B.A. Johnston: still broke, still trying

One-man band tours to support Call Me When Old and Fat is the New Young and Sexy

B.A. Johnston recently left Halifax and plans to drive to the Florida Keys at the end of his tour.
B.A. Johnston recently left Halifax and plans to drive to the Florida Keys at the end of his tour.

Interview: B.A. Johnston @ Clark Hall Pub Nov. 25

B.A. Johnston has an unlikely new catchphrase: “What are you going to do?”

This is the same man who thought he was “going to die alone, listening to my neighbours fuck to Moist CDs;” who told his lazy roommates that his tears would wash the dishes; who let MegaMan 2 berate him for his bad attitude and spent an entire song complaining about the Counting Crows.

And now all Johnston can muster about unexpected transmission repairs, blood-encrusted Greyhound riding criminals and infuriating chirping squirrels is a “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know if I’m even sad anymore,” Johnston said. “I’ve turned a corner where it’s like, everything’s so bad, it can only get better, you know?”

Johnston has spent the last four years bringing his self-proclaimed “dork lullabies” across Canada, armed with only a guitar and toy keyboards, while shotgunning beer shirtless, brandishing a plastic pirate hook and flopping around on filthy bar floors. Johnston just released his new album, Call Me When Old and Fat is the New Young and Sexy, featuring live staple “Your Roomate is a Couchetard.”

“It was just, like, stickin’ with the formula,” Johnston said of the new album. “I figure that’s why AC/DC is still good, ‘cause they never changed, ever, so I thought I would just do that and make a standard B.A. Johnston record ...

“You gotta have the video game song, songs about food, a song about Hamilton and a song about women rejecting you or being lonely.”

31-year old Johnston, whose first name is actually Christian (B.A is short for his highschool nickname, “Bored Again Christian”), has gradually gained attention for his increasingly over-the-top live shows while recording a string of stripped-down albums that straddle the fence between mopey and hilarious. Johnston’s appeal doesn’t lie entirely in his wholehearted embrace of his own geekiness—as on the Dungeons & Dragons themed love song “Call Me Lothar”—or his willingness to be the butt of his own jokes; it’s also his ability to be simultaneously ridiculous and magnificently, sincerely sad, like on Songs About a Stewardess’s “I Like You More Than Garlic Fingers.”

“I find a lot of times when you see bands where the singer sings over a CD player its kinda boring to watch, unless they really do stuff,” Johnston said. “So [my show is] making sure people are entertained, and making sure people are entertained with the lack of talent and ability I have is even harder ...

“I’m bored, because I play the same show every night, so the crazier I can go the more fun it is for me.”

Johnston has a difficult time adjusting to the physical rigors of his set.

“There’s a lot of puking at the beginning of the tours, and then I trade the being out of shape—which I still am anyway—for that my body is basically a giant bruise. Like, my knees are so messed from doing powerslides that it’s really bad.”

On his previous cross-country jaunt—the “No Money, No Fans, No Chicks, No Car Mega Tour” in support of and Songs About a Stewardess—Johnston travelled almost exclusively by Greyhound bus. While he didn’t have to worry about driving, the experience had its downsides.

“The Edmonton bus station is probably one of the sketchiest places in the universe,” he said. “It’s so bad. I love Edmonton, but the bus station—you are pretty much going to get killed ... The most frightening A&W on the planet is the A&W that’s inside there.

“When I was in Kelowna once this guy sat beside me for an overnight ... and he had [a] burn all over his face and his shirt had blood all over it, and when he would sleep he would like violently kinda shake and like kick, so I basically stayed up all night long, and when he got up ... a knife fell out of his pocket. A big shank. That was the worst. Ever.”

For tour Johnston is making his way across the country in a $1,000 1989 station wagon. Despite having to replace its transmission, he said the tour has otherwise gone unexpectedly well.

“I find it’s like I’m such an emotional wreck, I can’t really handle more than one or two bad shows in a row before I start feeling I’m wasting my time and I get really down on myself,” he said. “And this tour, out of 50-something shows, I only had two really bad ones, and they were really spread out. So I felt like people were actually liking the show.”

But now that Johnston has a toehold, it may be impossible to get rid of him.

“I think I’m going to keep doing this out of spite. All of these magazines that don’t care about me, I think I’m just going to exist like the cockroach that I am until they don’t exist anymore,” he said.

“I’m going to last one day longer than Exclaim!. That’s all I want to do ... Once David Usher is dead, I’ll stop.”

B.A. Johnston plays Clark Hall Pub on Saturday with Nich Worby, The Human Kebab and Mississippi Grover. Cover is $5 and music starts at 9:30 p.m.

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