Interview with Mick Johnson from The Heartland Collective
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I grew up in the 80’s, so I caught the tail end of punk and the full force of hair metal. Listing to Iron Maiden on repeat while playing Manic Miner was a precursor to getting my first drum kit and just trying to be cool. Music has given me an outlook on life which I cannot fathom, but love. If I had not got into music…I got to be honest, I Just Don’t Know, which was the title of my first single!
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
When I’m not playing music I’m thinking about playing music and making music videos for my music. Being an independent solo artist, I create, direct and edit all my music videos with complete creative freedom, and I feel having the visual freedom to do this keeps the creative juice flowing. Not to say that I don’t enjoy a walk or a workout, but I find it relaxing to be constantly creative and if I have to focus on life stuff then when I come back to creativity it feels stronger and clearer. My last music video for the release, My Deepest Darkest Friend, won a Cannes Shorts Nomination for Best Music Video, and the video for Gun To My Head has already been awarded Best Drama Music Video at the International Music Video Awards.
How long has your project been around?
The Heartland Collective project has been around since 2019 when I released my first singe ‘I Just Don’t Know’ when I started writing songs on my own. I love being a fire starter, and for me, the intoxication of coming up with, and wafting the initial spark into a song is addictive. Then having the ability to collaborate with whom I feel will enhance that song is part of why The Heartland Collective is going from strength to strength.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m a Durham lad from the North East of England and still live there, and feel it every day. North Eastern people are full dreams but grounded by a sense of grit. I was 13 years old when we (my family and friends) suffered through the turbulent miners’ strike of 1984 and experiencing the deviation and emptiness of my hometown there after. I feel my music is somehow a reflection of this, especially through my lyrics; a striving to transcend and escape reality comes through in my songs but always undercut by a dose of scepticism. I heard that the concept of the The Angel of the North by Anthony Gormley, is that North Eastern people do have wings to fly, but are always firmly grounded to earth where they belong.
How did you come up with the name of your project and what does it mean to you?
The Heartland Collective. I wanted to point to where I was from, the Durham Heartland, but also for this project to be a collective in the sense that I’m open to almost any sonic idea. The songs I write and come up with are wide ranging, and I like to embrace whatever direction the song takes me in, be it pop punk, I Just Don’t Know my first single, or gothic noir rock as in my second single, My Deepest Darkest Friend. My latest release Gun to My Head has been described as nu-metal mixed with punk rock. So the name of the project means an identity, but also that I can diversify and not be limited as what genre I want to release next. I’ve actually just been collaborating with a rapper from Chicago, so the book is totally open.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Although I’ve had a great deal of adventure on the road with other bands in the past, as of yet the The Heartland Collective project has not played any shows. But I’m excited about plans to get a show together and take my songs on the road.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Being 14 years old in 1985 and being blown away by Master of Puppets by Metallica my heart says they have to be on the ticket. Johnny Cash is a huge influence on my lyrics and he is a massive presence even now in my musical attitude. The Cult are one of those bands who have always been on the outside of the musical landscape because nobody can really nail what they are about, but they have lasted throughout the years and are one of my all time favourite bands so I’d love to have them on there.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
My advice to someone starting out now. Love what you do, respect your craft, play as much as possible, be you, collaborate with awesome people, find people you have chemistry with and never let them go, and watch out for sharks! If I could give a younger self some advice, ditto.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I think it would be don’t take yourself too seriously and just live you dream while you can!
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I have a song I wrote called ‘Song For The Unsung Heroes’ which will hopefully form part of an EP release soon. This song is a personal account about me growing up and about how a step parent can arrive in your life and save you, how they walk around as normal people not knowing they are heroes. People live in isolation a lot of the time and we should tell each other how much they mean in our lives. I did play my Dad the song and he was speechless, but he is from the North East of England.
Which songs are your favourite to play and which get requested the most?
My favourite song to play is actually my current single Gun To My Head. It’s an adrenaline inducing song to listen to, but that escalates when you’re playing it. You can let loose a really hit the drums hard, really hard, which I love to do!
What is the creative process for the project, and what inspires you to write your music?
Every song I write has its own sonic identity. Without going into the nuts and bolts, my creative process involves embracing whatever idea comes out and running with it. I’m normally visited by a melody between 5-6am and I have to get up and record it, then I build a guitar track or rhythm around the melody. Inspiration is random, but I must say the darker the mood I’m in, the better the inspiration. I love having the ability and opportunity to express emotion in whatever musical form I choose and that’s what makes me write.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I can’t say that I intentionally come to the table with a coherent message, but I like to explore the darkness and lightness that everybody has in their lives. I would like my music to chime with people on an emotional level, be that on the depths of despair or when they are vibrating high. I want the music to be dynamic and make people remember good and bad times, but also even my most dark tracks have a redemptive quality.
Do you ever have disagreements, and how do you get past them?
Lol no, it’s just me! But I argue with myself quite often and always make up.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
After the release of my new single Gun To My Head, I plan to release two more singles this year, then I have plans for an EP next year. Also the prospect of getting a band together and playing my songs live really excites me, so that is in the mix too!