Photo: Francesca Ludikar
Photo: Francesca Ludikar

Five Questions With… Noel Johnson of Johnson Crook

The Toronto-based roots ensemble Johnson Crook is on tour in Ontario now in support of the new single from their full-length debut, The Album, released through Coalition Music (Records). “Mr. Nobody” features guest vocals from Tom Cochrane, a perfect match for Johnson Crook’s honest and earthy approach, stemming from their small-town backgrounds.

From the moment the quartet—Noel Johnson (rhythm guitars/vocals), brothers Nathan (lead guitar/mandolin/vocals) and Trevor Crook (drums/vocals) and Jared Craig (bass/vocals)—first played together, they knew they not only had harmony in their voices, but a deep personal connection that made the idea of forming a group a foregone conclusion. Drawing inspiration from groups like The Eagles and The Avett Brothers, each member of Johnson Crook contributes equally, injecting their unique personalities into the overall sound built on four voices.

Teaming with acclaimed producer Bill Bell, they began shaping The Album at his home studio and Metalworks near Toronto. The first single, “Minnedosa,” came out in the summer of 2016, coinciding with the band’s multiple festival appearances. Named after the Crook brothers’ Manitoba hometown, it deftly displays the group’s intention to stand apart from a crowded field of contemporary country artists.

After finishing up their current jaunt—which hits Toronto’s Dakota Tavern on March 10, and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on March 17—expect Johnson Crook to stay busy throughout the summer working on new material and playing more dates. Keep up to date with their progress at johnsoncrook.com

 

Your latest single “Mr. Nobody” features Tom Cochrane. How did that collaboration come together?

Our producer Bill Bell is Tom Cochrane’s longtime guitarist and friend. One night, early into making the record, we invited Bill over for drinks and to jam at Nathan's house. Sure enough, Bill shows up at 11 p.m. with Tom Cochrane in tow! We had no idea Tom would be coming, and it was like a dream come true for us. Tom busted out the harmonica, and we jammed together well until the early morning. One of the songs we played was “Mr. Nobody.” Tom expressed how much he loved it, so a few months later we asked if he would sing on it and we were so grateful and elated when he agreed.

The Album displays a lot of varied influences and each member's unique personality. Was that something you did consciously?

Yeah, it was a fine line to walk. On the one hand we wanted to put songs on the record that were true to all of our tastes and interests, but on the other hand, it needed to sound like a cohesive album by one band. We knew, either way, we wanted it to be interesting or even have it challenge people’s expectations of the country music genre.

The first single, “Minnedosa,” pays tribute to Nathan and Trevor's hometown in Manitoba. Aside from that, what makes it unique for you?

It was the first song we wrote together. Mind you, this was before we decided even to be a band. It wasn’t until we finished the song and performed it a few times that we realized we had something special that connected with people, and from there Johnson Crook was born.

You’re on tour right now with Joey Landreth. What are some of your best touring survival tips?

Number one is sleep whenever you can! Also—and I know it doesn’t sound very rock ‘n roll—have a meal plan to try to eat healthily. Aside from that, just be a courteous and decent person to whoever you meet along the way.

If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?

Wait, this is a business? I thought businesses were supposed to make money!

 

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