Interview with Johnny Rockett
Johnny Rockett is an American singer-songwriter from Charlotte, NC. He fills the room creating a full band atmosphere with warm original songs, dynamic guitar playing and a vibrant tenor voice. He released his debut album “Devil On Both Shoulders” in the spring of 2019 to a receptive audience and 40,000 streams on Spotify. The following fall release called “Small Hands” was featured on Oceanside: The Take over playlist on Spotify.
Raised in Monroe, Louisiana to a music family of eight; Rockett grew up on singer song-writers like Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne and Jason Mraz. He has toured nationally with artist: Chris Jones And The Southern Outlaws as a lead guitarist and on the open seas with Carnival Cruise Line as a guitar vocalist. He passed 800 shows as a solo guitar vocalist in 8 markets worldwide.
Since moving to Charlotte, NC in 2020 Rockett shifted his live performance efforts toward featured original content on college campuses like University Of South Carolina and a monthly residency at Kodiak Cocktail Bar & Music Lounge. Rockett currently performs at Listening Rooms, House concerts and Songwriter Round with the Charlotte, NC based “Keep It Original” songwriter collective.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
The initial appeal of music was that it offered me an escape. As a typical homeschool kid, I felt isolated. I didn’t have the foundation of shared experience, so I found it difficult to connect with my peers. Once I embraced music I felt like a door had finally opened to me, and with it, a sense of belonging.
If I wasn’t involved in music, I would likely be in real estate. House flipping, owning and renting property full time.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu several days a week. I love the challenge that it presents every time I step onto the mat. I like it because it has several overlapping characteristics with music. 1) Focus. It requires one’s full attention at all times. One does not have the luxury of daydreaming or zoning out when performing or rolling(sparring). One must be present to do these activities well. 2) I believe that one’s character is built primarily through struggle. The quality of that struggle determines the quality of one’s character. This mindset plays a vital role in how I write, what I write about and how I express myself through the vehicle of music.
How long has music been your career?
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Charlotte, NC. I like the fact that this city doesn’t have a well established music scene. After living in Nashville, TN for several years I have come to appreciate that fact. I get the feeling that this city, despite its established norms and culture, still feels like a blank canvas that I and other songwriters can shape. As a songwriter and creator this is a liberating feeling. I don’t feel pressured or compelled to write for any particular genre. There is also more diversity of songwriters to collaborate with here in Charlotte relative to places like Atlanta and Nashville. These cities have well established, entrenched genre specific norms that attract specific talent from all over the country. Nashville is a Country capital just as Atlanta is the Hip Hop capital. This may just be my impression, but I get the feeling like me along with other local songwriters in Charlotte have the unique privilege of sculpting the model through our creative output.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
I’ve been a musician for nearly ten years and played over a thousand shows. Everyone is sympathetic to the shows to an empty room. As a musician and songwriter this can happen and it’s brutal. But to me, the worst shows are the ones with a packed house yet the response remains the same; silence. No claps at the end of the song or simple acknowledgment of my existence. Being ignored has a particular sting. Those are the hardest shows in my opinion.
My best show wasn’t a sell out crowd nor did it have crazy production or energy. It was an intimate house concert with strangers that soon became friends. I wholeheartedly embrace the house concert format. It offers an opportunity to connect with a crowd in one of the most intimate environments created; a person's home. I’ve never experienced such warmth, encouragement and support from a crowd in any other venue.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Listening Rooms are at the top of the list. Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar on Printers Alley in Nashville. I really enjoyed that venue, the dim lighting, the rustic ambiance, the hyper elevated stage.
I would love to play at the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville. I’ve been several times as an audience member and I enjoyed the atmosphere. The owners at this venue, songwriters and listeners appear to all be on the same page; this is a music centric experience for everyone in attendance to enjoy. As a songwriter, I appreciate that fundamental priority.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I would like to play a show with Jason Mraz & John Mayer. These are two songwriters that I’ve looked up to my entire life. Playing a writer's round, riffing and playing along with each other's songs would be an incredible experience. Just to share the stage with either of these guys would be surreal.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
1) Sit down and get very clear about what success looks like to you. Once you have carved out a model then you now have a destination. This is a big step because most artists waste time engaging in activities that, even if fruitful, will take them to places they don’t want to be. Once you are clear on where you’d like to go, move on to the next step.
