Johnny R!ot

00:00 April 11, 2014
By: Greg Roques

�Your initial thought when hearing Johnny R!ot for the first time is "this guy is having fun.� Whether it�s a remix, mash-up, or his signature down-tempo dubstep hum, you get the impression that he is � literally � going with the flow: experimenting, trying things out, seeing if and how different melodies work as one. Failure isn�t a factor; neither is a finish line. Each song is like a recreational model kit, a small project that is meticulously assembled, molded and polished until it has achieved perfection, and then its on to the next one. The songs are his own collection, reflections of his musical tastes and talents rather than a preconceived body of work.


But Johnny doesn�t want to have fun on his own anymore � he wants you to have fun too. What started off as a hobby toying with dubstep production has escalated into a rage-worthy Sound Cloud catalog, the occasional DJ set around town, a digital LP ready to drop any day now, and the role of lead beat-maker for Merle Swaggard, a rap collective comprised of Johnny R!ot and lyricists Reed Red and G-Reg, whose style Johnny describes as �post-apocalyptic trailer park rap.� When he�s not banging out beats for himself and Merle Swaggard, Johnny stays entrenched in music, working as a producer and general manager for local label Total Riot Records.

I catch up with Johnny at one of his favorite spots, Rook Caf� on Freret St.���the d�cor is an eclectic quilt of local art and anachronistic knick-knacks, setting the perfect stage for our discussion. As we take our seats in the back, I notice two gawkish college kids next to us playing an old Sega Genesis game � probably older than they are � on a long obsolete PC laptop. �That�s �Streets of Rage�,� I proclaim, a bit too nostalgic, �I loved that game.� �Man, that game had some great beats,� Johnny replies, leading into our discussion.


Where Y�at: You have several songs that reference video games (�Sintendo Nixty-Four,� �Gega Senesis�). Have videogame soundtracks inspired your sound?
Johnny R!ot:
There are a lot of video games with great soundtracks. When you think about it, old videogame soundtracks were an early form of electronica. The games out today hire professional musicians and license songs, but some of those old midi-soundtracks were great. Really, it goes to show that you don�t need to look simply to the world of music for ideas and samples: there are great soundtracks everywhere; you just need to pay attention.

WYAT: Johnny R!ot started off more as an experiment for you than a side-project. How did it grow into what it is today?
JR!:
I was playing in a band at the time it started, and was playing around making dubstep beats on my computer. We were recording an album at the time, and were constantly hitting bumps in the road with peoples schedule. I was producing, and finally got to the point where I was like, if the drummer doesn�t show, I can drop in the drums in post. I continued making music on my own, and began publishing it online as Johnny R!ot. Eventually, it just seemed more efficient to go solo.

WYAT: Several big Djs today including Skrillex and Bassnectar started off in rock bands. You began your professional music career in a punk band (Friends of Fire), then a swamp-rock band (Strange Roux). How do you think this gave you an edge moving into electronic music?
JR!:
It�s important to have an understanding of how instruments work � things like cord progressions, cadence, etc. Computer software can simulate these instruments, but unless you are familiar with them, have hands on experience playing them, something will be lost. If you buy a guitar and don�t learn to play it or how to read music, it�s the same thing.

WYAT: Computer software these days allows artists to cut a lot of corners. Photographers can fix an imperfect shot with Photoshop, and singers can polish an off-key note with Auto-Tune. Do you feel there is a danger that the prevalence of music software can make producers lazy?
JR!:
There is definitely a risk in cutting corners by not learning the basics and believing that you can fix things later, but I find there is an even bigger risk that many musicians make by neglecting to learn about emerging technologies. If you don�t do that, you not only hurt your production and costs, you could get left behind.

WYAT: How did Merle Swaggard come to be?
JR!:
I began collaborating with Reed Red and G-Ref late last summer. The idea was to produce hip-hop with dubstep and trap beats. We did a few shows together, played with our live presence, and went through some name changes.� We finally settled on the name Merle Swaggard, and performed our first show together following the Endymion parade this past Mardi Gras. We call our theme �post-apocalyptic trailer park rap.�

WYAT: I have to know what �post-apocalyptic trailer park rap� is.
JR!:
I noticed a trend for electronic acts to have a theme, or a gimmick they are known for � especially locally. A lot of up-and-coming local acts like SexParty and Boyfriend have a distinct persona and live show � a visual presence � that compliments their music. Our theme is loosely inspired by a b-film called The FP (2011) � it takes place in an apocalyptic future where trailer park gangs settle their differences over �Dance, Dance Revolution� matches. The theme�s reflected in our lyrics, as well as the look.

WYAT: Word. Any last thoughts from Johnny R!ot?
JR!:
Sure, I�ll be dropping my first LP really soon. It�ll be a digital release. In the meantime, you can find my music on my Facebook (@johnneriot) and Sound Cloud (soundcloud.com/johneriot). I recently posted a real dope remix of (Juvenile�s) �Back That Azz Up.� Also, check out the other great artists I work with at TotalRiotRecords.com.


Sign Up!

FOR THE INSIDE SCOOP ON DINING, MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT, THE ARTS & MORE!