Kraig Jarret Johnson has spent most of his life on stage performing with bands like Golden Smog, Run Westy Run, Jayhawks, and Iffy to name a few. He has been entertaining audiences since before he could legally walk into the bars he was playing. Imagine growing up around the musicians you listened to on the radio and sharing the stage with your idols. This is a normal day for Kraig. Now, when he’s not touring, he calls Entwine in the West Village (New York) home. On any given Wednesday you can find him hosting what will soon become your favorite late night musical hang out. Join Kraig this week for the famed CBGB music festival where he and his friends (and some surprise guests) will be playing at Entwine around 10PM on the festival nights. Grab your friends and get there early to enjoy the FREE show from the comfort of the “living room” type setting.
EV: Welcome to Entertainment Vine, Kraig. To begin let’s discuss the Wednesday music nights at Entwine. Would you mind telling us a little about how it all began?
Kraig: Sure, I started it with my friend Greg (G. Wiz) Wieczorek. Me and Greg toured with Joseph Arthur so I’ve known him forever. When we first went to meet our friend Julie (Panebianco) at the bar she was reading a book there so she was like “Let’s meet here”. I just started talking to the bartender, who was one of the owners, and I was like “You guys should do some music here”. I brought in my own equipment, and put it up in the basement. I was like “Ok, when I’m in town I’ll do it on Wednesday nights”. That’s how it all got started.
EV: And, you’ve been doing it ever since. I have some friends who might stop by this week to see the show.
Kraig: They should definitely come down because it’s a gas. It’s a really fun time. You get some crazy people down there … in a good way.
EV: Crazy is always good.
Kraig: I mean crazy good. Like all of a sudden out of nowhere there are all of these great musicians. Everybody from Bela Fleck, who is amazing with his wife playing banjo, to Carl Barât from the Libertines. Peter Buck and Lenny Kaye were playing with me the other night. It’s just nuts. The place only holds like fifty people, and nine times out of ten it gets kind of crowded down there.
EV: How far in advance do you receive the music from your guest performers?
Kraig: I don’t rehearse with people. I just tell them to come down there and bring some songs. Everybody just kind of figures it out. It’s crowded, but we keep it a little bit more relaxed. It’s good to keep it relaxed. It’s like a bunch of my friends, and different people that I know, come into town and they’re like “Oh should I send you songs?”. I’ll learn some of them, but I play different instruments so I kind of like it when everyone just gets down there and then we’ll say “Who’s going to play bass on this?” Then somebody just grabs a bass, they’ll put their cigarette out, and play. That’s kinda the good vibe of it. My friend Angela McCluskey is an amazing singer. So her and her husband Paul Cantelon come down all of the time. Paul does amazing film scores and stuff. He comes down there with his accordion, and he’s also an amazing violinist and classical pianist. So it’s crazy, and you never know, there’ll be horn sections and mandolin players. Then I’ll get the bartender to sing. It’s like why not? (laughs) Let’s have fun with it. So that’s kind of the gist of the whole thing.
EV: (laughs) That’s awesome! What a great creative outlet for musicians.
Kraig: Exactly! That’s what I mean. I’ve met a lot of people who come down and they go “Do you think I can come back here and play?” I’m like “Yes, of course!” You know? There’s a different crowd every week. You find maybe five or six different people that come down there a couple nights a month. They’re just digging on the music and so I try to change it up. Play different things.
EV: In celebration of CBGB’s 40th anniversary this week New York City will be hosting the 2nd annual CBGB Music and Film Festival. What do you have planned at Entwine?
Kraig: The main festival starts on Thursday, but I usually do Wednesday nights anyway so I’m going to start Wednesday night. That’s going to be fun. Wednesday it’s me and Greg, and then a bunch of people like a band called The Candles. It’s a nice little jump start kick off. Then for the main festival I’m trying to line up a lot of different people.
EV: When planning for the festival how does it differ from what you do Wednesday nights? Do you have to keep it more structured, or is there still a little leeway?
Kraig: No. This is so funny. I’m rough sketching it out, but this is the great thing about the bar, they basically let me do what I want. I don’t always know who is going to show up. Someone might say that they will show up and then … you know. But, basically I am doing what I have always been doing. For the festival I’ve got a bunch of people that are confirmed so I’m actually going to have to do some sort of time set thing. Which will be fine. I’ve got Jonny Kaplan, who is a friend of mine from L.A. Jonny plays with Rami Jaffee who plays with the Wallflowers and Foo Fighters. I got Jonny playing. I’ve also got Kevn Kinney from Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. It’s fun just putting it all together. I say it will be just fine. Everyone will work it out.
EV: It sounds like it’s going to be awesome. I’m bummed to miss it. You used to play at CBGB, right?
