In September 2011, this Art Director had the opportunity to travel back home to the Midwest (Quad Cities USA) for a much needed week-long vacation. During our stay we had the chance to reconnect with one of our favorite long-time comrades -Johnnie Cluney.
Over the past few years Johnnie has made a name for himself as THE illustrator/visual artist for the powerhouse independent music website Daytrotter.com, and for his work in the psych-rock group Mondo Drag (Alive Records). But before Daytrotter was around we just knew Johnnie as a magnetic purveyor of cool, an extremely talented musician/singer/songwriter, and as a friend. Earlier in 2011, Cluney left Mondo Drag and started a new music project called American Dust (above we feature the Cover art for AM Dust’s new EP).
Enlisting the help from some of the best local/regional talents -American Dust is the most impressive sonic escapade Cluney has ever pursued. Protector is the name of their brand new EP, available now as a digital download. It’s a hauntingly beautiful, well-crafted collection of songs. It’s riding off into the sunset music, a timeless snapshot into the heart of Midwest Americana -floating in layered Mississippi River psychedelia:
Protector comes out as a physical entity at the end of October -Cluney has opted to release the new EP in the form of cassette tape (which will also come with a free digital download code). It’s a formidable creative choice, an interesting juxtaposition of old and new technology coming together, and if you don’t have a tape player… a nice tangible souvenir of a lost era in music history. Tape culture just as vinyl did a few years ago seems to be on the rise again -As Wilco just announced that they will be putting out a Ltd. Ed. version of their new album The Whole Love via cassette in partnership with vintage digital photo App kings Hipstamatic.
During our visit in the Midwest we asked Johnnie and his wife Bambi to play us a couple tunes. FYM recorded three tunes during the session (two of which we are holding on to until the physical release of Protector comes out) -above we feature Johnnie solo, performing a stunning brand new (unreleased) tune he had just finished writing titled Get Tuff.
Below, to make this possibly the most well-rounded article we’ve ever featured on forYoungModerns -Art Director J Thomas Codling interviews Johnnie Cluney as he shares his thoughts on tattoos, lo-fi music, American Dust, being a songwriter, and the new EP Protector:
FYM: Tell me a little bit about your affection for lo-fi music as a genre, and what the term ‘lo-fi’ means to you.
Johnnie Cluney: i’m not sure that lo-fi exists as a genre. i know why people would want to say that, but maybe it’s more of an action, and now re action. when i say that i just mean that the sounds that were produced by earlier artists that were considered lo-fi were produced that way because they were just using what recording gear they had available to them. they were creating a “genre” totally by accident while they were also recording their songs! i was first attracted to lo-fi sounding recordings through black flag probably, just early punk in general. there were also some super gnarly jambox mixtapes of some other indie rock going around and i thought to myself, these guys recorded this on a jambox and put out an album, i can do that. if you are a band nowadays and have a few songs you just hook up a mic or two into your laptop and roll with it. this is the new lo-fi, (using what gear you have.)
lo-fi in it’s own way i guess sort of has become a genre, or more of a sound, and that’s cool. it’s just not interesting to watch some rich kids look for the shitiest gear to record with just because they heard the newest wavves album, you know? like i said before, you recorded on a four track because they were the cheapest piece of “pro” home recording gear you could buy. i think the thing that draws me to lo-fi sounding recordings is just the realness of it all. lo-fidelety recordings just have a more natural, raw kind of vibe to them, like early rock n roll where you can actually hear every instrument. it was all about texture and tone. it’s like the i just got off work and now i’m gonna go do overdubs in my basement kind of a vibe.
FYM: Describe how American Dust came to be (the concept behind the music/name) -and what it’s like playing tunes in a band with your partner through life/wife (Bambi) again..
