Johnny Lima interview.
Hailing from California, USA, Johnny Lima has been consistantly delivering his brand of pure, catchy as Hell, kick ass rock ‘n’ roll for over twenty years now without wavering and continues to give us some of the absolute best music of the genre with every release.
Outrageously talented, a superb musician, one hell of an incredible singer and one cool, nice as can be and humble as they come fellow in general that still makes time for his fans and one of my absolute favorite artists period, Johnny was kind enough to take time out of his day to answer a few questions about his latest album, ‘Unplug N’ Play’, his career, his favorite songs from his albums and just what is next for him.
MMR: Hey Johnny, I hope you are doing well. First of all thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I really appreciate it. You are one of my all time favorite artists and I have had a time trying to narrow down all of the questions I want to ask you. So first question. The end of last year, 2015, saw the release of your very first acoustic album. What prompted you to release an acoustic album at this point?
JL: First off, thank you for the kind words!! The whole purpose for releasing an acoustic album was to support an acoustic tour that I had booked in Europe. Needless to say, the album wasn’t finished by the time I went on tour, but I went ahead and finished it and released it because I was really proud of it. Besides, I’m still going to do acoustic shows, so I’ll at least have something to sell at those shows.
MMR: Well it is a fantastic album! One of the things that I really like about the record is that it is not an album of your songs just recorded acoustically like most acoustic albums tend to be, it is a brand new collection of songs that we have not heard before, and a fantastic set I must say. Were these songs that you wrote specifically for this record or were they ones that you had written before and just thought “hey, this would sound great acoustic”?
JL: Two of the songs (‘Superman’, and ‘I’m On My Way’) were actually songs I co-wrote with Jamie Allen when I produced his solo album a few years back. Other than those two, the rest of of the songs were written specifically for this album. And one thing I wanted to make sure when making this album is that it was fully acoustic. Meaning, no instruments that you would normally plug in were used. Looking back, I’m not sure why I limited myself like that. Some of these songs could’ve used an organ, or a clean electric guitar, or a crunchy guitar solo.
MMR: I think there are some tracks that could have used a little something more instrument wise also, however the album turned out absolutely great just the way it is and there is something to be said for it having just a very bare bones kind of sound like it does. It works great with the songs and I just love it the way it is. You are an extremely talented guy. People like you make non-musically talented folks like me quite envious. You not only sing, write, produce and mix your albums but you also play a lot of different instruments. At what age did you start playing music, and when did you begin playing professionally?
JL: My first instrument was the saxophone. Played sax throughout middle school. My parents bought my first guitar at age 12. I would much rather play the guitar since I was a little rocker, and there weren’t too many rock bands that I liked that actually had saxophone. I started playing professionally (for money) around 15 years old. Although I was originally just a guitarist, I started singing due to the fact that I couldn’t find a singer in my small town.
MMR: Well thank God you started singing, you have an incredible voice that needs to be heard! Now I know that you were previously in a few different bands, Attitude being one of them, but your first record came out on 1996. The eponymous debut was, and is, a fantastic album. Nine years later in 2005 you re-recorded that album, made some changes in the songs and did a couple of track switches and the album ‘Version 1.2‘ was released, which to this day is still one of my absolute favorite Johnny Lima records. What was the reason behind this re-release?
JL: There were so many people asking me about the debut that was out of print. I saw the CD going for upwards of $80 on eBay. So I wanted to re-release that album, but since I didn’t really care too much for the production, I thought I’d re-record it instead of just re-releasing the original. So since I was re-recording it, I thought I’d change some songs up too. What I didn’t realize was that you can’t go back 9 years and recapture the innocence or the magic that went along with that album. As much as I can’t stand to listen to the debut due to production reasons, I still know that there was something really special about that album, that I’d never be able to recreate.
MMR: Yeah, it is a great record and I love it but the production is a little less than perfect. I actually did not own it for many years due to the cost of the album as you mentioned, but thankfully you now have all of your records available on your website in digital format for those that are put of print. You have an incredible gift for not only writing insanely catchy melodies, but also writing lyrics that always tell a story, I love that about your music. Your songs may be heartbreak ballads such as the absolutely beautiful ‘I Can’t Love You Anymore‘, love songs like another of your beautiful ballads, ‘Here For You‘, a song with a message such as the hard hitting ‘My Country ‘Tis Of Thee‘ or just pure rock ‘n roll the way it was meant to be like the superb ‘My Revolution‘ or ‘Hate To Love You‘, but they always tell a coherent story and are never just random lyrics that nobody can really make heads or tails of or come across like they were produced from some alcohol or drug induced writing session, which to be fair songs like that are a rarity in melodic rock as a whole genre, just another of the innumerable reasons to listen to it. So where do you find your inspirations for writing these songs?
