Pin It

Keep the Beat 

Exploring Calvin Johnson's understated influence

click to enlarge INDIE ICON Calvin Johnson, center, says his hometown of Olympia, Wash., is a hive of progressive musicians.
  • INDIE ICON Calvin Johnson, center, says his hometown of Olympia, Wash., is a hive of progressive musicians.

Calvin Johnson isn't exactly a household name, though his impact on underground indie rock is undeniable.

Johnson is a singer, songwriter, producer and label owner whose do-it-yourself ethic has become the standard for musicians and labels alike. His 30-plus years making and sharing music has influenced countless more well-known artists, though Johnson remains modest in his work and inspired by the music.

This week, Johnson's band the Hive Dwellers make their Santa Rosa debut when they play the Arlene Francis Center. Johnson is known for his distinct droning vocals and playful lo-fi indie pop in bands like Beat Happening and the Halo Benders. He's also the founder and head of K Records and Dub Narcotic recording studio, making him a one-man enterprise of independent music.

"One of the things I try to live by is 'Where's the passion?' It needs to be there," says Johnson, speaking by phone from K Records headquarters in Olympia, Wash.

Johnson first discovered his own passion for music as a young man living in Olympia. He was exposed to an array of independent and progressive music while volunteering at the local community radio station in 1977, and soon he was writing for fanzines and booking local shows.

Olympia is a small town, smaller than Novato, yet it's musical culture is on par with other northwest hubs like Seattle and Portland. "People just stay home and work on their stuff," says Johnson. "Just about every night there's a show somewhere. It's a little bit overwhelming."

In 1982, Johnson founded his first band, Beat Happening, as well as his label, K Records. While other pioneering labels like Sub Pop Records grew to near major-label status, Johnson has kept K Records small by design, keeping his passion focused on that shared experience of discovering and celebrating great music. "I'm still very excited about music—seeing people expressing themselves and inspiring others with what's in their heart," explains Johnson.

Since 1993, Johnson has also worked as a recording producer at his Dub Narcotic Studios, and though the majority of acts he works with are local musicians, breakout indie bands like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse have spent time in the studio. In one form or another, Johnson has contributed to a few hundred albums throughout his career.

The Hive Dwellers formed in 2009, after Johnson spent a decade playing and recording largely as a solo artist. At first, the project was a conglomeration between him and an assortment of friends playing around, and the band's debut album reflects that cacophony. But for the last few years, the band has evolved a set lineup, and this year the group released its sophomore LP, Moanin'.

Johnson describes the follow-up as both "a lot more immediate and more spontaneous," and he's more than ready to finally bring the band's new material to the North Bay.

  • Exploring Calvin Johnson's understated influence


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Arts

  • Ziggy Marley Speaks

    The second most famous name in reggae comes to the North Bay
    • Jul 22, 2015
  • Binge, Interrupted

    One more episode for the road—or not
    • Jul 15, 2015
  • Intimate Art

    Solo exhibit offers a peek into the mind of Richard Diebenkorn
    • Jul 8, 2015
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Scene Building

    Event to support Pussy Riot at Arlene Francis Center
    • Sep 25, 2013
  • Jello-Rama

    Punk icon Jello Biafra is still railing against corporate greed and yuppie culture.
    • Apr 2, 2014

More by Charlie Swanson

Find It

Submit an event

Boho Beat

Jul. 24-25: Big Screen Cuba in Sebastopol

Jul. 24: Mister Moonlight Returns in Petaluma

Jul. 25: Far Out Fun in Point Reyes Station

More »

Facebook Activity

Most Commented

  • Fat Tire Temple

    Curating mountain biking's roots in the place where it all began
    • Jul 1, 2015
  • Return to Form

    North Bay pianist Beau D draws inspiration from injury
    • Jun 17, 2015
  • More »


Read more @nbaybohemian

Copyright © 2015 Metro Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Website powered by Foundation