Freedy Johnston on Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” and Lessons Learned at Early Gigs

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

Pumpkin, my 03 Jetta, is a tour veteran with 210 thousand miles on her. 5-speed manual. No a/c. No radio or cd. I love her.

I have kindly requested that she please make it to at least 250 thousand miles, and she seems to be complying.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

It’s pretty easy now to eat healthy on the road, if you want to. I do my best to resist the burgers and beer at the club every night.

I have a cooler in the car, and I bring my own coffee, grinder, Chemex, and half-and-half to the motel. You have to have some standards.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

No, I don’t usually break guitar strings. Now that I wrote that I’ll probably start breaking them.

Where do you rehearse?

Like Jonathan Richman said: “Rehearse? That would spoil the gig, man!”

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

The first song was “Sparky the Heroic Dog”. I wrote it with my friend Jeff for the senior class talent show.

Sparky the heroic dog
Saved my life one night
When the house burned down
Sparky the heroic dog
Became a hero
Back in my hometown

Describe your first gig.

My first gigs were as a drummer for Dalton Howard and the Go-Cats, in Lawrence, KS. I have no idea how I got that gig. I bought the drum kit before I learned how to play it. I loved being in that band. They taught me a lot about how to load in fast and get drink tickets from the bartender first thing.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day-job was my favorite day-job. I was a word processor at Perkins/Eastman Architects in NYC. Those were some of the best days ever. Working in midtown during the day, playing music at night. Living in Hoboken. No cares.

Then I quit that job to go on the road supporting my new record. Which is now my favorite, and last job.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Through the efforts of a very clever, aggressive attorney, I have wrested back all of my publishing from both labels I was on in the ’90’s. And so we work on placement of my songs in films and TV.

I have an awesome manager and a stellar booking agent who keep me going down the road. I am doing great.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

That the Pink Floyd song “Welcome to the Machine” was, in fact, a public service announcement.

Freedy Johnston is a singer-songwriter originally from Kinsley, Kansas. A town 1,561 miles from both New York and San Francisco. He moved to New York in the 1980’s and worked as an office temp for a few years before landing a deal with Bar None Records in Hoboken. His second record for them was his breakthrough album, 1992’s Can You Fly. He then signed to Elektra Records and in 1994 worked with producer Butch Vig on his biggest record, This Perfect World, which featured the radio hit “Bad Reputation”, and earned him Rolling Stone’s Songwriter of the Year award for 1994. His songs were featured in the movies “Kingpin”, “Kicking and Screaming” and “Heavy”. He currently lives in Joshua Tree, California.

Back on the Road to You, his latest album, was released on 9 Sept. Connect with Johnston online and on the road.


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