Interview: Johnny Stanec
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today? Like a lot of people that end up making music, I grew up around music. There was always a steady stream of music in our house. As I got older and developed my own musical identity, I started teaching myself how to play guitar. Also, I always liked reading about who wrote the songs and why. It felt so pure and organic that someone could write a song from nothing. As soon as I could play a few chords my first instinct was to attempt to write a song. They were all terrible, but it seemed more constructive to pursue that aspect of music. I just wanted to write. It was something I could do myself, and for someone that was introverted at times, it was a great outlet for my emotions. I can't imagine not playing music, actually. I was playing drum beats as a little kid and my teens were nothing but listening to music, playing in bands and trying to write songs. My adult years have been pretty much the same, and I figure it is something I never have to stop doing. What do you like to do when you're not playing music and how does that influence your creativity? Creative inspiration is really all around us. I find myself constructing songs in my head while I am doing nearly everything. If I come up with a melody earlier in the day, then I am thinking about that melody and what I want that song to sound like eventually. I enjoy going for a run and I use that as time away from life's distractions. I will be working out parts in my head while I do daily tasks. I kind of feel like I never stop, I am always working on the next idea. How long have you been around as a musician? While I am new to most people, I have been at it for a while. I started a band in the mid-2000s called First In Space. We released five records over ten years and disbanded in 2018. We played quite a bit at one point, but it ran its course. During one of our breaks I started working on a solo record and over time I started focusing more on my own music. Once we called it a day I was able to focus solely on my own music and felt that working out of the confines of a band was less limiting. A band ends up with a specific sound and for the most part, sticks to it. On my own I have recorded songs that I wouldn't have done with a band, so I have enjoyed that freedom. Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music? Typically when someone hears about Youngstown, OH they immediately think about the Bruce Springsteen song, or the collapse of the steel industry. Yes, we are a rust belt city, but there has always been more to it than that. However, being from here creeps into your subconscious. It can be a challenging place at times, but maybe in a good way, if that makes sense? I don't think I would be the way I am if I were from anywhere else, for better or for worse. I know the challenges that being from a small city present for anyone trying to do anything, but I am grateful for the perspective I've gained at the same time. The blue collar ethics and hardworking attitude of the people from Youngstown have always influenced me to keep at it and never let disappointments get you down. Life is about moving forward. Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played. I've played shows to twenty people that were better than the ones that I played to a full room, so good and bad is subjective in that sense. I've driven eight hours to have someone pay my band $5 after our set. I mean, if that isn't a lesson in humility then I don't know what is. But, every show can be a good show. Since this pandemic hit us and having to take a long break from playing live I keep thinking about how you never know when a show might be your last show. There were times I took it for granted because I had ten shows booked and was too busy to think about not playing, but then when you haven't been on a stage in a year you find yourself wishing for a terrible show. I've had the opportunity to open for a few of my favorite songwriters over the years, so those go down as highlights. I opened for Jesse Malin and Ike Reilly on separate occasions. For someone from where I am coming from, those were a big deal to me. The first time I really did some traveling as a musician opened me up mentally and made me want to do it more, too. Really it has all been a mix of the good and the bad. I appreciate both sides because there were times I was with my best friends and other times I was with my significant other, and all those experiences mean the world to me.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
A few of my favorite places are gone now, swallowed up by time or more recently the pandemic. I don't think I have a favorite. I've found myself in a variety of different venues over the years. There are so many good spots in so many different cities and towns. I hope to keep expanding on that as I go forward and get back into playing live, now that things are getting better. I hope our return to normal keeps going and only gets easier.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
A dream lineup would most likely be filled with a lot of dead musicians. I play solo acoustic mostly, so I would love to do an intimate evening with some of my all-time favorite songwriters. Elliott Smith would be involved and John Lennon, plus to make my fourteen-year old self happy, Kurt Cobain. Throw in Noel Gallagher (not dead), Bob Dylan (also not dead) and Tom Petty and that night would be incredible for me.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing?
Expect a lot of disappointment, but know that making music is always worth all of the pain and heartbreak that goes along with it.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Just keep doing what you are doing. It might not seem like it is getting any easier right now, but this is what you want to be doing with your life and even though financial success eludes you, the pursuit of creating something you believe in is far more important and is the truest form of success.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I could never choose just one, because as a terrible editor of my own work I think they are all special in their own way. Sometimes you'll write a song and you think it is the greatest thing ever and then no one responds. Other times a song you didn't initially think much of will resonate with listeners. I've written songs during dark moments in my life and those helped me cope with depression and anxiety, and other times I am reflecting on a perfect moment that I want to capture in a song. They all matter to me.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I try to change it up when I play live, but I do have a few songs that almost always make it on my setlists. I wrote a song a few years back called 'The Future's Promise & the Dying Breath' that was sort of like my own little one song version of 'Blood On The Tracks'. On record it is a full band recording, but live I approach it solo and just acoustic. It is usually cathartic to play it live. Even further back there is a song called 'Fade to Black' that has a special place in my heart. It was one of the earliest solo songs I did where I felt I was really on to something.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
Music can't be forced. Forcing a song never works and it always needs to come from a place of organic inspiration. You can play the same four chords a hundred times and then the next time you strum something clicks in your head and a melody comes out. It can be anywhere at any time. I never set aside time to write. I just let it happen naturally.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Listeners probably don't always pay close attention to the words, but they are really important to me. I write songs to deal with life, in a way. I use them as therapy sessions. I am getting something personal out. Frustration, sadness, nostalgia, anxiety, happiness, love, etc. So, I would hope that anyone listening can find all those emotions and connect with them. I try to be honest and say something true, from my point of view at least.
Do you ever have disagreements/doubts with yourself about music, and how do you get past them?
Failure is inevitable when you go after something creative. The doors aren't just wide open for someone trying to write music. There are no guarantees and no matter how much you plan, it will almost always be a compromise. For whatever reason I have never let any of that stop me. Bandmates came and went, time has passed, things have changed, but I just keep going forward. I love coming up with the next song and figuring out how to make that song come to life. So I guess my willingness to keep working for the sake of it keeps me going. Even with everything that is behind me, I feel like I am just getting started.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
My new single 'It Was Easy Now' is out June 18th and that can be found everywhere music is streamed. I have a second single called 'Feels Like I'm Fading Away' that will be released on August 13th. From there I will start planning a few more singles for the fall and into the coming winter. I would normally focus on releasing a full length album, but for now I am letting individual songs be heard. This is a different approach for me, but one I am excited about.
I am going to include my most useful links below for any interested readers.... Thanks for taking the time to speak with me! I appreciate it!
Bandcamp - https://johnnystanec.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/johnnystanecmusic/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/johnnystanec/