In late June 2020, Jeremiah Johnson and I tried to do what I term a ‘guerrilla interview’: an off-the-cuff chat, no interminable plans to talk at some point in the future which may get moved up to 36 times, just a wham-bam, thank you, man for the good talk.
We got snookered twice. The first time by a dodgy connection from Coconut Grove, NT (me) and somewhere near Mareeba, Qld (Jeremiah), and we gave up after two or three minutes.
The second time worked a charm a few days later, this time from Bellamack, NT (me) and Cairns, Qld (Jeremiah). Most of that went out as a live Facebook video which you can view now at www.facebook.com/OverheardProductions, but you’ll have to scroll down or use the search function, or just click on the hyperlink earlier on this sentence. I’m all over WordPress like a cheap suit. Not so much.
The process of getting the interview onto the website – www.OverheardProductions.com – took a little longer. Let’s just leave the ‘guerrilla’ title for Facebook and call this version: Jeremiah Johnson Talks About Indie Music In The Time Of Pandemic. Fun Fact: I just went to Facebook to check the actual broadcast date, and Facebook helpfully reports it was: ‘About two weeks ago’. Great.
Bill Quinn: It is Wednesday the 20-somethingth of June. It doesn’t really matter that much since it will be in the text.
I’m speaking with Jeremiah Johnson in Cairns. G’day Jeremiah.
Jeremiah Johnson: G’day Bill, how’re you going?
BQ: Very good. Now despite pandemic, you’ve been a fairly busy boy lately. Tell us about that.
JJ: Well, I’ve just been consolidating probably about 40 songs in the music catalogue, trying to navigate the rest of the year as far as bookings go, and I have just taken a booking for my first live show in Cairns on the 24th of July, so that’s very exciting.
BQ: That is exciting.
Up here in Darwin, we’re a little bit spoilt because gigs have been back on for a little while. We try not to chuck it in other people’s faces. But what’s it been like there in Cairns? How have people been feeling about not having live gigs, both as performers and also the punters?
JJ: I can only speak from my point of view and that is that it’s been a really weird feeling to not be able to pursue your work and to not play music in front of people.
I mean, that’s what we like to do the most, so as far as the rest of the community is concerned, I’m not sure but I know that people love live music, they love getting out with their friends, and I’m sure that would be difficult, yeah.
BQ: Yeah, and as I was suggesting to you when we tried doing this a few days ago, you’re one who is fairly prolific and you travel a great to do it, don’t you?
JJ: Yep, all states of the country, up until COVID, and I’ve played just about anywhere and everywhere. I’ve played in Darwin since I think maybe 2006, I first started playing up there in various places, in and out of there depending on how well things go on touring.
BQ: Have you been climbing the walls a bit while you haven’t been out and about?
JJ: No, I’ve been incredibly busy. Because of Covid, we’ve come to a place near Mareeba, which is just outside of Cairns, and I’ve been working on a property in exchange for rent. So in between song writing I’ve been out on the brush-cutter or out on the chainsaw, keeping myself busy that way and, you know, just keeping up with family and all the other things.
BQ: The one thing that I hear from a lot of musicians, and I’ve seen it fall into a few categories, there are some unfortunately who go back to their bedrooms and say, “Well it’s no good, I can’t do my gigs, I can’t do my music.”
Meanwhile, other people have been grasping the opportunity to either go online or to write a lot of music. Have you been doing either of those two, either writing more music or doing livestreams?
JJ: I’ve only done one livestream, and I had to go into town to do that because we were out of reception.
But it hasn’t stopped. If anything it’s probably been a little bit of a relief because the touring schedule that I have revolves around me coming up with new material quite quickly, and there’s a fair bit of demand on myself I feel at the end of each year to have new material.
This has actually given me a chance to slow down and to consolidate what I have and then to return gracefully back into that workload with new material and material for a couple years to come, I’d say.
BQ: And are your partner and child saying, “Oh, we remember you. That’s what you look like!”?
JJ: Yeah, well I did grow this isolation beard, if you’re referring to that. I actually came into contact with the neighbours on the neighbouring property and I walked out and started chatting with them for about 10 minutes, and then realised I’ve got a face full of hair and I did have to apologise for my hygiene appearance.
BQ: Now, going back to the livestream thing, you did something called The Kitchen Sessions. What was that all about?
She’s a work horse that woman. Incredible, incredible woman.
