Brian Johanson learned firsthand that addiction can derail music careers.
In 2010, after five years of successfully writing and recording music as part of the acoustic honky-tonk band Glove Trucker, he was kicked out, failing to admit to his alcoholism. Resentful toward the art form he was once so passionate about and looking for something to blame, he decided to quit playing and writing songs altogether.
“I was so bitter toward music, I couldn’t even listen to any music,” says Johanson. “I would just listen to audiobooks and podcasts. It was bad news. I think that I had kind of failed under the weight my own addiction, and I didn’t want to come to terms with that back then. I was pretty much ready to make every excuse, but not admit that I had a problem.”
Defeated, Johanson eventually accepted that something had to give.
“The first three months [of sobriety] were just kind of getting used to having emotions again, really,” he says with a laugh. By 2014, he was sober and in the process of reclaiming his life. "Now, I think...after admitting to [my alcoholism] and doing everything I needed to do to deal with that and still need to deal with that, it’s totally been liberating in that sense.”
Six months into sobriety, Johanson still had not resolved his troubles with music. It wasn’t until his son asked why he didn’t play anymore that something shook loose.
“I was just picking up the guitar and messing with it, and my son was asking, ‘Why don’t you play anymore?’ and it got me thinking: Why don’t I play anymore?" he recalls. "That kind of gave me energy to start going out again for open mics and writing again. My son definitely gave me a good little push in that direction."
In 2017, he met Josh Long, and they decided to casually test the waters of a potential partnership. Things quickly clicked, and they formed Sugar Britches.
“We did a few gigs together, it sounded good and people seemed to like it, and really, [in] 2018, our schedule just got busier and busier the more we played,” Johanson says.
With Sugar Britches, Johanson has settled back into the Colorado country-music scene nicely, happy to have found his way back. The two make authentic and fun country music. Songs dissecting the struggles of addiction [“Molly”], the difficulties of life and love ["Carried Away"], and accidentally being in a polyamorous relationship ["Polyamory"] on the band’s uplifting 28-minute debut record are based on Johanson’s personal experiences.
“I’m very ambitious with all this, but at the same time, I don’t think I take it as serious as other people might," he says. "I’m very passionate and ambitious, but it’s not the end of the world if people don’t like it. It’s not the end of the world if big things don’t happen. I’m ultimately just trying to write and connect with people and get art out into the world.
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“I think that people kind of forget sometimes that when you see someone on stage having fun, it kind of makes the person in the audience having fun like, 'Hey, we’re actually enjoying this and enjoying that you’re here, too'" he adds. "This time around, I love going out to hear live music, I love listening to new music, and I love writing new music, too. I think I’ve just rediscovered a passion for doing this stuff and am having a great time. It definitely has a new spark to it.”
Nearly a decade since hitting rock bottom and about five years since he turned his life around, Johanson is giving music the honest shot he had hoped to his first time around.
“The greatest feeling is playing a show and seeing someone you don’t know know the words to your songs," he says. "That’s the reason I do it — because you’re connecting with someone through something you wrote. That’s ultimately, I think, the goal of a song.”