Matt Johnson of Roadside Monument
by Kurt Morris

Ever since the first soft vocals of "A Girl Named Actually" hit my ears at Method Music a few years ago, Roadside Monument has been one of my favorite bands. Seeing them develop into Tooth And Nail Records hardest working, least appreciated band has been a bittersweet reward for me. It seems as though myself and a few other individuals almost have our own friendly little cult that enjoys sharing stories about our Roadside Monument "experiences". And here is mine that took place one evening at Cornerstone Festival with drummer Matt Johnson.

Kurt Morris: Tell me about the new album.

Matt Johnson: Metal for the masses...

KM: (laughing)

MJ: We just got done recording about a month ago. We did it with J. Robbins formerly of Jawbox, and it turned out really well and it will be out September 8th.

KM: Where did you record it at?

MJ: We recorded it at Robert Lang studios the same studios we recorded "Eight Hours Away From Being A Man".

KM: I heard it doesn't have a lot of songs. Is that true?

MJ: I think it's only 8 songs. Eight or nine, I can't remember now, but it's fifty minutes of music. The songs are pretty long. It's like rock opera for indie rock.

KM: Sorta like the indie rock version of Warlord?

MJ: No, like the indie rock version of Queen.

KM: (laughing) I'm supposed to ask you why Roadside Monument hates Christianity.

MJ: Wow. We don't hate Christianity as far as I know. I don't know where the rumor came from. I think some of us claim to be Christians, so I'm not sure where that came from.

KM: Just for the record, so I can tell people when they ask me, are all the guys in the band Christians?

MJ: Uh, I can speak for myself. I'm a Christian. And I think that if you were to ask the other two, they would have something to say about that too. But we've gotten to the point where I have to answer questions for just me, the one cell of the three cells of Roadside Monument. And they would have something to say about that for sure and if you ever wanted to ask them they would probably be more happy to discuss it. But yes, I am a Christian.

KM: Okay. What's up with all the funky titles on the songs? Is Roadside trying to show their humorous side or what?

MJ: Um, well a lot of times song titles will come from things we've heard or quotes in books or whatever. Like "Eight Hours Away From Being A Man" came from visiting a friend in California and our friend's dad is totally old school World War II Germany and he's totally an industrial worker and he worked in this factory for years and years and years and he's this really hard working class guy. And we were having this discussion about work and everything and he was asking everyone questions about what they did, if they were students or working or whatever and Doug said that he worked about 30 hours a week and went to school and he said "well, you're not working enough. You need to work 40 hours a week." So actually, Doug was working 32 hours a week and then when he left the room Doug said something to the effect of "Well, I guess I'm just eight hours away from being a man." and we thought it was really funny and when he brought it up in conversation later we decided it would be the album title. So, our song titles and stuff like that come from weird things. "Compressor District" is actually a turn-off exit in Idaho on I-90. Something will catch our eye and some of them are made up song titles and a lot of them we just see something somewhere.

KM: So what's the deal with "I am the day of current taste"?

MJ: "I am the day of current taste" is a quote from an astrological book. It doesn't have anything to do with anything we believe or anything so that's my disclaimer. Somebody was over at our house and had this really fat, exhaustive astrology book and under Doug's sign (I can't remember what sign he is)...everything had a particular quote for that person's personality or whatever it was and his was "I am the day of current taste".

KM: That's weird. How did the lyrics and song title for "OJ Simpson House Auction" come about?

MJ: Doug saw something on television where it showed OJ's house being auctioned off and we played a show one night and we had the song almost completed but we didn't have vocals for it yet or anything and Doug just said to the crowd "this song is called 'OJ Simpson House Auction'" and he'll make up weird song titles sometimes when we play just as a joke but the song title actually stuck.

KM: So when you guys write, is it mainly Doug? Who does the music and the lyrics?

MJ: We definitely collaborate on all that stuff. Doug probably brings more song structure to when we practice then any of the rest of us but we all definitely collaborate on the songs. It's always totally a joint effort. Like Doug may have three quarters of a song written and we'll have ideas to interject and then the song will be completed. As far as the lyrics are concerned Doug writes most of them, but Johnathon and I both have our hand in it too. I probably write less lyrics than them. But Doug does most of the writing for the most part.

