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INTERVIEW: John Santiago of Johnny & the Bootlegs

Hi Johnny, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Ya know, I’ve been doing pretty damn well for the most part. Trials and tribulations never really cease, but with time and experience, we learn to roll with it and get creative.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “NYC Woman”?

Well, the song was written during a time when I was partying pretty intensely. It’s about how NYC women really know how to have a good time and can make you feel like a million bucks….. but then can disappear, on to the next excitement, in the flash of a second too. I moved to NYC to explore myself and find a different side of, and/or inspiration for, my songwriting. All of that happened. I’ve experienced love, loss, longing, playing, anger, elation, drugs, rock n roll, EDM, hip hop, nightlife…. you name it, something has happened during my time in NYC. The good times and the love I’ve shared generally stick out most in my mind but some of the longing always creeps in. Sometimes it’s lonely and these strong independent women can make that better or worse!

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Yeah, I had a wild night with a buddy and a couple of those strong independent women, bar hopping through the east village and winding up on some rooftop in midtown. I can hardly remember the end of the night… but I do remember the next morning! After a couple more times hangin’ out, it became apparent to me that the beer & shot combo was a more genuine friend to me at that time in life, hence the opening line of the song that gets a reprise at the end.

You recently released a great video for your track “Thrift Shop” – any plans to release a video for “NYC Woman”?

I have this idea in my head for a video and really want to make it a reality. It’s definitely a consideration but there’s a lot happening right now and it might take a while. I’d keep an eye out toward the fall. If we decide to go for it, expect a solid ZZ Top tribute this time!

The single comes off your new EP NYC Rags which was released last month – what’s the story behind the title?

Well, the whole EP is centered around my time in NYC from partying (“NYC Woman”), to falling in love (“Hesitant”), to exploding out of love (“Wings”), to thrifting (“Thrift Shop”), to craving something more than a shallow connection, be it love, friendship, musical interaction, etc. (“Hey, Jenny”). It just seemed like all of these things wind up “clothing in our closet” and in 15 or 20 years, they’ll merely be “rags of memory”.

How was the recording and writing process?

The writing process was pretty personal for me. I usually write alone and bring the mostly finished idea to the boys and we fine-tune, or add and detract. The recording process is always a blast.  We record live, in a room together. Jeff Berner knows how to really dial us in and get the sound that we want; BIG. There’s only three of us (up until the recent addition of Dylan Defeo on keys) and we want to represent similarly to some of my idols like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble or early Green Day. Those bands were trios but always had this larger than life sound.

What role does NYC play in your writing?

It’s been a tremendous inspiration. NYC is my home. It’s built me up and broken me down. It has everything. It’s the capital of the world and represents all cultures in some way shape or form. It hold all of life’s light and all of life’s darkness streaming through every one of its streets at every moment of the day or night. It’s truly an amazing place that represents the dichotomy of man, to its fullest.

You cite a broad range of influences for your sound – who do you think has been the biggest influence in shaping you?

Honestly, I think Freddie King has been my biggest influence. His singing and guitar combo were amazing and really pushed me to want to perform both. Chris Cornell has influenced my vocal exploration tremendously, though. In my opinion, Freddie was the most soulful singer and player ever but Chris was otherworldly. He did what Freddie did and took it to a completely original sphere that had soul, grit, power, exhaustion, depression and fury but also required a certain mindset to understand.

You formerly worked as General Manager of Webster Hall (prior to its closure). How did your time as a manager of one of the biggest venues in NYC influence you as an artist? Has it influenced how you approach the music business?

It exposed me to a lot of different music; good and bad. It also exposed me to other artists and personalities at an intense rate and volume. This helped me figure out and determine where I want to stand. It’s kind’ve like this….. do you want to be an ego-maniac or timid?? I saw all ends of the spectrum and anyone can choose if they put their mind to becoming one or the other. What it all boiled down to for me is that I just want to be myself and I learned that this can change from time-to-time. I can sway from one side to the other in a matter of days depending on what’s happening in my life.  Accepting that allows me to more freely write and express, focusing on the now instead of the aftermath or before. When it comes to the business, this shit is difficult! Theres no real curriculum for how it works. I’m just riding the wave and trying to be as organized and productive as possible. I definitely learned to keep busy and fight through times of lacking motivation from Webster Hall. There weren’t any moments to be faint of heart, especially during the nightclub hours…

Where else do you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

It’s all about experience and emotion. I have degrees in psychology, so most of my topic matter comes from within. I like to say I’m more of a John-writer than a Paul. John Lennon wrote more personal songs and Paul was often story telling about others. I find it brave and courageous to put your shit on the table… my recent solo release, “Don’t Blink“, was a real exposure of personal downfall. So is “Hesitant”. They’re vulnerable expressions of remorse and fear, respectively. It’s hard to speak about those things, nonetheless sing them to an audience of watchers.

Any plans to hit the road?

Goodness, gracious me…. IT’S ALL I WANT TO DO!!!! We are doing our best to figure out the logistics of getting on tour but it’s a tough learning process.  There are definitely plans for a Northeast Brewery tour in the fall for J&tB and once that’s over, I might hit the road solo, as well.

What else is happening next in Johnny& The Bootlegs’ world?

We’ve pretty much got another EP and album ready to record but will hold off for a moment to play these songs (and our debut album) for folks. We do have a surprise live album being recorded at the end of June, however 😉  Super excited to play music for people. We love performing and wish more people would say hello to us after shows. Our favorite part is meeting new and interesting folk, so if you’re reading this and come to a show… say what up!!!!

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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