Johnny Indovina: More Real Than Any Trick Your Mind Can Play
Through their five albums and two EPs (released by RCA, Projekt, and Triple X), Johnny Indovina and Human Drama have continually captured all facets of human emotion and experience — love and loneliness, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, and so much more. Every song is filled with an honesty and intensity unmatched by any other band. It is for this reason that Human Drama is held in the highest esteem by their devoted fans. The band is currently working on their sixth album, Solemn Sun Setting , which they plan to release on April 20, 1999. Johnny was awarded the Best Songwriting award at the Rock City Awards in September of 1998. Here, he has taken a little time to talk about his art… and himself.
What did you do before you had a career in music?
I went to college (University of New Orleans), went to broadcasting school, worked as a DJ on a few stations, worked as a draftsman for the phone company, and was a welder (which I loved).
What made you decide that this was what you wanted to do with your life?
It just happened. I did not decide anything. I think about that often. From time to time I still get the thought, “What am I going to do when I grow up?”
What else, besides music, is important to you?
My family is most important, music second. Then baseball.
What’s your favorite team?
Cleveland Indians. I have followed them religiously since 1967.
What have you found to be the best part of being a musical artist?
The interaction with all the people that I have met along the journey. It composes so many years of my life. It has been a great experience, one I feel lucky to have had. I think somehow I will be remembered when I’m gone. I will have mattered. I think that is something everyone would like to achieve.
And what has been the hardest part?
The lack of stability in my life. The highs are too high and the lows are too low.
Speaking of instability, why is there so much fluctuation in the membership of Human Drama?
I wish there was not, but Human Drama does not pay the bills and people must move on. I wish them all well and appreciate the time and energy they gave to my project.
What advice would you give to people trying to get a band off the ground?
Be sure it is what you really want and need to do. If you have aspirations to be a star, please do everyone a favor and keep your pretentiousness to yourself.
In the introduction to your book, Megan writes about seeing you as two different people: one on stage and one off. Do you feel that you have two different personalities, on and of stage?
I am sure that I do not. But that does not change others’ perceptions of me.
Why do you think people get this impression?
Maybe we assume what a person may be like based on their work. I don’t know. I guess I have some crazy idea what Leonard Cohen may be like, but I don’t really know.
What assumptions do you think people make about you?
That I am serious all the time, which is far from true.
You’ve said that you don’t consider Human Drama a Goth band, so why do you think so much of your support comes from the Goth scene?
Maybe they are more open-minded to thought-provoking music. If my music were promoted in a more widespread manner, I think the balance would shift a bit. We are promoted in the Goth realm because we are well known there.
Your music has had a profound effect on many people’s lives, helping them get through difficult times and make positive changes for themselves. How does it feel to know that your work has had such an effect on people?
It makes me feel valid, lucky that someone is listening. And it makes me work very hard on the next LP. I feel I have a responsibility to live up to my prior work, to myself and the ones who listen.
Did you ever think it would be so important for people?
Not until I heard The World Inside all the way from beginning to end.
Have you ever heard anyone say that your work has inspired theirs in any way?
Yes, a few very nice people have shared that with me over the years. Such a compliment.
What other artists or authors have inspired your work?
Van Gogh, because he never made a cent from his art while he was alive. Vonnegut, because he taught me how to speak to the part of a human being that I speak to on The World Inside .
Do you usually write about events in your life as they are happening, or in retrospect?
No one way in particular.
How do you feel that you have changed as a songwriter over the years?
I’ve gotten better at my craft. I zero in better on the emotions I am trying to explore.
How do you think you have changed as a performer?
I’m more subtle. Performing the songs on The World Inside tour taught me a lot. I kind of let the songs perform themselves, if that explains anything.
Do you still struggle with the feelings described in “Voices”?
Very seldom, and only for a second or two.
What causes that?
I think I am worthless, from time to time. I think I cannot be good for anyone. Sometimes I feel I no longer have the energy to go on with my work.
What do you do to get through those times?
Think of how lucky I am to have a family that loves me unconditionally, how proud they are of me, and how much I love them. By the time I have done this, I can’t even remember the bad thoughts.
Do you find songwriting to be therapeutic?
Yes, very much so. Then the songs sometimes later become like little viruses that come back to make you sick now and again.
That reminds me of one of the comments you made in The World Inside Video Collection . You said that performing on-stage was “reliving” the experiences that inspire your music. Given the intensity, and often painful quality, of the emotions you express through your music, how do you have the strength to do that over and over again?