Kraig: I did play at CBGB. I had a band with my brothers on SST records called Run Westy Run. Yeah, we played there a bunch of times so I have some funny stories about CBGBs. You know before I moved out here, when I was living in Minneapolis, every time I would be out in New York I would go in there and hang out. See different people. Like one of the best Butthole Surfers shows I saw was at CBs. It was crazy. It was amazing. We played a bunch of shows with them too. We opened up for them a bunch of times. Yeah, so it’s kinda neat. I have a bunch of different friends that work with the whole thing. So it all just worked out. It’s cool that we’re doing this.
EV: I also think it is incredible that the festival is city wide.
Kraig: Oh yeah. I know. It’s crazy. And let me tell you, this whole thing at Entwine is kind of like a hidden little gem. Because everything with the festival is usually happening earlier in the day. So all of the cats that are in town are gonna end up coming down here afterwards and doing stuff. You know? Late at night they are going to be in a basement that holds fifty people, and everybody is going to figure out the music, and it’s going to be awesome. I’m really excited about it.
EV: Did you participate last year, or is this your first year in the festival?
Kraig: No. This is the first year. Last year I remember Duff (McKagan) from Guns N’ Roses was doing a bunch of press about the festival. But, it’s funny because this year Tommy (Stinson) is going to try to make it down here. He’s from GnR and the Replacements. He’s been down here before and has played with me. He’s a good friend of mine. You know the Replacements got back together? Well I mean Paul (Westerberg) and Tommy did.
EV: Yeah. Are they touring already?
Kraig: Well they did a couple festivals in Chicago and Toronto or something. My friend was working for them so I got a live feed from the recordings. That to me is really great. You know? After all of these years it’s like “Wow!”. They were playing old punk rock records. That’s one of the first shows I ever went and saw. My brothers snuck me into a bar to see The Replacements. I was like “Oh my God!”. It’s funny because now I’m like sitting there on a Wednesday night, in this little bar in New York, Tommy’s daughter is up singing with me and Tommy is playing bass. You know? I’ve known him forever. That’s the kind of fun camaraderie that I’m talking about. It was amazing. It was really cool.
EV: I love it when life works that way. Which instruments do you play for the shows?
Kraig: I play guitar, bass, keyboards and sing. Basically I play everything. I do dabble and play on the drums every once in awhile if it’s late at night. Late enough, you know? (laughs)
EV: (laughs) Are you self taught?
Kraig: Yes, I’m self taught. The funny thing is I really wanted to learn how to play piano. When I was in high school I gave my sister’s boyfriend like an ounce of weed to give me guitar lessons. He taught me a bunch of Stones songs or something. But then I signed up for Jazz Lab, and I realized there was a piano in there so I started teaching myself that too. I bought a piano when I lived in Minneapolis at a garage sale for like $250. I had it moved into my place, and that’s where I wrote a bunch of songs. I taught myself how to play it. There were a bunch of the songs on the Golden Smog album that were written on that piano. I don’t know if you know the Golden Smog…
EV: I do actually. I found a whole bunch of Golden Smog videos online. Even a concert from 1994. So I think I probably watched videos from when you were in your 20s on up. It was really cool to watch that.
EV: Yeah. You haven’t aged.
Kraig: You’re as old as you feel. That’s the way I feel. That’s the one thing about interviews they say “Wow, you did this Golden Smog record that came out in 1986”. I’m like “Yeah, I did”. But I still get carded. So I don’t feel bad. I don’t really care about age when people are talking about that whole thing. I’ve done tons of stuff that people just dream of so I’m good. I’m happy. If I can keep writing music that’s important to myself, and that also makes other people happy … how good is that? It’s like a gift. Not to mention doing some gardening on the side, and plumbing, and different things. There you go.
EV: You’re right. I think happiness is the key to life and it keeps you young. Because if you’re doing something you don’t want to then you’re going to be miserable. Or, if you have given up on your dreams that is going to age a person fast.
EV: If you’re doing what you love, even if you’re tired and stressed, it’s still fun.
Kraig: Yeah, but there is no time to be stressed when you look at the positive side of things. The majority of my friends are the same way. It’s like music keeps you young. It’s like art keeps you young. Keep creating. You can create stuff and be happy doing it. What’s wrong with that? That’s a beautiful place. It’s great when someone comes up and says “Man, that song was amazing. Can you do this?” Or, when you play songs and people are like “Wow, that was the best night!” You know? That to me is paid in full right there. How lucky am I? Pinch myself.
EV: I totally agree. I get to spend my days writing and being creative. I love it.
Kraig: Exactly. Writing is an amazing thing. Do you know how many people probably try to pick up a fucking pen … well nobody writes on paper anymore. Do you?
