An interview with the incredible Johnny Pisano with record review : “Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria: Everybody Gets A Slice.”

 

 

There are certain people in this world that were just meant to be stars. They have that spark, that charisma, that makes you want to watch, listen and see what is coming next. When I first saw Johnny Pisano playing bass for Willie Nile, I knew he was one of those people. His smile and energy are infectious and his talent unreal. When you watch Pisano play, sing and do his signature split jumps on stage, you just want to laugh and dance and sing. The man knows how to keep an audience happy.

Johnny hails from Brooklyn, NY and has been playing bass since he was 13 years old. During his varied and eclectic music career he’s played along side such artists as Marky Ramone, Willie Nile, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Joan Jett and Cheetah Chrome. He’s appeared on television, in movies and played both electric and upright bass on a soundtrack for a Bruce  Willis movie. In addition, Pisano has appeared on Broadway in “50 Shades : The Musical” and with the Charlotte and Omaha symphony orchestras in “A Tribute To The Rolling Stones.”  To say this man is talented is an understatement, but it’s his capacity to entertain you within an inch of your life that makes this man a star.

I sat down with Johnny recently at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT when I was there to interview Willie Nile. Pisano was affable, kind and welcoming. As a fan for ages, I asked if he would allow an interview and he most benevolently complied.

 

