ARTIST NAME: Louis Vann Johnson
SONG TITLE: Backfired
ALBUM TITLE: 34/7
RELEASE DATE: 07/07/2021
Through the influence passed down from his lineage of a highly musical family, it’s little surprise that Louis’s journey into music began early. Fast forward to today and the South London singer-songwriter has played for European artist Patrice Bart-Williams, performed at Glastonbury, as well as written and performed for various film soundtracks, notably The Hatton Garden Job, Noel Clarke’s ‘Brother Hood’, and Obey.
Referring to his sound as ‘mixed music’, Louis is much removed from the confines of any singular genre. Instead, he meanders in and around the genres of R&B, Soul & Jazz, with a strong nod to the pop world. It’s equal parts groovy and sensual, taking influences from Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Craig David, and George Benson to name just a few.
His writing process is never contrived, and ideas often spawn in the depths of his dreams. As a multi-instrumentalist and a producer, he merges both of these worlds, with ideas flowing freely and emerging from a single chord, melody, or word… Lyrically, he delves into themes of progression and realization.
He’s not one to shy away from opening up about love, loss, and self-awareness, which is always done from a place of optimism and positivity.
Discuss how you get involved in music.
I feel music is something I’m always connected to, so when I’m feeling creative or just want to play; it’s kind of like opening a door to allow things to flow and come through. I work on my own stuff but also work with other people in different capacities i.e. a writer, producer, performer, or engineer. I also teach music privately and have worked with artists to help them develop their strengths, explore and expand their musical vocabulary.
Tell us how you develop the instruments for this song.
For this particular song, I experimented with my production process. I wanted to sample my own instrumentation. I created an empty session and started by recording the main acoustic guitar part, then recorded it two more times on different guitars. I combined two steel strings and a classical for the sound of the main guitar. I just thought it’d be interesting and bring out a different character to the sound, which it did. Once I had the sound, I then made it a loop so I could take all three guitars as one WAV sample. I also pretty much mixed it before taking it as a sample. I did this process with a few other base parts but ironically not with the bass guitar! I made my own samples of a basic drum loop, beatbox, and some of the backing vocals. Then I took them into a new session to arrange the song as a sort of sketch or layout. From there I could throw down a guide vocal and develop the rest of the instrumentation. Instruments like the bass guitar I like to play more live so the song has movement and feels alive. I wanted the song to have an acoustic feeling but also wanted to use production techniques and play with sound, hence why it starts acoustic and develops as it goes on. Once I had the main instruments in, it became more about how am I going to tell this story sonically? Where does it need to go? So that’s where things like additional electric guitars and effects come in. Also playing with filters, drum fills, extra percussive parts, extra harmonies, and even like the record skips effect near the end. Well actually, I just thought it’d be cool to do that rather than another drum fill and it works as a nice transition into the outro.
Go into detail about how you created the song.
So originally this song was intended for another artist and came out of a writing session with my friend, artist, and singer-songwriter Jordan Thomas and myself. I came up with the guitar riff based on the brief we were given and we really liked it. Jordan and I have written together quite a lot and to be honest it’s always easy. He’s such a great talent, writing this with him was a bit like a friendly rally of tennis. I’d have a line, he’d have a line or when one of us came up with a lyric the other could tweak it slightly. In the session, we wrote the verses, bridge, and chorus. Jordan was out of the room and came back in saying “I got it, I got it” talking about the chorus line. When he sang it I was like yep that’s the one! This session was around 2017 but I didn’t write the outro until late 2019, which was when I started the production. I felt like the song needed to finish on a more positive resolve than leaving it on “backfired”.
Discuss your musical ability.
I think my musical ability exceeds my technical ability so when it comes to the physical side of playing I’m always playing catch up but I enjoy that. I feel my ability falls between creative artist and musician but I feel more like a creative artist than a musician. I have a decent understanding and application of music theory but I don’t read music. I wasn’t born pitch-perfect but have developed a good sense of relative pitch over the years. I think I have a mild form of synesthesia as I always see colors with chords and songs. I’ve been playing guitar for over twenty years and producing for about the same. I play bass guitar and a bit of keys. I understand drums and program them but I don’t play them live. I also beatbox a bit! I always sang whenever I played but only really started working on my voice properly in the last decade. I’m always trying to push myself and be honest. It has been a good time for practice and development in this past year. I believe we stay as students as there’s always more to learn! The musician in me likes to dabble and play around with various genres from RnB to Flamenco to Rock, Jazz, Pop, and Reggae, whatever moves me to be honest. The beauty of exploring different genres is finding the same musical elements and principles but used in different ways to characterize a variety of emotions! I’m starting to geek out now!
Elaborate on the lyrics of the song.
Lyrically this song uses relatable and contrasting imagery through words like water, fire, days, nights, push and pull so we could capture the inner emotional turmoil going on. We also tried to capture the feeling of being on edge or walking on eggshells with someone as the second verse goes… “ Scripted your responses, anticipated words, you threw me off with silence and you hit me where it hurts”. The lyrics paint a picture of a dysfunctional relationship that has tried to stay afloat but will inevitably sink. This is not because either one of the people involved is intentionally being destructive but their fundamental natures or principles simply do not align. By the end of the song, this is realized and accepted but not without reflecting upon oneself.
Discuss the structure of the song.
The structure of the song is a very typical pop format of verse, bridge, chorus, verse 2, bridge 2, double chorus, bridge 3, and outro. I really like this format or layout of verse, bridge, chorus, etc. As it’s really relatable and is easy to set the story up and relay it to the listener. I think a song kind of tells you how it should be structured by its story, feeling, and sound.