JL: Inspiration comes from how I’m feeling at the moment. No matter what the subject is, I try really hard to tell a story. I’m really inspired by country music lyrics. It amazes me how those writers can write an entire story in just one song. I’ve never been really good at abstract lyrics. You know the type of lyrics that sound really cool and clever, but no one knows what the hell the song is about. I guess writing abstract in a way could be good as it leaves the interpretation of the song to the listener.
MMR: I am not a huge fan of Country music as a whole but I do agree that they tend to write whole stories in their lyrics and I do like that about the genre. And, as I said, you do an excellent job of that yourself as well. One question I always like to ask is what an artists writing process is like. As someone who was not blessed with the ability to write music, it always fascinates me to hear how these songs that I love so much and that are such an intricate part of my life come about. Do you hear a melody in your head and write around that or do you get a lyric in your head and write around that? What is that process like for you?
JL: For me, there’s no set way to write a song. Sometimes, I’m in my studio, I’m just playing guitar, doing some chord progressions, and then I start singing a melody to what I’m playing. Once I have the melody I like, I start writing lyrics to fit the melody. Other times I could be outside just chilling or watching tv and all of a sudden a killer melody pops into my head. Sometimes it happens when I’m driving. So if I’m not anywhere near my studio, I’ll do a quick recording of the melody on my iPhone and come back to it when I have a guitar in my hand.
MMR: That’s awesome. It is always cool to hear how artists are inspired. Speaking of being inspired, who are your biggest influences as a writer, singer and musician and what are some of the bands you are really into at the moment?
JL: As far as writers I’d have to say Max Martin, Mutt Lange, Desmond Child, Bryan Adams, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Jon & Ritchie, to name a few. As a singer, Bryan Adams, Mike Tramp, Jon Bon Jovi. As a musician, my biggest influence was Kiss. Artists I’m really into at the moment would have to be Eclipse, My Darkest Days, Martina Edoff, Thousand Foot Krutch, and Ten Days New.
MMR: Well they are all some of the best writers out there to be sure. Seems like so many of the hits back in the ’80’s had the name Desmond Child attached to it, he is also a hell of a good singer. I am quite fond of his ‘Discipline’ album. But yeah, some amazing artists there that have influenced you. I am actually going to be able to see Martina for the first time in October at the Rock ‘N Skull festival which I am very excited about, her last album, ‘Unity’, is incredible. So on to the next question. Melodic rock is not a very popular genre, especially here in the USA as you well know. We have shitty “artists” making shitty music and selling millions of records. Meanwhile the real, true artists such as yourself are selling a few thousand records at best and often struggling just to stay afloat. I think it is safe to say that nobody is getting rich doing this genre these days and the sad fact of the matter is that you pretty much have to travel overseas to even get gigs. So what is it that keeps you putting out this music when it is such an underappreciated genre these days?
JG: I’d have to say the only reason why I’m still doing this is because of the fans. They’re the ones that keep me motivated enough to continue.
MMR: As a fan I am certainly glad you continue, we will keep supporting you as long as you keep putting your music out. Artists like yourself are solely responsible for keeping real rock ‘n roll alive, to which I say a very very big thank you. It may not be the most popular genre in the world but you have most certainly got the best damn fans in the entire world. Running this site I am able to see day after day the diversity of the fans of this genre. A prime example, today I have views on my site for my reviews of your albums from places like Serbia, Bulgaria, Peru, Germany, Canada and Sweden. As an artist how does it feel to live here in the States and know that your music is reaching people all over the world like that?
JL: It feels great, and as stated before, the fans are the reason I’ve continued to do this for so long without getting much in return. I love the fact that my music has touched so many lives. And it still will after I’m done making music. That’s the beauty of being an artist. Even after I’m long gone, people will still be able to enjoy my music.
MMR: It is an absolute crime that artists such as yourself do, in fact, get so little in return for your work. It just makes me sick seeing the people that get rich from their crap music while you who truly deserve it barely get anything in return for your hard work. Anyway, that is a rant I could go on and on about so I will just move on. I saw the line-up for the H.E.A.T. Festival in November in Ludwigsburg a while back, at which you will be performing, and I must say, I am completely green with envy of anyone that is going to be able to be attend that one. What an incredible collection of talent. You have obviously had the privilege of sharing the stage with some of these outstanding artists and bands over the years at several such festivals, is there a particular highlight of your career with being able to play the same stage as some of the most well known and well respected artists and bands of the genre?
JL: I think the highlight of my career happened last year at Vasby Rock Festival in Sweden performing with the Vasby Rock All Stars. Not sure I’ll ever experience something like that again. I remember coming off the stage crying and laughing at the same time cause it was the best feeling ever. One of the happiest moments of my life. Second only to the birth of my son.
