Five Questions With…Johnson Crook's Noel Johnson
The highly-regarded Toronto roots-rock combo has released a new single, Dear Me. Here, its singer/guitarist discusses the track, the role of producer Jeff Dalziel, the group's plans, and the joy of fatherhood.
By Jason Schneider
On their new single Dear Me, available now on all platforms via Coalition Music, Toronto’s Johnson Crook returns with a fresh approach to their distinctive blend of rock, country, and folk. It follows the quartet’s previous full-length, simply entitled The Album, and shows how far their songwriting has evolved. Built on a rousing, arena-sized musical foundation, the song’s lyrics are, in the words of singer/guitarist Noel Johnson, “a letter to your future self,” which he wrote in the van on the way to Americanafest in Nashville while thinking of his newborn son back home.
Since Noel and bassist Jared Craig teamed up with brothers Nathan and Trevor Crook (lead guitar and drums respectively) in 2016, Johnson Crook has become one of the most potent live acts in Canadian roots music, with their group harmonies frequently drawing comparisons to everyone from the Eagles to Old Dominion. Although the group has always thrived on equal contributions from all four members, Dear Me is the first in a series of singles slated for the coming months that promises to show off even more of their distinct personalities.
Johnson Crook plays two shows in Collingwood, Ontario this weekend at Blue Mountain Village and Crow Bar and Variety. For more information, go to johnsoncrook.com.
What makes Dear Me stand apart from your past work?
I think the biggest change was the writing process. Traditionally, we would write a song, arrange it and record it without much thought beyond that. This time we came to understand the value of “the re-write” and did that a few times until became the song it is today.
The song is personal to you. If you could boil it down to the one piece of advice you wish you'd received as a kid, what would that be?
I think the single piece of advice I’d give to my past self—and as a reminder to my current self—is to be kind to yourself. In this industry, it’s easy to get down on yourself, and it ends up hindering your art. In the end, it serves no purpose.
You're working with producer Jeff Dalziel now, who has also produced The Washboard Union, Brett Kissel, and others. What's been his influence on that band?
Jeff helped us with developing our ears as far as being more critical with our songwriting, and understanding why some things work, and some don’t. He also did a lot for the arrangement for Dear Me. There were a few points he made that made me say, “Wow, I never thought of doing things that way!”
Dear Me is the first of more singles to come shortly. What can fans expect from Johnson Crook over the coming year?
Right now we have a lot of songs in the bank and are always writing more. For now, we’re just deciding on the next single but would like to have a full album out by spring 2020.
What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
Lots have changed for this band since our last record. I became a dad to an amazing son; Nathan got married and moved out to Peterborough. It’s harder for us to take the time to get together, but I think the quality of that time has improved. Of course, when it’s just us on the road, it’s like nothing has changed. It’s all about playing great shows.