J. You’ve played with some amazing musicians. Have you had a favorite?
Johnny: Ever since I was old enough to know, my fantasy was to play Bass with someone who raises awareness trying to make the world a better place through their music. I can’t say if I’ve had a favorite but I’ve had some amazing times on the road with Willie Nile, Marky Ramone The intruders,  and Jesse Malin,
J. Have you ever been star struck when meeting someone you greatly admired?
Johnny: Yes, It’s happened a few times
I’ve been privileged enough to have rubbed elbows or met a lot of people in the business through the years. But getting to eat lunch with one of my favorite bass players Tony Levin and try on his Funk Fingers (drumsticks that attach to your fingertips) was pretty awesome.
Another interesting story is how I met Bono in an airport not long after I played on a few Ryan Adams records which I knew he would hear. And talk about raising awareness through his music I played with Billie Joe Armstrong a few times. But I’ll never forget when I got the phone call from Jesse Malin to come hang out with Joe Strummer. We sat at a table in a quiet bar, it was me, Joe Strummer, Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin and one other person I can’t remember. This was about one month before he died.
J : How old were you when you began to play bass and when did you realize that you were good enough to make a living at it?
Johnny: I started playing Bass when I was about 13 years old, once I started I couldn’t stop. My father cut our living room in half with a hollow wall and no door so me and my sister could have our own rooms, and my mother was nice enough to let me practice day in and day out relentlessly trying to learn bass lines from various songs I liked. It must have been pretty annoying to listen to the same four seconds of a song over and over as I search for notes up and down the neck. So ,Thanks Mom !!
It wasn’t long before we had an original band and I was part of a team. People I admired told me I was good and that encouraged me to work even harder to become better. Now here we are 35 years later and I still work really hard at whatever I’m doing. I am humbled and thankful that I can play music for a living. I’m going to keep doing it until I absolutely can’t do it anymore.
J: Anyone that’s seen you play live knows that you are a natural performer. Tell me how it feels to play your music in front of a live Audience?
Johnny: Thank you, that’s nice of you to say. Most of the time I don’t think about the performing, I don’t think about the notes, in fact it’s best when I’m not thinking at all. Playing bass I want to lay down a groove and lock in with the drummer. If I’m singing background I want to lock in harmony with the Singer.
Playing my own songs to an audience has a different satisfaction. Songs you gave birth too slaved over and watched grow, then people are singing along or pumping their fists in the air to what you created is an amazing feeling like no other
J: Tell me about Punk Rock Pizzeria. Did you plan on putting out this record for a long time? What inspired it?
Johnny: For many years I had a fantasy of putting out my own stuff. I wrote songs when I was younger and wrote and co-wrote songs for the Marky Ramone and the Intruders records in the punk rock vein. I never had the time or the guts to put out my own stuff. I was also a bit fearful people wouldn’t like it. One day I said to myself “Fuck it !! I have nothing to lose and if I don’t hop on it now I never will.” Once I came up with the name of the project it made me want to do it even more.
J: You infuse a lot of humor into your music and your live performances. In this day and age, with so much chaos in the world. Do you think humor , along with music, are good  tools to bring us all together?
Johnny: I absolutely do yes, there are so many amazing artists with so much to say religiously, politically, pushing great information to the world through their lyrics and I greatly admire that but for this project I decided to go down a different road. Even when the songs have some serious content sprinkled in I never wanted to take myself too seriously. I love old school punk with its sarcastic comedy mixed in so I did just that. Richard Manitoba from The Dictators said something funny at the end of the song “The Know It All’s” I cartoonized my voice singing like the Tarantella for the intro of “Pilicious Bitches”, My song about Pizza. I even wore a giant chefs hat when I did this live. I had Tommy London and Matt Hogan do an acting skit making fun of me for the intro of “Midlife Crisis” I even covered the theme from the old cartoon Mighty mouse for the intro of “Superhero” and yes I wore a Superman cape live for that one. There’s a few other funny bits here and there but not in every song. I didn’t want to overdo the comedy either.
J: Tell me about your song writing process?
Johnny: I’ll get an idea and immediately sing it into my phone so I don’t forget it. before phones I was jotting things down on a napkin with any writing tool I could find. I can usually write an entire song without an instrument. I’ll tell the story and sing the melody figuring out lyrics to fit it. I’ll even sing bass lines or guitar lines in my phone for intros, outros etc Then figure it all out when I have a guitar or bass in my hand
J: Who are your biggest musical influences?
Johnny: I believe we are direct products of what we listen to. Growing up I listened to every style of music from Beethoven to Black flag from Motown to speed metal. I love the melodic bass lines of Paul McCartney to the angry lines of Steve Harris or the amazement of DeeDee and Johnny Ramone mirroring each others down strokes note for note creating that wall of sound. I laugh when music snobs think that’s  easy, until they try it and their arm feels like it’s going to fall off. My favorite band being The Clash with their political overtones melding Reggae and Ska with punk rock, it doesn’t get better than that. I’m influenced by all of it, everything. I let whatever wants to come out of me come out. I can write complicated musical compositions in Odd time meters or simple 3 chord rock tunes. For my stuff I kept it fairly simple throughout, In fact the songs I wrote for this record were a bit longer, I shortened them to cater to today’s attention span.
J: You’ve played along side Springsteen, Willie Nile, Marky Ramone  and so many other great artists. Besides these guys, Is there one artist you’d most like to get a chance to play with?
Johnny: If I could wave a magic wand I would love to play bass and sing with The Clash, John Lennon or Bob Marley not just for the amazing songs but for the impact they have that this world still needs. But then again I would not want to change one note of what those bass players did in those songs living and breathing the way they are now.
J: Any plans to tour on your own for the album?
Johnny: To me this was a side project from a side man. I played a record release show and since then everyone has been demanding for me to do another, so I guess that show went well. Now Tommy London asked me to play with him 9/27/17 at the Gramercy theater in New York City. I’m looking forward to being the frontman again. In fact I’m not even playing bass I’m just singing so I run around and engage the crowd
J: What does the future hold for you?
Johnny: I have lots of shows and a few recording sessions lined up with a bunch of different artists. I look forward to writing bass lines and performing with them. I have a bunch of songs I would like to record as well. I’d like to put out more material but this time not in the punk rock vain

Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria is playing with Tommy London at the Gramercy Theater on 9/27/17 after the record release show. Please visit http://www.johnnypisano.com and http://www.facebook.com/johnnypisanospunkrockpizzeria

 

 

Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria: Everbody Gets A Slice album review:

Johnny Pisano has finally made it to the head of the class. The veteran musician, who has spent decades playing alongside of some of the best artists in the industry has always held his own. When an artist is this talented, there is never much question that eventually his own star will shine through. That being said, this album was one that just had to be made. With Johnny at the reins you hear the music he was always meant to play. Comedic, melodic and infectious, this album stands apart and stands on its own. Pisano never needed to fall back on the famous names he’s worked along side for recognition. His ability to sing, play and entertain you have always been a talent he has possessed fully, no help necessary.

