Where would I be without iTunes? That is actually where I was first introduced to Johnny Monsoon. He has an extremely successful podcast that I discovered by accident. But I am so glad that I did. After listening to a few of these, and then doing a little bit more research to see who this dude opens up for, I just knew I had to schedule an interview. It took us a few months, but through constant and consistent communication via email we nailed down a date and time. We talked for over an hour, and I am doing whatever I can to get this man to the Circle City. (Don’t tell him I said this, but we did the interview via Skype. He was wearing pajamas the entire time!) Johnny is actually friends with Marcie, another DJ I recently featured here on rickyleepotts.com. It was funny because I told him, “I talk to Marcie all the time via email and have met her at various events.” He replied with, “I have never met her and don’t have her email address, but we text all the time!” Small world! I am SO happy to have Johnny Monsoon with me here today. (Sadly, Monsoon is not his real last name.)
There is no way your last name is Monsoon. Is that really your real name?
My real name is John Reinys. I guess it’s close. They both have a rain connotation. My dad is originally from Lithuania.
Where did the name come from?
That’s the part that I always enjoy telling people. Very long story short… 15 years old on a dock… consuming beers when I shouldn’t have been. My friends lost me, and then they came back a few hours later to me sitting on this dock. They walked up asking where I had been. I kept saying there was a monsoon coming. I would not shut up about this apparent monsoon that was going to hit us all that day. So my buddy Adrian said, I am just going to call you Johnny Monsoon from now on. 17 years later and that’s been my nickname ever since.
It’s not a deep meaning; it’s just an entertaining meaning, I guess. (Laughs) Some people are hoping there is some sort of deep story, with the connection of a big monsoon. Nope…. I was drunk on a dock at 15. (Laughs)
You have a pretty successful podcast on iTunes. Tell me a little bit more about The Sound of Trance.
Basically I started thinking of a way that I wanted to get my mixes out to people. I had a website at the time, and as you know, with any product it’s hard to start a website from nothing with no listeners and no followers. I realized that iTunes had this massive sea of listeners, so maybe I can jump on board with that. I have a firm in New York that I contacted, and they created the podcast for me.
This is sort of confusing… but I create the mix and send it to them in New York. They create the enhanced podcast… you can skip it like a CD… you can see the track listing. I wanted it to be different than your everyday podcast and stand out a little bit. The craziest part is once I got it up on iTunes how fast it took off. I think that’s the part that really left me scratching my head a little bit. I watched all the downloads of each episode, and the amount they were growing was exponential.
I was sitting here, a small guy from Seattle, a nobody… and all of a sudden I am getting 70,000 downloads an episode after a couple of months. I couldn’t believe it. I just kept with it, and here we are today. I only have 19 audio episodes, but a very sizable following that I am so proud of. It means the world that I can distribute my stuff out to those people.
Armin van Buuren has a podcast called The State of Trance. Is that just a coincidence or did you mean for them to be similar in nature?
What’s funny is, not at all… that was where I came into my first big decision of my DJ career. Once I had realized that Armin had something called A State of Trance, I sat here… I don’t want to confuse the two. Yeah, there’s a benefit where they think I am Armin… but that’s not what I want. I came up with that back in 2003, maybe 2002. It was something that I decided. I love trance, which is my favorite genre.
I played on a radio show called The Sound. I thought it would be cool to call it the Sound of Trance. Now the #1 DJ in the world has a podcast that sounds exactly the same. (Laughs) On one hand, I do wonder if I should have changed it… the main goal was to have my own identity. I’m not looking to piggyback on anyone.
When I put on a podcast, I want to be taken to where that DJ wants to take me. I don’t want him to tell me where he’s going to take me 37 times in the podcast… I don’t even like when they tell me the track names. I just like it when I can feel like I am listening to a show. That’s really why I do it the way I do it. I want to take people on a journey as if I was playing a show.
A lot of mine are live recordings from my actual shows. Some I record in the studios, but that’s the thing… I want that uninterrupted feeling. Dance music isn’t about a 3-minute song in pop music. It takes longer than 3 minutes… dance music demands a progression. You play it out over an hour or two.
Some people call your music house. Some people call it techno. I have heard some people call your work progressive. What do YOU call it? Is it possible to describe your genre in one word?
I break that into two pieces. Describing the music, to me, depends on if it’s someone that is used to listening to this music or not. To the layperson, it’s that annoying techno music. When you say annoying techno, they all of a sudden know what you are talking about.
What I would really classify mine as, it’s progressive trance and if we want to get really specific, I would call it progressive. I do throw in trance anthems… it does kind of vary the spectrum. That’s why I called it the Sound of Trance. It’s my sound of trance. It’s what I envisioned. Trance doesn’t have to be stuck to a genre guideline. There are so many melodies out there that are trance-based that might have a house beat.