MMR: Oh yeah, I have seen several videos online from that festival and wow, what an incredible group of talented artists you had the chance to play with there, yourself included of course, I can imagine that would be a highlight indeed. Now I know a few years back you took a break from doing your own music and worked with a few bands such as Dirty Penny, Freakshow and on Jamie Allen’s album ‘The Storyteller‘. Are you currently working with any bands or do you have any plans to work with anymore bands in the future in such a capacity?
JL: I’m currently working on an album with Dave Friday who used to sing in Madman’s Lullaby. Other than that, I’ve just been mixing.
MMR: Awesome, he is a great singer. I can’t wait to hear what y’all put out together. So my next question is, while you do not have a single bad record in your catalogue, nary a bad song in fact, my favorite is the 2014 masterpiece ‘My Revolution‘ which saw your music take a heavier turn and added a little orchestration into it. It was also a fan funded album which I am proud to have been a part of. Do you have a personal favorite among your albums?
JL: First, let me thank you personally for the support. Without people like you, that album would have just been released on iTunes. I think my favorite songs off my albums would have to be “My Revolution”, “Blame It On Love” “I Can’t Love You Any More” “Fill You Up”, “I Do”, “Hallelujah”, “Caught In The Middle”, “Til Love Is Gone”, “Hate To Love You” and “Made In California”.
MMR: I love every one of those songs, some of my favorites as well. I will finally get the long awaited opportunity to see you live later this year at Rock ‘N Skull which I am very excited about. What can someone like myself who has never seen you live expect from a Johnny Lima show? Does your setlist span your career or is it mainly taken from your last few album?
JL: You can expect a lot of cussing! HAHAH!! We don’t play anything from the older albums. The oldest song we play is “Made In California” and I don’t even know if we’ll be playing that one at RnS or not. I may add a new song or two in the set. We’ll see. There’s still plenty of time to worry about that.
MMR: Well it will be a kick ass set whatever you play, that’s guaranteed, as almost every song you jave released is phenomenal. As a die hard fan I am always wanting to get every morsal of music I can from you. I was able to find three or four tracks from Attitude floating around online a few years back and I love them. We had spoken before and I had asked about the possiblity of you rerecording those songs to which you replied that you had far too much new material in you to go back and do that, which is exciting to hear also. How many songs do you typically write and record for a record before narrowing them down to the finalized set that we see on the album and is there a possiblity of a box set type release from you at some point of unused tracks?
JL: When I write for an album I have 100’s of ideas. However, I don’t start recording until I have around 15 great songs finished. So there’s not much out there that I could use as far as unreleased tracks because I typically don’t demo my stuff before I start recording. The writing process takes so long that I don’t have the time or patience to do pre-production. Once I finish writing a song, I’ll start recording it. If for some reason, I’m not really liking the song for some reason, I never finish it. I just stop and move on to the next song. That’s what happened with “My Revolution”. That was originally recorded during the ‘Livin Out Loud’ sessions, and I didn’t like where it was headed, so I stopped. Then when I started working on songs for ‘My Revolution’ I revisited that song and re-wrote most of it. Glad it turned out that way, cause the original version was nowhere as good as the version you all have heard.
MMR: Well I am certainly glad that you revisted that one and recorded it, it is one of the best rockers you have given us yet, and that is really saying something when you consider all of the amazing songs you have recorded. Now I hesitated on this one, but there is one artist out there that you are constantly compared to. And while it is a true comparison and is a good way to describe your sound to anyone that has not heard your music I feel it is unfair to you to always be compared to him. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of his biggest fans, but your music should, and most certainly does, stand on it’s own and speaks for itself without having to be compared against someone else’s, and quite frankly it is harder then anything he has put out in many years now. I know you have got to be sick of hearing and reading the comparisons, even I, just as a fan of yours, am sick of it. Does it annoy the hell out of you to hear that all of the time and you just want people to shut the fuck up about it or have you just accepted it and feel privileged to be compared to someone of that stature in the industry?
JL: It’s an honor. This year marks the 20th anniversary of my debut album. So I’ve been doing this long enough where people know who I am now. I’m not a new artist anymore. I’ve gotten the kind of respect that most artists can only dream about. So the comparisons don’t bother me at all. If I was an unknown artist trying to make a name for myself, then yes, it would bother me, and it has in the beginning. But nowadays, when someone says I sound like Bon Jovi, I thank them for the enormous compliment and go about my day.
MMR: That is a great way to see it, man, and that speaks volumes about your humility as an artist. And congratulations on the 20 year anniversary, here’s to 20 more!
Well Johnny, again, thank you so much taking the time to answer these questions, it has been a true privilege and I can’t wait to see you in October. So my last question and the final words are yours my friend. What is next in the cards for Johnny Lima?
JL: I’m going to be working on a best of album. Double CD with 6-8 new songs. Going to try and get it out this year to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the debut album. Other than that, there’s nothing else planned. Maybe retirement? HAHAHA!! Thank you David!! I appreciate the awesome questions.