Song Premiere/Interview: Brian Johannesen’s “Fremont”

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Americana Highways brings you this song premiere with an interview of Brian Johannesen’s “Fremont” from his album Holster Your Silver due to be released on January 31. The album was produced by Ryan Joseph Anderson, recorded and mixed by Luke Tweedy at Flat Black Studios in Lone Tree, IA. Additional recordings were by Packy Lundholm at Sound Vault Studios in Chicago. In addition to Brian Johannesen on guitar and vocals, other musicians on the album are Ryan Joseph Anderson on guitars, lap steel, mandolin, and harmonies; David Zollo on keys and harmonies; Ryan Bernemann on bass and harmonies; Matt Bernemann on drums; Packy Lundholm on pedal steel; and Jared Rabin on fiddle.

Brian Jonannesen delivers frank, honest songs.  His latest album demonstrates a fundamental understanding of the appeal of classic country music. We interviewed Brian Johannesen as well; the premiere is just beneath it.

AH: What is this song about?  Is there a story behind it or did something in particular make you write it?

BJ: I am usually very fortunate and get to play good shows where people are listening and get into the songs, but sometimes that is not the case. In this particular case, I was playing a show in Fremont, NE, on the patio of a bar. I say patio, but it was really four cinder block walls and no roof that just blocked any breeze from coming through and held all the cigarette smoke inside. It was like 100 degrees, a three-hour gig, low pay, and my tour mate and I had eaten some funky burritos the day before, so it was a bit rough. In between songs, this middle-aged woman took a drag on her cigarette and in a gravelly Midwestern accent said, “Play some John Denver.” I told her I didn’t know any John Denver songs, and I was really sorry. She took another drag on her cigarette and said, “Yeah, you do.”

That’s where the song started. I was thinking about life in Fremont, NE. That town has been through a rough time with losing jobs, high numbers of people on welfare, everything you think of when you think small town middle America. Going to see some guy from Iowa City on the patio of the Corner Bar is their way of distracting themselves, just like I go to shows to distract myself. The character in “Fremont” is a guy who has a lot of issues of his own. He uses country music as a way to hide from his problems, to bury his head in the sand. It’s a marvelous escape for him, but unfortunately he never actually deals with his issues, just spends more and more on his country fandom, and his problems catch up with him. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t relate to that.

AH: Was this a music-first or a lyrics-first song?

For me, the two go hand-in-hand. I think I started thinking about the story of the song when I was messing around with that opening guitar part, and I remembered inhaling a swarm of gnats on the Platte River while we were in Fremont. The lyrics and music always happen at the same time for me.

AH: Speaking of the lyrics, what is your favorite lyric line from this song?  Why is it your favorite?

I guess I am most happy with the line “He spent $3000 on the Outlaw Country Cruise / Just to see Lucinda Williams dip her toes into the pool” because I think it perfectly captures this character’s excitement, while also just being sad.

AH: What is next for Brian Johannesen?

BJ: I am very excited to get my new record, Holster Your Silver, out at the end of the month. I’ll be hitting the road quite a bit in support of that release, seeing a lot of friends and making new friends. Hopefully along the way, I can cross a few National Parks off my list. I’ve been to 35 so far; that’s my favorite thing to do on the road. Then onwards and upwards: start writing the next one!

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