Smile Politely

A Desperado in Summer

There’s an intriguing ring to that word, Desperado. To some, it’s just the same cliche character trope found in your average spaghetti western film. Yet to local songwriter Jack Anthony Johnston, the word almost holds an unquestionable meaning that he’d rather just laugh off. He understands that writing music is not a mechanized process; authoring genuinely original songs cannot be churned out on an assembly line, and it may take weeks for him to find inspiration again.

Jack Anthony and the Desperadoes may only have two tracks out on their first release with An Evening With Your Mother, titled, Uncertain Harvest, but they pack a heavy ten-gallon hat kick perfectly suited for the last show hosted at the Red Herring this summer. “I Won’t Stop” captures the defiant lone-wolf vibe donned naturally by Anthony, backed by the soft and sweet vocals of Emily Otnes, followed by a gunslingers ballad called “Stockholm.”

Jack Anthony and the Desperadoes: “I Won’t Stop”

[[mp3 jack_anthony_i_wont_stop]]

After sitting down for a chat with an AEWYM at the end of July to talk about recording the split, I joined Johnston and Max Dragoo, on guitar and banjo, to talk about their side of the record.

Smile Politely: How did this band of Desperadoes form?

Jack Anthony Johnston: We all played in bands before in Champaign-Urbana, [and we met] through the music scene. We just became friends, but it wasn’t until recently that we came together as a band.

SP: What other local bands have you played with?

Johnston: I was in a band called “The Abuse”. I was really young, and that was two to three years ago. They were in Cops and Robots and Bad Columbus.

SP: What can you say about your songwriting process?

Johnston: I basically just sort of sit around with a guitar, play around, and I’ll find maybe a chord progression or melody that I like. There’s no real definite inspiration to the song, other than a whole plethora of different artists. The lyrics just sort of come out, they’re not really about anything in particular. Maybe just life in general.

Max Dagroo: Life before the beard, life after the beard. That’s how I define Jack.

Johnston: [Laughs] It’s just something that happens. It’s really when I reflect back on a song when I figure out what it’s about.

SP: Can you name any influential country artists that really stand out to you?

Dragoo: If you’re gonna compare it to country, it’s more like older country.

Johnston: There are tons of artists I listen to, like Bob Dylan, or The Tallest Man On Earth, and I just listen to them and they really make me want to write, because they’re such good songwriters. But other than that, there’s nothing that I listen to and say I want to make something that sounds like this. You know it might sound like someone, there’s no certain artist that I’m trying to sound like.

SP: Who came up with the name for the split?

Johnston: I think Kirby’s mom did. He has this song called, “So It Goes”. I mentioned something about it being a Vonnegut reference. He said, “Well, if you want to make it literary, my mom suggests this certain Robert Frost poem [“A Prayer in Spring”],” I guess that she had off the top of her head. It was a really good one; definitely an Illinois thing.

SP: Why call yourself Desperadoes?

Johnston: I guess it came up as sort of a joke.

Dragoo: I don’t remember the exact reason. We were just messing around, trying to find a country-western theme.

SP: Like a typical western movie?

Johnston: The other song we have [on the split] is called “Stockholm”, and there’s this guitar riff that Max wrote that definitely has that gunslinger-genre kind of feel. So we were joking around with things like that, like tumbleweeds. It doesn’t mean a whole lot.

SP: It seems like your music has this ‘lone-wolf’ feel to it. Can you tell me about where this comes from?

Johnston: I am the lone-wolf [laughs]. It’s mostly just [“Stockholm”]. I can’t help but write sad, “lone-wolf” songs, it’s just how they come out.

Dagroo: Before he had the beard. Once he has the beard, he hasn’t written any songs, I don’t think.

Johnston: When I write, it’s more of a binge thing. I can go for weeks or months without writing anything, and then it’s like all at once, a bunch of songs will come out. I guess it’s probably when things go wrong for me, or when life is so terrible, I don’t know. These songs, I wrote all of them last year just by myself. I would play shows solo, and it just wasn’t really fulfilling, I felt like, to play in front of an audience by myself. I brought these guys in, and it made everything seem a lot more full. I wasn’t happy playing solo. So now that we can all write songs together and make it happen, it’s pretty cool

Jack Anthony and the Desperadoes: “Stockholm”

[[mp3 jack_anthony_stockholm]]

SP: What did you find unfulfilling as a solo artist?

Johnston: It wasn’t fun, I guess. The music just didn’t sound right to me. It was music that was written to be accompanied by a band and other musicians.

SP: Any fun memories you can recall from playing around town as a band?

Johnston: It’s just overall better playing with a band. We have a lot more fun practicing, a lot more fun on stage. It’s more of just we hang out as friends, we’re just playing for each other. Most of the time, it’s just us hanging out. Music is definitely an important thing in our lives, but it’s more about just us hanging out on common ground. Definitely, it’s a lot less lonely and a lot less intimidating when you have other people on stage with you. It can be really advantageous, because you can write a song and think it’s good, but then someone else can add something else to it that you’d never thought of, and it can make it all that much better.


Jack Anthony and the Desperadoes will play tonight at the Red Herring’s last summer show with An Evening With Your Mother, Renegade Lightning Rebellion and Morgan Orion.

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