By John Parks
Jonny Lang appeared on the world’s radar as “Kid” Jonny Lang, the hotshot 14-year-old guitarist with the skills to back up the hype, but he has quietly evolved into one of the most consistently great artists of the past 20 years.
It has been seven years since his last album, Turn Around, but as Lang fans know, part of the reason for his success is the quality of his catalog.
The new album from Jonny Lang, Fight For My Soul, is both the next logical step and a bold new chapter for the 32-year-old guitar superstar, combining the classic blues style he’s known for playing with some refreshingly great new musical horizons.
Jonny will be appearing in Rockford Sept. 20 with the legendary Buddy Guy at Coronado Theatre. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lang about the album, his life and much more.
Q: Hi, Jonny. I’ve been listening to the advance copy of your new album, and fans have a lot to be excited about when it is released Sept. 17. I’m sure over the course of recording you kicked around a few ideas. What led you to the album title, Fight For My Soul?
A: It’s one of the tracks on the new record, but I also thought it fit the all-around sentiment of the album as a whole. For me, in the past five or 10 years, there have been a lot of moments where I feel like I’m hanging on for dear life (laughs). So, I really do feel like a lot of what was inside of me during that time ended up in these songs, and that kind of made me feel like the title was fitting.
Q: This album still contains a ton of blues elements and is obviously going to appeal to all of your fans but also maybe a few people who haven’t bought a Jonny Lang record before. There is a lot of great, catchy material, and it sounds like you are really reinvigorated. Were you able to write without worrying about genre or style and just pick the best possible songs?
A: Yeah, man, this is really the first time that I haven’t been afraid to just do the music that’s coming out of me. This feels like the first time I haven’t tried to eliminate stuff that I felt wouldn’t fit or would rock the boat or be too much of a surprise to people who enjoyed past records from me. Yeah, man, what you said is accurate, and I’ve wanted to make this record for a long time.
Q: I know some of the reason for the seven-year wait for this record is due to the fact that you’ve gone through some life changes and started a family. I might be reading too much in to the lyrics, but it seems like some of that made it into the album as well. People can watch the lyric video for your new song, “Blow Up The House,” and draw their own conclusions, but do you feel like you’re a different guy than you were when you were doing these interviews 10 or 12 years ago?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely, totally different. I mean, I feel like I’m a bit more balanced than I ever have been, not such a basket case anymore (laughs). Having a family has been an incredible blessing. It was kind of the very thing I needed in my life to balance me out, because I’ve been so weighted just one way, and that is just no plan, no agenda, no organization, no anything — come and go as you please, make music and whatever. The thing is, you can’t do that as a dad (laughs). So, having a family has been really good for me. To be totally honest, for the first year or two, it was really painful for me. It’s been a real deep thing because it kind of causes you to revisit your childhood in a lot of ways, stuff that you would never, ever choose to or want to remember in a lot of ways (laughs). Those are the things you kind of end up having to face or come back to, all kinds of hidden … bonuses (laughs) that you don’t expect to deal with. The kids themselves were amazing from the get-go, so it wasn’t them at all — it was just me going through the whole growing pains to get to where I am as a father.
Q: You have opened for the Stones, and you’re currently playing some shows with Buddy Guy, who you’ve known for a while now. Is it still a thrill to be able to share a stage or watch a guy like Buddy on a given night for you?
A: Man, absolutely. The time I’ve been able to spend hanging with Buddy and doin’ shows has been priceless to me. It’s been such an honor, not just because of who he is as an icon of American music, but also just because of how he is as a person and how he handles that role that he has. I mean, I’m a white guy from a northern state (North Dakota), and really I have no business singing about the subject matter or doing some of the blues material that Buddy Guy does. When I started out playing that kind of music, that was kind of the first time Buddy heard of me — when I was just starting out, playing straight-up blues stuff. Buddy could have easily dismissed me and said, “That’s a nice trick there, kid, but you really don’t have the right to be doing that” (laughs), and I would have totally understood. That would have been OK by me. I would have understood why he would have said that, but it’s been the total opposite with him … he LOVES it when younger players pick up on the music or are influenced by the music that it derives from. He tries to make them popular, he promotes the younger artists, and he’s been no different with me. He’s just a great guy, in general.
Q: Thanks for speaking with me, Jonny. I look forward to seeing your new tour. Last question … now that you’re a family man, how has that changed your approach to touring and being away from home?
A: We have kind of had this rule where I won’t be gone for more than two weeks at a time, but you know how it is — when it’s a new album cycle and you’re touring to support an album, you just have to expect to be gone in order to make it work. We’re gonna be spending a lot more time together as a family on the road, so that should be fun!
From the Sept. 18-24, 2013, issue