On the heels of a brand new CD packed with the kinds of cuts only 54-40 could create, the band makes a City stop Feb. 15th at Bo’s.
Pop/rock luminaries 54-40 have unleashed Keep On Walking – described as the, “Most eclectic, propulsive, flat-out excellent album in a career spilling over with them.”
The CD is a vivid snapshot of where singer/guitarist Neil Osborne, bassist Brad Merritt, drummer Matt Johnson and guitarist Dave Genn – songwriters and multi-instrumentalists all – are right now.
But they certainly have a tremendously creative foundation to build on as well, having started up the hit-churning operation back in the early 1980s. Not to mention the fact that the line-up hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years either. A natural cohesion – no, a striking cohesion that breathes with authenticity – is no doubt the result of that.
“We’ve always kind of had these short-term goals,” explained Johnson during a recent chat. “It seems to have furthered our careers, or keep them the same – it hasn’t seemed to destroy it,” he added with a laugh.
No question, though, how grateful and humble these guys are to be still doing what they do so well.
As to the new disc, cut after cut mirrors that creative power that has defined 54-40 from the start, from the rock anthem Sucker For Your Love, the album’s scorching new single propelled by electrifying lead guitar, thundering bass, and ‘Hey! Hey!’ chants.
Then there’s the intimate, candlelit ballad Hold My Kiss.
Johnson said this time around, the guys opted to bring in four top-notch producers to guide the process along – Garth Richardson (see also 54-40’s Since When from 1998), Gavin Brown, Steven Drake and veteran 54-40 accomplice Dave (Rave) Ogilvie, whose multiple credits include 2015’s career retrospective, La Difference – A History Unplugged.
From there, Johnson pointed out that the producers were simply asked which songs from among the demos would they singularly prefer to produce.
“Steven relies on a creative and open-ended dialogue between the artist and himself to propel the music to its destined place. Garth uses an old‐school approach to achieve timeless and performance-oriented recordings. And Rave is what we’d call our fifth member, the ultimate facilitator. All ideas have potential when you are making a record with him.”
Interestingly, in spite of the various stylistic approaches each producer brought to the table, the record flows along seamlessly. Each cut apparently ended up in the right hands after all.
“We wanted to work with different producers; we wanted to see how it would reflect on the body of work,” noted Johnson. “I think we were also tired of making records on our own and our own production ideas. So we thought we’d piece the record out, sending different songs to the different producers. We said, look, if there’s a song there you want to do, let’s do it,” he said, adding that a few songs were even recorded a couple of times among the production team. Ultimately, the men of 54-40 are thrilled with the results.
“We got what we honestly wanted out of it,” he said. “I think it has all made the record quite listenable.”
For his part, Johnson had a rather early introduction to music even though his folks typically opted for talk radio around the house.
“My parents had talk radio on all of the time,” he said with a laugh. “I had a little transistor radio when I was a kid and I used to bring it on the bus. I was one of those kids who would sit on the bus with my mom and sing out loud. I just loved pop radio.
“I also had some sort of affinity for playing drums, and my dad recognized that. I remember him buying me a pair of drum sticks.” The only thing was that at the time, they lived in an apartment so a drum set was pretty much out of the question.
But Johnson’s skills grew over the years as he practiced when he could.
“Music was part of my identity.”
The release of 54-40’s self-titled album in 1986 yielded the songs Baby Ran, Take My Hand, I Wanna Know and especially I Go Blind hitting alternative, campus, and commercial radio nationwide and beyond.
And the hits never stopped: One Day in Your Life and One Gun from 1987’s Show Me; Baby Have Some Faith from 89’s Fight For Love; She La and Nice to Luv You from 92’s Dear Dear; Ocean Pearl, Assoholic and Radio Luv Song from 94’s Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret; Love You All from 96’s Trusted by Millions…and so on.
The rich creativity continually surfaces as well.
“We’re already talking about getting together and starting to piece together songs for future projects.”