KM: How have your lyrics changed since you wrote for Blenderhead?

MJ: The Roadside stuff is a little more bizarre. I don't know. It's hard to classify lyrically what a Roadside song is about. I think it's getting more to where we have lyric themes that you can understand what we're saying. But in the past and even now the lyrics are really personal. But in Blenderhead it was more straight-forward and you could understand what the theme was and everything. And Roadside is more poetic, I guess. And usually it's more of a personal theme.

KM: I know you guys were all living in the Hiawatha House together and it's sad it's not around anymore because it sounded like a pretty cool place to live...

MJ: Yeah.

KM: but what are you guys doing now?

MJ: Well, we lived in the Hiawatha House together and we used to put on shows there and the whole band lived there along with some other people. We got kicked out of that house in May of '97 I guess. Since then I've made several moves and was working at a place that makes hand made pine furniture. It was total working-class crap job but I just quit there so I'll be going back homeless. But we actually all live in the same apartment building now. Doug and John live upstairs and I live downstairs but I just moved out of there. And Doug works at a video store and Johnathon doesn't work at all. Johnathon has some money put away so he just hangs out.

KM: I've gotta imagine that gets sorta old, doesn't it? Because in my opinion Roadside is a really talented band that's so far ahead of the market that it frustrates me that people don't understand your music. You know that you guys aren't MXPX or the Supertones, so you kinda cancel out any plans to do this full time but at the same time that's something you'd like to do full time, I'm assuming. So how do you handle that seeing as how you all love music and all?

MJ: Yeah, I would love to do that and honestly, me personally I don't have any prospects open right now...

KM: You live in a van down by the river, don't you?

MJ: Yeah, I live in a van down by the river. That's exactly it. Yeah, I get by ok. I'm pretty poor. I have to quit jobs a lot to go on tour and we don't make any money at it and we break even when we're lucky. It's getting better. I don't ever expect our music to catch on. I mean, people want pop music. People want something on the radio they can sing along to. There seems to be an end of the decade decadence that comes with every decade where people get sick of conventional music and they want to hear something a little more challenging. Like Pink Floyd were doing these epic long songs that were really artsy and stuff and that caught on. Maybe the time will come when people will get into more song structure and things that are a little bit more elaborate. I'm not counting on it. I never banked on this band being my paycheck. It'd be nice, but I have other things to do and the time will come when things will have to slow down a bit and I'm gonna be 26 next month and it gets kinda scary and I need to pursue other things, too. I mean, I'll keep being in Roadside as long as we all get along and all keep making better music than we do now. But I'm getting kinda freaked out being in my 20s and that's pretty much all I have.

KM: You talked about your other interests. What else do you enjoy doing besides music?

MJ: I like to write a lot. I keep journals a lot. I used to do poetry quite a bit. I dated a girl for a while and she sucked me dry of any creative drive for my writing. I don't know if it had anything to do with that or not...

KM: You can feel free to blame it on her. (laughing)

MJ: Yeah. I have been writing more consistently. I have some projects in mind. I don't by any stretch consider myself a writer but I do like to write. I have plans to write a selection of short stories about some people I lived with a couple years ago. Not the Hiawatha House, but before that. I lived there for almost three years and there were a lot of different, crazy personalities that lived in that house and I'd really like to write about them. Aside from that, I'm really involved in my church. I play in the church band, which I don't care for much but I'm glad to be a part of something and I really enjoy what they're doing there. They're really aware. They're a well-read congregation as a whole. And they really support the arts. And it's a really great place. That's where most of my time goes. Between the band and church.

KM: Give me your impressions of Cornerstone Festival.

MJ: I think there isn't much that is good here. I think it's getting better. I've been coming since '92 I think. The music seems to be getting better. There seems to be more relevant music. I don't really support...I kinda have a weird thing with "Christian music". I think music is music and there's good music and there's bad music and I have a problem with the festival capitalizing on God. And that sounds super political...

KM: I understand.

