Interviews > Johnny Indovina
Johnny Indovina
Interview by Sonya Brown

Flyer courtesy of: Brickbat Mansion
Promo photo courtesy of:
Live photos by: Kristen Brown

Interview with Johnny Indovina of Human Drama. Acoustic performance at The Lovecraft in Portland, Oregon on June 3rd, 2011.

Johnny Indovina brings the Southern California warm weather to rain-weary Portland, Oregon on this Summer evening. Prior to his enchanting acoustic performance at The Lovecraft, Indovina escorted this writer on a walk to an outdoor café. Ever the southern gentleman, Indovina asks my beverage preference (I pick a pale ale), and offers me a seat as he goes inside to purchase our drinks. As he vanishes briefly, I recall the last time we spoke in 2002. He had just released the Human Drama album, Cause and Effect. We decided to pick up our conversation from there…

What brought about the closing of the Human Drama chapter of your life, and opened the channels for Sound of the Blue Heart?

There were a few reasons that I felt Human Drama had pretty much completed the full spectrum. I loved Cause and Effect, and I felt that that was the way to bring [Human Drama] to a close. I did not know that I was going to do Sound of the Blue Heart… Maybe I’ll stop, I had no idea. But, I couldn’t stop. I started up Sound of the Blue Heart and wanted to not have any of the confines of Human Drama attached to it. It is my voice, they are my songs. It wasn’t planned that way, but it is. It’s still me, but I think I have been able to stretch away from what may be a particular group of people – and maybe I was trying to please some other people at the end there. Maybe just trying to move away from what the title Human Drama did. It did a lot of great stuff for a lot of great years. But, you know we all need our new chapters. I think I would have stopped if I wouldn’t have brought Human Drama to an end. I’d still be sitting here, never recording the next record.

Are you collaborating with any other artists, or is Sound of The Blue Heart just you?

I think it’s been more what the players bring to the table [now] than in the last five or six years of Human Drama. I found myself having to do a bunch of it for Human Drama, no other choice really. But with having a new group of people, I think there are more of those guys in the music.

Are you still doing all of the lyric writing prior to adding in the music?

On Wind of Change I was writing a complete song - music and words together. But, this new record has been very much music first and then lyrics.

Are you composing on guitar?


Do you ever compose on piano?

No, the only thing I composed on piano actually became the instrumental on Songs of Betrayal.

I really enjoyed “Lonely” and I always wondered if you had composed that on piano.

I actually didn’t compose the music to that, it was composed by Carlo Bartolini who was a guitarist in our band for a lot of years, but he also played keyboards. After he left the band, he played me this track and I was like… “wow!”

Who are some of your preferred artists to work with?

The guys on the Sound of the Blue Heart...

Are they touring with you now?

No, this is just me out performing my own songs. I kind of got talked into it, but I think it was a good thing. I might not have ever done it. It’s just not like it used to be. It’s changed a bit and it’s tougher to do.

How do you decide what you are going to perform for an audience while you are touring? Do you change your set by venue, or the crowd?

That’s exactly what I do. If I have 30 minutes, I’m going to play different than if I have 45 minutes. If I’m headlining, I’m going to play a certain way. If it’s a certain club, I’ll gauge song selection to it. So, with all the social networking, I can kinda’ get a feel for who’s going to be showing up. For example, if I play L.A., I might do a lot of my new material; whereas for somewhere else, I might do a lot of Human Drama material.

So tonight, we’re in store for a mixture of both?

I think I have a really nice mix and I’m definitely doing a couple from The World Inside tonight, since we just did the re-release of that.

Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. What brought about your decision to re-release The World Inside?

That was [originally] released in 1992 and it had been out of print for a few years. It was starting to be, like, $80 to get one on Ebay... I will have it at the club tonight.

What kind of “extras” might fans find with that release?