2) Reach out to other artists that are reachable, but are either doing what you’d like to be doing or are much farther down the success road than you currently are.
3) Visit their website and make a formal submission via email, if possible, requesting a one on one coaching call.
4) If they agree then you should be willing to pay for their time. I have never had a single coaching call that wasn’t worth the money. This will save you time, and in the long run money.
5) Understand that persistence is a more reliable contributor to success than luck, talent or hard work. Most people give up too quickly, and it is often those that fail the least that give up the quickest.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Ask for help. The “self made man” is a myth. No one succeeds solely from their own merits. Every person that has ever succeeded has done so because they had a robust support structure.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
“Momma’s Too Late” is the most meaningful song I’ve ever written. It was painful to write, and from the response, a difficult song to hear. I was hesitant to release it given the contents of the song, but I am proud to have gone through with it. This track is deeply personal describing my true feelings about my childhood and the treatment I was subjected to. The physical and emotional abuse, the religious indoctrination, the constant verbal beratement. As tragic as it is to say, the reason why I chose the title “Momma’s Too Late” is because it is too late. The little boy that needed her help no longer exists. What remains is now a man who is slow to trust and unwilling to forgive.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
“Who’s that girl?” is my favorite song to play. It’s a provocative tune that I’m sure will ruffle many feathers. I am comfortable with this because I have accepted the fact that no one is universally loved and accepted. I also do not believe a person should desire such a thing. Being rejected, despised or ostracized by a certain percentage of people is the cost of being an individual. I have never seen an artist, writer, director or politician discuss contentious and substantive material without enduring some vitriolic responses. This is an occupational hazard and the price of being authentic.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
It starts with humming. If that continues then I will utilize the voice memo function on my phone to capture the melody. Once I’ve got a grasp of the tune I go to my guitar to work out the details and structure. For me, the melody comes first then the lyrics. What inspires me most about music is what I don’t hear. I take this same approach to my consumption of information. What pieces of the puzzle are not being shown to me? I think the meat of any message tends to lie in what is deliberately omitted. I do my best to identify these missing pieces and then provide them in my own creative output. I see this most in the subjects popular artists sing about. Very safe subjects. Easily digestible to a broad audience. To my ears, the typical pop song themes have been played out. The heartbreak, the love song, unrequited love, endless suggestive material to sex, drugs and just how awesome fill in the blank artists is. I’ve enjoyed many songs that follow this template, yet many artists have spent careers being cheap knock offs of their own influences. It is my belief that there are many other things worth writing about.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
1) Primary message is that failure and rejection sting a lot less long term than regret. Once someone appreciates this fact they can find whatever resolve is necessary for them to start taking more chances. Identify what that is and go do it.
2) Memento Mori. Which is latin for “Remember death.” This mantra isn’t foreboding as it may appear. Quite the contrary actually. It is a call to action to accept our imminent demise and give out attention and focus to the things in life that are within our control. One of my favorite quotes comes from a Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough and has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Of course. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid disagreement within the collaborative process. Especially when something is being created. The key of course is how that disagreement is handled. First and foremost, when collaborating all parties must function from a foundation of mutually shared respect. If either party does not respect the talents and skill sets of the other party then we have a recipe for disaster. I don’t work with people that I do not respect, so the friction I experience with other collaborators is minimal. Checking one's ego when giving and receiving much needed feedback is crucial.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Three parts to this answer:
1) Release my upcoming singles: Goosebumps, Who’s That Girl? Followed up by my next album: “Wandering Heathen.” All of which are coming out this fall. Goosebumps on September 30th, Who’s That Girl on October 22nd and Wandering Heathen on November 18nth.
2) Listening Room shows and House Concerts. These shows include solo acoustic performances featuring original content. These venues are great opportunities for singer songwriters to share their journey in a music centric, intimate environment.
3) Sync Licensing. This is the process of getting one’s music placed within a tv show, film, video game or commercial. This market presents a well of opportunity. Additionally, as an artist, this process can facilitate the broadening of one’s own creative horizons by writing music outside of one's preferred genre.