On Wednesday, September 28, Abbotsford’s Carport Manor was graced with the presence that is B.A. Johnston, an artist who has been putting on wild, comedic performances for close to 18 years. The audience was not disappointed; B.A. entered the room with sparklers, crushed beer cans on his head, and rolled on the floor, all while singing and interacting with the crowd (which included helping several attendees guzzle their drinks). This was before he managed to strip off his multiple sweatshirts, and do the splits in the middle of a crowded carport. But before things got wild, we got to sit down with B.A., and ask him a few questions.
When did you start playing shows in Abbotsford, and how did you find out about us? The music scene used to be very minimal here.
It would have been seven years ago, between six and eight years ago. It must have been something to do with Aaron [Levy], I think. I don’t even know how I know him. It was so long ago, I think it must have been when I was getting in touch with college or community radio stations. I’d usually get a couple emails like “why aren’t you playing here” and I’d think to myself, “oh, people play there?” I didn’t get the sense that there was much going on.
How did you start doing the performances that you do now? You certainly put on a unique act.
I have the market cornered pretty good. All my friends, when I was really young, they were all in bands, so I was kind of jealous of them. But I couldn’t play instruments, and no one wanted me to be their singer, so I was like “well, I’ll do it by myself.” It kind of evolved from that, that was a long time ago, and the show has kind of changed into what it is now, which has been consistent for the last ten years or so.
When you started, were you nervous about playing shows? What about now?
I used to get more nervous when I first started. I still get nervous now, but it would have to be something that’s really odd, like, Quebec City makes me nervous because I don’t speak French. You kind of think about it and it’s like “oh my god, no one speaks English here.” Or sometimes I play all ages shows, and I get a little nervous if everyone’s really young, because I’m so old. It seems weird, sometimes. And I’m going to England for the first time to do shows, and that makes me nervous. But if I play Regina, I’m not nervous. More just that I’m nervous that I’m in Regina, probably.
I’ve seen you perform before, and it gets pretty wild. What’s the wildest or weirdest thing that’s happened while you were playing a show?
It’s usually kind of the same, usually wild for someone else is like, they might try and kill you, which happens about once a year. You get someone who’s very angry. I had a guy this summer at a beer festival do a sit-in where he wouldn’t leave the stage, and usually the bouncers assume that it’s a plant, and it never is, it’s usually a lunatic. Another one: there’s a bar in Regina that has a balcony, and I climbed up it, so it’s basically like climbing up a story, and then some guy tried to push me off, I don’t think he realized that I would have died. I think he thought it was funny, but at that point I had climbed up, and I didn’t know how I’d get back down. Sometimes when you climb things, like a cat, you don’t really think about exit strategy. So that was kind of weird.
Okay, important question. Silly hats or silly straws?
Straws. I don’t know if I like silly hats. Or maybe I do, maybe on the right person, but everyone can enjoy silly straws. You know the group of dudes, and they have the one wacky guy with the wacky hat? I never trust that guy.
How has your act, and you as a person, evolved since you started performing?
I changed a lot. When I first started I was more of a folk singer, so it was just me and my guitar. Then, I found the keyboards under the stairs at my mom’s and I didn’t want to carry the guitar anymore. If I played keyboard, if people get sick of one thing, then I can go back and forth, and then I got the Walkman because I didn’t want to carry more keyboards. Like, two is enough, so I put keyboard sounds on a CD. And then you do little tricks, like with the sparklers, and if the audience likes them then they become part of the show. I was really nervous about the sparklers at first, and then I realized that their sole purpose is to be put on children’s birthday cakes.
B.A. Johnston’s new album, Gremlins 3, is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, and through his website, www.bajohnston.ca.