Calvin Johnson Shares Kaleidoscopic 'Like You Do' Video, Talks Working With 'Inhuman' Michelle Branch

Red Williamson
Calvin Johnson

Underground rock mainstay Calvin Johnson is back with a new album, A Wonderful Beast, out 10/12 on K Records (the label that his hyper influential lo-fi outfit the Beat Happening have called home since the mid '80s). And today (Aug. 23) Billboard is premiering the video for "Like You Do," featuring a kaleidoscopic view of a leafy backyard and Johnson in jorts.

Produced by the Black Keys' Patrick Carney (who also collaborated on the album's songs), A Wonderful Beast boasts Johnson's obliquely romantic lyrics and droll baritone, plus backing vocals from Michelle Branch on three tracks.

"She's inhuman," Johnson says of Branch. "The woman only sings in three-part harmony. No overdubs were necessary. We bonded over our shared love of Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals with a duet of 'The Farmer and the Cowman' around the kitchen table. It was not unlike Donny & Marie singing 'A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock'n'Roll'."

That latter genre was a starting point for A Wonderful Beast, with Johnson entering Nashville's Audio Eagle studio with "Rock'n'Roll Will Never Die" as the premise for the LP, which features electric guitar, modular synthesizer and trap drum kit.

When asked if he thinks rock truly is immortal or something that's decreasing in relevance with each passing generation, Johnson points to a Manhattan cinema started by a collective of avant-garde filmmakers in 1970 for a roundabout answer.

"Anthology Film Archive is showing a series of Rock'n'Film -- does this prove rock'n'roll is more relevant than ever or that it has been consigned to the dustbin of history? Even when I was in Junior High (mid-'70s) it felt like I was one of the few students who cared about rock'n'roll. If rock'n'roll proves to be an acquired taste, that's all I've ever been anyway."

For those who have taken the time to acquire a taste for his idiosyncratic indie, he wryly promises that A Wonderful Beast includes only the good stuff by virtue of producer Carney's hectic schedule.

"In my limited experience collaboration involves brainstorming a healthy mix of good and bad ideas. Since Patrick was working on at least two other albums at Audio Eagle during the time we recorded A Wonderful Beast, to expedite the process he had no time for bad ideas and only came up with good ones. A very shrewd move that paid handsome dividends."

Tour Dates

Sept 26th - The Bartlett - Spokane, WA
Sept 27th - The Roxy - Missoula, MT
Sept 29th - Ojata Records - Grand Forks, ND
Sept 30th - Moon Palace Books - Minneapolis, MN
Oct 1st - The Draw - Appleton, WI
Oct 2nd - Communication - Madison, WI (w/ Control, Tippy)
Oct 3rd - Beanhive - Galesburg, IL (w/ Tooms)
Oct 4th - MO FOAM - St Louis, MO
Oct 5th - See You CD and Vinyl - Urbana, IL
Oct 6th - The Observatory - Chicago, IL (w/ HUJO)
Oct 7th - Tube Factory Artspace - Indianapolis, IN
Oct 8th - Trinosophes - Detroit, MI (w/ Cause for Concern)
Oct 9th - Counter Culture - Saginaw, MI (w/ Cause for Concern, COMPS)
Oct 10th - Ace of Cups - Columbus, OH
Oct 11th - Hive Mind Collective - Akron, OH (w/ Shells)
Oct 12th - Sugar City - Buffalo, NY
Oct 13th - Skidmore College - Saratoga Springs, NY
Oct 14th - Flywheel Arts Collective - Easthampton, MA (w/ Perennial)
Oct 15th - Dorchester Arts Project - Dorchester, MA (w/ Perennial)
Oct 16th - Front Room Space Ballroom - Hamden, CT (w/ Perennial)
Oct 17th - The Glove - Brooklyn, NY
Oct 18th - Trans-Pecos - Queens, NY
Oct 20th - Brick + Mortar Gallery - Easton, PA
Oct 22nd - Sign of the Wagon - York, PA
Oct 23rd - Comet Ping Pong - Washington, DC
Oct 24th - The Pinhook - Durham, NC
Oct 25th - On Pop of the World Studios - Greenboro, NC
Oct 26th - Espresso News - Boone, NC (w/ Endangered, Modern Apologies)
Oct 27th - The Pilot Light - Knoxville, TN
Oct 28th - Flying Monkey Theatre - Huntsville, AL
Oct 29th - Fond Object - Nashville, TN
Oct 30th - Spacecamp - Jackson, MS
Oct 31st - Cite des Arts - Lafayette, LA (w/ Speech Fuzz, Hartle Road, Bruisey Peets)
Nov 1st - New Roxy Theater - Clarksdale, MS (w/ Hartle Road)
Nov 2nd - Amurica - Memphis TN (w/ Hartle Road)
Nov 3rd - Mid-South DIY Festival, Backspace - Fayetteville, AR
Nov 4th - Replay Lounge - Lawrence, KS
Nov 6th - Kilby Court - Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 7th - TBA - Boise, ID
Nov 8th - Michelle's Event Center - Richland, WA (PETS)
Nov 9th - Beacon Sound - Portland, OR
Nov 10th - The Wandering Goat - Eugene, OR
Nov 11th - The Sou'wester Lounge - Seaview, WA