Interview for Premiere Guitar

Last month I had the pleasure of talking to Premiere Guitar as part of their “On the Rise! 5 Must-Hear Emerging Acoustic Guitarists” feature.


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Vinyl Holiday Gift Bundle

I am running a holiday special on my two solo releases on vinyl  - “A Struggle Not a Thought” and “Crows in the Basilica” plus a free download of my soundtrack to the HBO film “Private Violence.” You can send it as a gift too, all for $25.

Get the Holiday Gift Bundle at Bandcamp.


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“Miniatures” Release Series Now Available

The first two installments of a digital release series I am calling “Miniatures” are now available via Bandcamp. The series is an effort to compile and make available some of the music I have composed for film and TV since 2002.

These pieces are short and some have a sketch-like quality – film cues are usually 1-2 minutes at most – and I wanted to present this music as it was performed and recorded for the scores, rather than re-arrange them or flesh the pieces out for the release. The first two are the most recent soundtrack projects: the documentary “Private Violence” which will air on HBO this fall and the PBS show “A Chef’s Life.” I hope you enjoy them. More coming soon!

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“Private Violence” Premieres at Sundance

Cynthia Hill’s documentary Private Violence – with original score by Chuck Johnson - premiered at the Sundance Film Festival January 19, 2014. The film is part of the festival’s U.S. Documentary competition, and it has been picked up by HBO.

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Chicago Reader Previews Show at Constellation

Chuck Johnson’s microtonal “American primitive” guitar, Friday at Constellation

Posted by Bill Meyer on 10.17.13 at 10:07 AM

Chuck Johnson‘s recent LP Crows in the Basilica (Three Lobed Recordings) is one of the best records I’ve heard this year. Like Glenn Jones and the late Jack Rose, two leading lights of the “American primitive” guitar style that Johnson practices, he has a diverse musical history that both precedes his work as a solo acoustic guitarist and enriches it.

In the 90s, Johnson lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and played in a series of bands that never quite fit into the town’s indie-rock scene. Spatula used ambitious structures to transcend its power trio lineup; the all-acoustic Idyll Swords leaned on exotic instruments and athletic tempos to forge something like a cross between Gastr del Sol and Sun City Girls; and the instrumental Shark Quest updated the twang of the Raybeats and their ilk, applying it to cinematic ends.

Johnson has carried on designing sound and composing incidental music for documentaries to this day. He also played improvised guitar solos under the name Ivanovich, but switched to circuit bending about a decade ago. His growing interest in electronic music took him across the country to Mills College, where he studied with Pauline Oliveros and earned an MFA in 2009. But at the same time that Johnson was delving into composition and electronics building, he returned to the acoustic guitar.

He debuted his new approach to the instrument on the compilation Beyond Berkeley Guitar (Tompkins Square), released in 2010. His contribution, “A Struggle, Not a Thought,” uses contrasting sections, rather like John Fahey did, to create a sense of apprehension. But where Fahey let the overtones of his guitar radiate in every direction, Johnson seems more in control. This mastery of the minutiae of tonal relations is part of what distinguishes Crows in the Basilica; even when Johnson is honoring folk guitarists Elizabeth Cotten and Hobart Smith by elaborating upon their licks, he’s also marshaling microtones with the adeptness of Terry Riley or Tony Conrad. The result is music that has both an engaging, rustic familiarity and a hypnotizing tonal richness. Johnson has toured both coasts this year, but he hasn’t played his own music in Chicago since 2001. This Friday he appears second on a bill with Spires That in the Sunset Rise and Health & Beauty at Constellation. Crows in the Basilica is streaming in its entirety below.


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October Midwest Tour

10/16 – Madison @ Shockrasonica
10/17 – Milwaukee @ Sugar Maple
10/18 – Chicago @ Constellation w/ Spires That In The Sunset Rise, Health and Beauty
10/19 – Detroit @ Trinosophes w/ Nick Schillace
10/20 – Columbus, OH @ House concert w/ Mike Fekete

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