Monday, 25 February 2013

Ethan Johns

He's well established as one of the best producers in the business. Over the years Ethan Johns has lent his talents to albums by Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams and Rufus Wainwright. Now after 25 years in music, Johns is releasing his first solo album.

What an awesome fucking beard. 
Johns' golden touch saw him become one of the most sought after producers around. In addition to his abilities behind the mixing desk, he would very often play and co-write with the artists he worked with. So it seems strange that, at the age of 43, he's just releasing his debut album.

“It didn't seem like the songs were anyone else's business” he laughs. “These songs somehow seemed to want to be performed for other people. I don't really tend to have a plan. I just go from one moment of inspiration to the next. I found myself singing these songs to other people for some reason. That's what they wanted”.

“I probably decided that it was becoming a record during the making of it. The funny thing is that I've been writing and recording my own material for 25 years. So it's not like I woke up one day and went 'OK, I'm going to do a record now', I've always recorded. It's just... something had changed at some point. It's kind of hard to put my finger on what it was exactly. Maybe it's because I was having fun”.

John's debut 'If Not Now Then When?' is collection of gorgeous acoustic tracks that bear the hallmarks of his past work, stripped down but concise and clear. In some ways it sounds exactly like you would expect an Ethan Johns record to sound and that's no bad thing.

With the back catalogue of classic albums already bearing his name, Ray Lamontagne's Trouble and Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker among them, it's easy to assume Johns may have been feeling pressure with his name on the front rather than the back cover.

“That thought had come up a lot. I think it probably been mentioned by other people than come up in my own head. Maybe subconsciously as a singer it was one of the things that was preventing me. Ryan is an amazing singer, Ray is an amazing singer. I'm not that kind of singer. I think that was one of the things that was holding me back. I don't care now. The moment you stop caring is when your true voice comes. You have no inhibitions, there's no block between pure honest expression”.

Johns has been self-conscious about his singing ever since he was a teenager, when the ravages of age put a halt to a promising career as a choirboy. Now with the release of this album, he's been able to return to something he loves.

“I hadn't enjoyed singing since I was a boy. I sang in a choir up until when my voice broke and I loved singing in the choir. It was one of the coolest things in life for me at that time. And then my voice broke and I never really got over it. I was gutted. I lost my technique, I lost control and rather than work through it and discipline myself and learn how to sing again, I didn't. I think that had a big impact on me actually. Now I've gotten to a point where it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, because I'm singing honestly. That was the big epiphany really, I sing the way I sing, and so be it”.

Ethan is also the son of Glyn Johns, one of the most acclaimed producers of all time. His father has worked with an impossibly long list of music legends including The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones as well as more recent acts like Band Of Horses. But while he acknowledges his father's influence, Johns feels they are quite different as producers.

“I had discovered my affinity for music before I had any idea of what my father did for a living. It's in my DNA if you like. I think there's no question that having him as a father gave me opportunities and discover some amazing stuff that I wouldn't have been able to had he been doing something else.

“I did end up learning a lot from him as I got older. But at the same time I honestly think that I would have been doing it regardless. We're pretty different though. There's a lot of my Mum in me too. There's a side of me that's very different from my Dad and that's what makes us so different as producers”.

With his record already released on vinyl (his preferred format, obviously) and due to be released on CD and digitally in February, Johns is set to go out on tour in 2013.

Still there's no danger that he will turn his attentions away from producing. With so many gems in his very prolific career, he can't pick just one album that stands above the rest.

“I have to be inspired to work with the people I've worked with. It's never been a job for me, it's never been a career. I've only ever taken on projects that have been really inspiring to me and that I've really wanted to do. Everybody I've worked with, I've worked with for the right reasons.

“A lot of people talk about Heartbreaker, a lot of people talk about the first couple of Kings of Leon records. A lot of people talk about Ray and Laura (Marling). But I've made a lot of records over the years and I'm proud of every one of them”.  

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