(pictured above: Zach Johnstone sports righteous shoes and the worst/best mustache for a mug shot)
Zach Johnstone has been around. In the mid-90’s he was in an excellent Dischord-like punk band named Nero. Nero ended after Johnstone’s graduation from college, at which point he disappeared for a while from music, and despite belief to the contrary, he did not move to Seattle. Taking almost a decade long hiatus from rock music, Johnstone thought outside of the bun, exploring hip-hop and electronic styles of music before returning to his roots. Now a member of the phenomenal and criminally overlooked Alcohol Party, Johnstone seems reenergized creatively. You can prove this to yourself by going to their show to see them this upcoming Monday, November 19th at the Mag Bar with Black God, and the incredible Child Bite. All that and he’s a solid dude that can make an amazing cocktail, making Alcohol Party the most appropriately named band since Prince. I mean it.
Never Nervous: What are your interests as a musician, and how does your current band Alcohol Party coincide with those interests?
Zach Johnstone: From a Macro standpoint, almost all of my creative projects deal with approaching challenges and limitations as opportunities for innovation. I tend to be very systems-oriented and analytical, which impacts everything from song writing to my effects chain. Variation, collaboration and physicality are also super-important to me.
I generally like rock to be loud, complex and fast paced, which is where Alcohol Party comes in.
NN: How did Alcohol Party start?
ZJ: Alcohol Party came about because Matt (bass) and I decided we wanted to start a slightly more prosaic rock band. We played for about year with another guitarist who didn’t end up working out, and during that time Jeff (drums) was recommended and fit the project. We played two shows as a 4 piece called Ampire, before paring down and basically starting over, save for a few songs that we eventually ditched, anyway.
NN: What is the best or at least most interesting show you’ve ever played and why?
ZJ: When I was dabbling with drone and other ultimately idiomatic types of abstract music, a friend and I played a show at Artswatch that was really an exposition of all the ideas that were running around in our heads at the time . . . and there were a lot. This was after a few years of being in a rock band and both of us were opening up to new ideas, methods, composers, etc. What we created wasn’t especially profound in concept, but it was one of those experiences where I literally lost myself as we were playing, almost an out of body experience. Due to the technically demanding nature of a lot of the music I play, I don’t get to experience that often.
NN: Are you compelled by live performance either as a participant or a member of the audience?
ZJ: Yes, both. I think it’s honestly most fun for me to be on the receiving end, especially because I love few things more than being surprised by a live band I know little about. Unfortunately, my work schedule keeps me from attending as many shows as I really should.
As a performer in AP, I try and keep things dangerous, playing-wise, as I think it adds an extra element of tension, which is something we play with a lot. That specifically includes sections that will never really be played the same way twice by me and that definitely has to do with some extremely dorky philosophical ideas I have about music reflecting life.
NN: Do you think that participating in the punk/indie scene has had an influence on your life? If so, in what way?
ZJ: Growing up weird and attuned to non-radio music in KY in the 80s/90s, it was kind of kismet for anybody like to me end up at Another Place Sandwich Shop or the Machine at the time. Part of the reason I still play music has to do with contributing to a creative community- I’m never going to be rich enough to endow a tenured Creative Writing or Art position at a University, but I do feel like I am doing my little part to contribute to our city’s creative culture this way.
NN: What is the song writing process like for you?
ZJ: It has changed over the years. It used to involve a lot of practice and finding my way into parts, whereas now I usually start a song with a fairly solid idea of what I want it to do. It is still somewhat of a discovery process, but what I am doing a lot with Alcohol Party is taking stock elements of rock or post-punk and trying to apply them in interesting ways or taking mechanisms from other types of music and fitting them into the post-punk construct.
About half of the AP songs start with Matt’s bass lines, and I really enjoy writing parts against other people’s parts just as much as writing my own songs.
NN: I understand that you’re a bit of a gear junkie. What’s your favorite piece of equipment and why?
ZJ: Well, my favorite piece of equipment is my ‘clean’ half-stack which consists of an Ampeg VT-22 2×12 combo supported by an Emperor 2×12 extension cab– Awesome, huge tone, but kind of boring. More interesting and pretty useful is the Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano– I got it for xmas last year and if you saw AP between then and our summer show at the Mammoth, you saw me screwing around with it. Right now, I am trying to see how few pedals I can use in AP and the next few shows I will not use a stereo set up- This is because I have conceded that we are sometimes too loud for the small spaces we prefer to play, and you can’t tell I’m using stereo effects anyway.
NN: Lastly, what have you been listening too? Any recommendations?
ZJ: I listen to a lot of Dead Rider, Child Bite, The Medications, Flying Lotus, Caribou, Wye Oak and Broadcast. I am also anxiously awaiting the new Lamps album on order from Astro Black. On that note, and speaking to more immediate (and possibly fleeting) pleasures, I’m currently listening to the new Divorce album a lot, too, which Jim discovered while gallivanting about. Shane from Anwar Sadat turned me onto the Dreebs via social media, and that stuff is pretty mind-blowing too.
I do recommend that everyone go to more small local shows. It is super crucial to nurturing new and awesome music. If everyone just waits to discover bands until Pitchfork or Forecastle tells them to pay attention, they’re actively taking part in a systematic homogenization that is terrible for music.