Name: John Southworth
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, multi-discplinary artist
Current release: On October 1st 2021, John Southworth will release one of this year's most expansive and ambitious projects: Rialto, encompassing a new full-length studio album, an 8-part podcast, a novel and a theater performance. The album will feature various collaborations with, among others, Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station [Read our Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station interview], Daniel Knox [Read our Daniel Knox interview], Thom Gill, Ryan Driver, Felicity Williams, Robin Dann and Martin Tielli. Rialto is available for pre-order via Tin Angel / Indigo.
Recommendations: Silent Light, film by director Carlos Reyga; The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.
If you enjoyed this interview with John Southworth, visit his official homepage for more information or check out his profiles on Instagram and Facebook. There is also a dedicated website for Rialto.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing songs at age sixteen.
Early influences include Gene Pitney, Johnny Rivers, Jacques Tati, Fellini.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Until the age of twenty one I wrote grotesque, distorted punk music on a three-string electric guitar.
Then I had a psychedelic experience and made a sudden change. I began listening only to Hollywood musical soundtracks and AM golden oldie radio stations.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I have a strong outsider, contrarian personality that can distort my perception of reality and grossly affect my songwriting.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I never lacked the ability to create. It took a little time to trust my own creative instinct and pursue it regardless of how it was received.
The first person who liked my songs was a woman in my film class. She was the only person for many years.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I keep things simple. I’ve always compose on acoustic guitars and pianos. I have no interest in technology or how it changes.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
On Rialto I asked one of my best friends, Andrew Downing, to arrange the songs for string quartet. This is the most I have every collaborated with another artist.
I worked with Andrew not only because of his innate talent, but because he knows and understands my artistry so well.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I work as a crossing guard, one hour in the morning, one hour at lunch and one hour in the afternoon. I write lyrics on the job in my head and in the breaks do other creative things.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Once I played a solo show in an extremely crowded restaurant bar in lower Manhattan. People were so consumed that they did not know I was there. It was very transformative and gave me great insight into performing.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Creating songs is a slow improvisation.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
The act of creating is medicinal. People who make music are essentially trying to heal themselves.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
True creative expression bypasses thought.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Sure. Music is film and dream is film and songs are birds and birds are dreams.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I need little of the world when making things. I’m tired of the world. I don’t want to engage in anything political or social. I want the hermetic.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I don’t have the energy to respond properly to this question. Am feeling a bit sick.