Last week I had the absolute pleasure of talking to the classic Kiwi singer songwriter Greg Johnson who will be going on tour with the one and only Mel Parsons this November. If he is 10% as charasmatic in his live performances as he is on the phone then, if you go to one of the shows, you are sure to be in for a treat.

Since that first show in Queenstown [Mel opened for Greg in 2011] is there more to add to the story of you and Mel working together?
Umm, you know. Not so much. This is what we are trying to do: add another chapter I guess. When it came to deciding to do a double bill and something a bit different aroud the country with someone else I had been been thinking about her style and I was impressed by the way she had just toured and toured and toured. Because I often get asked “What’s the key to building an audience?” and all I know is I got off the couch and got in a car or a van and I played everywhere and kept doing it. That’s what she seems to have done and so I was impressed with the fact that she’s build a real audience herself and I think our audiences will cross over nicely. She is a storyteller and definitely a bit of a laugh and that combination seems to be right up my alley as thats kinda what we do. I am looking forward to getting to know her a bit more by hanging out. Maybe there will be collaborations in the future.

At what point did you make the jump from New Zealand to bigger waters and can you fill us in a little on the journey between NZ and California, where you’re based now?
Around 1999 I’d been actively traveling and playing a lot with the intention of getting a label in the US and then in 2001 we did sign to a label here in Los Angeles and part of the deal was, “You have to move up here.” We were like “Sure, why not? (Lets) try something new.” Ted Brown, who was also based in Auckland, moved with me as a guitar player and then we sorta stayed. I guess the story here was fairly familiar: We had a crack, labels collapsed, got a bit of radio, we ran out of money, the industry changed, we kept going, started my own studio and I kinda just keep doing what I do. I’ve got my own recording studio here now as well so I do a bit of soundtrack work and in the meantime I’ve married an American girl and we have a 5 year old daughter. Thats 15 years in a nutshell.

Have you tried to attack America with the same approach to touring as you did in New Zealand or have you left that time behind a little bit?
Yeah I have honestly. We did the first few years quite a bit of touring but the one thing that becomes quickly apparent is that it’s a bloody huge continent and there’s no easy drives and also every state is like an entire country of it’s own. There’s 50 of them so you’re kinda like woah, that’s the scale of it. So that’s part of the reason why, economically, it’s very difficult to make it work to build an audience in one place and at some point it was not making economic sense really. If I was 20 honestly I’d probably be doing what I suggested Mel did and what I did myself when I was 20. I’d get a sleeper van and one other sidekick and I’d tour every little folk bar. You could keep going forever. There is a degree of truth in that endlessly touring is a young persons game unless you can do it at a level where it’s civilised. You have to be pretty big to do that.

What do you miss about touring and living in New Zealand?
Well I am lucky that I can get back quite a bit so a lot of the material things I get to satisfy when I come down like the great seafood, the fresh air and the scenery. But really it’s the people you miss more then anything I think – family and friends. But that’s not just music, that’s anyone who’s moved away to another place. The other side to that coin is this very city is three times the size of the whole of New Zealand and there’s still places that I’ve never been too, there’s always something new to see. So that’s good and that keeps us from getting bored.

In the tour info you’ve mentioned “Songs and swagger”. What does this mean for people coming to your live shows?
Ah. Well. What did I say? Songs and swagger? I don’t know, I’m not sure what that means but bascially the jist of the show is there’s always a bit of a to and fro with the audience, I think that’s why Mel and I will get on quite well this tour. We like to be amongst them in the sense that I’m a night club singer so I’m used to the crowd being close and personal and I think that’s kinda the fun of them. They don’t always work out like that as sometimes it’s different but the idea is really just to tell a few stories and have a bit of a laugh and maybe drink a couple of glasses of wine. Although we have to not drink too many glasses.

You have opened for some very diverse acts! Which one was the most memorable if you can pick one?
That’s an interesting one. I have to say it was pretty cool to go on tour, a little tour, with Lloyd Cole because he was really one of my hero’s when I was young. If we go way back we did support for The Corrs and those Irish girls, I wasn’t a fan of their music, but by god. They were a force of nature, those three sisters, that was interesting. It was fun doing The Proclaimers and again those guys were great fun to hang out with. We were really quite different musically and I think there were elements of both audiences that probably pretty mystified but that’s the fun of a support – especially that kind of thing.

If this interview has sparked your interest then I implore you head to one of the shows listed below to see these two live. In the meantime here are links to Greg Johnson and Mel Parsons works on Spotify.


Thurs 9 November: The Vic, Devonport
Fri 10 November: The Tuning Fork, Auckland
Sun 12 November: St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki (matinee show)
Sun 12 November: Meow, Wellington
Wed 15 November: Sherwood, Queenstown
Thurs 16 November: The Cook, Dunedin
Fri 17 November: Blue Smoke, Christchurch
Sat 18 November: Naval Pt Yacht Club, Lyttleton
Fri 24 November: Totara St, Mount Maunganui
Sat 25 November: Haumoana Hall, Hawkes Bay
Sun 26 November: Nivara Lounge, Hamilton

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