In one word, oh man… that’s really tough. I guess I did coin myself with the trance… I would do it a disservice if I said anything besides trance. (Laughs) But I do play everything. I am going to be expanding a little more and really incorporating some more house typesets into the podcast. I don’t want to limit myself.
You have played clubs all over the place. Is it possible to pick a favorite venue?
Honestly, I like every venue in its own way. I know that’s a total political answer… so I will give you the real answer now. I would have to say Ruby Skye in San Francisco was one of my absolute favorites. I really liked it because it’s an old theater. Just huge, amazing mind-blowing sound system. The crowd there doesn’t mess around. They like to rock out. I don’t want to say it’s the perfect night, but it was an epic night for sure. It’s one that I wont forget… at all.
What’s the biggest crowd you have played for?
The biggest crowd was in April of last year here in Seattle. I played a place called WaMu Theater (short for Washington Mutal Theater). There were about 10,000 people there. That was one where you look out… it was an eye opener. I said, “Wow… this is big”. It was amazing, and I took a short video on my cell phone during my last track. It was really cool; it’s up on YouTube. I took this cell phone video of my last track… the lights were off, then the lights came on… and you could see this sea of people.
What about the smallest?
When I first started this, the first show I ever did… I can’t believe I am calling it a show, was at a place called Water Town. There, I think, not counting the bartender… there were four people. My girlfriend at the time, and I am counting myself… technically two people. (Laughs)
That’s how it was when I first started. I look back on that, and as silly as it sounds, I am glad that I had that. It made me respect where I have come and the crowds that I am playing in front of now. You respect it that much more. You never know when there could be a night when two people show up. Even if there are two people there, I want to give them the best show ever.
I see that you are married. Is your wife supportive of your career? Does she travel with you when you perform out of town?
I have to say, she has definitely been the most supportive. More than I could ever imagine. When we first started dating, she didn’t like this music. As you know, being a newer electronic follower, when you provide this music to someone who doesn’t like it, it’s tough. The biggest thing is, she would go. She would support me. She was at the shows that would have two people. Now she’s at the shows that have 10,000 people.
She doesn’t travel with me a ton; she has a day job. But she does travel when she gets a chance.
Who are some of your biggest influences in both life and in music?
Musically, being a trance DJ, I look at a lot of the big guys from the last ten years. Tiësto, Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren… those guys are what really hit the nerve with me. It’s not to say that I want to copy their style, I want to take my own sound and create my own sound. Even guys like Sander van Doorn… he’s a great friend, and just seeing the way he has grown since 2005 shows me that anything can happen in your career.
When it comes down to the music… all of the familiar names.
Outside of music, that’s tough. I think one of the things that I look at is my dad just because he came to the US as a young boy and really came to the US with nothing… he had absolutely nothing. He was able to get a career, raise a family, and is now retired. He is the toughest person I know. I have never seen him cry yet. I just look at him and just know that if he can do it, I have to be able to do it. He gave me so much; I am way ahead of the curve.
You use the same photo on your website and as the cover of your official podcast on iTunes. Where was that taken? (I love the photo by the way!)
This is where my wife will finally thank me… that picture was taken in a New York subway. I can’t remember what part, but I think it’s in the picture somewhere. We wanted to a subway picture. We used a tiny little point and shoot Canon camera. I adjusted the settings, did some test shots… and really, the person who gets credit for that is my wife.
She gives me crap all the time. I can’t tell them we did that on a tourist camera. This is a nerd tangent, but I set it on rapid shot. I knew that out of all the shots that at least one came through decent. I have all the images on my computer.
You are always playing somewhere. Do you ever get tired being on the road?
I don’t ever get tired of doing what I do. Mainly because I’m following what I have always wanted to do… what do you call it, chasing a dream. I am following my passion. To me, I enjoy every moment of doing this stuff. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. I sure as heck wouldn’t make millions of dollars doing this. I did take the leap to follow what I dreamt of doing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times I am tired and feel like I could sleep for a week… but never am I not happy with doing what I’m doing.
I’m not a DJ… so I have no idea what it’s like. But can you explain what goes through your head while you are up there performing?
I went clubbing for years before I got started into this. I was always on the crowd side of the DJ booth. What I can tell you, once you get on the other side of that DJ booth and look out at the crowd, it’s the craziest feeling in the world. To know that you have the ability to control what these people do.
I don’t think I will ever get tired of it. I enjoy looking at their eyes, and seeing their excitement and feeling that excitement with them. I am having just as much fun as they are. When I see a crowd just rocking out, I would be doing the same thing.
I don’t know what’s going through my head, to be honest with you. The music is going through my head. What will get these people to do what I want them to do? Technically I am questioning my next move at every minute, but it’s just having that control over people and really devising a plan to make them happy. I think it’s a great challenge.
You are like 6 foot tall… did you play basketball growing up?
