Johnny West

This is everything I’ve done on my own, at least in terms of “official CD releases”. Some unofficial things are discussed in brief over here. The albums that were recorded on cassette tape between 1994 and 1999 are another story altogether.

If you’re interested in something more than the brief descriptions offered here, clicking on the album cover images will take you to dedicated pages for each album where you can read some of the stories behind the music, hear some of the songs, and maybe even watch some relevant video content (depending on where you end up).

SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP (1999)

Here’s a summary of the subject matter I deal with on my first digitally recorded album: sex, sex, and more sex. These songs are almost all about sex, or else they were recorded while in the midst of passionate love-making (only not). Did I mention the sex? The unhinged improvisations on late-period cassette albums like The Mad Laughter of Starving Asses and Kleenex Desire paved the way for what I ended up doing here. Being able to overdub myself into something resembling a band was a whole new experience for me, though. The results are rough, unrefined, and completely insane, with me trying out a different vocal personality on almost every song. I’ll always have a special fondness for this one. Even the filler tracks have their bizarre redeeming moments.

DON’T TALK LIKE A BABY (1999)

The sex talk has already receded into the background. This album is all over the place, and another one of my favourites from a time when I was trying to figure out what I was doing with a digital mixer. There are songs that almost sound like they were written, with an odd sort of structure emerging from all-out improvisation. “Michael (Matthew) and Samantha” will always be one of my favourite spoken word pieces from any period.

NOSTRIL SALIVA EP (1999)

A dumping ground for a few early outtakes. At least my impression of Mike Tyson singing in French and imitating Elvis Presley is kind of amusing.

SICK SHIT (1999)

Similar story here, but as dumping grounds go this one’s much more substantial. You get some solo material, some Papa Ghostface cast-offs, and a revealing interview with Naked Larry. Pity the other interview I did with that imaginary dude is lost forever, available only on a CD I let someone borrow and never saw again. The belated cover art for this one is so wrong on so many levels, I almost wish it was an album worth reissuing so I could see it on CD.

THE MANY MUSICAL NOSES OF JOHNNY WEST (1999)

An odd hodgepodge of a compilation I put together for my grandfather in 1999. It was an effort to collect some of my more accessible moments. Alas, in 1999 I didn’t have a whole lot of accessible moments. There’s one track here that doesn’t exist anywhere else — a silly little faux-religious number called “Amen”.

JOHNNY WEST AND FRIENDS (1999)

More curios and outtakes from all over the map. I let a friend borrow this one in 2002 and never saw it again. At least a few of the songs survive on cassette tape.

LIVE AT THE NAKED GIRAFFE THEATER (1999)

This one is all over the place. It started out as a mock live album. I stuck with that approach for all of one song before deciding to throw every single idea I had into the blender just to see what kind of mess came out. The high point is probably the hair-raising “A-Crapola”, featuring guest appearances from Bill Clinton and Charles Manson. In other words, it’s radio-ready pop music.

SLEEP-DEPRIVED EP (1999)

The beginning of an aborted follow-up to LIVE AT THE NAKED GIRAFFE THEATER. It’s anyone’s guess what the album would have sounded like if I didn’t lose interest so early in the game. We ended up with MERRY FUCKIN’ CHRISTMAS and YOU’RE A NATION instead. Strange how accessible these tracks are compared to anything on either one of those albums.

MERRY FUCKIN’ CHRISTMAS (1999)

A bizarre underground sensation back when I was in high school, this was my way of breathing new life into some of the overplayed, overwrought Christmas songs that made me want to kill myself as a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old. Naturally, I rescued them by rewriting them to be as filthy and offensive as possible. For some twisted reason everyone who heard this album seemed to love it. The whole thing was recorded at about the same time as YOU’RE A NATION, which means the sound quality is sometimes very rough but the sustained lunacy carries it through. This will probably always remain one of my most ridiculously inspired moments, lo-fi as it is.

HERE COMES TROUBLE EP (2000)

A stopgap compilation EP (is that even a thing?) that gave me a place to stash some rough mixes and outtakes. “Trouble” would later show up on the first MISFITS compilation in a much better mix, and then in an even better-sounding mix on the posthumous Papa Ghostface album FLARES AND SIGNAL FIRES. “Don’t Go” was wisely remixed for SHOEBOX PARADISE. The other tracks danced with one another until they found themselves too aroused to dance any longer.

