Write-up by David Haynes
There’s been a shortage of that Heartland rock and roll. Petty died a few years back, and we’ve all been searching for replacements. Springsteen’s new album Letter to You comes close, but feels different than the airier, melancholy folk rock of the 70s. Luckily, Johnny Stanec’s new album, Never Met A Stranger, nods to that wide open sound without mockingbird-esque mimicry. He will release the new album on November 20th on vinyl and all digital streaming/download platforms.
Today Glide is excited to offer an exclusive early listen to the new album ahead of its release this Friday.
Hailing from Youngstown, OH, Stanec has a penchant for writing earnest melodies over combinations of folk and rock. The first song, “Into the Void,” starts off as an earnest, folk song and by the end transforms into an almost heavenly, Byrds-inspired groove. “Division Street” brings the rock with urgent, overdriven guitar chords and a soaring bass melody.
Lyrically, Stanec masterfully weaves half-stories in his songs. He sticks to a loose narrative while allowing the listener’s mind to fill in the blanks. Complete with that lonesome pedal steel, “Highway Nowhere” starts with the lyrics, “In a poor hometown in the Northern hills / where I often spend my nights.” Stanec has a wonderful sense of geography. Though not always referring to specific locations, Stanec makes you think of the places surrounding the small towns of America.
Stanec and co. have also managed to fill the record with lush arrangements. The song “It Was Easy Now” features a gorgeous string section on top of an already warm sonic palette. Likewise, “The Old Arcade” has a string arrangement that lifts the song into new territory. Towards the end of the record, Stanec also reveals his ability to write amazing folk songs with “Water in the Cracks.”
What Stanec has managed to do is reinvent the folk rock motifs of the American greats. Though Never Met A Stranger nods to so many songwriters, Stanec is blazing his own trail through this country’s sonic landscape. And right now, it feels like he’s in the great plains staring up at that big blue sky. This record is exactly what a rock record in 2020 should be: honest, masterful, and wide open.
Stream the record below, and read an exclusive interview with the artist further down…
What were you listening to while you wrote Never Met A Stranger?
Typically while I write for a record I tend to listen to less music than normal, but as I sorted out the structures of these songs I definitely had some specific sounds in mind. I’m a big fan of Oasis and Elliott Smith and wanted to sort of mesh those two influences together. Some of these songs feel very British in their structure too, so there is a nod to the Lennon/McCartney song structure in these songs. But on the other side I enjoy a lot of rootsy, stripped down American music that focuses on acoustic guitar and simple arrangements.
The idea for a lot of this record came about when everyone was at home during the shutdown and I started writing again. What was coming out was a lot of minor-key acoustic songs. I had this idea to record an entire record at home by myself. I ended up recording over a dozen songs at home, plus I also finished over ten that I had started back in February at a few different studios before quarantine. Ultimately, I ended up combining songs from all those sessions and picked the ten best that felt the most connected. I went with a more varied song selection and think it’s better for it. I think overall it’s some of my best results.
You do such a great job of blending styles and influences. Moments on this record feel almost Beatles-esque, while remaining firmly rooted in the American Heartland. How did you approach dressing up these songs in the studio?
Thanks! As a solo recording artist I work on my own and arrange the songs myself before I start recording them. I come up with a basic song (chords/melody/lyrics) and spend time sorting them out in my head. Then I lay down what I call a “scratch track” of rhythm guitar and vocals. Those basic demos get built upon from there, but are never used on the final recording. I have to mentally hear the song as I want to hear it finished. So, it is definitely a bit of a challenge to create a fully realized song entirely on my own. I recorded all the parts myself on this record, which I have done before. However, this time around I had more time to experiment since I did a good deal of the recording at home.
I really like music that combines elements from more than one style or genre, so I worked out parts that added to the song’s production. Nothing I play is difficult on its own, but when woven together with other parts, creates a full sound. I like Americana music and Alt-Country, but also Britpop and classic singer-songwriters like Neil Young. I wanted to create a record that incorporated all of those sounds. Not necessarily all at once, but as the record goes on, being able to hear all those influences come and go at different times. I even used some pedal steel for a song, which is a first for me. I pushed myself and hope people like what they hear!
Would you say that your geography impacts your songwriting? How do you feel you fit into the scene in Youngstown, OH?
I don’t really consider my geography all that much when writing, to be honest. I write on a personal level, and a lot of my songs are about me and my own experiences. I like the area and there are a lot of good people here and a lot of not so good people here, just like anywhere you go. The scene is diverse and there are people making all types of music, plus a handful of quality places to play. I do try to avoid the local cliques and don’t consider myself part of a scene or crowd. I probably was more involved several years ago, but being on my own allows me to float around and not be overly concerned with the day to day around here. Being halfway between Chicago and New York does have its advantages, though, and I have been able to travel to different cities and towns over the years playing music.
What’s next for you? Are you cooking up another record?
Moving forward, I hope to be able to get back to playing again. This years has been hard for everyone, and live music is really difficult right now. So, I don’t know when that happens. But, I’m always writing, and I have a decent amount of new ideas for a follow-up record. I’d like to take my time and get the word out about this one and then possibly in the late winter/early spring try doing some recording again. No concrete plans or anything, just see where it goes. I love making music, and after a while I start to get the itch to get back to it. However, for now I want to let this one grow some legs and get out there to some new ears. I hope to see that happen.
Never Met A Stranger is out November 20th on all digital sites for downloading/streaming and on Limited Edition 12″ Vinyl through Bandcamp.
Photo credit: Nicole Stanec