Deep-fried monster love
It takes courage to play the fool, and someone has to do it. This is the mantra Hamilton-based indie comedy folk-punk performer B.A. Johnston has followed for more than a decade.
Sporting wild, overgrown mutton chops, a junkyard guitar and shameless beer belly, Johnston has become somewhat of a Canadian icon. His songs feature tales of cheap beer, ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia and ‘D’ grade grocery store meat.
Johnston (who didn’t want his real name revealed) had time to talk over the phone while driving his 2006 Dodge Caravan towards Kelowna, BC. It was his eighth stop on the cross-country “Don’t Feed ‘Em After Midnight” tour in support of his latest album, Gremlinz 3.
Apparently, his previous show in Canmore was anything but tame.
“A lot of Whistler people showed up and they started taking their shirts off and the
bouncers were trying to put them back on,” he says. “Then they started crowd-surfing in the bathroom.”
It was a typical way to end a B.A. Johnston show. Even at this point in his career, he has to appease fans by standing on top of a toilet.
“The problem with my show is that people complain that it never changes,” he says. “But when I change it, they get angry. So I have to do the bathroom encore.”
Of course, some shows are better than others.
“Sometimes you soar with the eagles or sometimes you die in a ditch, you know?”
While Johnston has been called a hack by some comedians, musicians and publications, his performance—while unconventional—is full of raw emotion. Early in his career, he was known to induce crowd-sung vocals and sweaty, shirtless run arounds.
“The irony is that when I was younger, I was probably better, but nobody cared,” he says. “Now, I’m probably worse, but more people care.”
One of the lead singles, “Drivethru Beef,” from Gremlinz 3 has Johnston griping about constantly receiving the wrong order from various fast food venues like Burger King, Mary Browns, and of course Tim Hortons—the one establishment that has bothered him since day one.
“Tim Hortons, to me, is a real temple to mediocrity,” Johnston says. “No one is happy there. I always wonder why people are eating full meals. Like I always think of a dad loading up the van and being like, ‘Okay kids, we’re going to Tim’s for dinner.’ I also really hate how they use it as our Canadian identity, but they don’t show our miserable relationship with it.”
“So High in Foodland” is another memorable song, with Johnston recounting his whippet days in a Foodland grocery store.
“I was high as a kite in Foodland. Sucking on that nitrous all day long when I was 15,” he says. “They never paid me any money so how could they expect me to stay sober?”
With Gremlinz 3 being named after a non-existent film in the Gremlins series, Johnston ran into a few copyright roadblocks.
This resulted in the iTunes and Spotify versions being titled, Grmlnz, Vol. 3. Still, naming the album Gremlinz 3 was the right call for Johnston.
“Gremlins 3 to me is like this unattainable holy grail of something that should exist, but it doesn’t,” he says. “If you were a movie guy and wanted to make a ton of money, you could just make Gremlins 3 and everyone would go see it even if it sucked.”
Thur., Apr. 27 (9 pm)
B.A. Johnston w/ Dead Fibres
The Buckingham, $12 at door