The newly revitalized lineup of ’90s Washington D.C. alt-country staples The Linemen is gearing up to release its debut album Close the Place Down (due 10/14). The 10-song collection ranges from the melancholy valentine of a title track to the roiling honky-tonk abandon of “Playing Hard to Get Even” and jangle-pop perfection of “Mystery in the Making” and “Pictures of the Two of Us.”
The Linemen’s Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Gregg first met in the early ’90s when the bands they were fronting—the old Linemen and the Lonesome Debonaires, respectively—started playing shows together. Johnson was a well-established singer and songwriter in the the D.C. area, playing shows at at the Birchmere, the 9:30 Club and Mountain Stage, landing a song on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s first album, and winning a WAMMY award for best male vocalist, while Gregg was working the New York club scene at CBGB, Rodeo Bar and McGovern’s—his independently released first record, Blue on Blonde, landed a three-and-half-star review in Rolling Stone and raves from the Minneapolis City Pages, CMJ and more. With the Debonaires, Gregg toured with They Might Be Giants and also appeared on Vin Scelsa’s legendary radio show Idiot’s Delight.
Glide Magazine is premiering the hard hitting “Lineman,” (below) a song that is colored in reckless rock exhibitionism and plenty of chugging guitars, evoking their tough to the nails band name. Revitalization or reunions built for artistic reasons couldn’t be more evident in this regrouping where musical integrity and boundless enthusiasm can be heard acutely.
Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Gregg of The Linemen were kind enough to give us some further insight into “Lineman”….
Kevin Johnson: I actually started working on “Lineman” in 1993, and had the verse and chorus down, with the idea of the chorus being just the word “Lineman” with stacked harmonies. But it was kind of repetitive, didn’t have a bridge, and I didn’t really know what it was about. So I had to wait a couple of decades to let it reveal itself. I think the song, when we recorded it, was older than I was when I first started it. I’m hopeful that it means different things to different people, but for me it’s about looking back at a life of being restless and on the run, and finally knowing that you are who you are. And realizing—or at least desperately hoping—that there’s no shame in it. I worked out the verses and the chorus in 2013, and Jonathan came up with the bridge, as well as the tribal guitar riff. He got it immediately. The bridge nailed the sense of reflection that the song needed—it causes the tone to shift from a tough-guy speech to a kind of rumination. Like a remorseful little internal confession in the middle of a pretty rude breakup.
Jonathan Gregg: “Lineman” was Kevin and I’s first co-write, and it came together very quickly. I immediately got a dark Sling Blade kind of vibe, and I wrote the jerky, twisted blues lick to suit my idea of the character. This is a guy for whom things have really not worked out, a poster boy for the collateral damage of post-industrial America who doesn’t see much of a way out. He’s not bad, but he’s creepy, and he knows it. The concrete truths of “curves and switches” have no parallel in his emotional life. The bridge suggests a PTSD kind of damage and reinforces the sense that he’s probably not a suitable candidate for a relationship—of any kind.
KJ: Our name comes from the great Jimmy Webb song “Wichita Lineman,” about a telephone lineman, a guy who just works day to day up on telephone poles, dealing calmly with emergencies and responding to natural disasters. A character that is simultaneously working class and a bit romantic and mystical. It’s truly one of the best ideas ever carved into song, so how could we not steal it? I like to think our songs are about the mind of an ordinary person who can’t help but be a dreamer. Work hard, dream hard. If I had a motto, that would be it.
JG: The character in this song could be the Jimmy Webb character, only 30 years and two DUIs later.
KJ: It’s our Ray Wylie Hubbard moment, at the end of which we magically resume being the nice boys next door.
With equal measures of freshness and experience, Close the Place Down, is state of the art of American roots rock ’n’ roll, laced with the keenest pop instincts. Produced by Gregg and Sanfuentes, Close the Place Down, was captured at Brooklyn Recording Studios by Andy Taub (Keith Richards, Calexico, Spoon) and mixed by producer/engineer John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Liz Phair).