By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
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It may be a while before Johnston's bandmates can join him on the road, but that hasn't prevented him from touring. Last month, he and his father left home for an abbreviated European tour that made stops in Sweden and England, and Johnston is currently in the midst of one of his first-ever swings around America, performing solo in small clubs across the country. Still skittish in a live setting, Johnston spends entire sets with his eyes fixed upon a music stand, twitching and reading lyrics from songs until he simply runs out of them. Audience requests can throw him off guard. The minimalism of Johnston's performances may remind longtime listeners of a lyric from the Yip Jump era: "I'm a loner/I'm a sorry entertainer." Still, there's a thrill in witnessing a gig from a musician as naturally unaffected as Johnston. And so far, audiences haven't seemed to mind his stripped-down stage show. At least, they didn't in Sweden.
"I think the people there are just a lot more friendly, a lot more enthusiastic than they are in the United States," he says. "I think it's because there is more music going on overseas, and more of the music is from Europe. They're more crazy over there. It's packed houses and -- yoo-hoo! -- do they get screaming. They show up after the shows. And, there's a lot of good-looking girls. I know I'm lucky now, with what I'm doing. It's pretty fun, and it's a living. I haven't worked at a job since 1986. But in a way I still feel like I have to make up for lost time and get out there."
Asked if he expects to return from the road with a new batch of ideas for songs, Johnston is incredulous.
"I don't really write, like in a diary. Things just happen to me," he says. "Writing a song is just like making a drawing for me. I'll just start sketching, and something turns into something. It's just like a big blank piece of paper when you start.
"I don't ever throw anything I do away," he adds. "I'll never throw away some idea for a song, because I think that everything I do is a masterpiece."