Trends may come and go, but whenever a new Jonny Lang album is unveiled, you know you can count on fresh rock n' roll merged with some tasty blues licks. And on his seventh studio effort, Signs, Mr. Lang does not disappoint.
First hitting the scene as a teenaged wunderkind in the '90s, Lang experienced success pretty much straight away, hitting the charts with his 1997 major label debut Lie to Me, released when he was just 15. Since then, his albums have consistently charted on both the Billboard 200 and Blues charts.
Lang spoke with Songfacts before the September 8, 2017 release of Signs, during which he discussed songwriting, his favorite songwriters (which surprisingly are non-blues artists!), and the stories behind several standout tracks.
Jonny Lang: It's funny - I don't think I have an approach. [Laughs] I kind of wait. Or maybe this is an approach - being passive is an approach. I'm pretty passive. I try to wait until something pops into my head and put it down on my little voice recorder deal. And hopefully, I've got enough inspiration in the tape to continue working on the song at the moment.
But sometimes, it will just sit, and I'll finish it later. Some of the songs on Signs are made of parts of ideas that have been around for years. It's a pretty chaotic, disorganized process.
Songfacts: Who are some of your top influences when it comes to songwriting?
Jonny: James Taylor. He's my biggest, for sure. He's probably the guy who has inspired me the most with music over the years. And Stevie Wonder. Those two guys as songwriters are the best in my book. I love them. Stevie, it's just this flame of fire. When you listen to him, you get this sense that he's not thinking about it, that the song he wrote just came out and he recorded it. That's what it feels like when you listen to it. And he was so prolific. He's just got a million records, and to me, not one bad song on any of them. So, he just blows my mind.
And then James comes off as being more refined - his stories are so good and the way he gets his point across is just so cool. So as far as the mechanics of songwriting, I've studied him more, but both those guys are amazing.
Songfacts: Those are two interesting selections, because both of them are not blues-rock guitarists.
Jonny: Yeah, they're not. But they're songs. Just from a songwriting perspective, they're pretty awesome.
I was just sitting there talking to my girlfriend, now my wife, and while we were talking - we weren't talking about the Lord or anything like that, but unrelated things- and His name just came out of my mouth - I said "Jesus." And when I said Jesus, I started shaking and I just felt the power of God in me, and I felt myself being delivered from every addiction that I've had. (The Christian Post)
His 2006 album Turn Around was his first released to the Christian marketplace; it went to #1 on the Billboard Christian Albums chart.
Jonny: Yeah, I've written some stuff on piano. Or I'll start them on piano and finish them on guitar or vice-versa. I play just enough piano to write songs with. I'm not a piano player by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to write.
Songfacts: Can you give some examples of songs that began on piano, that you then transposed to guitar?
Jonny: On the Turn Around record [from 2006], there is a song that I'm playing piano on, "Last Goodbye." It's a ballad. And then one that I started on keys and then finished on guitar was "My Love Remains."
Songfacts: What was the inspiration behind the new song, "Make It Move"?
Songfacts: The song "Bitter End" really sticks out on the new album - was it a conscious decision to include a song that could appeal to mainstream radio?
Jonny: Oh man, that would be awesome... I hope so!
It's funny, that song turned out completely different than I thought it would. We didn't write it or record it trying to have a song that sounds mainstream for radio. It just turned out to be maybe something that could be accepted as a radio song. So, I hope it is. It's a happy accident that it turned out that way.
Songfacts: And what was the inspiration behind that track?
Jonny: The whole record really deals with the last couple of years with all the crazy headlines. It seemed like just one thing after another with crazier and crazier stuff going on in the world. So, "Bitter End" asks, Are we going to learn? Because this stuff has happened in human history before throughout all kinds of civilizations that failed. It's just in a different form - in a modern form. The same thing but with different tools. It's just the thought of, Are we going to learn from history or just keep plowing forward and make the same mistakes? What are we going to do?
Songfacts: Concerning your early hit, "Lie to Me," what was it like singing this kind of heartbreaking blues number at such a young age when there's no way you could have been through that kind of thing?
Jonny: Man, I don't think I related to any of the songs until I was in my 20s, as far as life experience goes! At least not in a way where the meaning I could really understand. I wasn't necessarily singing from a place of experience - it was just more from a place of just singing music.
Songfacts: Has your approach to the song changed as you got older?
Songfacts: What do you recall about the filming of the song's music video?
Jonny: Well, my sisters Heidi and Jessica are in the video, and I think my mom is in there too, actually. And then the guitar that I'm playing in the video was at this vintage guitar store where we shot the video - Black Market Music, in San Francisco. I just fell in love with it - it's this '57 Squier. And the president of our record company at the time, Al Cafaro, I guess he heard that I loved the guitar, and he actually got it for me as a gift. That remains the most special guitar to me.
August 24, 2017.
For more, visit jonnylang.com.
More Songwriter Interviews