Interview with Vocalist Howard "Hojo" Johnson of Dawn After Dark (UK)

By Mick Michaels

COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Hojo! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.

CV: Given so many major changes over the last decade, do you believe the music industry is a practicable and stable enough environment for new artists to even consider making it a valid career choice? Can a level of sustainable success really be achieved in your opinion?
Howard "Hojo" Johnson: It is possible for new artists to make a mark, yes. My eldest, Lauren Auder, is a pro musician with a major label deal and great streaming numbers, so I’ve seen that it can happen first hand. But I also know that you have to graft and sacrifice a lot to get there. It’s not easy. For bands like Dawn After Dark, with members who are in their 50s, it’s impossible. I was told by a senior music biz guy that rock labels won’t even look at a heritage band unless they have 50,000 Spotify followers. Unless you had a major label supporting you first time around back in the ‘80s or whenever, and you’ve retained the fan base that major label muscle helped you build, then you’ve got no chance. So you’d better love making music for music’s sake if you’re not in that position!

CV: What do you see as the biggest change in the music industry since you first started out?
Hojo: The fact that recorded music has almost no value in and of itself. If you can get sync rights there’s potential, but for small bands without the support of a publishing company, recorded music is pretty much worthless. Selling physical product is how small labels survive, but there’s only a very small sector of people who are willing to pay $15 for an album when the general mindset is that you should by right have all music for free. Thank God there are still some hardcore music fans who feel it’s their place to support bands they love by buying product.

CV: How do you see your music separating itself from your peers and avoiding just being another cog in the wheel?
Hojo: We operate as a cottage industry, keeping costs low and value for money high. We have a great record company, Chapter 22, who are hugely supportive of Dawn After Dark, and we work hard to make the band sustainable. Our music per se is to my ears unique, the sound of a hard rock band that has listened to alternative music. It gives us a unique flavor as far as I’m concerned, as our debut album ‘New Dawn Rising’ shows. But then again, people have compared us to Bon-era AC/DC and ‘Sonic Temple’ era Cult. So it’s all in the ears of the listener, isn’t it?

CV: Has the industry’s many changes affected how you write music? Has it influenced your songwriting style in any drastic form?

Hojo: Not at all. One small advantage of operating on the margins and knowing that’s what you do is that you don’t have pressures to chase any kind of sound or style. Dawn After Dark writes the music it loves and we’re very lucky to have a record company boss at our label named Dean Brown, who loves us for what we are.

CV: Has digital technology led the way for almost anyone to be a musical artist in your opinion?
Hojo: Digital technology means you can record more cheaply and effectively than ever before. Many reviewers have noted that our ‘New Dawn Rising’ album sounds really impressive for a band operating outside of the major labels. The downside of digital technology, as I’ve said, is that most people want their music for free. That makes a five-piece band hard to sustain.

CV: Has music in general been broken into too many sub-genres? Why do think there are so many classifications of music types? Can this be confusing for an artist who is looking to build a brand? As well, can it be confusing for the fans?
Hojo: I never liked categories because they were too constraining. It’s a cliché, but to my mind there’s good music and bad music. That’s it. The reaction to our album suggests we’re in the former bracket.

CV: How would you define “iconic” when it comes to being an artist or musician? What do you think makes an artist iconic?
Hojo: Iconic comes from producing a body of work that’s consistently excellent and consistently evolving. Dylan and Bowie are the first two that spring to my mind, but there are also more eclectic artists like Scott Walker and David Sylvian who fit the bill. What links all these artists is longevity. You need to prove your evolutionary capacities over many years to be considered truly iconic in my view.

CV: Who would you consider to be a modern day “rock star?” And is being a “rock star” something to aspire to?
Hojo: I suppose the rap world provides us with modern day rock stars now. Whatever you think of them, Megan Thee Stallion and Stormzy and people like that are living the lifestyle young people aspire to, and that makes them de facto rock stars. Rock stars have their place, but the package comes in all sorts of guises. It’s about having some sort of charisma that’s hard to define. I still think being a rock star is something to aspire to, so long as it goes hand in hand with artistic integrity. Plus if all you want is stardom and will do anything to get it, then I suspect it will end up feeling pretty vacuous. I don’t aspire to being a rock star at my age, though. It’s a ludicrous notion. What I aspire to is to be the best performer I can be in whatever context.

CV: Does music need to have a message to convey to the world for it to be worth listening to in your opinion?
Hojo: No, it needs to convey emotion. Messages often sound preachy and externalized, whereas emotion is more intimate and internalized. The human experience is universal, and just because you’re not making ‘big statements’ it doesn’t mean you’re not saying something profound. To be honest bands like Coldplay and U2 are to me unlistenable when they start ‘messaging’…

CV: What's next for you? What can fans expect to see coming?
Hojo: 2022 is all about playing shows and promoting ‘New Dawn Rising’. If I say so myself we’re a really good live act, so that’s the focus. We need more people to be aware of Dawn After Dark, and more people to be aware of ‘New Dawn Rising’. We’ve got plans for the UK and Europe for 2022 and of course would love to play in the US, the home of rock. But who knows whether that will happen? Fucking coronavirus!

CV: Thank you again Hojo for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. It was a pleasure. I wish you all the best and continued success.


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My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, show host, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word.  Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.

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