Society of Sound: Ethan Johns

On the closing song of his first solo album, 2013’s aptly titled ‘If Not Now Then When?’ Ethan Johns sang “There’s no sense to stopping now, I may take the long way round.” Those words could serve as the mantra of this renowned producer, multi-instrumentalist and late-blooming artist. “My interest in making music in general - whether it be recording or performing it or helping produce it - always seems to stem from the same place,” Johns notes. “As long as I’m learning something and I’m on the journey and I’m moving forward, I’m gonna be happy."

British producer Ethan Johns began his career under the tutelage of his father, producer Glyn Johns. Since the 90’s, Johns has worked as a producer, engineer, mixer, and occasionally touring musician for a number of artists including Ray LaMontagne (three records), Kings of Leon (three records), Joe Cocker, Tom Jones, Emmylou Harris and more recently, Laura Marling (three records). He is known for his raw recording style, preferring analog over digital methods.

In 2012 Johns’s work won him the BRIT Award for Best British Producer. In the same year, encouraged by a number of artists, Johns stepped out from behind the console and released his solo album, If Not Now Then When? The album features collaborations with a number of familiar faces including Ryan Adams and Laura Marling. Johns has recently produced three songs on Paul McCartney’s New album, and is producing the forthcoming album for Tom Jones.

“There are so many different angles of things that you can learn from all of the people that I’ve worked with, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been able to become a part of so many different kinds of artists over the years.” Ethan Johns

Both as a producer/engineer/mixer and more recently as an artist, Johns has been obsessed with authenticity of expression. It’s the quintessence of his rigorous aesthetic, from the vivid analog sound of his records to the inspired immediacy of the performances they contain—the aim being to capture the moment so fully and honestly that the term “performance” no longer applies.

The Reckoning, Johns’ second solo album (released 2 June 2014 on his own Three Crows Records), is in keeping with his “just go for it” aesthetic, as he ceded control to his friend and frequent collaborator Ryan Adams. When he flew into LA with a fresh batch of songs Johns had no idea what sort of chemical reaction this role reversal with Adams would have on the material; all he knew was that every time the two of them had come together to make a record in the past, the results had been direct and utterly free of artifice. “I want to push myself as far out as I possibly can,” Johns says of his defining impulse. “If you put yourself in a position when you’re in control of what’s going on, then it becomes quite safe. It works for some people, because of the kind of records that they want to make. They want to make these incredible presentations. Sometimes you want to go for those definitive versions of songs. But for me at the moment, that’s not what I’m going for. It’s more about trying to catch a snapshot of a certain period of time.”

Live at Kings Place was a homecoming show – the culmination of a month of UK touring in support of The Reckoning, from which much of the set is pulled. The band are familiar friends – Jeremy Stacey and Nick Pini (with only regular crew member BJ Cole absent). 

Ethan Johns – Live at Kings Place (BW80) released on Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound in January 2015.

By Online Editor

Published on Thu, 22 January 15

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