The break-up of a band can be a trying time for everyone involved. It often ultimately leads to new and better things after the initial shock and disorientation wear off however. Boardman, Ohio's Johnny Stanec is a classic case of an artist who has moved from strength to strength. "When my band, First In Space, called it a day I felt a little empty for a while. I loved that band, but it was beginning to become harder and harder to get everyone to make commitments to shows, recording, etc.," says Stanec. With songs already in hand, he got to work. "I didn't want to wait around to gather a new group, so I recorded everything myself at a studio in western PA called 'Mind Rocket'. When the record was finished I really wanted to start playing again, so this past May I started booking solo acoustic shows."
Having trouble coordinating the band members to all show up for gigs had given Stanec some experience doing solo shows. "I had done some acoustic shows, but it was usually to fill in for the band when someone couldn't make it. This time I was out promoting my own record. It took some getting used to," he tells us. And the dynamic of the songs, and the performances, changed as well. "I always had a tendency to keep things light-hearted with the band, even though the songs were serious. But these new ones were a little more personal. I don't think I intended them to be so heavy-handed, but that's how they came out, so live you have to try and convey that without being boring and pretentious."
This new sense of freedom allowed Stanec to write in new ways as well. "When there's a band involved, it seems obligatory to include them on every song and make them fleshed out rock songs, but since it was just me, some songs became more acoustic. For this record I was able to do whatever I wanted, which was cool. I got to experiment with different sounds and different accompaniments. I let my influences come out as best I could." Stanec has "always been a very personal songwriter. I don't write political songs or anything that talks about specific events. I don't want to make concept records. Songwriting has always been a therapeutic process for me. My songs are about me and what goes on in my life and how I perceive what's going on around me. They're just little stories used to cope with my worries about the future and how to move on from the past."
As you might expect, his influences vary far and wide. "I grew up on 60s rock thanks to my dad. He is a huge music fan, he kept real music on and kept the crap out. When I hit my teens I listened to a lot of punk; NOFX, The Clash, Operation Ivy and whatever else I got my hands on. When I got to college I started to open up to other styles. When I was 19 or 20 I went with my folks to see Neil Young and it opened my eyes. Here was a guy still sounding fantastic all those years later. Can't say the same for bands that went the extreme route. It's great when you're young, but it can't last. I started listening to singer/songwriter stuff like Elliott Smith. He had rock songs, but you could see him playing them when he got older (had he not died). I like that," he told us.
He adds, "I just hope people enjoy the songs. I want them to actually listen. I want people to put their iPhones down for a few minutes, get a beer (sorry Johnny, no beer at the Galaxy) and hang out. Shows are a lot of fun and I enjoy playing small places, way more intimate and a better show all around. I really just try and write simple, honest music. I'm not famous, I'm not rich, I have no connections. I'm doing it because I honestly believe in rock and roll as something more than just some fashion statement."
Sample Johnny Stanec's music.
The Youngstown (Stanec's hometown of Boardman is near Youngstown) music scene, like many others, seems to be a tough one for original artists. Stanec commented that "In Youngstown there are a handful of places to see live original music. It's always been a stop for independent touring bands. However, the scene is scattered. There is no 'Youngstown sound' or typical Youngstown band. The people are reluctant to go out and just support someone unless it fits into their social schedule for the night. Ten years ago it was way better, less distractions, but now there is so much to compete with that you have to have patience or not worry about it. I didn't spend much time trying to build an audience in Youngstown." As if to drive that point home he told us that "When I started First In Space our first show was out of town."
Using the internet to his advantage though, first his band, and now his solo show, has played all over the US and Canada. "There is so much the internet makes possible, like booking shows or getting reviews or connecting with people thousands of miles away. My music is for sale on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc. and without that I couldn't have people in Spain buying my songs. I have no label or manager. I do everything myself. If the right opportunity came along I'd love to work with a label or agency, but so far being independent is working fine. I've played all over and have done that without a booking agent or label."
In addition to getting heard, Stanec says the internet has allowed him to get press for his project in a way that previously may have been nearly impossible. "Getting your album reviewed is definitely possible, just don't expect Rolling Stone to review it. There are so many better websites and publications that will do a write up. Local scene papers and blogs come to mind. They actually care about what they're doing and who they're featuring. Not just some trendy bullshit like in Spin." Booking shows is clearly helped by all the online resources as well. "I like Reverbnation. It's like myspace was, but it has a lot more to offer as far as show opportunities and things like that. I also have to mention 'indieonthemove.com'. It's an extensive listing of clubs, bars and venues in every imaginable town and city in the country. I've put it to good use."
He concludes by saying that "So far, I've enjoyed the solo shows. It's always hit or miss, but hopefully in time more people will start coming around. I'm down for anything and to play anywhere. Hopefully my persistence will pay off someday, in some way. Until then, I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can and see where it takes me." Stanec will be appearing at the Galaxy on January 27th along with Reactions, Life After Liftoff, Awake At Last, and Yankee Go Home. The show is at 7pm, is All Ages, and just $5.00. Thanks to Johnny for taking the time to talk with us, and we'll see you at the show!