In 2019 John unintentionally prepared himself for the quarantine of 2020 by secluding himself and writing an album's worth of demos. Just before the world locked down he went from New York City to Los Angeles and put some of the final touches on his album All In, released in April.
John is a tremendously gifted musician and songwriter who I am happy to have on the show to talk about his career and songs.
First Full-Length Album, All InI just put out this record two weeks ago, and after working on it for a year and a half, it feels really good and now I'm doing everything that goes with putting out a record. This is my first full-length album, so getting that out in the world is a good feeling. Now I'm just doing the next steps and trying to start booking some shows, and doing everything to promote it that I can.
Why It Took So Long To Make An AlbumThe "single" thing, I was playing that game for a while and eventually it got me a label deal. The label deal was cool for two years and then I found myself changing up my writing a little bit to try to meet a demand of like, OK, what's going to be the next single that works. I got to this point where I didn't really like what I was writing. The deal with the label came to a standstill, and there was no bad blood with anybody or anything, but I was just happy to get off of it. Then at the end of 2019, I found myself writing the music that would eventually become this record.
I like to think that half the songs on the record are extroverted and half the songs are introverted. Half are like confessional love songs, upbeat music, and then the other half are just me sitting with my thoughts and trying to figure out the writing I want to do. It gets a little heady spending a lot of time by yourself and trying to figure out what you want a full-length record to sound like.
I went out to LA to record a bunch of the songs - I had everything demoed out. COVID wasn't even a thing when I went out to LA to start recording this record - that was the least of my worries. Then over the course of late January to mid-March, I was like, "Oh man, I'm a little more concerned about what's going on in the world than what microphones we're using to track vocals."
I finished tracking and recording out there and flew back the day that quarantine started. So, I got back to New York the day lockdown was issued. I originally wanted this album to get out last summer, but just from doing everything remotely and finishing a bunch of the production myself, it took a long time and I had time to overthink everything even more than I usually do. That's why basically this was a slow burn - just from COVID, getting off the label and having the time to figure out what I wanted my first full-length album to be.
It's rare for people to find the time to sit with something and listen to something the whole way through. I grew up listening to albums. I was a big Pink Floyd guy, so I've always wanted to do an album that you would listen to from start to finish, and I'm proud of how it turned out.
"Fahrenheit"The person who is singing these lyrics or just telling this narrative isn't really feeling any certain way about it, it's just a matter-of-fact way of them reflecting on this loop that they're living in, and I connect that to living in a place like New York, having just moved here, and going out and seeing music every night and having a great time and getting used to waking up and feeling a certain way.
I think it's someone who knows what their vices are, and they are just like, "This is who I am, this is the life I'm living right now." It feels like a dream because of the side effects - whether it's drinking or staying out so late, whatever - this is their mindset and contact feeling that they have, and that's why I thought it was like a dream. They're chasing some sort of euphoria and that's why it's elusive, because they're not always going to get it. They're trying to reach a certain level of happiness or high but it's hard to get to.
Working In New York And Los AngelesI like doing a lot of the work in New York, like writing and demoing. Whenever I go out to LA and work with someone to get something over the finish line with production, I like to have as much done as possible over here so there's not a lot of second guessing.
I went out to LA and worked out six songs with two guys I had never actually met before - we were just connected through mutual friends. They are Chris [Soper] and Jesse [Singer]. Their production duo is Likeminds. I went out there just to do two songs with them to see how it went, and it was a great day, I loved working with them.
But the arrangements and the writing and everything was like 95% there before I went out there. It was executing what was already thought out, just doing it. Things like getting a cleaner vocal, re-tracking drums, getting some real bass going, and then just adding some ear candy on top of it - just adding the bits and bobs here and there, and before you know it, we've got a record.
"Sing To You"I wrote that song when I moved to New York. I was crashing on my buddy's couch before I found my own apartment, and I would just walk around humming that bassline non-stop, and it just took me forever to write the lyrics to it. He was like, "All right man, that's catchy but will you please do me a favor and write some lyrics and stop humming that song, because you're living in my apartment and I can't stop hearing that in my head too." Which I think is a good sign.
That was a song where things just worked out with the writing and the production. It's a good vibe of a song.
The response and love that that song got was really inspiring and motivated me to keep doing this to the best of my ability. I don't want to say it is like lightning in a bottle, but that song definitely gave me a bigger audience than I had before, and it's very different from this last album, but there are definitely bits of this record that remind me of what I had when I was working on that song.
I moved to New York and I remember going back to Chicago on Thanksgiving. I was playing guitar at my parents' house down in the basement and I came up with the riff, and my brother came down and he was like, "What is that? I really like that."
I was like, "I don't know." Then I played it for my dad and he was like, "That sounds familiar. Where did I hear that before?"
I started to feel like it had been done before, but it was OK.
But traveling and taking in different environments is a key source of inspiration for whatever you do, and I think moving to New York seven years ago was a huge part of wanting to write differently, write with other people, produce music with other people and meet a lot of people, being out and seeing music. That song came from the "right place, the right time" I guess, from moving to New York and going back to Chicago.
Evolving As A SongwriterI think the first two tracks on the album cut to the core of me as a writer and what my influences are: "Note To Self" and "Value." They might not be the most commercial pop songs on the record but when I listen to those two songs, they hit close to home with me.
The words in the first song I wrote about just being yourself and not trying to change who you are for anybody else. Just keep doing what you do because it was never a decision to pursue what you're doing, it's just a foregone conclusion.
Track 2, "Value," just feels like a bunch of my influences put together into this love song. Also, my place got broken into about a year and a half ago and I lost my favorite guitar that I grew up playing - that guitar was on every record that I recorded up to that point. So, that song is about letting go of material possessions and focusing on things that matter more.
It's a mixture of sentimental, growing up, learning how to play whatever songs on this thing, and using it for recording. But it's gone, who knows if it's coming back. People will randomly send me Craigslist links, like, "This looks like your guitar," and I'm like, "Let's see the serial number... nope that's not it." They didn't even take the case with them, so there was somebody in New York walking down the street with this bright blue guitar.
Don't sell yourself short on the $99 shit guitar - if that thing plays well, it plays well. I spent so much time trying to figure out what bass I wanted to buy, and then I ended up buying a $150 bass and I love it.
"WGYG (Whatever Gets You Going)"That song definitely has some pep in its step. I co-wrote it with my friends Ben Antelis and Mike Campbell1 in September or October 2019. It was really nice out so we wanted something that matched the weather we were experiencing that day.
The lyrics for that are just a universal love song - a celebration of life and love and somebody who excites you and you excite them. When we came up with those lyrics, "Whatever gets you going," it reminded me of like a totally dab lyric, like, "Hey, whatever gets you going." It's something that would be fun to walk to or roller-skate to or be outside riding a bike. Something that would just feel good to drive to with the sunroof open and the windows down. That's how the song came up.
ReopeningI've been playing a couple of one-off things here and there, but I'm looking to book a tour. I went and saw my first concert in a long time on Saturday - my buddy was playing at a jazz club in the East Village. It was so tiny, and I was just like, "Oh my God, I have not been inside a music venue in over a year." They had a foot switch on stage for the fog machine, and I was like, "Dude, I have never been so pumped to see and smell and hear a fog machine in my whole life. I need more of that."
May 26, 2021
Subscribe to the Songfacts podcast, part of the Pantheon Network
More at johnsplithoff.com
Photos: Lauren Jones (1,2), Matt Oliver (3)
- 1] No, not that Mike Campbell. (back)
More Songfacts Podcast