South London based singer-songwriter Louis Vann Johnson is best described as a force to be reckoned with. Having played for European artist Patrice Bart-Williams, being featured on BBC London with Robert Elms, performing at Glastonbury as well as writing and performing for various film soundtracks (notably ‘The Hatton Garden Job, ‘Brotherhood’ and critically acclaimed ‘Obey’), the powerful songwriter takes centre stage in emotive new single ‘Backfired’. Blending layers of R&B, Soul and Pop within the latest release, this reflective number brings light to the world’s darkness.
What made you want to get into music?
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved music so I’d say rather than something or someone made me want to get into it, I feel more like I was made or built for it. Even before I could play the guitar I could hold it naturally as a baby. I could whistle at 18 months and I knew so many songs off by heart, singing words I couldn’t possibly comprehend as I was still in nursery. My jam at 2 years old wasn’t any nursery rhyme, it was “Bad” by Michael Jackson. I actually remember in nursery we were asked by a guest teacher one day if anyone would like to come up and sing a song, of course, I put my hand up. I went up in front of everyone and sung the chorus of ‘Bad’ with all the intensity of my
musical hero M.J and then all of a sudden the teacher stopped me. She said “no, no, let’s sing a song that everyone can sing” and began singing twinkle little star and the whole class followed. I was confused, embarrassed and fuming! hahaha. Glad it didn’t knock my confidence though. I have to give my family massive credit, they are very musical, and they always supported my journey with music but never forced it on me, it was always my choice if I wished to pursue it. However, my dad saw that I loved it and used to do little musical games with me like copying rhythms he’d tap out or seeing if I could hear other musical parts in a song. I loved it.
What’s the writing process? What comes first lyrics or music?
My writing process is definitely not one I can replicate on a daily basis. The initial inspiration for a song could start with a chord, a melody, a word, a situation, a visual or even a dream. I mean I do tend to write in my dreams, it’s really cool as you hear everything at once but then you wake up and know you have to do things bit by bit which is a little disheartening but the journey of remaking your dream song is really fun! I find before I actually write I have this feeling like something is brewing. I know melodies, music and words are on their way but I have no idea when they will emerge. Obviously, this is a very natural way and my preferred process of writing but I can also write to briefs and work within time restrictions. I think this is where the creative side and the technical side meet. When I have worked to briefs within time restrictions (i.e writing/producing for another artist or for a film) I open my mind to as many perspectives as possible, taking in as much influence as I can about my subject. E.g. If you asked me to write a song about… let’s say the word Revival, I’d first look at what that means to me and the many situations it could be applied to. I’d also look at similar or even contrasting situations to grow the song’s depth and perspective. I’d look at writing about Revival from personal points of views using words like I, Me, You, We, Us, etc… to then going really abstract and use imagery and metaphors. I find the combination of these two styles of writing very capturing. Now that I’ve said that, you can probably spot this process within “Backfired”. If i’m not writing for myself I also would then have to look at the artist or film I’m writing for. I’d need to get a feel for their expression and what are the elements that shine brightly in them and try to highlight and merge them with the song’s subject matter. I also really enjoy writing with other people as there is a whole other mind there that can surprise and inspire you. You may even go to places or perspectives mentally you haven’t visited before because you’re now privy to another person’s life experiences and creative mind. It’s all very magical!
What other talents do you have?
I’m like a bag of tricks lol. I was the kind of kid if I saw something I thought was cool I’d really try to replicate it. To be honest, I’m still like that but I just can’t prioritise as much time to learning random things. I can beat box and am pretty good with mimicking sounds and voices. I tend to be able to pick up voices of characters when I hear comedians or other people do them more so than the character themselves. Maybe that’s something to do with hearing the use of vocal mechanics, I don’t know. The mimicking sound thing came from watching martial arts movies as a kid and copying the bad dub sounds with my mouth. I actually used to do some of that in my live sets, it’s a good ice breaker! I can also touch my nose with my tongue, do that looping thing and the triple loop thing with it. (I don’t know what it’s called lol)
If you could change anything about the industry what would it be?
This is a very interesting question. If I could change anything about the industry I think I would want to create a platform for new older artists. I’m talking about a platform for new emerging artists that are above 50. However not restricting artists below that age. I could be wrong but feel like most people who are older in the industry have been in the industry from young. I think showcasing new artists who are older could really open and expand the types of songs and music we are used to hearing as their experiences could be more refined. They could maybe paint a depth that we rarely come across. Imagine if someone was as talented as Adele but was double her age, had never come out as an artist but still wanted to. The level of depth in their writing, their hunger to release their musical energy could be something magnificent and exciting to see and hear for us music lovers. It’s funny because I was talking about this with a friend the other day and they raised the point of in the art industry older artists’ work is valued more than younger ones’ because of their life experience. Whereas in music, younger artists seemed to be valued more because of their new and exciting appeal. I personally feel if you are good, you are good and there will always be an audience to your craft if you are brave enough to express your work. The world is a big enough place.
If you could collaborate with any band / person /producer who would it be?
