We Will Give This World Away, the second album from Holly & Plastic, will be released on June 20, 2014 at the Oshkosh Masonic Lodge as part of a full line-up of music including Christopher Gold, Mark Steven Hillstrom, Holly&Plastic, Sunday Flood and Self-Evident.
Holly & Plastic is the solo project of Oshkosh rock n roll staple Andrew Johnson. We Will Give This World Away was recorded over the last four years both at Johnson’s home using low-fi cassette 4-track equipment and at Topsoil Studio with engineering and mixing assistance from Kyle Straveler.
Johnson, who is recognized for his work with indie rock bands Chinoski, Happy and the Haunted Heads, pursues a fully different sound with Holly & Plastic that brings the accoustic guitar and Johnson’s lyrics to the front.
“I suppose this is an acoustic based project,” explains Johnson. “The first Holly & Plastic album (Life After the Lie) almost went out of it’s way to be so. I think We Will Give This World Away does a better job of letting the song be the song it should be. If it’s going to be a raucous drowning in feedback, so be it. If a piano seems right, I’ll roll with that too.”
We Will Give This World Away opens with “Normal Nightmares”, a pop-punk piece that maintains of piece of the driving rock sound that is synonymous with Johnson, while subtely showing a glimpse of the lyrical folk direction the album is headed. The melody and lyrics from the refrain have a catchy intrigue, which prompted a dozen or more listenings. The song harnesses a straight-forward rock sound that harkens Dinosaur Jr’s Green Mind and the pure rock sound of Neil Young’s Mirror Ball.
The album promptly transitions into the acoustic guitar-led sound that dominates the album with “Sisters”, a raw, upbeat ballad that reveals a frustration and even anger through Johnson’s lyrics and vocals.
When asked if the lyrics in Holly & Plastic take on a more central role than past work, Johnson replied, “The lyrics on We Will Give This World Away aren’t necessarily more poignant than past albums I’ve done… maybe the absence of the usual dissonance and volume I typically enjoy surrounding songs with gives the lyrics a fighting chance to rise above their counterparts. A running theme, like the title implies, of worry and frustration with those in positions of power and influence running a broken system however it best stacks the cards in their hands with almost complete disregard to people and planet, makes for good lyrical fodder.”
Track 3, “If I Were A Folksinger, Folksingers Would Laugh” reveals a more exposed side of Johnson’s music with an intro featuring a solo acoustic guitar line that is repeated in the song, serving as a home. A soft and clean vocal line enters, sharing the prayer of the protagonist, who is troubled and uncertain. A distorted electric guitar harmony enters as the song ventures shortly into a minor key, providing a slight dissonance that effectively accompanies the lyrics while highlighting the friction between the relaxed and contented acoustic guitar and disconcerting lyrics.
The music on We Will Give This World Away was crafted using a process Johnson describes as organized with spontanoutiy and happy accidents.
“I like to come into the studio with lyrics, melody and an acoustic guitar part,” says Johnson. “Everything else is flushed out spontaneously on that day. It’s been a very satisfying way to record these songs. When you allow yourself no ceiling or floor and just trust your ears, the song itself starts to have a say in the matter.”
Johnson continues: “Happy accidents, like the tape loop at the end of “If I Were a Folksinger”, 4-track limitations, your mood that particular day, all help dictate the outcome. It’s 180 (degrees) off compared to most of the “traditional band” albums I’ve been a part of. Although I must say, that would be an incredible way to approach a Haunted Heads record!”
We Will Give This World Away is a considerable addition the catelog of Oshkosh / Fox Valley area music, a scene which Johnson has been at the forefront of for nearly 25 years. The album offers a well-conceived original sound that incorporates creative lyrical composition and strong song writing skills that is blended together with Johnson’s mastery of song production. ν
Justin Mitchell is editor of the Oshkosh Scene, and last played a show with Andrew almost ten years ago. Maybe it is time soon.