I played all sports. I played basketball, baseball, and football… I was a jock. I even have a set of golf clubs in the closet over there. I took lessons for a couple years. Don’t get me wrong, I go play every summer… but as far as the sports go, once I injured my arm in college for baseball, having to finally throw in the towel for sports, that was the moment I knew I couldn’t get that close to it again.
I love sports, but I don’t have time anymore.
Who are some of the guys you are listening to right now? What’s on your iPod?
I listen to different music than what I would play at a show. I listen to down tempo stuff… rock. As far as dance music goes, guys like Nick Warren… his new album is amazing. I am trying to think… Most of the time when I listen to music on the iPod it’s more to relax. I have my workout music. I like Daft Punk… the Alive album from 2007. It’s just perfect, in my opinion.
I listen to it all.
You have performed with Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, ATB, Ferry Corsten… how in the world do you get hooked up with all of these massive performers?
Hard work…. Just busting your butt. Really, it’s just a natural progression with being a DJ. You start as a bedroom DJ. You then ideally start to play in clubs. Then you become established in clubs. Then you start getting booked for shows with bigger DJs. From that point on, it just goes and goes and goes. To be honest, it’s just the years of hard work. It takes five years or more… You mature. That progression of the bedroom DJ; you naturally start playing at these bigger shows. As long as you keep working your butt off, the big shows come your way.
I am opening up for these guys. I am not the main act, so I have to make sure I take care of them and set them up correctly. That’s another thing… a lot of these big guys will request to have you open up for them. That’s the coolest feeling. I think that’s where I finally realized that the hard work is starting to pay off is when guys that I have looked up to for ten years are now asking to have me play with them. That’s the part that I don’t think I will ever get used to.
In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the way people absorb music?
Music has changed more than any other period ever. The reason is the ease of being able to get the music. It’s so easy to get music now, that records… I never imagined the day that I would see vinyl gone. It’s a thing of the past because now you have an MP3. The only downside that I truly dislike is that it makes it that much easier to steal music. That’s the big downfall that I see.
When you have vinyl the only way to steal it was to steal his or her record bag. Now, an artist spends hours or weeks in the studio… the next thing you know it’s being stolen all over the world. It’s amazing and it’s also tough. Having it that easy makes it that easy to take. But accessibility is the big thing for me. My music, my sets, and my podcast can be heard from people all over the world. It’s no longer me mailing a CD to a club or a booking agent… now it’s automatically loading into their iPod, in a good way.
You have been so easy to communicate with trying to get this interview on the books. I not only appreciate that, I admire that. Are you like this with all the press?
I approach every person the same way. I have fun with what I do, and if someone wants to talk about it, film it, take pictures of it… I welcome every bit of it. I want to enjoy it with everyone. I try to literally respond to every single email I get. I respect each and every person taking time out of his or her day to contact me. I am not going to put my address on my website, but on the same token there are countless ways to reach me, typically it will take me a couple days to get in touch with someone.
You are on YouTube… Facebook… Twitter… how in the world do you keep all of these social networks straight?
I let Google handle it for me. I let them handle everything for me. If you want to find more, just Google my name. The website… Twitter… Facebook. I don’t believe in trying to steer people 87 directions. They can go to one website, type my name, and find everything they need. Of course, my website looks like it was designed in 1987, so I am not pushing that as much.
That’s just my thing. I like to keep it easy for people. It’s all about instant results with technology these days. I don’t want someone working to find me. Just put my name in and you’ll find stuff. It’s still weird that someone can Google my name… that’s scary.
I wish we could have done this in person… how can I get you out to the Hoosier state for a show?
For me, it’s funny… I have had a booking agent contact me just recently. We are discussing working together. I am not like Armin or Tiësto… I am kind of doing things backwards. That’s what a lot of these big guys joke about… I am doing this backward.
What I truly believe, once I do release a track, is I now have all these media outlets. Facebook, Twitter… the big one being iTunes. When I tell people to go buy a track of mine, instead of hitting 200 people now I am hitting 175,000 people. I am preparing myself for once that happens when it will be a bigger impact than selling 7 copies that my friends (and my mom) bought.
Where do you see yourself in five years? I know that’s a long time… but still, where are you five years from now.
I would like to see myself as happy as I am now, and to be honest… if the hard work continues and the progression of my career continues I really do hope to be traveling the world. That’s the plan. I want to travel the world and just enjoy the music with everyone else. Each culture is different, and I would love to find out how.
What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done? What is the Johnny Monsoon legacy?
I have a quote that I put up on the wall in my studio. It’s a Maya Angelou quote. I think this sums up your question perfectly…. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When I first saw that quote, it hit home so much.
I want to be remembered for making people happy. It’s such a powerful thing to put a smile on someone’s face when making music. I don’t know how to make it any better.
In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Hard work really does pay off. For me to start playing with guys that I had looked up to ten years ago just shows that you work your butt off, over time, it’s going to happen. Or you can catch a lucky break and skip ten years. I am still waiting for one of those. (Laughs)