Johnnie Cluney: american dust just started as any other band does. i had a few songs, asked some friends to play and that was that. we are a four piece band: two guitars, one electric, bass, and drums with occasional keys and violin. i have always been super into dark pop like 80’s tom petty, heart, fleetwood mac, etc. i really just wanted to start a good rock band. and when i say that i mean that you do not notice when a good band skips genres because they are just good songs. it’s not about the genre, or anything like that. these are just songs. besides that i was not happy in my current band situation so it seemed like a good idea to just split that scene and get back on the horse. no use in sitting around.
the name american dust is sort of about waisting away in america and admiring it along the way. i know that sounds a bit grim, but here we are working, watching tv, playing songs, doing whatever we do with our days. all we want to to is be happy, so let’s do things that make us happy! no more sitting around! what’s left of 2011 is yours!
playing in a band with my wife bambi again is great. she is still learning guitar, but she has only been playing for a year or so and already knows more chords than me. it’s sometimes hard to let her into that side of me, like reading my lyrics and then understanding what they mean. that is something i am still getting used to.
FYM: Tell me a little bit about the recording process for ‘Protector’ (the musicians involved) and your decision to release the EP on cassette tape (with a digital download code)..
Johnnie Cluney: protector was recorded half around 2008 by myself and then half this past month by aiden and myself. for the full band songs we did all the rhythm guitars, and drums live. we overdubbed bass, keyboards, vocals, solos, etc. three of the am dust members are super into the roland vs880 recorders, so we recorded with those. they are digital 8 track machines circa 1996. we used tube compressors, tube preamps, etc. for outboard gear too. personally i have a strange way of recording just as any home recorder does. i always like to do the vocals by myself so i can fiddle around a bunch. i like to turn knobs, or do something else while i sing sometimes. i am all about texture when it comes to recording.
the musicians involved are: johnnie cluney (guitar/vocals) bambi suits (rhythm guitar/vocals) aiden landman (bass) jamey cummins (keyboards) and skye carrasco (violin). everyone of them has their own bands so i am thankful that they can still find time to play with me.
my friend and bass player aiden helped record two of the four tracks. it was cool not to have to play engineer and musician at the same time. aiden has a good ear and i was way happy with how everything came out.
the decision to release “protector” as a cassette with a download was sort of a last minute one to be honest. we had planned to do 7” with a download, but after further inspection we realized this was not financially possible. i had remembered talking to a guy about a year earlier at this company about tapes and he got me really excited about it. so anyhow, i checked into them again and placed the order. it is cool to get this almost prehistoric music format with this state of the art music format though, right? even if you do not have a cassette deck, you can buy it for the download and the art.
FYM: How do you approach songwriting -who/what inspires your song subjects. Is it more important to get a literal message across lyrically or an emotional vibe from the stories you tell.
Johnnie Cluney: i try to play guitar every day or so. i’m always coming up with riffs when i fiddle around and if one is good then i keep it and expand on it. i get inspired by life experience, situations, other songs, the unknown, sometimes the “mood” will just hit you and a song magically appears, but that’s rare. i used to tend to write my music at the same time as my lyrics, but now i’m finding that if i write the music first then i can focus more on a counter melody for the vocals.
as far as getting something across to the audience, i’m more about the emotional connection. the stories i tell are sometimes too vague for certain people to care for, which i get. but for the people who are into this type of music, i think they are looking for more of an emotional experience anyway.
FYM: Who was your protector growing up?
Johnnie Cluney: prob my mom, or my grandma i guess.
FYM: Tell me a little bit about coming from the Midwest as a musician… are you proud of where you come from? How does the Mississippi River culture surrounding you affect your creativity..
Johnnie Cluney: yeah, i mean this is where i’m from i’m still here so there must be something about it. i am a proud midwesterner for sure. i think this part of the country is special. we are right in-between two states (iowa and illinois) and we live right along the mississippi river. it’s hard to say how i’m inspired by my surroundings, living in a river town does seem to be deep in me though. growing up, we went through five or so floods. my backyard was literally the mississippi. our lives were hit real hard by the flood of 1993. that one was huge. we actually had to be evacuated for that one.
FYM: If you were to get a knuckle tattoo what would it say?
Johnnie Cluney: true blue. i actually considered this, still may happen. in cursive text.
FYM: Add anything else below that you want people to know about this new chapter of creativity in your life.
Johnnie Cluney: american dust will be releasing music via however in the future. thanks. •
At the end of October American Dust ventures out on the road with Skye Carrasco -they’re calling it The Dark Pines Tour. To purchase the new EP Protector for $5.00 visit HERE. For more information regarding American Dust visit their Facebook HERE. Cheers, FYM.