FUZZY SHRAPNEL VOL. 1 (2000)

Or, “Most of DON’T TALK LIKE A BABY remastered, plus a few other tracks completely unrelated to that album.” Honourable mention for “outtake that should have been an album track” goes to “Trading Places”. The plan was to keep remixing/remastering old albums and digging up hidden gems as a way of easing into a new studio in a new house. That didn’t really happen. I just went nuts and recorded a lot of new material instead.

THE LIFELINE AND TWISTED HAPPENINGS OF JOHNNY WEST (2000)
WATER ONLY HATES ITSELF SILLY (2000)

This one’s a twofer. The first album is a high school parenting class assignment I used an excuse to write an autobiographical song cycle focusing on my childhood. I ended up sugarcoating a lot of things, and I never quite finished recording all the songs, but it’s still a fun little exercise in musical diversity. And it’s interesting to hear me singing about myself at a time when I almost never did that sort of thing. The second album is my attempt at creating incidental music for a government office to use in their videos. The results are more along the lines of vignettes than proper songs, but the people who commissioned this stuff from me actually used some of it, so it must not have been half bad.

SALE OF A DEAD MAN (2000)

I wrote this for an English assignment in grade eleven and recorded it during the CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES sessions. It didn’t feel like it fit on that album. I gave it a belated home on the first MISFITS compilation.

A BUNCH OF LOOSE ENDS (2000)

And here’s yet another dumping ground for misfit songs. A lot of these tracks were later transplanted onto the first MISFITS compilation, but there are a few pretty interesting things that can still only be found here — chief among them some Papa Ghostface outtakes from the SHOEBOX PARADISE sessions. They’re two of the most normal-sounding PG tracks from the early days. Small wonder then that they weren’t considered album material. “Normal” wasn’t really something we did back then.

CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES (2000)

My sixteen-year-old brain’s idea of a pop album. It was still a little too esoteric to conquer the world (thankfully). This one was never really completed as I envisioned it, with some of the best material left unrecorded, but what is here offers an interesting look at what happened when I decided to actually write the songs that were going on an album instead of just winging it all the time. My working title was Almost Normal. I think that just about sums it up.

LAMEST SHIT (2001)

A bunch of solo, Papa Ghostface, and Guys with Dicks tracks thrown together in one place in another skewed effort to collect some of my more palatable moments. I put this together for someone who claimed to have music industry connections and belched all kinds of hot air in my face about what they could do for my “career”. It wasn’t the first time someone like that would come into my orbit. At the time I was still naive enough to believe something might come of it. The title is my sarcastic riff on the “greatest hits” theme.

BEAUTIFULLY STUPID (2002)

All of my teenage angst explodes in the culmination of everything I was working up to when GWD fell apart. At the same time, this is a pretty significant departure from anything I did with the band. There’s a marked absence of screaming and jagged guitar solos. For the first time since CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES, I decided to start writing a lot of the songs instead of improvising everything out of thin air while recording. This is maybe the ugliest, most emotionally naked thing I’ve ever done — a teenage suicide note I didn’t quite have the guts to cash in. For a while I thought it was the best work I would ever do, and I didn’t believe I could surpass it. It was a little depressing to think I’d peaked at the age of eighteen. As it turned out, it was just one snapshot in a giant photo album full of them. Still, it’s one I’ll always feel connected to, massive warts and all.

TEMPORARY AMNESIA (2002)

For all intents and purposes, this is BEAUTIFULLY STUPID part two. While it isn’t as consistent as that album was, I think I was too quick to dismiss this one at the time. Yeah, there are a few songs that aren’t quite up to snuff, not all the vocal experimentation works, and I could have done more to flesh out some of the acoustic tracks, but “Lankysuicide”, “Filler”, and “Unstable Things” can stand up next to anything on BEAUTIFULLY STUPID, and “Lessons in Self-Deprivation and Self-Destruction” is a fun foray into psychedelic death metal (really).

KEEP YOUR SCARS (2002)

The end of another “breakup trilogy” (the first one played out over the Guys with Dicks albums that stretched from SUBLIMINAL BILE to STELLAR, with the CASTRATED EP thrown in for dessert). Again, not as strong or cohesive a musical statement as BEAUTIFULLY STUPID, but there are some good things here. Having said that, “Onto the Nothing” never should have been written or recorded. That song is a pimple on the ass of the universe. As for the album cover, it’s supposed to be a bunch of boxes full of “scars” from past romantic entanglements. Not some of my most creative work in that department.

SELECTED ACOUSTIC TRACKS (2002)

I took all the songs from the last three albums I thought I might be able to play live on an acoustic guitar and stuck them in one place. The idea was to have something I could shop around at local bars and coffee shops as a sample of my music. No one would give me a gig. Matter of fact, no one even bothered to listen to the CD.

