Tom Gallo is the host of Look At My Records! on Radio Free Brooklyn.
Bushwick-based musician and producer Johnny Dynamite is releasing his debut solo record, Heartbroken, this Friday, January 31st. He’s made the rounds in his fair share of projects over the last few years, most notably as the drummer of goth-punk band Whiner and post-punk quartet Ashjesus. Now, he’s stepping out from behind the drum kit for his first-ever solo effort.
Heartbroken will have a total of nine songs, including the previously released singles, “Walking Poetry” and “Hey Join Me (You’re Not Alone).” It’ll clock in at just under 30 minutes, which Dynamite describes as the perfect length for your commute. The songs on the record are driven by infectious drum machine beats, dark synths, and lyrics that at times explore the surreal.
Johnny is a busy guy, but we had the chance to chat recently about Heartbroken, playing in Whiner, and what he has store for the rest of the year:
Many people know you as the drummer of Whiner and other local bands. When did you start working on music as a solo artist? Have you always written your own songs or is this something that you really started pursuing with the songs on Heartbroken?
I’ve always written songs here and there. When I was growing up, I started playing guitar at around age 12, which was before I started playing drums. But then I wanted to record my own stuff, so I said, “Okay, you know what, I have to play drums” so that I could make the whole song myself. I’ve been doing that forever. I was in a couple of projects with other friends. I had one called What Moon Things for a little while. I had a band called Year On A Mountain when I lived upstate in New Paltz. But I never released anything as a solo act, so this is the first thing that I’m doing my completely by myself
When you learned to play the drums so that you could record you own songs, was that out of necessity? Or did you want to just do everything yourself?
Yeah, it was kind of out of necessity, but at the same time, I wanted to play the drums. Growing up my cousin was an amazing drummer and I really looked up to him. I’d see him play and I started playing as a result, but I never really got that good as a kid, so I moved on to the guitar. That really became a passion because it’s easier to learn songs and things like that.
How’d the songs on Heartbroken come together? Are these songs that you’ve been experimenting with for a while or is it a reflection of your more recent output?
It’s a little bit of both. For example, the final song of the record is an acoustic track called “Tucked In With The Dead.” I actually originally recorded that in 2016. That’s quite a few years ago. I kind of just threw that on at the end. There’s another song on the record, “Duet,” which is from 2017. So, it’s kind of like a collection of songs that all fit a certain vibe. I recorded them in my room and there’s a lot of drum machine stuff. I didn’t have a place to go where I could actually record drums. A lot of people think that’s funny because I’m a drummer, so they’re like, “Why would you use a drum machine?” But that’s how I did it!
Tell us about your most recent single “Hey Join Me (You’re Not Alone).” What was the inspiration behind this track?
“Hey Join Me (You’re Not Alone)” is dark, but I tried to like turn it and make it more uplifting because at the time I was in a really dark place. I was thinking about about dark concepts like hell, aliens, hearing voices, and a bunch of different weird imagery. When I was writing it, I kept playing the first chord that’s after the song’s intro, and I kept hearing a voice that said “Hey Johnny, you’re not alone.” So, I tried to spin it and make it more positive because so many people, especially those living in the city are surrounded by so many people, but at the same time, there’s a sense of loneliness. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying, “Hey, you’re not alone. We’re all in this together.” That’s how I tried to spin it.
It was the last song that I wrote for Heartbroken. At that point, I felt like the record was done.
What can people expect from the rest of the songs on Heartbroken sound-wise?
I feel like the rest of record falls somewhere between the two singles, “Walking Poetry” and “Hey Join Me (You’re Not Alone).” Hey Join Me is the only song I was able to do the drums on and “Walking Poetry” is very synth heavy and very drum-machine heavy. It has post-disco kind of vibe. There are few more songs on the record that have that post-disc kind of vibes. There’s a song on the album called “Even In The Dark” which features a vocal sample from my friend Sandy, who sings in Pecas. There’s a song called “Emit” that’s basically a synth wonderland. It’s very reminiscent of Tears For Fears. The record also has heavier songs that have the driving feel that Hey Join Me has.
Who did you work with on this record? Did you record and produce it yourself?
