Interview w/ Calvin Johnson: What We Call Anatomically Correct

As published in L.A. Record:

Calvin Johnson is the founder of K Records and of many bands including Beat Happening. He is also a formidable dancer. He speaks now with Lovely Linda.

I hear that you’re an expert at drawing cats.
I’m not if you were looking for something what we call anatomically correct. But I doodle things.

And I’ve read that at least one woman has a tattoo of one of your cat drawings.
I did meet a woman who had one. That was twelve years ago, though.

Does anyone else have a tattoo of your artwork?
There’s a woman who has a flower on her arm that I drew.

Didn’t Kurt Cobain have a K logo tattoo?
I’ve heard rumors.

You founded K Records in 1982. How does a 19-year-old start a record label?
Well, that happens with people younger than that. There are kids starting labels at 14 or 15 now.

Perhaps you’re the one who set that precedent.
Well… I’m just doin’ my thing.

Some of my favorite artists are on K – the Softies…
Oh, they’re classic!

…the Microphones, Mirah, the Blow, Chicks On Speed… How involved are you with the bands on your label?
Well, I’m a fan.

How does one get signed to K?
I have no idea.

You’re not really part of that process?
I’m working with people and it seems like it’s working out. They make a record and there you are.

You’re about to head out on tour.
Just for a short two weeks. California and back.

You’re doing this tour with the Monotonix.
Yeah. They’re from Tel Aviv, Israel.

How’d you hook up with them?
Yonatan, the guitar player, had come to a show I played at Maxwell’s in Hoboken and he said, ‘Hey, would you like to play in Israel?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course! Who wouldn’t?’ So he arranged for a tour and we went on to Tel Aviv and did three shows. Monotonix have toured at least three times now in the U.S. and they were like, ‘Hey we’re coming back—do you wanna do some shows with us?’ and I said ‘Why not?’

What kind of music are they?
It’s very… rock. Rock and roll. Very heavy. Kind of big. Big rock.

How does that fit in with your minimalist approach?
They’re very minimal actually. They’re a stand-up drummer and one guitarist and a vocalist. It’s very stripped down. Pretty happening.

Why did Beat Happening turn down All Tomorrow’s Parties for a reunion show?
What? Really? I never heard that before.

I read that in an interview.
Well, that’s a great rumor.

But not a true one.
They never asked me. But who knows?

So that’s not completely out of the question—a Beat Happening reunion?
I don’t know if reunion is really the proper terminology that we want to be using.

A Beat Happening show?
It’s as much a mystery now as it was from the very first day we started playing.

What’s this speaking engagement you have at UCLA on the 14th?
They have a series there—a speaking series—and they asked me to take part. The topic is going to be ‘The Origin of Calvin Johnson.’

What does that mean?
[silence]

When you tour solo across the country you often play small spaces — places like art galleries rather than clubs, without so much as an amplifier. Is that how this tour is going to be?
My interest in performances is that they are accessible. So I’ve played in backyards, churches, bowling alleys, coffee shops, rock clubs, in theaters — all kinds of places. As long as it’s accessible to audiences of all ages.

Let’s talk about your last record—Calvin Johnson & the Sons of Soil. What prompted you to re-record your own songs?
Jason Anderson is an artist on K and he had the idea that we should do a tour performing some of the songs that I had been doing as a solo person, and he said, ‘Why don’t you have a band? That’d be really good.’ And I said, ‘You put the band together and I’m there.’ And he said ‘Rock and roll.’ And he did. And at the end of the tour we figured, ‘Well, we’re all practiced up—let’s record some of this.’ So we did. And then I was like, ‘Well, we’ve got this tape — we’ll also make a record out of it.’

Do you have a preferences of which versions you like better?
No. It’s just of the moment. Captured in time.

Any plans for recording a new album of your own in the near future?
I really should. But I don’t have any exact plans. It’s all very vague.

What about forming a band again?
That could be fun. I don’t think I have time for that. It takes a lot of work — you have to practice and schedule things.

Why don’t you have a Myspace?
Life is short. You know — I can’t do everything. I’ve just never got around to learning to play tennis. We have to make priorities in this life.

What is one of the biggest priorities you have at this time?
Pears.

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