Johnny Strong: “Music Better Than Making Sandwiches”

On Nov. 24, I had the opportunity to interview front man Johnny Strong of Operator before their show at Jannus Landing. He liked to make jokes and he did not censor himself. He talked with his hands; emphasizing and illustrating the words he said. Operator just released their debut album, Soulcrusher, and has been on tour for the past year with the bands Hinder, Paparoach, Buckcherry, Black Stone Cherry, and Shinedown. The band they have recently graced the staged with has been none other than fellow Californians, Avenged Sevenfold. Strong has been in bands since 1996, and Operator has been the most successful. However, music has always been a part of his life.

He started playing piano when he was seven, but always had problems with his teacher because he wanted to play his own melodies. He later learned guitar, bass, his grandfather’s banjo, and drums. His last band, Fly, lasted five years and was unsuccessful because the members constantly argued and were against each other. After Fly, Operator was started as a solo project, and a cd of seven songs titled Can you hear me now was released. But, Strong had the “itch” to play live shows. He made several attempts at gaining members to form a full band, but those who came would soon leave.

Johnny met Paul Phillips, who used to play guitar for ‘Puddle of Mud’ while out to dinner with friends. After getting together to play, they realized they got along well and started to write more music. Soon after, they gained more permanent members. Soulcrusher originally had 16 songs, but it was cut to 11. Those 11 songs express everything from “being in a vulnerable and confused state and you can’t appreciate your life the way it is” to nothing paying off for those who don’t go for what they want. The album took four months to record and mix; from October of 2005 to January of 2006. Strong also mentioned the band has nine songs ready for the next album.

When asked about his writing process, he tilted his head “looking for something to compare it to”. Shortly after he said, “It’s like a hole in the ground. (As he demonstrated with his hands) Sometimes you walk up and there’s nothing. But, you could walk back up five minutes later and it’s full of water. It can be empty for five days or five weeks. And if you force it, it won’t be something completely pure.”

Music is in the least a form of expression, and “the best outlet emotionally is to be able to express yourself.” He and his band mates have been influenced by “all the greats”; Elvis, the Beatles, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses, and Stone Temple Pilots.

The best part about being a musician? “It’s better than making sandwiches,” he jokes. His more appropriate answer was, “being able to feel something and transfer it to a guitar riff or vocal melody and listen back to it- is ear candy. Good music is a sensory stimulant and it’s amazing and rewarding as anything.”

Alternative and metal were not two words Strong was planning on using to describe his music. He believes categorizing music is why things are so messed in the music business. He questions, “Death metal, speed metal, thrash metal”; who cares, “is it good music?” Strong honestly hopes that listeners get their moneys worth out of their album and that they just enjoy listening to what the band has put forth.

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