Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Another Random Moment With Johnny B. Azari

Johnny B. Azari, aspiring grand weirdo

I had a moment with him before he set out on tour.

He's back. The Tropic of Entropy tour is done.

Johnny B. Azari performed on October 12 at Henley Cigs -- the first time in 2 years that he's played in New York. The city he loves loved him back. The night before his birthday party-homecoming show, we got together to catch up -- what exactly was it like on the road?

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My name is Johnny Azari and I’m an aspiring grand weirdo, multi-medium artist as a musical, songwriting, film, photography, acting and poetry major.

A lot going on there…

I just make it sound like a lot; mostly I sit around and stick my thumb up my own ass.


Aight, let’s start with the first follow-up – I wanna know about The Loneliest Road.

The Loneliest Road… In the fine State of Nevada they have two interstates, one is 80 and one is 15 and 15 runs the south side of Nevada and 80 runs the north side of Nevada but clear through the middle of Nevada there is a two-lane highway. When I was in Carson City I was looking at the road atlas trying to plan my escape from the West and I saw it said “The Loneliest Road” right through the middle of Nevada and I said, “well, that’s the road I’m taking.”

And I took The Loneliest Road and I’ve never been on a road in my life that doesn’t curve, ever, at all, it’s just straight through the desert. The first two hours were beautiful ‘cause you’re flanked by mountains but after about three hours I was beginning to lose my mind. And by the fourth hour I had the car on cruise control and both feet up on the dashboard and I was going through Facebook as I was driving.

Ah, so no moments of epiphanies, with all of that…nothing around?

The first couple of hours, yeah, it was beautiful, it felt like I was with God and like just this beautiful experience but {laughs} four hours of it not turning, not changing just two lanes in the dead desert you start to like, you know, get a little cuckoo.

So coming back from being on the road, there has to be some level of personal evolution that you went through.

Yeah, two things happened. I mean the truth is to really describe this first tour would require like twenty-thousand words, you know? It could be a book but I try to boil some things down for conversation and in a conversational way I say two things happened. One, was that I got very humbled and grateful and just really kinda cut down to size about what… cause I grew up in New York and never really left much, I traveled and such but never really done anything like that before so it gave me a really great appreciation for shedding a lot of the prejudices I had had about the rest of the country.

And the other thing that was really profound and interesting of an experience was that I’m a pretty depressive person; I have a proclivity towards being depressed and I was sad, I was happy, I was crazy, I was lost, I was tortured, I was ecstatic—I was every single emotion to the maximum you could experience except for depression. I was at no point, during the whole thing where I said to myself “fuck my life”. I was saying “this may suck right now but I am living the most beautiful life there is.”

That’s good! I was gonna ask you if you had moments where you were thinking, “OK, why am I doing this?” and how did you get through those but maybe you didn’t have those moments.

Yeah, that thought never crossed my mind. The only thing I thought of was why haven’t I been doing this my whole life.

When you first set out you had no goals, no intentions for the tour ‘cause success you would either weigh it based on financial gain or fame but if you happened to entertain someone, you’d be pleased by that.  So are you pleased, at least?

Yeah, yeah, I mean the truth is I set out on this tour really expecting to fail and to come back in a month, month and a half… I didn’t think people would like what I do. I thought that I would come back with my tail between my legs and that didn’t happen.

I was really well received, a lot of people really appreciated and identified with what I was doing, loved the music and I made tremendous friends all over the country. The tour was only supposed to be three months and I just kept getting booked—asked to go places and perform or like shoot film and video and photography and stuff so it just doubled and ended up being six months and it was a wild success, more than what I had ever imagined and I attribute that to leaving without any expectations.

How did it feel to finally get to Detroit? To play in Detroit?

Detroit felt like I’d found the place I’d been looking for for a long time. It felt like I found a place I was looking for New York City to be… and couldn’t find it in New York. Because New York used to be like Detroit in that it was bankrupt and dangerous and all that type of stuff but at the same time the artists are the ones who really made New York fascinating from like the Soho art scene in the 70’s and the punk scene and the stuff that was going on in Greenwich Village in the 60’s, the club scene in the 80’s and stuff and that came out of New York being poor and creatives being drawn to living in cheap places. Creatives don’t make much money so… and Detroit has that, a huge migration of artists moving there, it’s a huge artist community and—  the artists and the gang bangers are the ones living in Detroit proper and that’s how New York used to be.

You met a lot people and made a lot of friends on the road. Do you have any moments where you were the recipient of a random act of kindness?

Oh, many random acts of kindness. Yeah, that’d probably be a good name to put to the tour in hindsight – The Random Acts of Kindness Tour. You know, people open up to you when you take off down the road and you abandon home and security in search of freedom and doing something idealistic. Tons of people opened up their homes and fed me and took care of me and helped me along the way, you know. People that I met for five minutes or whatever would just really care for you. It’s beautiful.

Tell me more about "Illusions and Mirrors".

