It’s a big day for Martin Johnson. The 32-year-old singer, songwriter and producer formerly known as the frontman for pop-rock group Boys Like Girls released his first full-length project since his BLG days under his new moniker, The Night Game, today (Sept. 7), an 11-track collection of ’80s-inspired airy rock beats that allow his versatile voice to truly shine.
But one thing The Night Game and their namesake debut album really emphasize is Johnson’s background as a prolific songwriter and his intricate storytelling ability. Each song tells a different tale that Johnson experienced either himself or felt vicariously through others.
In celebration of the release, Johnson shared some of the inspirations for each track on The Night Game, whether it’s the one that got away, a personal journal entry, or “a gentle ‘fuck you'” to the city he now calls home.
When “The Outfield” clicked, so did the rest of the album. The early versions dictated a lot of the production for the other tracks. I have a bit of difficulty talking about the subject matter because I feel like it gives it too much power. “The one that got away,” some might say, though it was quite some time ago now.
“Bad Girls Don’t Cry”
Halfway through making the album, I was spending a bit of time in Vegas playing poker. Filling the hole where narcotics used to be with some other form of danger. I met a girl there who didn’t love talking about her past or her job. We went out to eat at a local Mexican restaurant off the strip, and she opened up to me a bit. The “Bad Girls Don’t Cry” title was a quote of hers from the conversation.
“Once In A Lifetime”
I was living in Brooklyn and couldn’t leave the house. People had to physically come over to drag me out to play shows. Then comes in this tiny pinhole of light — a fighting chance and the opportunity to change everything.
“Do You Think About Us? (feat. Caroline Polachek)”
The sliding doors. What may have happened if I had stayed in Andover, Massachusetts, back at 18 rather than getting in that grimy 15 passenger van with the boys?
I made a video for this track which is essentially a music-triggered slideshow of photographs from my past. It’s incredible how much emotion is locked inside each image, frozen in time. It took me on quite the journey putting it together. The particular fling I’m referring to in this lyric felt as big as it appears to be in the photograph, even if it only lasted a short while.
“Sunset On The Beltway”
An instrumental is actually built out of outtakes from an older version of “American Nights.” It was originally the album opener.
I grew up in America courtesy of FM radio — my best friends were Tommy and Tina, Jack and Diane, Jimmy and Jody and Wendy from “Born to Run.” “American Nights” originally started out as a party anthem, but I realized I was leaving a lot of people out. It’s a bittersweet time to be American. surely unclear what “The American Dream” means these days. Maybe it was always unclear. Maybe this is still a party anthem, but this time it includes the morning after.
“Die A Little”
“Die A Little” was the first song written and the last one recorded for the album. I resisted this track at first, because I’m not huge on “inspiration anthems,” but kept coming back to it. I thought maybe it would be better suited for someone else. Then I figured, it’s my story — why not sing it?
A half hour north of my hometown lies the infamous Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Perfect for a night walk barefoot in the sand, smoking parliaments in the shadow of the arcades.
“Coffee And Cigarettes”
A deep dive into nostalgia and regret, “Coffee And Cigarettes” is the only song on the record where I wrote the lyrics before the music. It was intended to be a journal entry, but floated to the top and ended up making the album.
“Back In The Van”
I came of age on the road — which it makes it quite hard to settle down. After some years spent confined inside the walls of a studio and a musical diversion listening to way too much Randy Newman, this gentile “fuck you” to Los Angeles features horns, a keyboard solo and two key changes. What better way to drive the record off into the distance?
Now that you have a little insight, listen to The Night Game below.