Roz put it together absolutely free. She wanted to try and unite the artists with the community, and soon after that, it became a bit of a variety show, where they were able to livestream to other small businesses, say restaurants. Fantastic thing for the community, and it was all by donation.
* Fun fact: A contractor working with Overheard Productions brought this interview in to text-based life, and she had a fair old crack at the spelling of Roz’s name. But when I went online to double-check for myself, the new laptop turned it into: Alardoroz Papp – which would make a great stage or band name.
BQ: Right, now you’re someone who gets very involved in the Cairns musical community. Can you give us an idea of the barometer of how they’re feeling about everything going on?
JJ: I think probably everyone is equally concerned and it’s really hard to say, Bill. Because as you know, some artists do fairly well and would have had some savings behind them, and other musicians or artists are living week to week. Those week to week ones would have felt it very hard, I can assure you that.
BQ: Do you see there is a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, or are you concerned with where pandemic might continue to go? What do you see as the immediate future of music up there?
JJ: That’s yeah, a long-winded answer. We’re a $111 billion dollar industry and then when you trickle it all the way down to the people playing in cafes or small venues, we’re usually the ones first to go and we’re the ones operating on smaller budgets.
It’s going to be a while before we get back on our feet, and it may not be until this time next year, I think, for a lot of sole traders and small business people operating in the music industry.
BQ: Okay, talking a bit about Jeremiah Johnson for a minute, where are you up to with recorded music? Have you got anything in the works, and what’s the immediate future for Jeremiah?
JJ: I’m recording a lot in the place that we’re staying and I don’t have any aspirations of recording a full band album for at least another 12 months. So my focus is purely me: one microphone on the voice and one microphone on the guitar.
And holding on the strength of song-writing which is a great challenge for me, and it’s really honed in what I do and it’s actually improved a lot of areas because I don’t have the other distractions.
BQ: It’s interesting you say that because I’ve been noticing a lot with the livestreams and music people have been putting out prerecorded. It’s really going back to stripped-back, raw presentation of music, isn’t it?
JJ: Yep, and primarily I think that gets lost with great production tools that we have available to us in our home studios.
Or we go to a studio and the producer’s got some amazing new reverb that they want to try out and it can dominate an album, and sometimes the actual song itself may not lend itself to that kind of thing.
Whereas I just kind of feel like – and everyone says it – if the song is great, it pretty much doesn’t matter how it is recorded. And that goes right back to the early recordings of blues artists in the 1920s where that music was so heavily influential on western music, and is still incredible to listen to today, when you go back and listen to those catalogues.
BQ: Last night here on ABC Darwin they did their usual weekly request segment, and while there was some amazingly produced music coming out (and I put out a bid for Harry Manx and good on Rebecca McLaren, she played ‘Bring That Thing’), but then someone bobbed up and said can you do this one by Woody Guthrie? And it was exactly what you’re saying: it was a scratchy old recording, just Woody and his guitar, and that was about it and maybe a condenser mic if that.
JJ: Exactly, yeah and I guarantee it would have been fantastic lyrics, well thought-out structured music, and it would have been great.
BQ: Yeah, and I guess with having wonderful videos that people produce, it’s more of a case of, “Hey, Reg! Hold my phone will you? And point it in my direction”.
JJ: Yeah, the candid videos are probably just as, or more important, for me. If I’ve developed any kind of relationship with a film maker in the past, it’s been about making a good film clip, so that comes back to sound, that comes back to audio, and that comes back to the song as well.
If you’ve got a strong idea, it’s gonna come across really strong as a film clip. If you’ve got a really good song and it’s well-structured, it’s gonna come across well as a recording.
BQ: Well Jeremiah, we wish you and all the musicians and artists up there in Far North Queensland all the best with whatever happens in the next little while. And mate, thanks so much for doing this interview with me.
JJ: Thank you so much, and a big hello to everyone up there in Darwin. I really miss it up there. It’s been a couple of years, I think it’s been two years since I opened up I played right at the start of or the opening of the Fringe. And it was such a wonderful year up there, and I miss the people and I miss Darwin and the Northern Territory dearly.
BQ: I reckon one of the first people to react to this will be someone from the Fringe, the lovely Hannah who is one of the work horses. I think Roz Pappalardo and Hannah Illingworth might be sisters from different misters. And the Fringe does kick off here next month, and mate, any time you wanna come back I’m sure there’ll be a spot for you.
JJ: Ok. Thanks, Bill.
BQ: Good on ya. Thanks, Jeremiah.
By Bill Quinn with Madison Collier