Making an album is hard work. Making an album using a crowdsourcing platform and fulfilling pledge rewards is even harder. Doing so leaves you faced with countless fans all wanting the finished product, along with their rewards. Johnny Hollow stepped up to the challenge and used Indiegogo to fund their third album A Collection of Creatures. After completing the album and managing to send out the physical rewards to fans, vocalists Janine White and Vincent Marcone sat down to answer some questions about the album, the process of crowdsourcing, and a surprise pregnancy.
You recently released your third album A Collection of Creatures. How happy are you with the reception and final product?
Janine: We’re very happy with both. Musically & artistically we’re really proud of this album. Our fans seem to be loving it, and of course we would like to continue growing our audience.
Vincent: Our next goal is to invest some time in promoting the album now that it’s finished and talking about it with people who want to chat about our strange artistic perspectives. Though, I suppose strange, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
You used the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to fund the album. How did you find the process, and would you do it again?
J: It was a whole lot of work! And worth it. The best part about the whole process is that we gained a much closer relationship with our fans than we had ever had before. Vincent and I would be handling orders coming in and going out and chatting with our wonderful supporters along the way.
V: It was one hell of a learning process though! We would love to give it another go with all the knowledge that we’ve gleaned.
I have spoken to other artists who have used similar platforms, like Kickstarter, and felt that although it’s great to get the fans involved, that fulfilling the rewards was extremely time consuming and finding time to do them and create their album was tough at times. Do you feel the same?
J: Yes. It was very challenging. We went in knowing we had a steep learning curve ahead of us, but even with that attitude, we were surprised by all the administrative work that was involved. Taking orders and triple checking mailing addresses, even simple tasks like getting the correct spelling on everyone’s name who would be credited within the cd required a lot of time. Communication was key and was also a lot of work, much more than we calculated.
V: Something that we didn’t account for is that our audience actually has their own lives! Imagine that?! *laughs* So it took a little while for some people to respond, which did hold up the process a touch… but, Janine is holding back on probably one KEY event that threw us for a loop! Jay? What say you?
J: *laughs* Well, I guess it’s time to spill the beans on this! We began planning our campaign around January 2013. We had our campaign video ready and our strategy in place by April, which is when we launched our campaign. In May, I discovered I was pregnant! I use the term “discovered” because it was a bit of a surprise, though a happy one. We had a lot to work with – many songs were almost fully formed live, and several had very strong beginnings in the works – but wow, there was a lot of work still to be done! And I had to do it pregnant! So everything took longer than expected. My first trimester was a sea of nausea, my second trimester had a little more clarity and was more productive, but my third was pretty damn slow & awkward! We wrapped up our campaign in June; by the end of August we knew we weren’t going to make our Fall deadline. We tried for Christmas, and failed, but managed to make the digital download available to our sponsors in early January. Our digital release date to the general public was January 21st, which just happened to land exactly on the day I went into labour!
My fiancée was giving me updates on download stats while I was having contractions to help keep my mind off of the pain, and Vincent was checking in by phone with my sister and making jokes about live streaming the birth for our fans (it made me laugh, and it helped, it really did). My daughter was born early on the morning of the 22nd. I will always remember how this album coincided with her birth. She heard a lot of it in utero, so maybe she will too!
Wow, congratulations! That certainly would have thrown you a bit! At least it’s an awesome story to tell, and all worked out.
A Collection of Creatures features a couple of tracks from previous recordings, what was the decision behind including these tracks?
J: We released re-vamped versions of “Devil’s Night” and “Prayer” (previously known as “In the Shade of a Prayer”) on this album because they were both tracks that we felt hadn’t been fully formed in their earlier EP versions. They were rushed.
V: This time, Devil’s Night received treatment from Karl Mohr to bring it out in full thrust. Tim Glasgow had created some amazing mixes previously, but we thought that the tone of the mixes just didn’t fit with the way the new album was being flushed out. So, we went back looked at the stems of some of those mixes and came up with something that fits well with the other songs. I’m very happy with how this version turned out. For me, it’s the perfect marriage between the spookiness of those ghost town guitars with the stompy rompy electro beat.
J: Prayer needed a revisit that went back to the acoustics & atmosphere of early Johnny Hollow. I guess the EP was just a little premature on those two tracks. The earlier versions have their merits, for sure, but we hadn’t left them feeling like they were complete. They really needed some more time to soak. Lyrically, we really believed in the sincerity of these two tracks, but we felt that musically we hadn’t quite gotten there yet with our previous efforts, so this was our chance to finish those thoughts.
