Houston Calling

10 Questions for Troy Johnson

April 7th, 2004 · No Comments

A few months ago, a friend told me about a singer/songwriter who was originally from Houston but who had moved to Nashville and had recently released an album. At the time, I didn’t take the time to look into it but did a bit of research this weekend and found his website.

Turns out Troy had one of his songs (“Fly”) recorded by Dixie Chicks on their multi-platinum album, Fly, and has worked as a songwriter for major labels in recent years.

Troy is on a tour right now, and is bringing his music to Houston on April 13 at Mucky Duck.

I asked Troy is he would answer some questions for Houston Calling. Here goes.

Ten Questions for Troy Johnson

HC: How did you get started in music?

Troy: Music has always been apart of my life. I literally have been singing since the age of 4 or 5 (in church, at school, etc.). My parents had a band when I was young. So, music was just what we did. I went to college in Nashville at BelmontUniversity. They had one of the only Music Business programs in the country at the time. During my 3 years there I was taken by the amount of respect songwriters received in that town. That’s what I wanted to be. I secured a publishing deal 8 months after quitting school and have been writing professionally ever since. Belmont was very instrumental in the start of my music career. I still work with some of my fellow students.

HC: What do you consider to be your primary musical

Troy: Roots music like blues and soul seems to seep into my music no matter what I do. Honestly, I don’t know where that comes from. I was raised in Texas on country and gospel. The only link I have to the gritier side of roots music is my mom’s from Louisiana. I like to think I have a little of that southern swagger in my voice. As we were recording the record, we kept bringing up artists like Van Morrison and Joe Cocker as musical landmarks to work around. But, at time I was wearing this one Travis record out, so I’m sure that’s where some of the modern sounds came from.

HC: What was it like having a famous act (Dixie Chicks) record one of your songs?

Troy: Actually, the song the Chicks cut was my first country song. When I had decided to focus on songwriting, I went home that day a told myself that if I’m going to be a successful writer in Nashville I had to write a country song. So I started with a train beat and out came this song. Six years later the Chicks put it on their fly record after hearing it on Keith Urban’s first record with his band, The Ranch. It’s been a complete blessing. The greatest moment was when they did a CMT special with James Taylor and opened with my song and JT was singing. I was grinning from ear to ear for three and a half minutes. It was pretty cool.

HC: How did living in Nashville influence your songwriting?
Troy: Wow, good question. When I started out, I tried to emulate the Gary Burr’s and the Dean Dillon’s of Nashville, two of the best writers in town. There is a lot of emphasis on craft in Nashville. Which I am glad I learned and am still learning. But, often times I feel like vibe and emotion and true timeless songwriting suffer at the feet of craft. When you know your craft inside and out it’s fairly easy to write a three-minute diddy to make money. That future was not for me. I’ve always enjoyed the more viceral side art that isn’t dictated by rules.

So, there are invaluable building blocks to songwriting that I learned by being in Nashville, but there are a few craft-oriented habits I am trying to unlearn. Any type of creative writing is difficult. The trick is to get past your right-brain critic and let the spirit flow.

HC: What is one description that you hate to hear about your music?

Troy: A lot of people use popular artists, and understandably so, to describe lesser known artists. And some of the artists that have been used, which I will not name here, I’m not a big fan of. I guess that bothers me a bit. But, to each his own. Most descriptions of what I do I agreed with or at least enjoyed.

HC: What’s your songwriting process?

Troy: I work both ways. There are times when I just pick up the guitar and bang an idea out at 3 a.m. Usually that happens when I’m bored as hell. And there are other times when I get up in the morning (not too early) and make an appointment to write, either with myself or other people. That usually happens over a two- or three-week stint. Then, I come to my senses and sleep till 2 in the afternoon the following week.

I hear a lot of young musicians snub the idea of making an appointment to write. I guess they believe it takes the inspiration out of it. A fellow writer told me something great regarding that notion. She said, “I make appointments to write, because when inspiration comes I want to have a pencil in my hand.” I just thought that was brilliant. Every professional songwriter in every genre makes an appointment to write. Those random moments of inspiration are simply gifts.

HC: Are you for or against the MP3 “revolution”?

Troy: I love the new technology for the business communication’s aspect. The ability to share your music and likeness to countless people for pennies is amazing. Having a website to promote yourself is a beautiful necessity these days. I would like to remind people, though, that nothing can replace real human contact. IM is not real contact, email is not real contact. True and lasting communication happens in the spaces of a conversation. Get out and see a show, get out and buy a record. The greatest tribute you can give to the artists you love is to buy their record. The whole record. This will allow them to create more.

HC: If you could have any band cover one of your songs, what song would it be and what band?

Troy: The biggest band and my best song. cha-ching!

HC: What’s next for you?

Troy: Through the summer, we will be continuing to support my latest release, 12. We will be starting on a new record by the fall. Something a little closer to my heart. I plan on playing most all of the instruments. I’m looking forward to that.

HC: What is in your CD player now?

Troy: I have one of those visor CD holders in my car. The contents of which range from XTC to Don Williams to Kings of Leon. But, I’m never too far away from my Randy Newman. Gotta get my Randy fix just about every day. Actually, I think what I have in there right this second is Elliot Smith’s XOXO.

Troy plays at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston this Tuesday, April 13th. Be sure to come out and see the show. Tickets are only $10. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.

One thing Troy said really stuck out: “Get out and see a show, get out and buy a record. The greatest tribute you can give to the artists you love is to buy their record. The whole record. This will allow them to create more.”

So true. I think everyone should make a point to support the musicians/bands they enjoy. Buy a couple of copies of the their latest release–it’s only $10-$12, right? Give one to a friend or someone who might never get to hear the band. Maybe they will like it and do the same for someone else.

Now Playing in My iPOD: The DamnwellsBastards of the Beat

Tags: Music