You can find some bootleg video, which I thought was really nice, of The World Inside band actually performing The World Inside, about six or seven songs like that; all of the videos from a VHS tape we did years ago, six studio videos, I think there are four bonus tracks on there of the nights that I was writing The World Inside parts. So it’s really rough, but it’s from when I finished up and said “you know what, this is the next record; start bringing it in to the guys”.

You told me back in 2002 that you treat every word with the utmost of importance, and I thought that was wonderful. I’m wondering if your feelings have changed at all?

Zero! Check out the line on “Never” on Wind of Change. I didn’t relax and just let something go, but I never quite ‘got it’. It still eats at me. Even though you would never know any different. It’s a good line, but I know I didn’t quite… You know, it was like “line 3 in the last chorus of “Never”, isn’t as strong as lines 1, 2, and 4”.

So do you go back and re-visit those, or do they just nag at you?

They nag at me. And once they are on the CD, that’s what they are.

Are you working on any other collaborative projects?

I’m working on a new album with the guys from Sound of the Blue Heart. I think, though, it might just be titled Johnny Indovina. We’re not sure if [the name] Sound of the Blue Heart actually caught on, people tell me that it was hard to remember. So between agents, band members, and promoters wanting to use the name Johnny Indovina… it might be Johnny Indovina AND Sound of the Blue Heart. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but we are working on the record and I’ve got 11 or 12 things written.

Will that be released this year?

Yes. I think we are going to be doing the new thing, which is not wait until the whole album is done, but release a few tracks here and there. You might be hearing some new stuff in a couple of months.

Will you be releasing this in CD format or download?

I think that I will probably print CDs. Not just exclusively download.

Let’s talk a bit about social networking. I noticed you are very involved with your Facebook page. Does that take up a lot of your time?

I don’t mind doing it, it doesn’t take up a lot of my time. I just kinda’ keep updating things, and I get on there and people want to talk and I’ll talk... I think I take care of it as I need to.

And you do all of that yourself?

Yes. If it’s ME online, it’s me. If it’s a Sound of the Blue Heart band page, it’s whoever is working with me, but it all gets to me. If it says Johnny, it’s definitely me.

The last time we talked, you mentioned that you love to tour in Mexico. I was wondering, with the current violent climate there, if you still make it down there. I noticed a lot of your fans seem to be from Mexico as well.

Yes. I get about 30 friend requests a day, and it’s about 99 percent Mexican, but because of what’s going on down there it has been rough.

Do you think you will be able to tour there again?

I’m not sure. I don’t have it booked today, but I do have one proposal on the table that I hope stays afloat; and that is, there’s an orchestra at Hidalgo University - a city about an hour and a half outside of Mexico City - and their orchestra wants to do one night where I sing with the orchestra the entire *World Inside Out*. So we have been talking about that for like November, and I might be there in September for rehearsals. It would be a really, really cool thing. We are working out the details for it right now.

I would imagine that if you are traveling with people and working, it’s a little bit safer?

I’m always with people, but now my promoter for years has just retired booking in Mexico because he saw people get shot right in front of him. It is really getting bad, but I am, of course, going to try to find a way to get down there. I’m well protected. I mean, you can never be completely protected, but I’m always with someone and they take me everywhere I go. I’ll get down there again.

Do you speak Spanish?

No, I can get an ashtray and a cigarette, though... and a coke [laughs]

This question comes from a fan of yours, and she would like to know about children… if you have children or have ever wanted children.

It’s been discussed very little in my relationships. I have lately, though, been having maybe more frequent discussions. I don’t know that it has gotten serious, but I have been having more frequent discussions. And that’s pretty much where it is. I never really thought that I wanted, or that I don’t want... it’s almost not been discussed. But I think what has happened is right; that I didn’t [have children].

Are your lyrics still taken from a place of loneliness, or have you found that fulfillment that you have been searching for?

