As I sipped on a beer in the pew, I anticipated seeing the locally beloved John Calvin, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew that he has been playing frequently around Oklahoma and that many other upcoming artists (such as Kyle Reid, Camille Harp and Kierston White) collaborated with him and called him a friend. But I wasn't prepared for the level of skill and sensation this twenty-something artist was about to reveal. Dressed in a vintage cowboy hat and a sweater he had borrowed from the church's lost-and-found (it was a colder evening than expected) -- John's warm, wonderfully quirky, and endearing stage presence was something that immediately caught my attention. Singing original songs with perfect pitch, his fingers moved at a rapid pace along the neck of his guitar, and I drew closer in with each rift and melody. He moved to the piano where his fast-fingered talent was just as impressive, his songs were well-written, and each one left you wanting to hear more. The harmonica was a perfect addition...was there anything he couldn't play? Within the first few songs of his performance, it was evident to me that John Calvin Abney is a musical genius--and a well-rounded one, at that.
John has some early punk and hard rock musical roots, although his current sound focuses more on acoustic indie-folk. Mastering instruments are an obvious natural bag to him, as he excels in playing the guitar, the piano, the steel guitar...and those are just the ones I've witnessed. He was also the drummer in his former Norman-based band, Poolboy. Around 2012 he started delving more into the art of songwriting, which it is evident from his recent albums that writing is another one of his many talents. His seven-song E.P., Empty Candles, was released in November of 2014--while his full-length album, Better Luck, followed in January of 2015.
I was eager to find out more about what makes this fantastic John Calvin Abney tick, and I knew upon my first encounter with him that I had to have him as an Artist of the Month. Through his busy tour schedule, he was so incredibly kind throughout our correspondence, and I couldn't be more pleased to feature him for the month of September.
John: Most people would consider this process to be fairly organic and automatic, but in my case as of late, it’s taken a lot of focus and patience with myself to grow in a creative sense. I have had the opportunity to play with a wide range of musicians in a broad range of styles and through this, I’ve learned a lot about my own propensities and abilities (or lack thereof.) Songwriting, however, has been a more personal journey. My tunes have evolved through being immersed in records, books, and the great songs of my friends and the folks I get to perform with.
Jenn: Who would you consider your favorite musical influences?
John: I’ll split this question in two! My current songwriting influences include Elliott Smith, Kurt Vile, Ryan Adams, Milk Carton Kids, along with Adam Faucett and John Moreland. As for my musical influences, I am in love with the music of Keiichi Suzuki, Yasunori Mitsuda, and Erik Satie. They are all phenomenal composers in their own right.
Jenn: What is one of your favorite things about the Oklahoma music scene? How would you like to see it grow?
John: The Oklahoma music scene has so many facets, and lucky for collaborators and listeners, just as many doors to open. It’s cool seeing so much art and music come out of Oklahoma with an emphasis on personal expression and awareness, while cultivating a willingness to share and create with others. I think it’s growing just fine.
John: Too many to count. We will have a drink one day and look back on things and laugh.
Jenn: Outside of music, what are some of your favorite things to do?
John: I am a fan of comic books, long-spanning video games, and bending reality a bit. On occasion, I draw little, flat sketches of people I meet or things I see. I do some running when I can and have recently started to play pinball. I drive and play a lot, so when I get home, I tend to recharge my batteries with sleep and fantasy sci-fi. Dreaming is real nice.
Jenn: Anyone who has listened to you knows that you are an amazing music artist, but rumor is that you are also an amazing friend. What are three qualities you value in your friendships?
John: Whoever said that, thank you for having some faith in me. I’ll keep this one short and simple: honesty, attentiveness, and an open mind.
John: This last Norman Music Festival performance, I had the joy of having Kyle Reid and the Low-Swinging Chariots as my backing band under the guise “the Butchers”. We nearly threw dynamics to the wind and turned up the amps to maximum and thrashed about the stage in the heat of the afternoon, playing old garage rock songs from an old outfit, Pilgrim and Pine. Michael Loveland from Early Beat came on stage and we played one of his songs, “Chip on My Shoulder.” It was one of my most favorite performances in Oklahoma, and definitely one of the most incendiary.
Jenn: You released your full-length album, “Better Luck”, this past January--do you have any new projects on the horizon?
John: On this tour, I recorded “Vice Versa Suite”, an EP at Tiny Telephones (where Better Luck was recorded) in San Francisco, which I will be self-releasing on December 1st on digital/CD. Other projects include a 7” vinyl that was recorded at 25th Street in Oakland. It will be released on Black Mesa Records in 2016, featuring an alternate single and alternate B-side from the full length I am recording in December at Breathing Rhythm in Norman, OK.