BA Johnston may pretend to be a fat, lazy chud, but he’s really a sweet, funny guy who writes songs about things people secretly love but think they shouldn’t. Or things people secretly hate and think they shouldn’t. Or something like that. Elling Lien spoke with him before heading out on the East Coast part of his tour to support his new album "Call Me When Old and Fat is the New Young and Sexy", out on Just Friends records.
How have things been?
They’ve been pretty good, I started my tour and did a few shows, now I’m ready to go to the East Coast. I think I leave tonight. I’m not going straight there, but I got a couple shows on the way out.
How long have you been touring?
This tour, not long. It’s started on the 15th. But I’ve been touring for years really.
And the new album, when did that come out?
It came out on September 15th. I just got copies of it like two hours before the CD release show. Another very professional B.A. Johnston CD release party.
And how would you describe it?
It’s pretty similar to my last album [My Heart is a Blinking Nintendo], but it’s like a B+ Blinking Nintendo. It pretty much follows the same formula of my other records. I figured the reason AC/DC is still good is because they never really stray from what made them successful, so I figured I’d just keep doing songs about video games and chuds and Hamilton, and stuff like that.
So you’re not going to be writing any songs about politics or being GQ or something like that.
There are two songs about the movie Chud on the record. What is a chud?
Um, it’s a really bad horror movie. It stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller”. Basically the United States government was kind of cheap in getting rid of their toxic waste so they just poured it into the New York City subway tunnels and all the hobos became these green monsters. [laugh] It’s pretty bad actually.
But you call yourself a chud?
I just co-opted the word. I took it over and made it mean “lazy, potato people” I guess.
[ignoring me] I used to call people “pud” a lot, but it’s not as good as “chud”.
Well it’s good to hear you’re reappropriating it.
[laugh] Well, you know, someone had to.
So with your songs, what’s your process? If AC/DC have a formula, then what’s yours?
My process is kind of weird because I mostly just play guitar in front of the TV at my Mom’s, but then that meant that the majority of the songs I was writing were about what was on TV. And that kind of reflects on this album, since there’s the Mr. Belvedere Song, there’s the Chud song, since I was watching Chud, so it’s heavy in that direction.
There’s a song on it called Sleeping With My Walkman about listening to your roommates having sex, and that was because I had to listen to my roommates have sex all year, like the second I went to bed every night.
What was that like?
You kind of get a boner, but then it kind of makes you feel guilty, but you also kind of want to go to sleep. It’s weird. You kind of want to be more of an active participant, like to bang on the walls, or yell out positions for them to do or something. Like a coach. [laugh] But you can’t really do that. It’s creepy actually, and depressing.
[laugh] “She doesn’t like this one. Move on.”
So tell me about the Mr. Belvedere song.
I got angry about how Mr. Belvedere is a really good actor and he’s been reduced to doing this fucking horrible show…
Is that show even running any more? It’s pretty old.
Yeah, that’s another thing. I’m so dated. I’m such a dinosaur now. Right now I’m touring with this band and one of the guys in the band is 17. He’s almost half my age. It’s kind of depressing.
…So he doesn’t get half the references.
Yeah, Mr. Belvedere would go over his head. I have a song on there about Pitfall too, which would probably go over his head.
The video game? I only vaguely remember that game.
Yeah, it’s not very good. You’re in a jungle, you’ve got to swing over on these vines, and there’s one scorpion per screen that you have to jump over. But it’s kind of difficult though.
Right! That’s an Atari game.
There are occasional bats or snakes or something. …Yeah, it’s not very good.
So do you often write about things that you don’t think are very good?
Yeah, but I really want to like them, because no one else likes Pitfall. We had an Atari simulator, so I just played Pitfall constantly just because I really didn’t like it and I thought maybe someone should. So I forced myself to play it.
And then of course, all the old video games are such perfect romantic metaphors. So it’s pretty easy to spin them. The futility of love, and crocodiles. [laugh]
You play guitar and an old Casio. What’s the appeal of the Casio keyboard?
Um, you don’t have to play it. You just have to press a button and it does all the work. Casiochords. Duddle-ah, duddle-ah, duddle-ah, duddle-ah on different keys. It’s got disco ones: Duddle-ah-dah! Duddle-ah-dah! Country, bluegrass… It’s pretty good. I just found it under a staircase at my Mom’s one day. I realized I could use it during the breaks in the guitar songs, and it was very simple and still somehow effective.
And to ask a kind of typical question, what do you think of Newfoundland? You’ve been here before…
Oh, I love it. I was going to move there, but probably not. It’s pretty good. It’s kind of isolated. I like the drinking aspect of it, and it seems really pretty. It’s pretty cool. And everyone from Newfoundland seems like they come back, like there’s some fucking homing chip inserted into everyone’s brain so when they go to the rest of Canada for a week they have to run back really quickly.
…Or our heads will explode.
That’s it. It’s like Scanners or something. [laugh] They’re twitching out and …BOOM! I’m looking forward to it.
B.A. Johnston will be performing this Friday at The Ship w/ Liz Solo and Mark Bragg and Saturday at Roxxy’s with Jody Richardson as part of the Sonic War Fair.