Discuss your performance.
I tried to approach my vocal performance as honestly as I could. I had to find a balance sonically between my voice and the production, which meant I had to sing it with a lighter vocal approach. I’ve always sung with a sort of conversation-like style, which I’ve tried to use in the song, as I believe it adds vulnerability to the performance. I tried to use different degrees of tension to enhance the dynamics of the story.
Tell us how you prepare for a show or recording session.
I love performing live and I love preparing for shows. So usually I’ll choose my songs for my set, work out what I’ll start with and what I’ll end with. After I have those polar ends I can work out the middle. For each individual song, I will definitely change it up musically from the recorded version to keep it alive and give the audience something new e.g. chord progressions, melodies, rhythms, mixing styles, adding new parts or sections, etc. I will also thread the show together so it feels like a journey. I’ll practice the songs on separate instruments so I’ll just sing them without playing and play them without singing then put the two together. I’ll usually record myself, time, and run the show over until I know it through and through. For recordings, I tend to practice the songs acoustically first then I like to just do loads of mock sessions to play with the way I want to sing the song and see how the vocal fits over the production. However, sometimes I know the exact vibe of how I want to record and I just have to be warmed up properly…
Tell us how you coordinate other musicians or how you work with your producer to bring the best out of your song.
When it comes to working with other musicians I usually will make the musical arrangement and teach the musicians, I will let them do their thing once they know it. I try to keep the balance of them giving me the essence of what I’d like to hear and feel but they express it in their own way. Sometimes I’m very meticulous about parts and arrangements. Other times I’m very relaxed and can be really flexible. I find this depends on the value of what’s being played for me, as in the impact I believe it will have on the listener.
Similarly with production, depending on the song I can have a very clear idea of how I want the song to sound and be very particular or I could be very free and spontaneous with the creative process but for either situation, I’d always allow the co-producer to have their say and be open to their ideas and suggestions. I think there is always something to be learned from collaboration.
Tell us how you entice your listener with your music.
I couldn’t tell you! It’s all about the listener; I mean I just compose the things I’d like to hear. So if I like what I compose hopefully someone else out there will like it too!
Discuss how you promote your music.
Well to be honest I haven’t promoted myself much in recent years but that’s all changing now! I’m taking a different approach with this single and this E.P, I’m not in a rush to get this everywhere as fast as possible. I’d like people to hopefully get something positive out of it but I don’t want to force this work onto people. I’ll be using the usual platforms of social media, media, online, and live performances for promotion. I work with a very small team and am currently working with Liberty Music PR to campaign this single.
Tell us how you build your vocal melody.
Sometimes it’s organic and comes naturally with the song. Other times I will play around with the melody especially at certain tension points of a song. However, I feel the melody in this song doesn’t move that dramatically but has a nice variation of range to feel like it keeps moving.
Elaborate on the song.
“Backfired” is about finding a relationship in a state of chaos. It explores the journey of recognizing, understanding, and eventually accepting that there are fundamental incompatibilities/differences in that relationship, which cannot be solved overnight. The song is the beginning of an inward journey where many people have found themselves. On a larger scale, it hints at possible compatibility but it is often hindered/restricted by deeper issues within each individual. It is the first step on this inward journey on my E.P 34/7.
Elaborate on your artist’s name and the title of the album.
So my artist’s name is my real birth name, my dad always said if I was to ever be on stage he wants to give me a name I wouldn’t want to change. Louis is said like Lewis, not Louie; I used to hate being called Louie! Vann comes from Scandinavia, as I’m a quarter Danish mixed with Caribbean. The E.P is called 34/7, I actually have a few reasons for this and I’ve left them as kind of Easter eggs for people to guess if they get the E.P, but one I can give you is that I’m 34 this year and there are seven full songs on the E.P. I know it’s quite cryptic but it’s also fun!
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South London-based singer-songwriter Louis Vann Johnson is best described as a force to be reckoned with. Having played for European artist Patrice Bart-Williams, being featured on BBC London with Robert Elms, performing at Glastonbury as well as writing and performing for various film soundtracks (notably ‘The Hatton Garden Job, ‘Brotherhood’ and critically acclaimed ‘Obey’), the powerful songwriter takes center stage in emotive new single ‘Backfired’. Blending layers of R&B, Soul, and Pop within the latest release, this reflective number brings light to the world’s darkness.
“Backfired” comes in a time of need for the world and could be called a helping hand for millions across the globe. The past year has been tough for the world, including musicians too. Louis was set to support X Factor Runner Up Jahmene Douglas for his UK tour but unfortunately; the tour was postponed due to the pandemic. Set to resume next year, Louis could even find himself touring the UK as a headline slot if ‘Backfired’ is anything to go by.
As a multi-instrumentalist and producer, Louis refuses to be limited to one avenue with his music and comes across as a true, versatile player. Coated with a soothing soundscape filled with hope, ‘Backfired’ is dynamic and able to steal your full attention. Written with friend Jordan Thomas, the track was originally written for another artist but Louis resonated with it and made it his own.
Music has always been a strong part of Louis’ life – literally, he could whistle properly at 18 months old! Being able to tell who the artist was after the first seconds from a young age too, Louis is a natural-born artist. Naturally creating music by ear, Louis’ music career firmly began when he attended The Brit School of Performing Arts (he also featured in the 10 week documentary about the Brit School). Influenced by the likes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Bob Marley, and Craig David to name a few, Louis Vann Johnson oozes with star quality and could even find his name in lights next to his inspirations one day.