Interview – Thomas Johnson – Phases of the Moon Music + Art Festival

How did the Futurebirds first come together?

We all were competing as individual singers in a singing competition.  None of us made the cut as solo artists. We were pretty bummed, but a record label guy surprised us all when he decided to put the six of us together to form a group. We agreed, albeit reluctantly and with hesitation. We didn’t end up winning the competition, but we had made such progress and become real lads after that, so we decided to continue playing as a group.

How does the creative process work when writing songs in the Futurebirds?

We all kind of write privately, on our own, to start with. When we get together to rehearse, anyone is welcome to bring a song to the table. Some songs are fully completed, some have a chorus, a verse, just some chords or a hook, etc…  We kick the song around amongst us and work on it until we get it sounding good.  Everyone puts their own spin on the song, which helps us sound more a unified force instead of a group of individual songwriters.

How often do you find yourself writing songs?

Whenever the mood strikes me. Sometimes I’ll write 4 songs in a day, sometimes I go for days without writing songs.  It’s important for me to not force myself to write when I’m not inspired to do so, but also to be able to put down ideas at a moments notice when the mood does strike me.

What was the first track written for the Baba Java EP?

Daniel wrote “Power of the V” about 6 or 7 years ago, it predates the band itself. We attempted to record it properly and were never satisfied enough to put it on an LP.  The version on Baba Java is as close as we’ve gotten, but you should hear the original demo, it’s a masterpiece that can’t be reproduced.

What do you enjoy most about the music scene in Athens?

The people.  All of our great friends who play in bands, book venues, work at venues, run studios, fix amps, fix guitars, write songs, etc… There is such a supportive group, folks who have been where you want to be, and know the pitfalls.  It’s a nurturing community, and such an avid fan base to support it.

You tour a ton and put on one of the most rocking live shows. What have been some of your strangest moments on the road?

You know I don’t kiss and tell baby, but get on out to the fringes of society if you wanna know strange.  I’m talking mountains of West Virginia, Thomasville, GA, Humboldt County…  You just may end up sitting at the homeless table in McDonalds.

You’re playing the Phases of the Moon Festival this year. What are you most looking forward to about the fest?

Hand-dipped corn dogs are the best part of festivals.

Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?

Kind of. My dad dabbles in guitar and my mom used to sing in the choir. My grandad plays a lot of guitar, he strums old country and folk songs all the time. That being said, my whole family loves music, and it was a big part of my life from an early age.

What was your earliest musical memory?

I saw Travis Tritt when I was 7. That was my first concert.  He was amazing.

What was the first album you bought?

Garth Brooks In Pieces.

What do you remember most about your first time onstage?

I remember hoping that none of my favorite musicians/friends were in the audience, I was really bad at guitar.  I guess i didn’t properly appreciate how unlikely it would be for my favorite musicians to walk into a strip mall in Gwinnett County.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?

We had our original drummer quit the band, amicably, to pursue a law career.  The following 2 years tested our resolve as individuals and as a band.  Times were dark and ominous.  We felt like we were lost in the water, navigating swells in a monsoon.  We lost friends, we lost business associates, we lost money, but ultimately we came out the other side as devoted as we ever have been, and a lot wiser for it all.

What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?

Nothing is permanent.  Never let the situation get the best of you, that’ll be hard.  Don’t be scared of change and growth, musically or personally.

Most importantly though, never feel like the music owes you something.  No one deserves anything, you get what you get.  Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s unfair, sometimes it’s all your fault, sometimes you’re an innocent bystander.  The second you start expecting something in return from the music you create, the second the magic starts to fade.

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