November 27, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 50  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

54-40: Back to roots

By Mike Dewar
Gazette Staff

Recently, The Gazette managed to track down Matt Johnson, drummer for Canada’s own 54-40. He wasn’t let go until he revealed the price of his very soul. “Um, anywhere between a cup of coffee and a doughnut to a couple of million dollars.” That said, we ordered the donuts and got on with the interview.

To start, Johnson was forced to confess how the band writes their songs. “Sometimes we just jam together and we like to block out time for making noise during sound checks. We also make sure that we have some kind of method to document the noise we make. Actually, the last record we made we’d all be in a circle with a beer bottle in the middle. We’d spin it and then whoever it pointed to, it would be up to them to start something.”

When asked about lyrics, Johnson points a finger to his bandmate Osborne, the apparent puppet master. “That’s Neil’s thing; we’re just puppets really. He’s a voracious reader and able to get inspired on many levels from different places.”

Johnson, a member of 54-40 for nearly two decades, is proud the band has remained fresh after such a long time. “We don’t like to repeat ourselves, so we go into production with some sort of idea or theme, a set of rules that we try to adhere to which keeps us farthest away from our previous work.

“This record [Goodbye Flatland] is about getting back to our roots,” he continues. “We decided to go back to making a rock record, since we haven’t for nearly a decade. I tried to put in a big drum sound. We came up with new ideas to go to the studio with, which helps. It keeps us focused on a single goal so it doesn’t wind up sounding like the last record, though there are some similarities to the late ’80 stuff, or so people tell me.”

Apparently, Johnson is also a fan of the British scene. “The guy who mixed the songs for us is a producer from England, so I hear a kind of English slant on it. I love British bands though,” he notes.

As for the new album, Johnson is similarly optimistic. “We write songs, record them and then by the time the mix is there you’re just hoping for something good. Sometimes you get something fantastic, sometimes you just get something that doesn’t suck. From a marketing standpoint, [Flatland] is the best work we’ve ever done. I can’t believe how good we are,” he laughs.

Getting a bit more serious, Johnson reveals his true feelings about 54-40’s newest work. “I really like the record, though. It has a distinct sound and each song has it own place on the CD overall.”

Coming from a band that has been around for nearly 20 years, Johnson has some advice to offer to those just trying to get into the business: “Don’t break up. That makes for a short career. If you stick around, good things can happen. Sometimes you’ve just gotta be oblivious and forge ahead. Also, try to pick good people as bandmates. You’re gonna be spending a lot of time with the band so you have to make sure they’re good people, it just makes things a lot easier.”

When the drugged donuts finally kicked in, he ends with one last quote: “Help me... please.”
54-40’s latest album, Goodbye Flatland, is currently in stores.

 

 

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