Smile Politely

The voice behind Champaign is Also a Band podcast

A man is on the right side of the image, looking towards the left side. He's got a baseball hat on, with glasses and a yellow t-shirt. On the left side of the photo is the logo for "Champaign is Also a Band Podcast"
Stephen “Sven” Johnson on Facebook

Nestled within the vibrant music scene of Champaign-Urbana, a unique auditory experience unfolds through the podcast Champaign is Also a Band. Stephen “Sven” Johnson, the creator and host, has transformed his love for local music into a platform that showcases the rich tapestry of sounds and stories from this dynamic community.

The genesis of Johnson’s podcasting journey was as organic as the conversations he curates. Reflecting on his start, Johnson recalls, “I just kind of fell into it… a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, you should do this.'” This simple nudge in June 2018 led to the birth of a podcast that would become a cornerstone of local music culture.

Each episode is a microcosm of C-U’s music scene, featuring a local musician or songwriter who shares their favorite original song. Johnson’s approach is to delve deep, unraveling the threads of creativity, community, and personal tales behind each piece. He describes his podcast as “a way to get to know these musicians beyond just their music.” This approach has not only resonated with his audience but also created a unique record of the local music scene’s evolution.

Johnson’s multifaceted background (including a music degree) enriches his interactions with guests. He navigates seamlessly between the technicalities of music theory and the more abstract elements of artistic creation. His ability to connect with artists across genres and experiences has led to a diverse and inclusive lineup of guests. From folk to hip-hop, Champaign is Also a Band represents the full spectrum of the area’s musical talent.

In his podcast, Johnson navigates the varying comfort levels of artists when discussing their music. He finds a unique value in gently coaxing more reticent musicians to open up. He describes this process: “There’s such a variation in terms of those that are comfortable about talking with about their music and those that are not but it’s the ones that I feel like if I break through that shell of the one-word answers, and then they start to kind of relax and are comfortable with telling me a little more personal things. In the end those tend to be like some of the most rewarding stories.” This approach not only enriches the content of his podcast but also provides a deeper insight into the personal and emotional connections artists have with their music, revealing the profound impact of their creations on both themselves and their listeners​​. 

Johnson often explores how their music impacts others. He finds it intriguing how his “interpretation of someone else’s work… tells the world more about me than it does about the actual artist and the song that they’ve written.” This perspective not only provides a deeper understanding of the music but also allows for a mutual reflection between himself and his guests, illustrating the podcast’s role in fostering connections and understanding. Further discussing the interpretation of music, Johnson notes, “A song might mean something to the person who wrote it, but it can mean something completely different to someone else.” This insight reflects the podcast’s exploration of the subjective nature of music and the unique experiences and backgrounds that each artist brings to their work.

Beyond being an auditory experience, the podcast has morphed into a conduit for community building. Johnson takes pride in how his platform has connected artists, saying, “It’s amazing to see musicians who’ve been on the show reach out to each other, collaborate, or even just become fans of each other’s work.” In this way, Champaign is Also a Band has become a catalyst for fostering a supportive and interconnected music community.

Stephen “Sven” Johnson on Facebook

For Johnson, the podcast is a labor of love and a commitment to the local music scene. Reflecting on the impact of his work, he shares, “Sometimes it’s just enough for a thing to exist. And sometimes that’s how I approach a lot of the things that I do where I’m just like, I just want this to exist. I want this record to exist and I don’t necessarily I don’t want to say I don’t care but, you know, whether it directly influences the scene or not, doesn’t faze me so much.” His dedication goes beyond merely recording episodes; it’s about preserving and promoting the vibrancy of C-U’s music culture, appreciating the intrinsic value of its existence and the conversations it ignites about what makes a good music scene​​.

As he looks to the future, Johnson remains focused on the core ethos of his podcast. He envisions it as an ever-evolving platform, adapting to the changing landscape of the music scene while staying true to its roots. “I want to keep telling these stories, keep shining a light on the amazing talent we have here,” he asserts.

In essence, Champaign is Also a Band is more than a podcast; it’s a love letter to the music and musicians of Champaign-Urbana. Through his engaging conversations, insightful questions, and genuine passion, Johnson has created an indispensable archive of the local music scene. His work not only amplifies the diverse voices of local artists but also stitches together the myriad stories that define the musical heartbeat of this vibrant community. 

You can subscribe to Champaign is Also a Band podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Music Editor

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