Interview: Caleb Johnson

Photo by Chance Edwards

“American Idol” Season 13 winner, Caleb Johnson will release his second album ‘Born From Southern Ground’ June 14 on Big Johnson Records. Like a loaded pistol, Caleb Johnson & The Ramblin Saints featuring Josh Sawyer (lead guitar), Brennan Dugen (bass) have unloaded an authentic southern rock classic that mixes like a fine drink, some gospel, a little blues, and a splash of rock n roll. Caleb was kind enough to talk with Alternative Revolt and discuss his new swagger, recording at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Studio, blending the sounds of James Brown and Aerosmith, and his upcoming tour.

Alt Revolt: Congrats on your new album ‘Born From Southern Ground’!

Caleb Johnson: Thank you! I’m very proud of it!

Alt Revolt: Has the response of “Born and Raised” and “Solid Gold” exceeded your expectations?

Caleb Johnson: I’m glad people enjoy it. This record has been four years in the making. It has been a labor of love, sweat, and tears. I’m finally glad I’m getting to release it. I’m really excited for people to hear it.

Alt Revolt: Was the sound of ‘Born From Southern Ground’ a conscious shift from your first album ‘Testify’?

Caleb Johnson: The first record (Idol) I did not have a lot of control. That was a product of being on the show. The people (team) that were working with me after the show did not have my best interest and fans in mind. There are a couple good songs on the record but it is a glossed over product. On ‘Born From Southern Ground’, I had complete control of everything. This is my vison that came to life. I’m very proud of it! I feel like this is actually my first record. It is like night and day and I’m very excited!

Alt Revolt: How was the recording experience at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Studio in Nashville?

Caleb Johnson: It was a blast. It was in the heart of Nashville. It was interesting because you felt like you were in a cabin in the woods. It has a very private low key down home feel. We recorded the songs live on the floor. What you are hearing are live performances. It was a creative and  fun time. It was everything I could have asked for and more.

Alt Revolt: Were you able to hand-pick the musicians that worked with you?

Caleb Johnson: I asked for help from my cousin Bryan Sutton? He brought in the musicians for the record. Brain is a A-list player in Nashville. He is connected with the best of the best. One of the guitar players on the record is Audley Freed (Cry of Love, Black Crowes, Sheryl Crow). We also have Mike Webb, Tony Lucido, Josh Sawyer, and Fred Eltringham all killer players on the record.

Alt Revolt: How did you get connected with Jay Buchanan from Rival Sons?

Caleb Johnson: I performed a song of theirs on American Idol. They reached out to me and kept in touch. I got a song sent to me and they asked if I would be interested in cutting it. It was an easy “Yes”! It was a great song! It has cool elements and the message resonated with me.

Alt Revolt: “Sugar” and “Ride with the Devil” are a couple of my favorites on the new album. Can you talk about those two?

Caleb Johnson: On “Sugar” I wanted to do a funkified Aerosmith song. I wanted to add the old elements of James Brown and mix it with a nasty riff of Aerosmith. The song started as more hard rock and Bryan added the funk elements to it. There is a slight bit of disco in it. I always like to keep things interesting and delve into different genres of music. “Ride with the Devil” is a straight up rock song. The message is “You live by the sword, You die by the sword”. “You ride with the Devil, you do not get your soul back”. The song is very bombastic over the top production with a “Detroit Rock City” motorcycle crash effect with background singers.

Alt Revolt: You included two versions of “Hanging with the Band” on your album. Which did your write first?

Caleb Johnson: We actually cut those at the same time. I think we started with the electric and then did the acoustic. With the acoustic version, we tried catching The Rolling Stones era main street sitting around jamming in a room vibe. That is a full performance. That is a full take.

Alt Revolt:  I can see this song taking off becoming a popular summer anthem.

Caleb Johnson: Absolutely! Yes. I’m a big Bob Seger fan. “Night Moves” is one of my favorite songs. We wanted to craft a song with a similar feel. It is a good time memory lane summer song.

Alt Revolt:  Are you doing extensive touring in support of the album release?

Caleb Johnson: Yes. We just did some shows with The Winery Dogs. We will be playing in Lancaster, PA (Chameleon Club) on May 23.  We have a show on May 24 in Lexington, KY. (Manchester Music Hall) We are doing two shows in my hometown of Asheville (The Grey Eagle), North Carolina on June 13 and 14. We will be celebrating the album release. At the end of July, we will be doing some dates with Buckcherry. We are just starting to gear up now for the album release.

Alt Revolt: What have learned from touring with artists as Kiss, Cheap Trick, and Sammy Hagar?

Caleb Johnson: There is a good lesson of perseverance. These artists have tenacity that helped them make it happen for many years.  They often would tell me: “Don’t lose sight of your vision”. “Don’t lose sight of your goals”. “Don’t lose sight of your dreams”. For the most part that is what I have done. It is a great experience to hang with these artists. At one point in their life, they were in the same shoes I’m in now.

Alt Revolt: Thank for taking the time to answer my questions. When you come through Denver, I’ll come out and catch the show.

Caleb Johnson: That would be great. Would love to see you!

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