MJ: I think as Christians we have to be really careful. We can't drag God's name around through popular culture as we please. You're talking about the God of the Universe, you know? And a Jesus shirt that looks like a Pepsi logo is kinda wrong.

KM: (laughing) I agree.

MJ: That kinda stuff here sorta sickens me, but at the same time I am glad to be here and it's encouraging to see Christians doing music and art that is relevant. I don't really follow Christian music. I know what's happening on Tooth & Nail Records since I'm on the label, but aside from that I really have no clue. I just listen to what I like.

KM: Speaking of that, what are you into? And also, what are the rest of the guys in the band into?

MJ: Well I think we could all agree that we're all into a lot of Touch & Go stuff, stuff that's coming out of Chicago right now and the sub-labels of Touch & Go like Quarterstick and Thrill Jockey.

KM: Like Ativin?

MJ: Ativin are friends of ours. They're a really great band. They're on a label called Secretly Canadian out of Bloomington, Indiana. We really like Tortoise, Directions in Music, Johnathon and I like The Sea & Cake, uh...

KM: I saw where you guys played with Don Caballero.

MJ: Yeah, we just played with Don Caballero at the Fireside Bowl and they totally annihilated us. They're an incredible band. They're amazing.

KM: Chicago brutal metal.

MJ: Yeah, seriously. A lot of that stuff we like. I think all of our musical tastes are branching out. I used to be into midwest hardcore and emo stuff like in '93, '94 or whatever and that stuff is kinda boring me now. I'm just liking really progressive stuff these days.

KM: You had mentioned Tooth And Nail earlier. As far as record contract stuff, I know you have "I am the day of current taste" and then will there be anything else?

MJ: We're done. We're done with our contract now. So, we're hoping to move on.

KM: Like, you'd want to get off of T&N and go to something different?

MJ: Yeah, we would like to go to another label for sure.

KM: Has T&N been a bad label, or do you just feel it's time to move on to something more in line with your beliefs?

MJ: Well, T&N has been totally good to us and I mean, there's little nit picking things I could talk about...

KM: Like the fact that Brandon Ebel (head of Tooth and Nail Records) is a woman? (laughing)

MJ: Yeah, that was kinda weird. When I found out that he was just dressing up like a man. That was a big shock. I wasn't sure if I should support that. But, it's just little things. We want our record where we would like it to be. We don't have anything to do with the "Christian music" market and the fact is we're still there. And if the T&N fan base wants to support us, that's great. That's awesome. I'm glad that there's people there that are supporting us. But we would just rather be on a regular label. I think that's more where we're going.

KM: Have any labels expressed interest?

MJ: Uh, we're going to do a split 7" with Ativin on Secretly Canadian and there has been interest from Jade Tree Records but that's not for sure. But about a year ago there was some interest there and hopefully things will work out there but we don't know.

KM: Has touring been rough on you guys? Have you gotten closer or...I know like with Jawbreaker, for example, they couldn't stand each other and touring killed 'em.

MJ: We've actually gotten along better on this tour than any other tour. I think that we kinda understand each other personality wise and how to give each other space and everything. And you just learn to deal with it, you know? You're in close quarters and you're with people all the time and you just have to learn to deal with it. You have to learn not to do certain things to set somebody off. But its been a lot better this tour. I think part of it might be due to the fact that we have two other people with us that are really mild, really mild-tempered people. They help us get along. It kinda diverts our attention from being pissed off at each other.

KM: Do you have anymore touring plans this fall? I know at one point you had said it's too darn hot in the summer.

MJ: Yeah, we're gonna try and do our extensive tours in the fall. It's just a lot more comfortable. We'll be touring in September and October and we hope to get out to the east coast and maybe do some shows down south. Try and hit a little bit of everything.

KM: You gonna tour with anybody else?

MJ: This tour I think we're just gonna go on our own. We'd like to play with another band on tour, but it's because of how small a band we are, it's tough to bring another band out, it's hard to get on a bill and then have to split the money with somebody. It's a lot of fun but it's a lot more difficult to book a tour like that. I'd like to do some more shows with Frodus, they're great guys and we'd love to play with Ativin again. It would even be really cool to do shows with Warlord or something, too.