Yeah, I recorded everything myself and I wrote everything myself. Then I had a couple of my friends help with a few different aspects. In “Walking Poetry” my guitar player and synth player, he wrote the line that starts off the song. My friend Jake Harms helped me do some production things, especially on the title track, “Heartbroken.” Sandy from Pecas did some background vocals on that song and on “Even In The Dark.” Most importantly, my friend Alex Previty helped with mixing and co-production. I laid down a foundation and he really built it up with more synthesizers and other effects.
You also do production work. I loved the Pecas EP, After Dark, that you worked on. How’d you get involved in producing other artists?
Yeah, people had my own projects that I self-produced in the past and then reached out. For example, The What Moon Things project that I was involved with back in like 2014 – I did all of it in my room and it had this crazy lo-fi, shoegaze sound mixed with electronic drums and synthesizes. A few people heard it, like Cam and Boon from Whiner, and I met them through that. They came to me about producing their full-length, which should be out later this year. It was a similar situation with Sandy from Pecas. She liked the What Moon Things record, so she asked me to play drums for Pecas back in 2016-2017. Back then, we were playing more folk-rock type of stuff, but then we decided to totally change up the sound. We decided to go in more of a disco direction and completely reshaped the project.
You’ve played drums in Whiner for a few years now. They’re well-known for their really dark sound and engaging live performances. How has being in that band and working with them influenced your solo work?
I think a lot of the influence comes from Cam, the lead singer of Whiner. I remember from before I joined Whiner, I’d see them perform and I loved his stage presence. He’s so in your face and impossible to ignore. Not to say that my record is like that because it is very quiet, bedroom electronic kind of sounds, but the words and the melodies are just so powerful and they really don’t stop throughout the songs. Whiner songs are very vocal-centric, they’re really at the forefront. That’s definitely influenced me.
Speaking of Cam from Whiner, you both recently released a mixtape called A Harrowing Account together as Baby & Dynamite. How’d you both put that together? How’d you decide that you both wanted to release a mixtape together?
It’s funny. I played my first show with Whiner, and then me and Cam were coming back to the city, and I shared a beat with him that I thought would go well with a song that he was working on. He started singing over it and I just started recording it. That was the song “Gold Tooth.” On the same day, we also recorded “You Want To Wash Away.” We just kept going like that and it didn’t stop. At first, we were considering whether they’d be Whiner songs or not. It felt wrong for them to be Whiner songs because at that point I was new to the band and Whiner has always been about Henry, Christian, and Cam working together on writing songs. So, we started a little side project where we’d meet every Friday in 2018 to work on this mixtape. The songs are sequenced in the order that we wrote them. It’s basically a story of our lives at the time. We’re already 18 songs into the next mixtape.
What else do you have planned for 2020 for the various projects you’re involved with?
Heartbroken will be the last release for me for the next few months. It’ll feel good to clean out the vault. I’ll be playing Cindy Cane’s single release show on Valentine’s Day at a new venue in Ridgewood called Planet X. The next Whiner record is coming out later this year. We’ve been working on music videos for it and other things.
Who are some local bands/artists that you’d recommend to Bushwick Daily readers?
My favorite artists right now are Real World. They make really cool, 90s style music. They’ll be playing our release show at Our Wicked Lady on Friday.I really like Grim Streaker. They’re definitely one of my favorite bands. I think their song “Guts” made my Spotify year in review for 2019 since I listened to it so much. Definitely Cindy Cane. His record is about to come out and it’s gonna be huge.
Any final thoughts?
I’m putting out Hearbroken with word of mouth collective, the Broken Dreams Club. The objective of the club is to give an umbrella term for artists who wish to not be part of a label or any kind of industry that profits off other people’s art. Especially now in Brooklyn, we’ve lost a lot of our true DIY venues, such as Shea Stadium, Aviv, Suburbia, etc. So, I think it’s important for the scene to have a name that we can use to represent the artists who back the original DIY ethos that laid the foundation for this current scene that’s forced to play commercial spaces.
Don’t miss Johnny Dynamite and The Bloodsuckers performing this Friday at Our Wicked Lady with Real World, Adir LC, Bad Weird, and The Void Boys!
Heartbroken is available on all streaming services. Stream it below or on your platform of choice.
All photos courtesy of Johnny Dynamite
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