I’m going to assume you mean both living and dead for this. I’ll start with the living and more contemporary. I’d love to work with Bruno Mars, I feel like we’d have a lot of musical influences in common but I love how open he is as a creative and it’d be cool to see what kind of music we’d co-create. He’s also one of my favourite male vocalists. Another person I think it’d be really cool to work with is Lin-Manuel Miranda (the man who wrote Hamilton) I love his creativity and his clever constructions of musical elements. I’d also love to work with Jacob Collier, I think I could have a serious music geek out with him. There are many people I’d actually love to work with in the capacity of either a collaboration, a writer or producer. I’m just gonna reel some off, Jessie J, Jenifer Hudson, Will I Am, Taylor Swift, Anderson .Paak, H.E.R, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Tori Kelly, I could go on… There are also some of the people that I grew up listening to, if I could, I’d love to sit down and create with people like Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Beyoncé, Brandy, Usher, Craig David, Baby Face, Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams. Also I know this might seem out there but John Williams, the film composer. I think merging film style composition with standard music production can really take you places. Some artists that have passed that I would have loved to work with are Prince, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Ray Charles, to name a few. I’d also love to collaborate with K-POP artists/groups and producers as I’m a fan and think it’d be a great experience! I believe any collaboration is a great learning experience so the thought of collaborating with any of the above would be fantastic. I think as people we are like mirrors to each other so with each new encounter you learn more about yourself.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
That’s a challenging one! I don’t feel I can rank this as the best but I found it very profound and it’s something I am regularly putting into practice. I visited an art gallery and came across the piece called ‘Philosophy’ by Salvator Rosa which is a self portrait of him holding a sign. The sign has a latin inscription which roughly translates to and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing “Be silent, unless what you have to say is better than silence, be silent”. Well that’s how I’ve kept it in my mind anyway. My apologies to any art history buffs if I didn’t quite get it right. But I found this to be really calming and reflective, I found just thinking that helps with listening to yourself and others. I very quickly realised if my thoughts are louder than the conversations I am having, I’m obviously not having the conversation. How I perceive what may be better than silence in a moment is if what I have to say may benefit myself and others, and if why I am saying it is coming from a genuine place and aligns with that reasoning of potentially being better for everyone. I hope that makes sense. So in short I was given some really great advice by a painting!
If you could open for any band / act /solo artist who would it be?
I’m gonna mention this guy’s name again but would love to open up for Bruno Mars, or Ed Sheeran. Bruno because his shows are musically exciting, he really uses the musicianship of his band but manages to keep the balance by not over indulging solely in the music but by keeping the show fun and interactive. This is something I also love to do when I perform with a band. I think that mix of good musicianship and showmanship is captivating and I do it because it would be something I’d enjoy seeing. My reason for wanting to open up a show for Ed would be more on the basis that I feel like his audience would be very into the stories of my songs so that would be amazing to share. Though I could be completely wrong and they just wanna see Ed which is fair enough haha.
How are you coping with lockdown?
Ah yes good old lockdown or as my friend likes to call it “a global retreat”, I think that’s nicer. To be honest, it’s been a super productive time, I actually made pretty much the whole of my E.P in lockdown. I have been fortunate that I’ve been able to continue to work online giving private music lessons and doing music sessions. I mean I’m very very grateful to have the type of technology we do that allows us to do that. Otherwise, I’ve been keeping up with my martial arts training, meditating here and there and lots of Zoom chats with the family and friends. Life has changed for everyone so the conversations I’ve been around have been very reflective. I’m now just practicing, preparing myself for live stuff again. I really miss performing and can’t wait to get back out there even if it’s in front of two people, a cat and a tree. I’ll be happy to share music haha! Seriously though performing is like a muscle you have to train it to grow stronger but yes, it will be very interesting to gig again.
What’s the scene like where you are from?
I grew up in South East London where I think there’s actually loads of talent. I’m sure there’s talent everywhere but knowing this part of London, I’ve seen many people come up and do well over the years. It’s really nice to see people you know who love what they do and work hard, do really well and some of them I think even help put South on the map for music because there was a time I can remember when it wasn’t. I think about 10-15 years ago North London was the “hotspot” for talent. But to be honest I don’t like speaking or thinking like that as talent is everywhere if you know how to spot it. What I’ve seen more in South London is that it’s a very creative place. There may not be as many places to gig but there are a lot of creative artists, singers, producers and musicians to mix with.
Talk us through the new track / video?
Ok sure. “Backfired” is about finding a relationship in a state of chaos. It explores the journey of recognising, understanding and eventually accepting that there are fundamental incompatibilities/differences in that relationship which cannot be solved overnight. The song is the beginning of an inward journey where many people have found themselves. It also hints to possible compatibility but it is often hindered/restricted by deeper issues within each individual. It is the first step on this inward journey on my E.P 34/7. The song was actually born out of a writing session I had with my friend, artist and songwriter Jordan Thomas and wasn’t originally intended for me. However, I really loved the song so when it wasn’t taken on, I asked Jordan if he didn’t mind me having it for my own project. He said “no”! I’m joking… he was happy about it and so after trialing production with it with other producers, I eventually decided to produce it myself which was really fun. I really try to serve the song when I produce, my goal is for everything to work together equally. In terms of genre, I’d say this is more “poppy” I guess but as an artist I don’t really believe in genres when composing. I get genre helps to identify characterisations of music and how they’re combined. However, if I start composing a song thinking about the genre, I would not let that song live up to its potential. In terms of production, it’s the same, I find musical characteristics that feel good with my melody and chords and I go from there. So if my guitar sounds like acoustic pop, my harmonies sound RnB, my drums sound new school production-ish and my vocal sounds soulful but it all works, you can call it what you like lol.