The Inspector meets Dr. Claw in an artist vs. critic skirmish, but a precarious turn of events sends the event wheeling into a Claw vs. Claw debacle

Posted May 29, 2007 in
When I got Calvin Johnson (founder and owner of K Records) on the phone, I was startled as he introduced himself in a deep rumble akin to Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. However, after I introduced myself I was further startled as his voice took on a transformation, now sounding like a polite 40-year-old gay man who has a penchant for awkward 20-something boys. Needless to say, the dude made me feel ill at ease and I’m sure this didn’t help my situation (even transcribing this interview while listening to our conversation on tape is making me nervous; I’m walking aimlessly between the kitchen and my laptop, stopping every 20 seconds or so to pause the tape and calm my nerves from Johnson's sultry, distressing voice).

At the outset, I asked Johnson about his thoughts regarding the future of record labels and their ability to stay afloat given the turn to popular file-sharing programs. He responded by saying that he doesn’t think it will create much of an effect, especially for small, independent labels like his. He thinks people will always want “music on their person” regardless of free music--people want a palpable product that guarantees high-quality listening.

The live show is the other staple and reason not to worry. Johnson explains that live performances is where “the love is, and people want to go for the love.” He argued that the great live shows from artists on K Records, such as, “Khaela from The Blow, Mirah and Saturday Looks Good To Me” would keep people coming. “They’re just great live performers,” Johnson said. “They make records too, but really, they’re live performers.”

When talking about his new album, Calvin Johnson & The Sons of the Soil, I asked him if he would be interested in hearing the review of it that was written in the April issue of SLUG. “Well, I don’t really pay much attention to reviews,” he stated. “It doesn’t really affect…I’m not really too interested.” After asking him why, Calvin responded with the classic business mantra, “Well, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” After which, he concluded, “It’s not really relevant to me.”

But like a stubborn moose whose pride had been shot and antlers chopped, I persisted to argue the importance and role of the critic. I refused to accept that music critics’ reviews only serve as marketing. However, I was really more curious than anything.

“I am interested in an analytical approach to some artwork,” CJ said. “But, I guess (long pause) your random record review just doesn’t seem to have a value. As an artist, I don’t really care. It’s not going to really affect me one way or another.”

After belaboring the point further to satisfy my own curiosities, and once I began detailing the “Death of the Author,” a confused Johnson confirmed his fatigued disdain by suggesting, “Anyway…yeah.”

To which I questioned the importance of the interview, as opposed to a review. “Do you see any role or reason for interviews as opposed to reviews? “It depends entirely on the interviewer…” Calvin said. Then he recited the famed showbiz slogan again, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Needless to say, things got a little awkward. So, like any keen and defensive critic would do, I turned this interview on its proverbial head. I had Calvin Johnson interview Calvin Johnson. Thus, cleansing me of the suggested guilt. The following is CJ in all seriousness, interviewing himself, while I bit my knuckle in hopes of not laughing over the phone:

CJ: Calvin, here’s a general question: What are you working on right now?
CJ: Ah. Well, I’m finishing up several different records that will be out on K soon. An Old Time Relijun album, we just finished, and I think it’s one of the most—I don’t know if this word is appropriate—the most accessible records we’ve ever made. Which is still not very accessible to the average Joe, but it’s still a lot of fun…also working on a record by Jeremy J.; he’ll be here later today and we’re gonna make this album that he started recording last month. I’m also working on a record with a band from Australia called, Kiosk…so, lots of different things going on in that department.
CJ: Well, is that all you do? Is record?
CJ: Well, no, but recording has been a major focus in the year of 2007 because we just finished moving our studio last summer, but I went away on tour so I never have a chance to do any recording until I got back. So, January and February and part of March were a lot of recording. But then I left on tour in March, so I’m just getting back to it now to finish up the things that we started so early in the year.
CJ: Yes. Well, very good very good. It sounds very productive.
CJ: Possibly, but it never feels like you’re doing enough—there’s just so much to do. You know, one day you wake up you think you’re going to record this album and that album and tour this and do that and write this and do that, and then the next day you wake up and it’s 20 years later, and you still haven’t gotten to half of it.
CJ: Do you have any other questions (Apparently he was asking me, due to the extended silence)?
SY: No. Do you have any others questions for yourself?
CJ: Not at the moment…
CJ: When are you coming back to Salt Lake City?
CJ: Ah, man, I got to get there soon. It’s been too long…
SY: What do you like about SLC?
CJ: What’s there not to like?
SY: Good question.

Calvin was supposed to play a show in Salt Lake sometime this month; however, the show was rescheduled for Canada instead, much to his disappointment. Not mine. I feel a little more comfortable already.