Often people compare skateboarding and music, saying they go together hand-in-hand. Well, I’m not sure how true that is, but I know that what I said about Eagle’s skateboarding is doubly true about his music. From the first time I heard him banging away on his xylophone, I knew there was something more going on. Then there were drum solos, then guitars. I remember thinking about how I knew I had met a child prodigy, but it was never really like that. There was no bragging, no showing off. No crowds gathered around, just a humble kid doing really cool things with his talents. Come to find out, they would only multiply exponentially. Hopefully, you’ll take a listen to see what I mean.
Norm Stovall: Do you see yourself staying in Nashville in the long run? Or is it just a fun place to stay for the time being?
Eagle Johnson: Well, this is Music City as they say. The best studios in the world are here. The booking agencies are here, the management, the song writers, and the instruments...almost everyone you meet is either a musician or works in music. I love it. So yeah, I'll probably have a home here for a long time.
I imagine it's easy to find inspiration with all the music going on there. Has anything really surprised you about Nashville?
Inspiration is definitely here, but a different sort of inspiration I think...I have personally been inspired toward being more humble...and realizing there is so much room for improvement in every aspect of the music I write. There are music legends in every bar that just act like one of the guys...Gillian Welch was at the coffee shop again...there's Brittney from Alabama Shakes... Pat from Wilco... the list goes on. In one way I feel like “oh wow I'm on the same frequency as these people, we're in the same places, I'm one of them...” While, on the other hand I'm like “Shit I gotta practice if I'm keeping company like this.”
Do you ever miss being back home here in Jacksonville? I'm sure there is concrete around town that misses the urethane of your wheels.
Jacksonville...There's a lot of love for me there and people like you have had my back since I was a grom. You were the first person the show me the white stripes when I was 15. I don't even know if you remember that, but I do. So, it's like yeah Jacksonville and specifically the surf and skate scene there, helped shaped me. You, Nate Johnson, Beau Crum, Mikey Sasser, Mike P. the Richey brothers...you all looked after me like I was your little brother. Going back isn't always fun for me though...while there's a lot of love. There's also a lot of judgment it seems...and I have some past relationship drama that makes me uncomfortable when I'm in Riverside...I wish it wasn't like that. I've tried to speak my peace, but sadly, not everyone is ready for peace.
(I asked him about what was surprising about coming to Nashville)
The most surprising thing about Nashville is how little country music is actually here regardless of what the show Nashville tries to paint. The music scene here is more like a rock & roll renaissance. Bands like Blank Range, Natural Child, Fly Golden Eagle, Them Witches, the Gills, the Weeks...so many real, badass rock & roll bands... There is a catch phrase going around: "No Country for New Nashville". I found the origin here.
|Clean Machine: Fin Leavell, Stephen Carey, Lee McAlilly and Eagle Johnson|
I think that version of the Nashville sound was nearly lost and replaced by computers and auto tuning for the last 10+ years just like most popular music. The Nashville sound as you say though is making a comeback. It seems there are more and more producers and studios in town that are dedicated to the revival of that sound and "saving" country music. Chris Stapleton is great example of a country dude that's been writing hits for major computer country artists for years, but when it came to make his own record he went to Welcome to 1979 and recorded a classic country record with the classic Nashville sound that blew up. That record landed him on stage singing with Justin Timberlake. Sturgill Simpson is another example of one of the country dudes that went retro with their recording process and still connected with the people of today. Nostalgia sells almost as good as sex. It's funny though, the guys reviving the classic Nashville sound are all jean jacket wearing, neo-hippie, rock & rollers...a far cry from the frat boy country puppets that are the trying to hold on to being the "face" of country music. Their grip is slipping, country music is bigger than them, the people want real. All the fake music the industry has been shoving down the people’s throats for years has created a void for real music and real talent to fill. I think we're are about to witness an explosion of great artists again in all genres of music.
Do you do a lot of collaboration or work with other people up there? Or do you pretty much stick with the same setup?
No, I wouldn't say a lot. I tried to write with some people a few times, but they were really slow at writing and I ended up doing the whole song and not giving them much of a say. I didn't mean to, but that's what happened and I didn't want to repeat it, so I've mostly written on my own. My sol brothers Lee McAlilly, the owner of Original Fuzz Guitar Gear, along with Stephen Carey and Fin Leavell - all dudes I met in Jacksonville, are in the band. We have recently started writing a little together, I think they are all genius in their own way and I think we're going to write some great music together. It's still a mystery as to what summoned them all to Nashville, but I wouldn't want to play with any other band in the world. I feel like I won the lottery.
It's been a good while since we've been out skating.
I went skating for the first time in a while a couple weeks ago and my legs were cramping just pumping the little gnar bowl. I took a few years off after I broke two ribs on this stupid back-yard death trap that I was trying to skate high as fuck in Memphis. I have a fun hill in front of my house that I've bombed a few times...concrete surfing helped inspire Tennessee Beach...
Speaking of Tennessee Beach – What else inspired the name? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a beach in Tennessee.
It's my personal fantasy of bringing the beach with you wherever you are. Beach vibes, island vibes, positive vibrations... it keeps you warm year round. There is a certain lighthearted freedom and party thing I was attempting to capture.
About the Album
I've always known Eagle to be a talented guy, but even so the album really took me by surprise. Tennessee Beach is full of uniquely individual songs that stir emotions in their own way. Push Pin Jane, for example, has the charm and catchy lyrics that make worse songs hit singles. Paired with familiar-but-new vocals that grab your ears, it's a special treat. It's humble, but not cheap. Alternately, listening to Hero with it's ethereal underlying instrumental backing with lyrics that eased me along, really mellowed me out. My biggest joy, however came from the track My Best Girl. The vocals, guitar solos, and overall completeness of the song spoke to me on a personal level, which maybe says too much about me and not enough about the song.
While I'm not always one to rant about albums, Tennessee Beach is really something special. It's a really good feeling to have access to something like this. Tennessee Beach is where I'd like to be, too.
You can get the two singles - Push Pin Jane and Hero on iTunes now, with the full album ready for preorder, expected to drop on April 21st.