How have I never heard of these guys before? I honestly don’t know who introduced me to this band, perhaps it was my friends in Loo Abby, but I am so glad that someone finally showed me who these guys are. After just hearing one tune I was beyond impressed. They have an almost jam band base, and some of the most well written lyrics I have ever heard. I mean, he talked about “the box with the boom”… who does that? Who does that and gets away with it? Man, this is some good stuff. It’s good enough that I asked them to be on the bill for the next rickyleepotts.com presents six bands for six bucks. I had the chance to meet the man behind the curtain, as well as one of his band mates. The conversation was great, and the interview was absolutely effortless. It is my pleasure to introduce you to my new favorite band, Jeremy Johnson & The Bleeding Keys.
Where in the world did you come up with a name like that?
We labored over the name forever. I didn’t want to be just Jeremy Johnson, like every other cliché band. For some degree it was a good marketing move. I wanted it to be a band. The Bleeding Keys was something I thought when starting to toy with an actual band name. We weren’t sold on it immediately. I liked it because it’s a journal in my life. Everything I have gone through, at some pout… bleeding keys are an outlet. I bleed music. That was the thought process behind it. It’s an outpouring of what I see around me. There is so much depth with it, too.
One thing I have been conscience about is not to write music that is hollow. For me, personally, I have never been able to write on something I don’t believe in or have truly experience.
So are the keys really bleeding?
(Laughs) We are incorporating more keys into the show, but we have made a lose association with the keys on the sax.
How long have you guys been performing?
How long would you say? I would say started practicing about a year and a half ago. We have probably been playing out for about nine months. We are still emerging. I think that’s what so encouraging for us too. We have had tons of setbacks. But every place that we play they want us to come back. It’s really encouraging.
You guys are considered a jam band. What actually makes a band a jam band?
Did we classify ourselves as that? I guess I would classify us as that. When we look to categorize ourselves, we don’t meet the mold of anything. We are like Ben Harper. He spans the genres. He can’t really be classified. He is a mixture of a lot of different things. Everyone loves to say that we can’t be classified. Blues, folk rock, indie rock. Some even have a bluegrass sound.
Alaska? It’s cold in Alaska! What made you move that far north?
Job opportunities. School debt was mounting and I didn’t have anything lined up. It was a no brainer. I had to sell my wife, but I left her an out. She said, “Lets do it.” She’s got wanderlust, like me. That’s when I started writing lyrics. I started writing like two years after I graduated from college. I was there for four years. It was cold, rough, and the job was horrible. It truly sucked the life out of me. (Laughs) Moved back to Oregon, which was hit even worse than here. Bend, Oregon; a retirement community.
You guys have some sweet professional photos. Who did those shots?
They are really a patchwork of people. Most of those are from Lisa Walker. She was an old drummer’s girlfriend. Still is.
Who does all of the songwriting?
I do. I started writing and playing eight years ago now. I didn’t continue my story, but we then decided to move here. We met in college out in Seattle. I then fell into these guys. A brother of a neighbor recommended playing with these guys. Matt hasn’t been playing the bass long. Maybe six years.
Where do you get inspiration for a new tune?
Life. For sure. I get it from news and personal experience. If I was Lady Gaga, or Fergie, it was, “I was looking at a straw.”
I dare you to describe your genre in one word.
Man, that’s a tough one. Can you help me out here? It’s not like Modest Mouse, or something. It’s unclassifiable. I will just leave it alone…
Who are some of your biggest influences, in both life and in music?
Oh man, in music… Ben Harper. That’s who I really started listening to when I started getting into music. Don’t as much anymore, but I really respect him as musician. He really is unclassifiable, as we said before. And he sings about something meaningful, always.
I like, recently, Mumford & Sons. They are unbelievable. They are the same kind of genre, I guess you could say, even though it’s not he same sound. Something meaningful. You can tell there is something real behind it.
Where are you guys originally from?
Muncie. Way up there. I don’t tell anyone that though. Bass player is from Pendleton. Born and raised. Electric guitar player too. Our new drummer is from Indy as well. Fortville maybe. I am from Oregon.
What’s the biggest crowd you have ever played for?
Man, The Regatta for us, as a band, about 2,000. Somewhere around there. Loo Abby played there too.
A coffee shop! As a band, Birdy’s Bar & Grill the second time. There was an ice storm; I bet you there were… not many people. Single digits. We had ten people there. Twenty max. No one wanted to drive. We were just using it as a practice for us. It was in the middle of losing our drummer and we had a fill in that night.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
We are just so smooth. (Laughs) Have we even had any real embarrassing moments? I am sure there will be many to come.
What’s the best concert you have ever been to?
Wow. Well, I would have to say the Sasquatch Festival at The Gorge. It’s my favorite venue ever. It was Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, and The Wallflowers. NeedToBreathe is something special. I saw them at The Vogue Theatre, and we were there, down front.
I have told my guys that my only dream is to play at The Gorge for more than ten people. We have even talked about a weeklong mini tour in Oregon. We can get shows in Alaska.
You use the words “bleeding keys” in one of your songs. It’s actually called that. Tell me more about the meaning behind the bleeding keys.
For that song, I would say almost an outpouring of anger. In that song I sing toward injustice. Especially toward kids. I used to read the news, and it was always bad news. It was my outlet. Bleeding music. That’s where the concept came from. It’s my compassion, my anger, my passion… everything through the music.
You guys are working on an EP. Tell me about the process and the ambitions with that release.