The sound of the album, to me at least, feels like a culmination of what was great about the previous two records. Do you feel that it captures the definitive Johnny Hollow sound?
J: Yes, we really hope so! Our first album was tentative and really moody, with atmosphere above all. Our second album had more confidence and melodic strength. With our third album we decided that we wanted to convey a sonic mood to paint out our ideas. And so, we combined the sensibilities of our first two albums to build a hybrid third album. We wanted people to feel like they were seeing a story unfold the same time that they were listening to the music.
V: We had often discussed that “A Collection of Creatures” should feel as if it were the soundtrack to a film. I think it’s essential to think about transitions and space within an album, at least, it has been essential for Johnny Hollow to think this way. In an age where people are less likely to purchase an entire album in lieu of buying their favourite track(s), you need to build something that has some sort of artistic cohesion if you expect the album to be bought as a whole. We felt we that we owed it to our Patrons to create the album in this way, rather than just a list of new tracks.
I’m always wary of cover songs, but your cover of The Sisters of Mercy’s Temple of Love is actually one of my favourites on the record, and one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard. You have mentioned that it was a somewhat daunting task to cover it. What made it daunting, and why did you decide to do this cover?
V: First off, thank you! That means a lot to me, because this song in particular was one where the whole band really worked hard to get right. For me, the original song is a kind of anthem. The Sisters of Mercy created this wonderful track that just works at all levels. The lyrics are brilliant. The guitar work is amazing, and the vocals build incredible tension that isn’t easily duplicated. I loved this song when I was in my late teens, and I love it to this day. I know Kitty feels the same way about the original as well. So, when you adore a song, you have to ask yourself, why on earth cover it? It’s much easier to cover a song that you don’t LOVE. This is what makes it daunting. Whenever we decide to do a cover song, we always approach it with the following question; Would this track be interesting with a Johnny Hollow treatment? We don’t try to make it ‘better’, we try to honour the timeless nature of it by covering it in our voice and style. The feedback on this particular track has been amazing. The hard work was worth it. And I have to say, I love singing the chorus with Janine when we do it live. It’s a lot of fun.
Vincent, your images and the music work together allowing your fans a greater escape into the music. Does your art draw inspiration from the music, or is the music inspired from the art?
V: In most cases, the art is a reflection of the music. So much so, that in the case of creating our cover, I think most of the work had been done subliminally. It was some time ago when I was working on a piece for an art show. I was painting out a silhouette of a kind of surreal-underwater-skeletal-goddess-monster-dancer thingy while simultaneously working out the lyrics for “I am the Island”. As I was painting, I’d be working out words and rhymes as the demo played as background music. I played “Firefly” in the background as well, along with a bunch of other tracks that were in their larval stages. Months later, actually more like a year, it was time for me to paint our new cd cover when I realised that the print I had named “Celestine” was actually the perfect image to represent our album. When I presented the idea to the band, everyone immediately agreed. So I went back into the piece and designed a variant that felt a little more ‘in tune’ with the mood of “A Collection of Creatures”. I changed the colours, and painted the image to feel more comfortable in a square album format for the digipac. I feel the entire album oozes out of this piece because I literally painted it with the demos playing on repeat for hours at a time. It was a happy accident.
Having never had the pleasure of seeing you live, what is expected from a Johnny Hollow live performance? I imagine it’s quite theatrical, with visuals playing a large role.
V: We tend to play with lots of animations and projections during our live show and there is usually 5 to 6 musicians playing with us. We’ve had belly dancers, flash mobs, and even short films premiering at our gigs. One of the highlights is the banter between Kitty and the audience. She tends to interpret and project “Hank’s” thoughts (her Cello) to the audience, who, by the way, has a lot of attitude.
Speaking of live performances, what are the chances you’d be making a trip to Australia to play some shows?
J: We would LOVE to! I don’t think it will be happening in the immediate future, because we’re focusing on production more than live shows at the moment. But as Canadians who consider Australia to be a sibling country, much the same as ours in demographics, but with far better weather, we’ll be there as soon as we can!
V: Australia would be a lovely place to play.
I’ll be waiting for you guys to fly over! Do you have any final words you’d like to share?
J: Thank you for listening. The music industry is changing so much, none of us know how it’s going to go and how it’s going to work in the near future. But those of you who listen, and care, and support those of us outside of the mainstream, you are keeping real music & art alive. Thank you.