NOW THE LUCKY ONE Freedy Johnston

You’re damn right:
people still remember. The singer-songwriter shows us how it’s done, once more.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

For someone whose breakthrough album contained a song called
“The Lucky One,” singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston has been anything but. He
had the misfortune of doing some of his best work at the dawn of the grunge
era, when being a folk-rocker was hardly a great career choice, then getting
lost at a major label at a time when they were only interested in rap-rock and
boy bands.

 

Since 2001, it seemed as if Johnston disappeared completely. While he
released live albums, an album of covers and a collection of early demos, it
wasn’t until this year that he gave his fans any new music.

 

From the first note, his latest album, Rain on the City, is a reminder of what people loved about Johnston in the first
place.  [No shit. Our reviewer gave it 9 stars in the BLURT review. – Ed.] The
simple, but undeniably catchy melodies and smart, detailed character studies
are the reason the Village Voice called his 1992 classic Can You Fly “a perfect album” and Rolling Stone named him
“songwriter of the year” in 1994.

 

We caught up with Freedy getting ready for a gig in Chicago to celebrate the
release of Rain.

 

***

 

BLURT: What have you
been doing for the last eight years?

 

JOHNSTON:
I basically tried to make the record that you have in your hands a couple of
times and it didn’t work out. The years go by. And so eight years may seem like
a long time now – and it is a long time – but to me all that time, I was trying
to make this record. I was working my butt off the entire time. I just wasn’t getting
anywhere.

 

Was there something
you didn’t like about the record? Something you just couldn’t get right?

 

It was just a hard time. Every time I was doing it, I
thought I was going to get it and I didn’t. I learned you can’t spend that much
time between records. You just make them. I won’t wait that long again. I
already have five or six songs done for next record, and I hope to record it
this summer.

 

You hear a lot about
long delays between albums because someone is being a perfectionist. Was that
the problem here?

 

The word perfectionist is batted about quite a bit by people
who aren’t perfectionists. For me, I had an idea of what I wanted. I just don’t
know how to get it. I simply couldn’t achieve the sound I wanted. It was that
and having a troubled personal life. I was going through a divorce. I had
problems with the IRS. I was a fucking wreck, if you want a straight answer. I
finally got it together and now I’m happy again. I’m happy being a nerdy
gearhead musician and going from town to town. It’s a great life, but it’s not
compatible with any other kinds of life. I thought I could have a real life and
be a musician, but you can’t. You just can’t. And I’m OK with that.

 

Now that the album is
out, are you surprised how many people still care?

 

I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ve learned to expect nothing.
It’s good for me to have no expectations at all, because with the last couple
of records, nothing happened at all. Now things are happening. Last night, we
played Minneapolis
and had a great crowd. There was a kid who couldn’t get in and listened through
the door. I met him after the show and his hand was cold. I almost wanted to
cry, it was so lovely. I’m so lucky someone would stand out in the cold
listening to me. I get to go onstage and make people happy. I learned the hard
way what it’s like not to have that, so I’m very grateful.

 

The conventional
wisdom is that you came along at a bad time to be a singer-songwriter. Do you
ever feel like you were born too late?

 

Things went how they went. I’m glad I had Can You Fly out, a record people really
like. If you’re lucky, you get one record in your career that people love, and
I got that one. Then I made This Perfect
World
, with a couple of songs people still remember. That was always my
dream when I was a little kid. I just wanted to become a musician and for
people to have my album. I got that. Now I have to go beyond that.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Chris Carroll]

 

 

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