Big drummer boy

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"They are kinda sad, aren't they?" Johnson shrugs. "I wonder what that's about. I wish I could maybe come up with something different, but sometimes the sad songs are more satisfying. I don't know what happened last spring. Things just kept falling out. I don't know--something went wrong. That's bad. I need to cheer up and write some rockers."

Johnson's most obvious role model is ex-Replacements drummer Chris Mars, who was fired from/quit the band after it was clear the 'Mats were becoming a one-man show. When Mars released his 1992 debut solo album, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, it came as a revelation to those longtime fans who had pegged Paul Westerberg as the Replacements' lone songwriter: Loaded with catchy, revelatory moments, it came across like the Replacements fronted by Ray Davies, with Mars playing almost every instrument and singing every word.

Though the situation for Johnson is vastly different in Funland--he and Schmidt and Vogeler share the songwriting duties, and Johnson's role as backup singer has become a key ingredient in the band's sound--he nonetheless talks of a restlessness that only a drummer can know from all those nights sitting behind a drum kit.

"It's not a Replacements kind of thing because Funland is totally the opposite of that," Johnson says. "It's a democratic, communal songwriting kind of atmosphere. Sometimes I feel kinda guilty, but sometimes it's satisfying to sing a lead vocal, too.

"The Replacements have been such an influence to me over the years it's ridiculous. I listen to them once a week. And with Chris Mars, there's someone who makes records and doesn't play live. I would love to play these songs live. I'm a very sloppy guitar player, and I'd love to see what happens. But right now the time isn't permitting that. I mean, it'd be very satisfying playing guitar and writing songs. Playing drums is fun, but writing songs is really satisfying."

Johnson has toyed with the idea of putting together an actual band to play his songs, perhaps even opening for the occasional Funland show. So far, he's discussed the idea and even played a little bit with Slobberbone frontman Brent Best and Matt Pence and Mark Hedman of Adam's Farm, but they've back-burnered the project because of prior commitments to their own bands--which is something Johnson tries often to stress. For now, he's merely trying to find someone interested in releasing the songs; otherwise, he'll continue duping cassettes for friends.

"I've told [Peter and Clark] I'm not going anywhere," he says. "I've had people listen to the tape and ask me, 'What are you doing in Funland?' That might be worth an answer if Peter and Clark weren't two of my best friends, if this were just a gig. But there's a lot of stock put in these two friendships, and I don't want to hurt them by recording these songs, and I don't think I have. Funland will be the last band I play drums in, I'll say that.

"I don't feel like my thing conflicts with Funland," he adds. "It's not like I'm going to sell my tape at Funland shows because that would be too weird. I don't want it to be like, 'There's the Funland booth, but what's the deal with the little drummer's project?'"

Scene, heard
Departed Vibrolux drummer Bruce Alford--who split with his former band just weeks after they signed with Atlas/Polydor and as they were stepping into the studio to record their debut EP for the label--has found a new full-time gig playing with Sixty-Six, who lost their drummer Toby Sheets to REO Speed Dealer. 'Lux bassist Alan Hayslip has also been playing with Sixty-Six in the studio, helping Bill Longhorse and Nate Fowler lay down demos for their next album...

Speaking of Vibrolux, Paul Quigg is currently mixing and selecting the songs for the band's EP, which was due in October but has been pushed back just ever so slightly...

Last week, Tablet was in Los Angeles finishing recording and mixing its debut album for Mercury Records, which is due in February...

Mark Griffin (i.e., MC 900 Ft Jesus) will join the likes of Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Cocteau Twins, and Porno for Pyros on the sound track of director Gregg Araki's upcoming film The Doom Generation...

On October 19-21 at the Holiday Inn NorthPark Plaza, the Dallas Songwriters Association will hold its Fifth Annual Dallas Songwriters Seminar, where aspiring songwriters (go figure) can learn about their craft (from writing to selling) from so-called industry pros. The New Dimensions Festival (shades of Dimensions of Dallas) will take place at the same time, with more than 70 acts performing around town at showcase gigs. Call 750-0916 for more information.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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