After eight years, he’s back thanks to some discipline in the studio

Freedy Johnston didn’t mean to spend eight years between albums. “I tried to make it a couple times on my own, and it didn’t work out for various reasons,” says the singer-songwriter. He discovered the key to his new Rain on the City album when he brought in producer Richard McLaurin as his collaborator. “You learn some lessons and go down one hallway, find a dead end, and turn around and head down another hallway.”

Chasing down those possible directions led Johnston to cover a lot of territory—literally. The Kansas native spent time living in Nashville and Austin before returning to his longtime home of New York City. “I needed to learn more about the music world that I’m living in, and those two towns are the two you need to know,” says Johnston, who enjoyed modern-rock radio success in the ’90s with songs like “Bad Reputation” and “This Perfect World.”

Recorded in Nashville, Rain on the City benefited from the discipline of having an outside producer. “Richard was the guy sitting there, twiddling his thumbs waiting for the songs to be finished—which I don’t like to do,” he says. “I really would love to have a record that’s fully written before going into the studio. Maybe it’s not destined to be.”

The producer also pushed Johnston toward a recording process featuring a combination of live adrenaline and studio craft. “We did live band tracks with the drums, bass and guitars,” says Johnston. “But Richard said, ‘Freedy, I know you don’t want to do this, but I want you to overdub your vocals, because it’s going to sound more rock.’ So I went with it, and I agree! I like hearing really good, well-done vocals—and you don’t always get that with a live vocal.” Also helping the album to sound more rock was bringing in what Johnston calls his “Ludwig John Bonham kit with the 26-inch kick drum. That was the key to Bonham’s sound, and that’s what you hear on this record.” As the album’s principal guitarist, Johnston says he used his trusted Fender Jazzmaster electric and Martin D-28 acoustic.

After such a long spell out of the public eye, Johnston is eager to share his new tunes with listeners. “It’s a kind of group therapy,” he says. “The best thing about the job is the person coming up to you after the show and saying, ‘Man, that one song of yours got me through a tough part of my life.’ That’s a pretty good job, isn’t it?”

–Bob Cannon

Jan/Feb Issue of M Music & Musicians

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