The process, which the rest of my band was a part of unfortunately, it was a slow process. It was bit of a cross-promotional project. It was both of us fitting it in between life and work. He used studio musicians, which was nice, and they were very good. It’s new to me, so I learned the entire process for the entire time. It’s amazing how many steps there are in the process. I am not real type A. It dragged on because of that reason. But alas, it was just sent off last week!
It was pretty quick, the actual recording. I actually love it. That’s what I really like about it. It gives it more depth and variety. That’s what I would like to develop into. Adding those elements.
In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the current state of the music industry?
Oh man, its made it much more independent. Much more self-promotional. And possible to be self promoting. Going through the old traditional venues, trying to be discovered has fallen by the wayside. A lot of people are promoting themselves. I would say that would be the biggest thing. Being able to get your info out there without other people to pay.
We have not tapped into that like we should have. We are not on Twitter. We want to get better. There are some things we are saving up for. For instance, a video camera. We need to get some videos online. As we are rolling around, it will all follow. There was no reason to promote ourselves when we were not out playing.
Do you guys have jobs outside of music?
Unfortunately. (Laughs) I have two kids to support. I have had about a million people tell us we need a manager. All very much committed and dedicated to it.
Where do you guys practice?
At our bass player’s house in Pendleton. He has an upstairs room, drum kit that stays in there. That’s a plus for the drummer. We have some decent speakers; it’s a nice little setup. We have ears and monitors run through those. For a house, it’s pretty good.
I see you guys are on Facebook, but you just said that you’re not on Twitter.
Not on Twitter. What’s Twitter? (Laughs) We will be on there soon. John is going to Tweet daily… hourly…
What’s a typical Friday night look like for you?
For me, if it’s not a show, it’s being at home with my kids and wife. I have mellowed out a lot. You have to. We still like going out, playing shows, because that’s when it is time to get out. I am pretty boring, honestly.
Tell me more about OurStage.
John perused that avenue first. It was an accident. I found it through John Mayer. We started entering contests. One of the contests was to open for Hanson or John Mayer. They did a contest for every city, but you could only sign up for cities around you. We played top ten in eleven different cities. We found out later that we had no resume, which we didn’t. We were just starting. No shows to show. It was a no brainer. All we had was one song. It’s reassuring, but still.
What’s City Rouse? By the way, I love that design. Tell me more!
There is a guy that I grew up with; a natural artist… he is a great artist. Man, that guy is unreal. Anyway, it was the name of our first EP. It was four songs out of a home recording studio. It was a way to get in the door to get in. Whatever we do, it has some sort of significance behind it.
What are you drinking on stage?
Mostly water. Alcohol affects my scene. I have to wait until after the show to have a beer. Sometimes I like to drink beer through the sax; we’d dance a little more.
Do you guys ever play outside of Indianapolis?
Since we are just getting back into it again, we want to play at The Bluebird down in Bloomington. We would love to play some places in Chicago and Kentucky. We were barely in it long enough to start branching out. We are selective, and we don’t want to be a bar band that’s in the background for people that are there to listen to. We want people to be there to listen to us on purpose.
What would you be doing if you were not performing?
Tell me more about Tammy Lin and your relationship with her and her organization.
We played a show at a warehouse in Muncie. It was packed. It was basically to promote Christian bands in Muncie. They wanted us to get on board initially. The venue was a testing ground for starting to promote shows. She wasn’t affiliated with that, but she lived upstairs and owned the building.
She heard us, didn’t come down and listen to the bands, but she said she came down when we started to play. She contacted us; went through three different people. She is motivated. Very motivated; gets what she wants. She wanted us involved with Eldenware. They provide an outlet to at-risk youths. They make their own clothing and donate the proceeds, and getting them plugged into music programs. They kind of mentor them through the outlet instead of leaving them to the streets. It’s still in the startup phase. She actually married a guy through the process.
She paid for a demo of one of our tracks. She wanted to get people together from all walks of life. Somehow she met a black guy from Muncie. He’s still helping outreach kids. He collaborated with us. He’s actually a poet. She wants to use this in a rollout to investors. The concept of the song; she felt captured. She is just a really motivated person.
Now she lives in New York and is trying to launch it from there. She is random like that. She used to call and talk for two hours in the middle of the night. She is up all hours of the night always doing something.
Beltauer Records recorded Legacy of Chains. How did you discover that record label and what made you decide to work with them?
We went to this church in Anderson, and we met the bass player. He’s in his mid 50s, and now lives somewhere else. He heard my stuff and believed in me, had faith in me. He wanted to record in his studio. He wanted to cross promote. He helped me out big time. We covered the Disc Makers cost. He’s a good producer and has good input.
I know Jon McLaughlin has been through there. He has some really good studio musicians to work with. Just fit it in every Monday. I would go there and record for a little bit. He did me a huge favor. Donated a lot of time and had a lot of faith in me. As a result, I will have a CD in my hands very soon.
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
At The Gorge. I have learned that if you don’t get thick skin quick, if you take every show or every piece of criticism, you will never make it. No one who ever made it had a full show every time they played. If we really believe in ourselves, and are really motivated we can meet that goal.
What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done?
Someone that left a good legacy, as a band. Something positive, even though not everything is positive. Something of meaning. To contribute to society rather than to contribute to the problems. It’s for the next generation. Also for having fun at live shows, and selfish motives at time. It’s exciting to play in front of people.
I always let the artist get the last word. Go.
Thanks to anyone who supports us. Thanks to anyone who gives us a chance. We don’t think we are anything special, but we can’t be anything without our fans. We think we have something different. We want people to come out and experience it themselves. We are confident that you will like it and we hope to see you out there.