It took a lot more strength to live through it than it does to perform it over and over. Seriously though, it is what I do. I chose to explore these certain topics. My art comes naturally, as do the performances.
Would you tell a story about a show you’ve done that really sticks out in your mind?
Showcase Theatre in Corona, CA, 1996. It was a solo acoustic show that worked perfectly. Everything I wanted to convey connected. The feeling in the room was so powerful it is hard to describe. I ended the show with a song called “King of Loneliness.” As I hit the last chord, I put my finger to my mouth to signify quiet, or in my mind, “Applause not necessary.” Everyone was silent and just stood there. It was the first time, and only time, that I ever felt the “perfect” connection with the entire audience. I’ll never, ever, forget it. The best show I ever did.
What do you think is your best video?
“This Tangled Web,” by leaps and bounds, in my opinion.
Are you planning on making any more videos?
If we get a budget, we will do a few.
Any idea which songs you would like to make videos for?
“Single White Rose,” “Lost,” “My Denial,” and “Ways and the Wounds (of my World)” sound like good choices.
You’ve said that you really don’t like the work you did with the Models. What’s so bad about it?
Well, maybe “bad” is too strong a word. It was as good as it could be. We were just learning. I respect everything that we did and all the hard work we did, but it just does not stand the test of time, for the most part. I’ll tell you this, the Models were very important to my growth as a songwriter. I wrote “I Could Be a Killer” while in the Models. It was a fun time, maybe the most fun time of all for me.
Have you ever considered reworking those songs to make them something you can be proud of?
Every now and then, but I never have. There is always something else that seems a better use of time.
What’s your favorite song from each of your albums?
Feel : “The Waiting Hour;” The World Inside : “This Tangled Web;” Pinups : “Love Will Tear Us Apart;” Human Drama EP: “The Waiting Hour (once again);” Songs of Betrayal : “This Forgotten Love;” 14,384 Days Later : “Heroin;” Solemn Sun Setting : “A Single White Rose.”
Why did the line “Just like mine did” (such a powerful line, in my opinion) get left out of the newer version of “The Waiting Hour”?
Because I am speaking to myself in this version.
You’ve said that “Blue” is the sequel to “This Tangled Web.” Did you write “Blue” with that intention, or did it just feel like a sequel when it was done?
It was intentional. “This Tangled Web” is the feeling. “Blue” is the reality.
Why does the chorus of “A Million Years” appear in “Forever”?
It relates to what I am expressing in “Forever.”
Were both songs inspired by the same woman?
Two different women.
How do you decide which songs by other artists you want to cover?
When they move me to a point where I feel a need to express what that particular song made me feel. It is very much like when I am writing a song. I have a need to express what I feel.
What do you think is the best cover song you’ve done?
Hard to say. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” for sure is at the top, but I think Pinups was all very good, with the exception of “Letter to Hermione” and “‘Till the Next Goodbye,” which fell short of my expectations. I think “I Keep a Close Watch” and “Heroin” from the live LP are right on also.
How did “Letter to Hermione” and “‘Till the Next Goodbye” fall short?
Technical difficulties on “‘Till the Next Goodbye.” Terribly unsuccessful performance on my part on “Letter to Hermione.”
Why did you decide to re-release Songs of Betrayal and change it from the original?
It was Peter Heur at Triple X’s idea. He said it always seemed that the album was meant to two parts. He felt it would be stronger that way. I agree and am very happy Triple X chose to re-release it.
What’s the meaning of the title Solemn Sun Setting ?
Can’t reveal that much. I think a few folks will figure it out. Maybe you need to hear the album and the title track. I have had the title since 1995.
What future projects are you planning?
The release of Solemn Sun Setting in April ’99. I hope to do a tour for Solemn Sun …. USA, Europe, and South America. I also plan at some point to release a solo LP, but there’s no hurry on that. I will continue to work with and produce Miracle Mile, who are releasing their second full length ( From the Journal of Mr. Black ) very soon.
What other bands have you produced or played with?
I played bass with Eva O, Mood Elevator, and Kommunity Fk. I have produced Miracle Mile (3 LPs) and Eva O Halo Experience.
Looking at your life, if you could change one thing about it, what would that be?
I would want my friend Steve Le Blanc to not have taken his own life. I think he may have joined me on this journey. It would have been nice.
What goals do you have that you haven’t achieved yet?
I have yet to find “home.”
Is there anything else you want to tell people?
Thank you for listening.