I don’t know that we ever find fulfillment, because every day is new. But I can’t say that my lyrics come from my loneliness. I think that they come from what I feel in myself, as to how it relates as to how I might see someone else feeling. So, in a way, it’s like projecting and absorbing. It’s this [back and forth] thing with Sound of the Blue Heart, because I’ve written a lot of songs about people in unfortunate situations - the homeless situation, we delved a little bit into what church can actually do to people that’s not a positive thing - so it’s more like I said, that I absorb sometimes too much of what a person might be feeling. I put myself in their place and then I feel, and deal with what it’s like being on the down side of life. I’m kind of over the hill. Let’s face it, I’m not living to be a hundred, so I am over the hill – at this point 106 – so I’m on the other side. I don’t know how far across I am, we never know, but you start drawing on what you are leaving behind; what it felt like to be here, how much you appreciate yesterday… “The Arms of Yesterday” on Wind of Change … one of my great lyrics, to me.

Is there going to be a theme for the next record?

I decided when I sat down to start writing this next album, that I wanted to – and I don’t know if this is me being narcissistic or not – but I am wondering and examining what I think people like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut… all the people that are writers – what it takes to sit and do what you do, and put it out and have it come back; how that becomes almost like something that you don’t enjoy too much because of how absorbed you are in what you do. You get to looking at that in a bunch of mirrors – like mirror feed-back that goes on forever– because you can’t get out of it. So I’m examining what it feels like to be a writer, what it does to you – the ups and downs...

So would this be a concept, then?

It could be, because right now I can’t even think of a better title for the first song I wrote for it, which right now is called “The Writer”. It’s almost like you are a doctor and you are trying to find the problems you have, and you are trying to fix them up; and you get them out but something lingers from that illness because of the memories that you get every time you hear something when you are in that spot... and now you are writing again based on how that feels, and on to song two... and it’s just mirrors...

That’s kind of what you did with Wind of Change, it was a bit of a concept as well...

And I had no idea that that was a concept record! I thought it was ten tracks, and then I listened to the first six songs of the album back, and where I was in life at that moment, and I realized that was what I was getting out [of it]. I WAS the guy in the box in the song “Never”. I was the guy building the box every night to sleep on the street; breaking it down, keeping it safe, and rebuilding it that night… I was that guy. Even though I wasn’t literally that guy, metaphorically in my relationship and in my life, I was that guy. I was at the pit of survival in a lot of ways. Wind of Change kicked my ass, and I realized what I was doing for the two years. Here it was. I was writing the song “Life Is Beautiful, Life Is Cruel”, and it suddenly hit me that all of my joy and all my importance was coming from little memories or daydreams that I had to squeeze into my day, because my day was killing me. So I had to go there, to grab stuff in to keep my head held high, to keep me feeling like I was important and it was justifiable that I was still here. I don’t want to call it my best record, but I’m always very close to saying that. I definitely think The World Inside and Wind of Change ARE the TWO records. As far as me looking at them, as the artist, I know what I wanted to get out of both of them; and I got it on The World Inside, and (much to my surprise), I got it on Wind of Change, really… much to my surprise!

You know what gets tougher to do, the older you get? To run from things. Or, to deny that something is happening. When you are younger, it’s easy. The older you get, though, it’s really tough to not be truthful – even in ways that you know could be bringing a lot of bad shit into your life. I can’t let a lot of things go these days. It gets really, really difficult the older you get. You find it hard to believe anything, and you know why, and you know you are right. And when those moments come up that you know you are right, you can say you know you are right, but this is the truth and it just breaks you down. You can’t run anymore.

Johnny asks me: Is your beer to your liking?

[Laughs] Yes, it’s fine! Have you tried any of the Portland beers?

I know nothing about beer, I never liked beer, I don’t get what it was all about... I’ve never been a beer drinker. [laughs]

And thus concludes our “on the record” conversation. Johnny Indovina and I chatted for a bit longer about some exciting possibilities on the horizon for his music, to which I will only say… keep your eyes on the website and be sure to follow his Facebook page.