Being born of the seed of famed producer Glyn Johns (who worked with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Clash), Ethan Johns was clearly going to be involved in music in a big way. Following in his father’s footsteps he became a record producer, working with the likes of Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Rufus Wainwright and Laura Marling. When reeling off this list of musicians, an interesting pattern emerges. These are all artists heavily indebted to the bands produced by Glyn Johns in the 60s and 70s. Of course each has carved out their own path but there is a core element of a retro or classic sound that echoes from their music. This feel is in no small part down to the aesthetic preferences of Ethan Johns, who utilises his heritage and experience behind the decks to help each artist achieve their chosen sound.
After years of producing records and playing as a session musician, Johns is now ready to give his own material a proper airing. His appropriately titled new album If Not Now Then When?, which will be released through his own Three Crows Records label, is recorded with a full band and features original material written by Johns and mixed by his father. Despite having released a record two decades ago, If Not Now Then When? is being billed as his debut album. The reason for this, Johns explains, is twofold, “I’d wanted a band name when we signed but was pressured by the label to call it [The Ethan Johns Band] for some reason. Most of the songs on that record were either written by the other two songwriters in the band or co-written with me. It would be wrong to see that as a solo record, because it just wasn’t”.
It’s clear to see why a label would wish to use the Johns family name with all the prestige and history it evokes, but, after a lifetime of learning in the studio, Johns Jr. is perhaps too humble to entertain that thought. Forging a profession out of listening has afforded him a certain degree of wisdom and an appreciation of his surroundings.
“I think whoever or whatever you’re around influences you to some degree. I’m constantly learning from everyone I’m playing with or producing.”
So when your father has produced records of such weight, it must be pretty difficult to disagree with his decisions in the studio? Yet, surely the final word should be that of the artist? Johns’ attitude towards this scenario is typically laid back: “It’s a blessing to let go of that side of things. How can I have any perspective on the mix? It’s me singing.”
To accompany the release of the record, Johns has plotted a UK tour of independent record stores, including our very own Music Consortium on Bold Street on 21st November. For a man steeped in the traditions of music, this is a logical step, cohesive to his values as a producer.
“I don’t think physical formats will ever die. Music fans are always going to want to own physical formats of the albums they love. Vinyl is here to stay. I have no doubt.”
This is a reassuring answer to a difficult question which may never quite go away. Sometimes it is difficult to ignore the overwhelming juggernaut of the digitisation of music but, providing there are music fans, there will always be lovers of physical formats, and Johns is most definitely one of them.
After years taking a backseat it is Ethan Johns’ time to take the wheel and steer the listener in his own direction, but you sense that his reserved attitude will always be present. For his UK tour he will have no discernible stage and the shows will be free, with the Liverpool leg set amongst the Music Consortium’s archive of influential records (many produced by his father). Continuing in the tradition of his work in the studio, these shows offer little fanfare, just a professional, dedicated listener asking for some reciprocation. He has no doubt earned it.