot of different people throughout the years, and it kind of changes a little bit. When I was into the heavier stuff, I was inspired by Pantera, stuff like that. But now I’m kind of more inspired by Broken Social Scene – more along those lines. When I was learning guitar, I was inspired by BB King and John Lee Hooker.
I like every single genre there is out there. There are some songs that are just bad, you know, I can’t listen those, but if there’s a good song in a certain genre, it’s a good song. You can’t deny them that.
The whole album was inspired by my mom because she was one of the people who always pressed me to put music out there because there’s no reason not to. If you have songs, put them out there. It’s not going to hurt.