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Polaris Prize Nominees: B.A. Johnston at Irene’s on Friday

By Alessandro Marcon on June 25, 2015

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This piece is part of a mini-series covering some of the artists nominated for the Polaris Prize, who are playing shows in Ottawa.

Hamilton’s B.A. Johnston, the tenaciously-touring troubadour has become a cornerstone of the Canadian music scene in that when he tours this vast nation, he really covers all of it. His live shows are hilarious and his honest tunes endearing.  Before his show tomorrow at Irene’s, we managed to sneak in a little Facebook interview with B.A. to talk about life on the Canadian highways, Canadian festivals, factor funding, and the Capital region.

Apt 613: Gidday BA. So, you’re out on yet another tour, playing shows at bars and festivals in Ontario and also in the East. I see that you’re playing EVOLVE on July 11th in Antigonish, NS, then coming back to Field, ON for River and Sky on July 17th and then heading out to Sackville, NB on August 1st for Sappyfest. Lots of driving once again! What vehicle are you currently touring in? What kind of relationship have you built up with this vehicle?

BA: I drive a 1992 Toyota Previa minivan. I have a relationship that is built around the fear of constant failure with underlying trust. It gets you there but it will seem like it wont.

With so many long hours on the road how do you keep busy? Podcasts? Iron Maiden cassettes? Are you the type of person who genuinely likes driving?

I don’t mind driving. I don’t love it. Its not like playing Super Nintendo. Its not even as fun as playing a video game where you drive. I spend 90% of the time listening to Jean Shephard radio shows, the cbc, books on tape and 10% on classic rock radio.

If you could have some famous celebrity chauffeur you around for the summer, free of charge, who would you choose? Would you get them some kind of special chauffeur uniform?

Hamburglar. Cause it would be awesome. And he would just say robble robble all the time. He could just wear his normal awesome uniform

B.A. JohnstonDo you have any good road stories that you’ve experienced as of late that you’d be willing to share with us?

To be honest you just sit there and drive. It’s very very dull. I have had some breakdowns which are also dull. I once read a Gary Coleman bio as a total stranger welded a ball joint back together in a Canadian Tire parking lot in Corner Brook, Nfld.

People typically claim that some provinces have worse drivers than others. In your professional experience, would you say that one province, or perhaps city, strikes you as more inept on the road than the others?

Worse drivers in Canada ranked. #1 Regina, SK.  #2 Barrie/Wasaga Beach area Ontario #3 St. John’s, Nfld.

From my understanding, you’ve played Sackville’s SappyFest on numerous occasions. What keeps bringing you back there? How has the festival changed from when it first started until now? Does it still have the same vibe as when it started?

I hope so, it had the same vibe the other times – basically a summer camp for like indie kids on shrooms. It’s a great time and you get to see basically all your friends in the Maritimes in one spot. Plus it seems like all I eat there is hot dogs and ice cream. Pro tip: order a milk shake at Mels just to see how angry the waitresses get

Have you ever thought about throwing down some DJ sets at some of these festivals you’re at? Do you still have a sizeable record collection?

I have so many records and I do dj sometimes – mostly a lot of Lionel Ritchie.

You’re playing Irene’s on this jaunt through Ottawa. I believe you played House of Targ the last time (or two trips past). I was wondering what you thought of Targ, seeing as you have such affection for classic arcade games. Did any of the games really tickle your sideburns?

I love Targ as they have great staff, owners and treat the bands with respect which is a rarity in this country. Ottawa is lucky to have such a place. I love arcades and pinball and have driven to Funspot in NH three times in the last few years mostly to play forgotten arcade gem “Zookeeper”

On your album Mission Accomplished you have a song titled ‘Straight Outta Cobden’. Have you spent some time in the beautiful Ottawa Valley?

I have spent some time there. I have buds in Deep River. And I have taken the bus through there so I know how much I hate Chalk River, just kidding – kind of. The song ‘Straight Outta Cobden’ is a real life account of running out of gas en route to a Phish show in Ottawa in 1993.

Your latest album Shit Sucks  is like your tenth. When you compare this latest effort with your first, what has changed? What has stayed the same? Are you more or less involved now in production?

Well a lot has changed since the first album came out like 15 years ago. This will shock people but its way more hi fi now. I guess the constant has been my distance from the production end. I do feel that on my last few albums I have tried harder for whatever that is worth.

BA JohnstonAlmost lastly B.A, congrats on your long-list nomination for the Polaris Prize! You might have heard of the #shortlistba  floating around the internet spearheaded by Paul Lawton, ex-member of the Ketmaines, ex-director of Mammoth Records and Factor shit-disturber. The claim he makes to your shortlist worthiness is your incredible touring efforts, which have seen you splash yourself all over this immense country to many remote places (and on multiple occasions) that many bands have never gotten close to. Seeing as you, as I understand, have never accepted government funding, I was wondering what you think of our government funded musicians. Is it good, bad, necessary?

I did receive some factor tour grants when they were handing them out but it seems the gravy train on that has stopped for me. And this album was denied funding. But I’m cool with that. It always seemed like some kind of scam really. I think they could use the money better by setting up a good infra-structure for all ages shows/venues – that scene seems like its dying and those are the kids that keep these scenes going

Lastly BA, did you hear that Tim Hortons is letting you design your own food item? Well, let’s imagine anyway… What would it be? What would the signature B.A. Johnston available at Timmy’s be?

My signature food item at Tim Horton’s would be a donut from the best donut shop in the world Jake Frost the pride of Cleveland Ohio – wish I was eating one right now

B.A. Johnston plays Irene’s Pub (885 Bank Street) on Friday, June 26, 2015. Show starts at 9:30. Steamers and Jessie Dangerously open. Tickets are $10 at the door.

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