Folky Freedy Johnston Winning Fans as Pop Songwriter

By Newcomb, Brian Q. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 18, 1994 | Go to article overview

Folky Freedy Johnston Winning Fans as Pop Songwriter


Newcomb, Brian Q., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FREEDY JOHNSTON is not the character in his hit song "Bad Reputation." Although he admits some similarities exist, Johnston's reputation, based largely on the songwriting on his Elektra release "This Perfect World," couldn't be better.

Nearly, but not quite, apologetic about the overexposure of his single, Johnston admits that success looks and feels quite different when it's happening to you.

"I've always been totally cynical and contemptuous of hype," he said, "yet when it's applied to me, I see it not as hype but as help."

Hype has flowed aplenty, calling Johnston the heir-apparent to the throne of Elvis Costello, with other comparisons made to the old Eagles and Jackson Browne. While honored, Johnston plays down the connection to Costello.

"I think the similarity had more to do with the way things are going, and that these are serious songs that cover the stylistic spectrum," he said. "I want to do that more and more, try different things.

"I've always wanted to be a songwriter. Maybe (be) somewhat folky, or do the Neil Young thing, where I can play electric and make some noise and still get away with it. That's where I come from, and yet I'm a huge fan of the radio and pop songs. I want to write pop songs, too.

"It may look a little incongruous at first, this folky guy playing pop songs. I don't know how it looks, but I try not to worry too much about it."

This Kansas native traveled to New York City to make his fortune in music. Two indie albums predate "This Perfect World," 1990's "The Trouble Tree" and '92's "Can You Fly." Johnston sold his family farm, inherited from his grandfather, in order to finance the second album, he said.

"A lot has been made of that, from the promotional angle. But, yeah, it happened, and it paid off."

Besides the high quality of Johnston's songs, and the literate storytelling they contain, the startling feature on "This Perfect World" is the absence of pandering to current trends. No bells, very few whistles. In Johnston's words, just a folky guy playing pop songs.

I asked if his success came as surprise, given current music trends toward louder, faster, stranger. …

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