LIVE ON CJAM (2003)

A few tracks recorded live in the CJAM studio in early 2003. Not my best work in that setting (my performance in the summer of 2002 was better), but you get a gutsy Tim Buckley cover and an OH YOU THIS track I was still in the process of writing. The best thing about this one is probably the cover art — a picture I drew of myself as a shamefully-endowed bird-man.

OH YOU THIS (2003)

This was like SONGS FOR DEAD SKIN for a new decade. When I was recording the album, I was convinced it was going to be my masterpiece. When it was finished, I was convinced it was a complete piece of shit. The truth is it’s neither one of those things. It’s the sound of an artist in transition. I was about to turn twenty, and I felt like I needed to put away childish things and make a bold musical statement of some sort. I was also determined never to write a conventionally structured verse/chorus/verse song again. This was my first conscious attempt at doing something more interesting with song forms. I didn’t knock it out of the park my first time up to the plate — I was trying to rewrite my whole musical language in one fell swoop — but these days I feel like I didn’t give this album a fair shake. For being the work of one very angry and isolated-feeling nineteen-year-old guy, it’s got its charms, and I’d come a long way as a musician and a recording engineer in just a few years.

NUDGE YOU ALIVE (2004)

The first true electronic album-length thing I ever did. I’ve always liked this one. I wanted to get as far away as I could from the sound of OH YOU THIS. “Surprise, Sunrise, Turpentine” is still a strong favourite. It seemed to open up a whole new world of musical possibilities I’d never thought to explore before. All thanks to a Yamaha W-5 synth I’d been neglecting for years. That thing had its revenge here — and then some.

PAVEMENT HUGGING DADDIES EP (2004)

Basically a slice of the larger pie that was supposed to end up on the projected double disc version of BRAND NEW SHINY LIE, until I realized I recorded these songs at a less than ideal level of quality and relegated them to this EP. This stuff doesn’t sound all that sonically compromised to me anymore, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did, because it feels like these songs were meant to live together in this form. Everything I was trying to do but not quite pulling off on OH YOU THIS a few weeks earlier snapped into sharp focus all at once. Strong candidate for the best short-form album I’ve ever made.

BRAND NEW SHINY LIE (2004)

This was envisioned as a two-CD set. Instead, it somehow turned into one of the shortest full-length albums I’ve ever put together. Here I really got my arms around what I wanted to do with song structure while avoiding the verse/chorus/verse format and figured out what I wanted my “adult” voice to be (in all senses of the word). For a long time it felt a little slight to me. Now it feels just right.

GROWING SIDEWAYS (2004)

Another synth-based non-pop excursion, but with a different synthesizer and a very different sound driving it. Until CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN came along, this one seemed to have the broadest appeal out of my “widely released” solo albums, and it got a surprising amount of airplay on CJAM. It’s still one of the best examples of the non-repetitive way of writing I favoured at the time. It’s also a breakup album. But you can dance to it. Sometimes. Sort of.

WHO YOU ARE NOW IS NOT WHAT YOU WERE BEFORE (2005)

The surly sister album to GROWING SIDEWAYS. The songs aren’t quite as strong, and you lose some of the feeling of discovery that was there when I was still getting to know my new synth. But when you’ve got a woman with udders on the cover, how can you lose?

NOSTALGIA-TRIGGERING MECHANISM EP (2005)

This was a place to stash some homeless songs I wasn’t sure what to do with. From that inauspicious beginning, it somehow grew into one of the better EP-length musical statements I’ve made. “Fidget” and the long coda to “Judas Goat” still feel like two of my finest moments.

THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET (2006)

A bunch of half-improvised instrumental piano pieces, with only a little bit of singing and no actual words to be found anywhere. It gave me a good excuse to play around with a new effects processor. I’m still not sure how successful this one was as an album. It isn’t jazz, but it’s about as close as I would come for quite a while. I’d probably like it a lot more if I had access to a real acoustic piano at the time. That would have to wait until I was recording AN ABSENCE OF SWAY a few years down the road.

OUTTAKES, MISFITS, AND OTHER THINGS (1999-2007)

Almost ten years worth of misfit songs, experiments, curios, and irregular running shoes. Not a very coherent collection of music — there was really no way to make it one — but I think there are some interesting things here. You even get a booklet of stories behind the songs thick enough to use as a doorstop. Celebrate good times, come on!

THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN WITH A TRIANGLE (2008)

The folky, bluesy Frankenstein creature that finally forced people in my city to sit up and start paying attention to what I was doing (at least for a little while). I’ll never understand why this was the album to put me “on the map”. I mean, I was proud of it. I knew it was an important album for me, and it felt like some of my very best work. I just didn’t expect anyone else to want to listen to it. The thing’s got thirty-three songs on it, for crying out loud! All else aside, this will always stand as a high point in my body of work based on the songs. For as many of them as there are and as twisted as some of them get, I don’t think there’s a stinker in the bunch.

AN ABSENCE OF SWAY (2009)

The soundtrack for the weirdest winter of my life, and a much darker album than its predecessor. Along with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN, this is probably some of my best-known and most-liked work. Strange how the music that comes from a difficult personal place tends to resonate with other people even when they don’t know much about its genesis (or its genitals).

IF I HAD A QUARTER… (2009)

Until GIFT FOR A SPIDER came along in 2011, this was the closest thing I’d made to a full-on breakup album in a long time, though it was just as much about trying to deal with PTSD in the aftermath of a violent break-in. In terms of the overall sound and production, it feels like the end of a loose trilogy that began with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. There are lots of dirty words here, and some songs intentionally destroy themselves as my way of trying to make the music feel what I felt. Oddly enough, this album is also home to some of my best “quiet” songs.

CREATIVE NIGHTMARES (2009)

This one might not be as strange or as sprawling as I thought it was going to be when I was making it, but I’ve come to realize over the years just what a pivotal album it was for me. It was the first time I ever printed the lyrics. That was important. It was also the beginning of a much deeper interest in the production side of things. I started putting more thought into the sonic landscape of each song. Every time I get a new synthesizer, all kinds of new ideas come pouring out. It happened again here with an Alesis Micron, though for a switch the synth just got incorporated into all the other things I do instead of taking over to the near-total exclusion of any other instruments.

LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS (2010)

Another winter album, and another one that’s more personal than it might appear to be on the surface. This is a pretty eclectic affair. You’ve got becalmed ballads, dirty fuzz rock, gospel blues, embryonic shoegaze, and all sorts of crevices in-between. It might be the most dynamic album I’ve ever made, moving from near-silence to ear-splitting cacophony — sometimes in the space of a single song. It also holds the distinction of having its nonexistent cover art stolen by an obscure Norwegian musician.

MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART (2010)

I’ve always thought of this as my White Album, not in terms of Beatles-level brilliance, but in how it sprawls all over the place while feeling like it couldn’t have been put together any other way. There’s a lot of music here, and none of it sits still for very long, but this has always struck me as being one of my strongest and most consistent albums. Not a bad place to start for the uninitiated, if you’ve got the stamina to get through it.

MEDIUM-FI MUSIC FOR MENTALLY UNSTABLE YOUNG LOVERS (2011)

This almost makes MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART look a little less sprawling by comparison. It makes few concessions to the listener, following its own internal logic all the way to the bottom of the well. Electric guitar gets to play a much more prominent role here than it had on any album of mine in a long time, and there are a few unhinged solos that harken back a little to the GWD days of old.

GIFT FOR A SPIDER (2011)

If this is the last breakup album I make — and I hope it is — I’m okay with that. It was therapeutic, but it took a lot out of me. While IF I HAD A QUARTER was driven by anger and post-home-invasion anxiety as much as it was inspired by a relationship going to hell, this album is fuelled by a deep cynicism, and it’s all inspired by one specific person. I have to say there’s some pretty catchy stuff here for all the venom swimming around. And how many breakup albums have you heard that leave room for a ridiculous rap song about the dangers of pizza pockets?

YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK (2020)

An album almost six years in the making — mostly because it took me that long to chase down some of the people I wanted to contribute to it — this is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done. It features almost thirty different singers/musicians, the work of ten visual artists in the twenty-eight-page lyric booklet, and nearly fifty songs spread out over two CDs. I could never make another album like it if I wanted to. And I don’t want to. I might be prouder of this one than anything else I’ve done, but it was pretty taxing to make. You’ve heard it said that musicians are a flaky bunch? Turns out “flaky” doesn’t begin to cover it. Never in my life have I had to absorb such an incredible amount of rejection and indifference in order to realize my creative vision. In spite of all the supporting players involved, this isn’t a collaborative album at all. It’s the sound of me putting words in the mouths of other people and trying to pretend I’m not just talking to myself. At least the juice was worth the pulp (I think). If there’s one album that captures something close to the full range of my artistry, this is it.

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