Thursday, February 11, 2016
Introducing :: Sam Cartwright Johnson
Words: Linn Branson
Sam Johnson is a young man of great talent. I say that as he managed to keep me awake for most of the night playing one of his latest tracks, 'About A Friend', on repeat through the early hours. He awoke next morning to find he'd gathered a stalker overnight who had filled his mailbox with a quantity of messages and rambling questions.
As those who know me personally will be aware, I am notorious for having an extremely low boredom threshold. If I manage to stand two songs in a live set without yawning and longing for home, it's a miracle; and earnest young men - or old, come to that - with acoustic guitars are not my thing at all. So, not having heard of Sam before, I was not expecting much at 2am the other morning when he appeared to be just "another bloke with a guitar".
Which he is, but the 21-year-old Shropshire-raised, Bristol-based singer/songwriter also has a few more strings to his guitar that puts him a notch above a lot in his field.
After first starting to play guitar aged 14, Sam soon began writing his own songs, which impressed My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields enough to invite him to Grouse Lodge Studios in Ireland where they recorded Sam's very first demos with Shields at the production helm. [See 'Red Gun' below]
Soon picked up BBC Introducing, along with a swell of interest on social media when he posted the demos to YouTube, he has gone on to land support slots with the likes of Laura Doggett and Elliott Brood.
With influences ranging from Ben Howard and John Martyn to Kurt Cobain, Sam's current sound is a diverse mix of alt-folk and indie with a dark-themed, atmospheric edge.
'About A Friend' (above) is the lead track from his forthcoming EP, 'Submerged', digitally released on April 18. As the song begins, it appears to be just a pleasant solo singer-guitarist in the well-trod pattern frequently associated with - but as it progresses, that is where all manner of things come into play. Sam's voice, for a start, has a curious delivery that can range even from a deep roughened croon, to curious pitch inflections, and even a slight reggae lilt at one point.
It's also notable how his style has changed in comparison to the other two songs of a couple of years ago; the bringing in of electric guitar and drums prove just the right components to complement Sam's voice.
And just wait for the almighty end build from 4:11. Just wait. And savour. That is not at all what you were expecting, right?
One of my questions to Sam was, given the song's lyrics ("Cause love is a violent game/ And I know/I just love to play and play/When I'm low/Cause I might just fade away if I don't") the impetus behind it.
"'About A Friend' was conceived when I was feeling a little hungover and playing my guitar. I had a glass of water with a slice of lemon sitting in front of me to ease my pain, when I thought the opening lyrics 'lemon in my water' would be quite cool," he reveals.
"It subsequently evolved into a story loosely based on one of my best friends. It tells the tale of a young man who enjoys having multiple relationships without too much care for the repercussions. However, the main focus of the song looks at the loneliness associated with living such an existence, and how it ultimately leaves both parties feeling estranged from not only each other, but themselves also."
Sam and his band will be playing a number of festivals this year, including Inglefest on July 16. Keep check on his Facebook for full dates as they are confirmed.
Band members: Sam Johnson (vocals, rhythm guitar), Johnny Poulton (lead guitar, bass), Dom Mosley (drums).
More info: FACEBOOK