NO CELL PHONES:
JOHNNY DE COURCY ON THE DIGITAL AGE

 

Interview by April Keller-Macleod
Photos by Kane Hopkins

Musician, performer, and all around visionary, Johnny de Courcy is reaching people of all spectrums with his ever-changing, hard-to-nail-down sound that is underlyingly real, honest, and leaves you wondering what'll come next. We connected with de Courcy via his landline (NO CELLPHONES), while he was home in Vancouver, Canada. Here's what transpired. 

How do you think the Internet has changed the way people communicate?

Johnny de Courcy: It's something I’ve actually been talking about lately, because it’s changed so much in the last 10 years. I’m 24, turning 25, and I remember being a kid and not having the Internet, not having a cell phone, not having Facebook, and all that shit. I remember going to knock on friends' doors to see if they were home and playing outside. And now, I see these kids...I don’t know, they’re heavily reliant on cell phones and social networking, and there’s a huge degradation of communication. You know, people are having these important conversations or breaking up over text. That’s always been weird to me. I don’t have a cell phone, but I used to. I’ve become more aware of how intent and tone can become lost through Internet communication. 

How do you see this influencing the future generation?

I think that for kids, now it’s the norm for them. For people around my age, it still doesn’t feel completely normal. I reject a lot of the stuff around it, because it doesn’t feel right. I don’t like using a cell phone or texting so I stay away from it, but I think it’s already influenced the kids using it now. The more you use cell phones and the internet to communicate, the worse you are at communicating in person. 

So, there’s a loss with the progression of technology?

There’s a loss in everything with new innovations and technology, but when you lose it, it’s going to become an art form. Like, 50 years ago, people taking pictures with film wasn’t artsy. It was just the way you did it, but now when people use film it’s like oh, that’s not the way we do it anymore...people use digital, so it becomes an antique and faded out. 

And the accessibility of art online is so widespread. Do you think it changes its worth?

With the spread of my music and my art, people can see it who usually wouldn’t, but when I go to look at art, there’s so much content that there’s just too much of it. You can get lost.  

Can you talk about your experience in the practice of Vipassana

I needed to do some work on myself instead of working on my self image or my outer self. I continue to practice it. Getting into it was a very powerful experience for me. It really changed my life in a lot of good ways. There’s a couple of cool movies about Vipassana, and how they implemented it in prisons. One’s called "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana," and it’s about how it was implemented in one of the biggest prisons in India. Another is a more recent one called "The Dhamma Brothers," about it being brought to [William E.] Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama.

I can’t believe that happened down there. 

Yeah, well they did a course, and it got shut down, because they’re all hardcore Christians down there. They’re all like, "Oh, you can’t be doing this, turning all our Christians into Buddhists." It’s a really cool, interesting story. 

What has been your the biggest realization since starting the practice?

Just not to worry too much, you know? I really just take it day by day, and that’s really empowering too...to stay more present and not live in your future...to live in the now. 

That’s something that’s being lost.

Yeah, and I’ve talked to my friends about the issues that I have about not being present and having anxiety, and so many people are going through the same things, so it’s good to get their perspective on it.

Anxiety and loneliness seem to be the most prevalent states of mental being. 

Oh yeah, totally. I think that technology has a huge place in that too. The Internet never goes off. Email is 24 hours a day, all year round. You constantly have to be on...constant stimulation. I think that’s a source of anxiety for people. They think they have to be on all the time.

In terms of your music, how do you recreate yourself musically?

It’s not a conscious recreation. It’s channeling things that come, accepting and being open to what’s coming in and out, because what’s coming in dictates what’s coming out. 

What was the catalyst for moving from Black Wizard to your solo project?

In a nutshell, it was Neil Young’s Harvest. That album opened so many doors for me musically. 

How do you balance inspiration and innovating your own sound?

I don’t really think about it. I just play and whatever comes out, comes out. 

You’ve been playing music your whole life, right?

I was playing music when I was six, but I didn’t start writing music until I was about 15 or 16.

What was your first song about?

It was about hanging out on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, going to a strip club and looking at chicks, cause I was super into '80s metal. It was really funny. I was really, really into '80s metal all through high school. 

You just heard about the Strip in other music?

I heard about it in a lot of Motley Crue songs. They were my favorite band. I did all this research on them and read their autobiography The Dirt about 10 or 12 times. It was like my bible. 

What was it about them?

I just thought they were so fucking cool. I loved the way they looked, especially in their first and second albums. Those two are my favorites, Too Fast for Love and Shout at the Devil. After that, they kinda got a bit cheesy for me...but they were rock stars. I was like, "I wanna be a fucking rock star."

Your look is very androgynous. Is that you or is that a character you've created?

I don't know. I like dressing like a woman sometimes...and dressing like a boy sometimes. I enjoy visual stimulation and aesthetics, and I’ve always enjoyed dressing up for a big show or for a party. When I'm going out, it’s like, "what will I wear?" I really enjoy it. 

Do you think there’s something more that you’re saying with your look? 

Maybe. I really like the aspect of performance. I get off on going to a performance.

What was the best performance you’ve ever seen? 

Off the top of my head, I’d say it was Neil Young. It was last year, and it was so incredible. I got goosebumps the entire concert. I think it was really beautiful for me, because I’m such a big fan of his music, and I had been waiting to see him play live for a while, and when I did, it was just such a nice, enjoyable time. That, and going to see Tosca, which is an opera by [Giacomo] Puccini. That was a really beautiful performance too. All I wanted to do was to sing opera for days after that. 

At a show of yours in Vancouver in the summer, I was really in awe of how many different types of people connect to your music. Why do you think you have this kind of mass appeal?

You’re not the first person to tell me that. I hear from people that there’s these punk guys who are like, "I love Johnny De Courcy" or these other guys and like blahblahblah, and people tell me that lots of different people like it. I think it’s because I can’t make up my mind on what kind of music I want to play, so I kind of do all of it in different songs. I don't know. I enjoy it. I think, if you can explore all these kinds of music, but it’s the same artist, same band, same album, and there’s a transition in the song between soft and heavy and fast and slow, it’s really interesting. It keeps me interested. 

What’s your process of creating music?

It’s constantly changing. Right now, I’ve been working on recording stuff at home. It’s a combination of getting a spark of inspiration of a riff or a melody and building on that and then going to the studio and not using the pressure of that to finish it, but using that environment to flush it out and commit to something. You can go over and over a song and change so many things and never finish it, but you have to tell yourself or someone else has to tell you when you’re going crazy over one thing and obsessing over it...to take a step back and look at what you have. 

Are you working on a new album?

Yes, I am.

How is it different from the last? 

I don’t really know yet, because I’m still writing it, but as it stands, I want to do a bunch of different things. I want to do a live record...where everybody sits in the same room and records the songs live together rather than layering things on top of each other. But I also want to do an instrumental record with no vocals or lyrics at all. 

When will those be coming out? 

I was initially planning on having something come out in the spring, but I’ve been talking to some people, and they’re advising me to do something different. So, I don’t really know what’s going on yet, but it’ll be out in 2014 sometime. I’m pretty excited. 

I’m coming off of two years of touring and making an album, so I’m just really looking forward to having a break and doing some home recording and not performing for six months. I don’t have anything scheduled, and I’m trying to stay away from the bar scene, get myself cleaned up. I’m just going to be with my family for a bit and work on my music.