"Illusions and Mirrors" is a video installation by a filmmaker and visual artist Shirin Neshat, starring Natalie Portman and it was shot by Darius Khondji, who’s like one of Hollywood’s finest cinematographers -- he’s a brilliant talent. So it’s three mega talents and then me coming up from the underground and kind of like I know I don’t live here but it’s nice to work with these people for a second. And it’s a beautiful film; Natalie’s acting in it is really tremendous and Darius, what he did with the camera and of course Shirin’s instincts and sensibilities visually and in storytelling.

The film is about a woman, there’s two of her and you can’t tell if it’s a dream or if it’s real and she’s confronting herself but it’s all very psychological. I did the sound and music for it. They gave me a silent film; you know they just gave me picture and I was to put all the sound into it, so it was like really playing with people’s minds with sound to give these visuals the emotional thud that they need cause that’s what sound does with moving picture.

That is very true. I remember soundtracks and then that makes me remember the moment… Will you be in Paris for the premiere?

I will, yeah, the Grand Palais.

Was there a moment while you were on the road where Mother Nature showed you who’s boss?

Showed me who was boss? Oh, many times but never in a mean way. Well there was one rainstorm that was a little bit terrifying but that’s not an interesting story. I’ll give you an interesting story. Remember the night of the Super Moon, the Super Full Moon?

Yes, was that July? Or June?

Yeah it was in the summer. It was the night that the moon had been the closest to the planet in fourteen years. Yeah… I spent that night on top of the Rocky Mountains in a campsite. I took a chance I was like I don’t think it’s gonna rain so I didn’t put the rain tarp up and I’m laying in the tent and the moon—I’m like three miles in the sky now just cause of where I am in the mountains—and the moon is God knows how much closer. It was huge. It was like the sky was the moon and so much light was coming in through the pines and the Aspen trees that the forest at night was in full daylight. Like you could go and walk and see everything.

In moonlight?

In moonlight. It was that white, it felt almost like it was liquid, not light. That was a very amazing experience with just the fire cracking and laying on my back and staring at this moon and going “I am completely insignificant.” {laughter}

I understand. That’s how I feel when I stargaze… I think you’ve touched on everything…You wanna talk about your guitars? You wanna talk about your van?



{chuckles} Eny had her Sweet 16 in New York, so I’m very happy about that. I had a lot of weird coincidences with the odometer and that car. Like the first really strange one was I came around a bend in Nevada, around a mountain and as the odometer hit 6-6-6-6—I know it’s four sixes but whatever {laughter} I say the fourth six is for all of my evil—I added an extra six to it but literally, the odometer hits 6-6-6-6, we come around the mountain and there’s Vegas.

Wow! Sin City!

{laughs} I have it on film too if nobody believes me. I videotaped it. I have evidence of that. That was a cool one. It turned 12,000 eight thousand feet up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as I was coming back and it hit—

Wait, what’s the significance of that?

It was just a groovy place, I was at the highest peak in the Sierra Nevadas on the road I was taking and it turned 12,000 and when I pulled into the Outlaw Saloon in Cheyenne, I pulled into the parking lot and the odometer literally turned, as I stopped to 13-13…at the Outlaw Saloon. And then she turned Sweet 16 in New York City. Sweet 16,000. Eny, the entropic engine. Eny for short.

Anything else you want to add?

The website is constantly updated with tons of videos and photos and music. I’m making my second record that’s why I came back. I guess I should say something about that.

Oh… yeah… So it’s not just a stop off.


You’re here to work.

I’m here to work.

Got it.

So yeah. My recording studio is in the Adirondack Mountains called Accelerated Entropy Studios and we’re gonna be recording it through October, November and December. And it should be released sometime in March and I’ll be on the road in January releasing singles and videos and touring behind the record up until probably around March or April. I don’t have a name for it yet. I kinda wanna call it “Sheriff Hank” but that doesn’t make much sense.

You mean for the record?

Yeah, I like “Sheriff Hank” cause I think it’s awesome.

Sheriff Hank… some random guy?

Someone was telling me this crazy story about a guy named Sheriff Hank when I was out in the mountains… It won’t make sense, I don’t think I’m gonna call it that {chuckles} but I like it. That, like with everything else that I do, will be available for free on the website when it’s released so they can just take it…

So it’s really a labor of love…

Yeah, yeah I mean it’s love but it’s also, you know, it’s foolish to think you’re gonna sell your records anymore. I mean if people wanna steal it they’re gonna steal it. If they wanna buy it, they’re gonna buy it. Put it out there if people want it… Art should be free. Artists shouldn’t make much money.

They shouldn’t make much money?

No. They should make enough money to survive and like to be a little bit comfortable but artists who make millions and millions of dollars…Why?

It doesn’t make sense to you?

No, it just corrupts the work, you know? I mean no one should make that much money as far as I’m concerned, not when there’s like 95 percent of the world’s population eats one meal a day, at best. It’s just, I don’t know, how many artists blow up and then just suck you know? They lose it. It corrupts them. Celebrity and wealth—they’re made, what the fuck do they care now?

I’m an idealistic weirdo. I get more and more radical and idealistic as I age. Most people tend to cool down and become practical and I’m just worse {laughter} I was way more money-hungry and fame-driven when I was like 21 than I am now. Now I don’t give a shit at all. I’m just like let me sing my songs. That’s all I wanna do.  

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