Artist Spotlight: Mark Johnson

In the humble campus music scene here at Lawrence, it’s difficult to stand out and claim a place above the typical college-rock stigma. Junior Mark Johnson, with his curiously clever songwriting and elated onstage persona, has managed to become a favorite among the guitar-toting liberals at LU. Here’s a little glimpse into the mind of this warmhearted anti-rock star-to-be.Where are you from and what do you study here at Lawrence?

I’m from Iowa City, Iowa and I study economics and environmental studies.

When and how did you start playing and writing music?

I wrote my first song in fifth grade while swinging on the swing set and watching my more athletic friends play soccer. It was about James Bond and sounded a little like the theme song. Over the next four years I only wrote two songs, which were long and didn’t have much of a melody. All I remember is that one was about giant leeches called “Bloodsuckers.” I got faster and better at writing songs when high school started.

Are there any artists or performers who you consider to be particularly inspirational?

They Might Be Giants, because they somehow make me pay attention to their lyrics and they put a lot of songs on their albums. I also admire how Pete Snyder (’06) is determined to keep his songs short and not waste anyone’s time.

Can you tell us a little bit about the different bands you’ve played in over the years?

I played drums in a band called King Redbird and was really inspired to write music after the first band practice. After about six months they stopped calling me for practice because — I found out later — I looked too happy when I was playing and they were looking for someone a little more edgy.
Later I played drums for a band called Some Shocking Sexy and gradually started singing some of the songs and writing my own. My senior year my friends and I started a band called The Bonecrushers. Instead of practicing, though, we would usually think of all the sweet things we could do as a band and then would use any bit of work we did as a justification for a couple hours of capture the flag Halo. At Lawrence I’m in a band called Honey Bee Farmers and we’re a lot more committed.

How do your studies at Lawrence compliment your work with music?

I tried writing educational songs but found it too hard. I think that I’m more productive at writing songs when my song-writing time is balanced out by being productive in other ways.

What do you hope to accomplish with your music?

I guess I mostly want my songs to be pretty or fun to sing, but when I’m writing lyrics I try to have some particular sort of message that will help me get out of a particular kind of funk. I hope that I can use some of my songs to slap my wrist if I’m feeling something useless like self-pity.

What are your plans for the future, either near or distant?

Over the summer I got into cooking, so I would tentatively like to get into that more in the near future. I would also like to design a really cool planned community and convince my family and all my friends to live there with me.