Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and band leader Thomas Johnson strives to create genre-defying music.
A Baton Rouge native and New Orleans resident who periodically relocates to San Francisco, Johnson’s latest CD, Beneath The Trees, ranges from the soulful “Dauphine” to the folky but rhythmically lively “Please” to the simultaneously up-tempo and dark “Dancer.”
“I listen to all kinds of music and I write songs as they go and don’t worry about the genre,” Johnson explained. “I’m trying to make music that’s sounds different, that’s not influenced by a bunch of music going on now.”
Nevertheless, “Dauphine,” a song inspired by Dauphine Street in New Orleans, and co-written by Will McMains, a member of Johnson’s band, takes an obvious soul and R&B direction.
“A lot of the songs Will co-wrote with me come out more in the R&B style,” Johnson said. “He is a drummer and he is heavily influenced by R&B.”
Johnson’s own classic influences include Irish soul man Van Morrison and such likewise blues- and rhythm-and-blues-based artists as Bonnie Raitt and Little Feat.
Folk music is another influence on Johnson, something reflected in the acoustic guitar, folk and country sounds heard in Beneath The Trees.
“I like folk music that has rhythm, if that makes sense,” he said. “I’ve always tried to make that kind of music, with in-depth lyrics and acoustic guitar.”
Listeners who want a better idea of what Johnson is aiming for can hear every song on his Beneath The Trees album online.
“I don’t believe in the 30-second play,” he said. “I let people hear it all. You can find music for free online pretty much if you want to, so I’d rather stream full songs for whoever goes to my website.”
Johnson aspires to post newly recorded songs to his website every week.
“And then I’ll master stuff and put an album out when I feel like it’s necessary,” he said.
A longtime guitarist in the New Orleans roots rocker Eric Lindell’s band, Johnson has been too busy lately with his own band to tour beyond the Gulf Coast with Lindell.
“Eric likes to constantly go,” Johnson said. “I do, too, but I’d like to do it with my own music now.”
It was Lindell, Johnson added, who encouraged him to pursue his own songwriting and recordings.
“Eventually I did that and I started getting enough gigs to play more of my own shows,” Johnson said. “I haven’t been running around the country constantly with Eric and it’s been nice playing locally.”
Touring with Lindell, however, helped Johnson make music-business contacts nationwide.
“I know people all over now,” he said. “Radio stations, for example, I can call or send my music to them.”
An LSU graduate who majored in history, Johnson is living in New Orleans again following another, albeit brief, stay in San Francisco.
“I am in love with New Orleans,” he said. “I’ve been to I don’t know how many cities now, but I have not found a city that is as laid back and beautiful and musical as New Orleans.”