As someone who seeks out the weird while also connecting with the working class, Thomas Johnson, frontman for Killer Whale, writes music from a place of empathy, a skill that is apparent all over the band’s latest album, Tastes Like Yesterday, due September 18 on Devil in the Woods.
“I think my desire to empathize with everyone leads to a connection with certain places and definitely effects my writing,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.
We recently sat down with Johnson to discuss collaboration, staying positive in the age of Covid, and canoeing when not creating.
TrunkSpace: What we love about your upcoming album Tastes Like Yesterday is that it surprised us throughout our journey with it. While it was all very much Killer Whale, it was also a unique adventure track-to-track. When you set out to write the songs that would make up the album, what did you anticipate the journey would be for the listener? What were the musical goals in bringing this collection of songs all under one roof?
Johnson: I’m not sure that I ever anticipated a journey when making the record. I had a certain sound in my mind that I tried to dial in with a couple years of mixing and recording demos in my room in San Francisco. I wanted to create an album that sounded totally original, and I felt like I was getting there with these songs and the demo production. I also was starting to feel like taking my demos and letting another musician help with the final production. We had done a couple of shows with Spooky Mansion and I really got into Grayson Converse’s production on those albums and singles. I think I just casually asked him in the bathroom of the Verdi Club one night and he said yes. So, long story short, I had a direction with the sound and Grayson really helped dial in the final direction. Scott Sibley (drummer/engineer) and I put together the song list to be a full LP listen, so I hope folks dig in!
TrunkSpace: You’re New Orleans based, but your travels take you from creative ports of interest like Austin and San Francisco. As an artist, how does WHERE you are impact WHO you are as a songwriter? How does the geography trickle into your music?
Johnson: I try to absorb the feeling and vibe of everywhere I go. I want to know the weird shit and I want to hang with freaky people, but I also work a laborious job and have always connected with working class folks. I think my desire to empathize with everyone leads to a connection with certain places and definitely effects my writing.
TrunkSpace: As you travel down the creative road you’re currently on with Killer Whale, would 10-year-old Thomas be surprised or was this always your creative destiny?
Johnson: Oh man, I don’t know. I certainly have always loved rock n’ roll.
TrunkSpace: Your new album Tastes Like Yesterday is due to drop September 18. What kind of emotions do you juggle with when releasing new material to the masses, and is the experience different this time around given that the entire world, essentially, has ground to a halt?
Johnson: I feel better about this release than my previous ones… I guess I’m really comfortable with how it came out. A lot of my friends helped me make this and I think we made something worthwhile. Not touring to support it is a huge bummer but there’s nothing I can really do about it so I try to stay positive and work on creative ways to connect with fans.
TrunkSpace: As you mentioned, normally you would tour to support a new release, but that is not something that is possible in every state right now. How has promoting the upcoming album changed? How do you get the word out when people can’t get out themselves?
Johnson: Still working on figuring that out!
TrunkSpace: You recently released the single “Plenty Of Time.” For you, what is the process like in deciding what the first singles will be from an album, because in a lot of ways, they become the first impression for listeners, and as we all know, first impressions count?
Johnson: This album was tough to decide; I really like all the tunes. I just asked the band, my manager, and the label to pick three and we chose the most picked ones.
TrunkSpace: If someone sat down and listened to Tastes Like Yesterday front to back, what would they learn about you as both an artist and person?
Johnson: As an artist, I hope one might understand my dedication to creating original music and my love for sound and its ability to move people. As a person, you might learn that I love a good band!
TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Johnson: Sounds cheesy, but I’m most proud of how it all came together with all of my friends helping out. This was a truly collaborative record with the band and the producers all the way to the mastering. I feel like everyone got into it, put love into it and the result shows that.
TrunkSpace: We have all been in some form of lockdown for the majority of 2020. How much of your time spent social distancing has also been spent creating? Have you experienced a creative jolt during this period – and will it lead to another album?
Johnson: I actually haven’t… I’ve been canoeing more. I am constantly writing songs and making demos at my house… it’s just what I love to do.
TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Johnson: No, time travel would probably be pretty weird. I guess we only get so many years, so I’d like to soak ‘em in.
Tastes Like Yesterday is available September 18. “Plenty of Time” is available now.