Aaron Johnson, aka Ukulele Loki, blithely changes hats every day: A musician, emcee extraordinaire, activist, lapsed public-school teacher, Denver County Fair freak-show host and radio host for Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir (as well as a co-founder of Boulder's Radio 1190), Johnson moves and shakes to a different drummer, all the while twirling his waxed mustache. We asked Johnson to share what makes his wacky world spin; keep reading to learn more.
If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
I've always admired Jim Henson with an almost religious devotion. But, since he's gone and I can't get my hands on a Tardis, I'd like to collaborate with Denver's own wizard of puppets, Cory Gilstrap of Imagined Creations. Like Henson, Cory has one of the purest hearts that has ever pumped blood. His talent, organizational skills, productivity and creativity are dizzying. His super-power is bringing out the best in others. I've worked with him in the past on sets and puppets for two performances at Film on The Rocks. What I'd love most of all would be to collaborate with him on writing, directing, building and producing a show that combines humor with humanity.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
As an explosive, sometimes compulsive extrovert, I'm pretty much interested in whoever is sitting next to me at the moment.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
I don't really wish death on anyone or anything. I don't notice trends, preferring to focus on the exciting and surprising new movements constantly being conjured by the DIY and independent communities. If there is one trend I would like to see transformed, it's the one where artists rehabilitate properties in affordable neighborhoods, but then lose out in the process of gentrification. How is our city going to stay "cool," when the very people who are making it that way can't afford to live here?
What's your day job?
In November, I finally landed my dream job, working in radio and playing independent, underground, local, new and relevant music on OpenAir from Colorado Public Radio. My duties include hosting the weekend morning show and coordinating fundraising production and strategies. As listeners realize what a terrific resource we have, my next step is to invite them to become listener-members so we can continue to share musical discovery with them. I'm also very excited to announce that OpenAir will be available on 102.3 FM, beginning on January 27. In the meanwhile, folks can still tune in to 1340 am, or listen online at openaircpr.org.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Well, the first thing I would do would be to realize my dream of owning a red, Denver brick, Victorian home in the city--you know, the kind with a wrap-around porch, a tower and a bay window. (How domestic, I know). After that, I'd pretty much keep on keeping on with my happy life, perhaps with a bit more travel.
But unlimited funds, you say? I would funnel the rest toward fighting against the corporatization of our public resources, in order to restore democracy. It would be so refreshing to hear the voice of The People engaging in real discourse with diverse opinions, instead of just hearing the voices of special interests. If it sounds lofty, just think what a handful of billionaires have been able to accomplish in such a short time. Thanks, mystery patron!
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Easy: Pay artists. And stop asking them to perform and create for "exposure." Also, establishing some city-wide arts grants and city-sponsored studio/rehearsal spaces would make sense.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Without a doubt, it's Lauri Lynnxe Murphy. Not only is her work stunning, moving and diverse, her focus on environmental issues--like bee colony collapse disorder and the destruction of our finite, natural resources--is timely and important. She's currently building a tiny home, in preparation for her launch of "The Mayday Experiment," where she'll be traveling the US and Mexico, to engage diverse populations in meaningful discussions about sustainability, climate change and art.
You can read about her process and offer support on her Westword blog. She's also a terrific writer, especially when it comes to feminism; I enjoy watching her eviscerate the patriarchy in social media.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Of course, I will continue to emcee and promote a variety or shows and events, including burlesque and sideshow, but my biggest plans for 2015 are centered on music. After sadly leaving my passion for teaching behind, I've finally recovered from DPTSD (Denver Public Traumatic Schools Disorder). I feel like I'm back as a person in a big way, and able to focus on my other lifelong passion: music!
In addition to going to shows or out dancing six nights a week for inspiration, I've collected a drum machine, quite an array of FX pedals and a looping station. My goal is to finally use these tools to realize a new music project that unites my love of tin-pan-alley song structures with '60s psyche, post-punk and contemporary production. I'm putting it all in a big Scrabble bag, and shaking it up. I've got new songs kicking around in my head, and I plan to arrange them in new and surprising ways. It's been delightful, seeing how many different tones and textures I can squeeze out of an electrified ukulele.
On January 18, I'll be emceeing a steampunk installment of the Church's goth event, "Repent." Then on January 19, I'm hosting Ooh La La Presents: Panties at The Bar Burlesque at Three Kings. This summer, I'll be working again with Dave Seiler, Dana Cain and Andrew Novick to make this year's Denver County Fair Freak Show even more exciting than last year's.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2015?
I have no idea. Sorry. But I imagine many of them will be popping up at Gallery Leon, Deer Pile, Syntax Physic Opera, Hinterland, Hi-Dive and more. I'll keep my eyes out as I work with the good people in the Arts Bureau at Colorado Public Radio; they are always keeping tabs.
To keep up with the Froyd's eye view of arts and culture in Denver, "like" my fan page on Facebook.