EV: Actually, I do. I do my notes and research on paper.
Kraig: That’s excellent. Because you know what? I still do too. Notes on paper and then I write it on the computer. What I’m saying is there are so many people who would love to be able to do that. And, you’ve got to say to yourself “People want to read or listen to what I’m doing so I should be thankful for it”. You know what I’m saying?
EV: Absolutely! That’s a great way of looking at it. My husband feels like he’s a dinosaur because he still draws with pencil and paper. But, he loves sketching everything out.
Kraig: I love that. That’s awesome. It’s like there is something about a person just putting down a piece of paper and drawing for you what they are talking about. It’s a totally different thing. I like that.
EV: Keeps us young. You’ve pretty much been doing this your whole life. You started touring when you were … what … twenty?
Kraig: Yeah. Since I was like eighteen. Nineteen. I love it. It’s a blast. It’s crazy. You know what you’ve got to check out? Look for Run Westy Run.
EV: I actually listened to some Run Westy Run stuff too. I’m telling you everything is online. Except for your first album. Are you going to put that on iTunes one day?
Kraig: My solo album? Yeah. I used to tour with my friend David Poe and he produced it. We put it out on a Spanish label. Then toured. I opened up for the Jayhawks, and then played for them. But, there is going to be a big explosion with all of my stuff coming out soon. I’m working on that right now as we speak. There should be some way you can hear some of it before I put it out there for sale. There’s actually a Kraig Jarret Johnson MySpace that somebody started. There’s a couple songs on that. I am planning on releasing a bunch of stuff soon. Stuff that I haven’t put out there yet.
EV: That’s really cool. I’m excited to check it out. As a musician, songwriter, and artist where do you most find your inspiration? Where do your ideas really hit you?
Kraig: That’s a good question. I find all of my inspiration right before I fall asleep.
EV: Do you keep a notepad close by?
Kraig: I do keep a pad of paper and a pen. I find it right before I fall asleep because I’m trying to think of things before I fall asleep. If I’m in a moment then I’ll get up and write things down. I also hum the melodies when I’m trying to go to sleep. Inspiration is all around. You know? But, I actually find a lot of it before I go to sleep. It all comes to me all at once. So then I’ll wake up, look at what I wrote down, and I’m like “Wow, that was good”. I think a lot of artists do that. I mean I’ve read about it before like ‘it came to me in my sleep’. It’s cliché and I’m not trying to be. I find inspiration everywhere. Sometimes I can just be walking. I wrote a song the other day “Three Birds on a Crumb”. And, you know what it was? I got on my bicycle, looked down, and there were three birds all picking at one crumb. I was like (sings) “Three birds on a crumb.” (laughs) You know what I mean? There you go.
EV: (laughs) That’s brilliant!
Kraig: But, a lot of it comes right before you fall into slumber I think. I mean for you being a writer you’re probably like all of a sudden “What did I write?” Right when you’re about to fall asleep you probably think of about fifteen different things.
EV: Yeah, that is interesting. I wonder what it is? Maybe because you’re finally relaxed and your creative side takes over.
Kraig: You’re relaxed, and you’re drained, and then all of a sudden all of these thoughts come in. Because you’ve been dealing with everything else, but then you can actually think about your creative part. It sets in after you’ve been dealing with all of the bullshit and everything. So you lay down and it’s boom boom boom boom all of these ideas come. And, then you’re like “Whew, well that makes sense”. Even if it’s just one sentence or two sentences you wake up the next day and go “Wow!” That’s the seed that makes the whole thing work. It was just that one sentence, but I was dreaming about all of this other stuff too and it just makes it bigger. You know?
EV: It all fits together. It’s true. I have to get up and write it down because I won’t remember it in the morning. Then when I read it in the morning I’m like “Where the heck did that come from?”.
Kraig: Exactly. Yeah. You do it in your self-consciousness. I’ve done that before. It’s true you get in that state and BOOM. You know? It’s crazy the way the mind works.
EV: So crazy! Well on that note I guess we should close and go find inspiration. Thank you very much for hanging out with Entertainment Vine, Kraig. I greatly appreciate it. Good luck with the festival. Really wish we were there.
Kraig: Thank you, Jan.
*You can listen to samples of Kraig’s music on the unofficial MySpace fan page. For more information on Wednesday night and CBGB festival shows please follow Entwine on Twitter. Shows start around 10PM so get there early because space is limited. 765 Washington Street, New York
**Special thanks to Julie Panebianco and Sippy.
Check out Kraig at Entwine performing “Let it be Something” (video below).
[youtube width=”610″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWK4-9AD2Rs[/youtube]