The album has hints of Iggy Pop, The Clash and even The Dead Kennedy’s, but it also reeks of straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It takes you for a wild ride, with comedic intro’s that segue into true punk rock anthems. Not surprisingly, because of the title of this blog, Midlife Crisis was the first track I listened to, and it quickly became my favorite  track on the record.  You can hear all of Pisano’s punk influences throughout the song, but make no doubt about it, this is a Pisano original. It is all his own. All Fucked Up From Growing Up is a song all of us can relate to. The Know It Alls is a punk anthem at his finest, with catchy riffs and a chorus that just makes you want to scream along. Just when you think that this album remains solidly centered exclusively in the punk rock genre , Maloveilove and One Guitar Mon show Pisano’s diversity.

A punk rock feast for the ears, this album truly delivers slice after slice of a rocking good time.

 

Album review : Jason Isbell and the 400 unit ,The Nashville Sound

IMG_2655Words in and of themselves are wondrous things. But when you string them together in a story, a poem, a sonnet or a song, they can transcend time and space. They can evoke the most beautiful memories and stir up the biggest regrets. In a world so filled with chaos and madness, in a time where insanity seems to be taking over, they offer us something to hold onto. A hope that’s hard to find elsewhere. They offer magic. And if words hold magic, Jason Isbell is a sorcerer of the highest order. His songs are so utterly enchanting that they seem to heal us, from somewhere deep inside the soul. Not because they are always filled with beauty, but because they often aren’t. Isbell understands human beings at our core. He feels our pain, fears our fears, loves as deeply as we’ve ever imagined and despite every bad thing going on in the world, he offers us hope.

The way he’s able to make us  feel with the stroke of a pen. The innate ability to see into souls. To understanding the complexities of emotions. To grasp the tiniest feelings. To see beauty and sadness and anger and joy and fear in even the most mundane. To understand love and it’s complexities. Jason Isbell’s lyrics are a gift. And his latest Album, The Nashville Sound, is a balm for our angry,  helpless and desperate souls when we most needed it.
Highlights of the album include “Hope The High Road” which is about not sinking to the levels of those who want to wrestle in the mud. It’s about remaining good and kind and caring, despite living in an America where our very own President lives down in the gutter and tries to take us with him.
It’s an affirmation that we will triumph and we outnumber the dark . I get goosebumps when I hear Jason sing ” There can’t be more of them then us, there can’t be more”, because I know it’s true. There are more of us. And decency is not gone.
Another highlight of the album is what I imagine will become a Jason Isbell anthem. The gorgeous and breathtakingly sad and beautiful “If We Were Vampires”,
a duet with his wife and the bands fiddle player, Amanda Shires. The song is a hauntingly beautiful reminder that we will not be here forever and that each day you have someone to love is a precious gift not to be taken for granted. That one day, those we love will be gone. The line “The way you talk me off the roof, your questions like directions to the truth” makes us long for that person that we can walk through life with. Our own beacon of light that helps us find the way when we are most lost. A sentence that says so much more than could ever be expected in such an economy of words.

Isbell’s introspective nature is evidenced in the songs “White Mans World” with lyrics that address war, racism and misogyny and the fact that he still has faith, despite the madness in the world. His love for his daughter and hopes for her future are also laced throughout the album.

Uptempo songs such as “Cumberland Gap” and “Hope the High Road” are balanced by the introspective and haunting “If We Were Vampires” and “Anxiety”. But the album also contains songs such as the melodious and very different sound of “Chaos and Clothes,” in which Jason experiments with sounds he has not before and hint at the great things still to come with this artist.

Isbell, who began his career in my all-time favorite band, Drive-By Truckers, has always been an old school story-teller. But as he distances himself further from the bottle (He’s been sober for a couple of years now) and matures as a man, husband and father, his songs are only becoming more achingly lovely. Maybe it’s because he’s grown or maybe it’s because he now has so much to lose. Either way, this album is the most beautiful of the year. And if you don’t listen, it’s a damn shame.