The artistry of Todd Anders Johnson lies at the intersection of jamming and shredding. Johnson, a dynamic forty-something, caught the music bug at an early age and soon found that his enthusiasm for making joyous noise overlapped with his passion for snow sports. So, naturally, he fused the two pursuits to create a career that many might envy.
"I've been into music since I was young," says Johnson, a dedicated skier and snowboarder whose band, Salem, will play at Cervantes' Other Side this Friday as an unofficial kick-off for the SIA (Snowsports Industries America) convention in Denver. "But I was also an outdoor-sports enthusiast, and I started doing music-licensing deals with the snow industry. If I wanted to get a certain Gore-Tex outfit for the winter, I'd reach out to a specific manufacturer and offer some soundtracks to fit their media efforts. I was able to successfully license some of my music to outdoor companies in exchange for gear. I'm also involved with the snow-sports film industry. Warren Miller first used a snippet of some of my stuff, and then I started actually showing on-screen advertising and content."
Johnson's musical, athletic and media production journey has taken him to a variety of heady places, and his background reflects his nature-inspired wanderlust. He started out in St. Louis and then relocated, for high school and college, to Vermont before bouncing off to a few different spots in the West.
"I played in a band in Vermont during high school, and then I was in a group at the University of Vermont, where I started attending college," explains Johnson, who now calls Fairplay home. "I wound up moving out to Seattle in1992, where I went on to finish school and form another band before moving to Colorado and re-forming that group with local players here. On occasions, I'd make trips back to the Northwest, to Washington, Oregon and Idaho, where I'd tour with the guys from that area. We also played in Alaska and British Columbia. Using a combination of musicians from my Northwest and Colorado bands, I started booking shows along the powder highway. I've been connected with the outdoor industry for some time, and a big part of it was that in Colorado, I found musicians who were really talented but who were also big snowboard enthusiasts and could appreciate the drive to Silverton or Jackson Hole or various ski resorts in Utah. I grew up all over the place and transplanted a few different times."
It can be hard to follow Johnson's movements; he's in a constant state of motion. If he isn't splitboarding (a backcountry form of snowboarding), he might be translating the poetry of a Nigerian political activist into a song or organizing a snow sports and music event with the cannabis industry. When it comes to promoting outdoor gear, he says, he chooses products that are in alignment with the beliefs and lifestyles of his audiences.
"I do content/music production, digital advertising and events production along with my band performances," he says. I came to realize that not only could I tour and play music, but I could also get out and shred pow. So I started becoming more of an ambassador and at times a content producer for companies on the lifestyle side of the snow-sport/musician group. I guess I'm a snowboarder/environmentalist/media producer and a musician."
In Salem, a group that blends jazz, world, jam, hip-hop and funk, Johnson is the drummer, lead vocalist and main songwriter. The five-piece outfit, which has performed at events including the Winter X Games, includes his sister, Ashley Sterling, who also sings.
"Stylistically, we're a hybrid," says Johnson. "There's an improvisational and jam sensibility to us, but we play structured songs. There can be a funk-rock thing too, but mostly it's a blend of neo-soul, hip-hop and world music. Lyrically, it's socially conscious music that takes on a range of topics, including the environment. I'm not always outright political, but a lot of my stuff comes from being an activist and having a firm belief in the arts being able to play a role in generating awareness of issues."
Salem and Todd Anders Johnson, 9 p.m. Thursday, January 25, Cervantes' Other Side, $15