An Interview with John San Juan of The Hushdrops

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Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with John San Juan of Chicago Indie favorites, The Hushdrops. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, The Hushdrops newest music, the band’s history, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about The Hushdrops, head over to their Bandcamp, and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Christopher. Cheers.

Andrew:
Hello, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

John:
Honestly, it’s been a hell of a year. Presently, I’m just happy to be here. Losing Joe at the beginning of the year was an enormous blow (not just to me, but to loads of people). Having the focus of finishing and promoting this record (and my work in other musical endeavors) has probably been a life-saver.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

John:
Literally everything about it. As soon as I could hear it, I wanted more. The 1970s were a great time to be a small child, if only because music was playing everywhere. A lot of music, a ton of second-hand smoke.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

John:
I remember going straight for The Beatles records as a little boy, and then for The Beatles songs when I first picked up an instrument. That expanded rapidly to any number of things as a teen (The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Smiths, etc.). It was hearing The Buzzcocks that gave me some hope that I might be able to write my own songs (or even want to). A lot of the then-contemporary impressionistic sounds of groups like My Bloody Valentine, or the simplicity of Teenage Fanclub fueled my earliest efforts. The Beach Boys were also a major discovery.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events. Tell us about your new release with The Hushdrops, The Static. Tell us about the record and how it came together.

John:
Well, we’d put out our second album, Tomorrow, in 2014, and I left the group after a year of touring. Looking back, this was a very necessary reset — if only because we had really become something of “an old married trio.” But, I also got to learn how special and unique this band was, and I think we all came back to it in 2018 with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication. And dozens of new songs. We started rehearsing, gigging, and recording right away. It helped that I had found an amazing engineer and studio (Jon San Paolo, Electrical Audio) while we were apart. We had a ton of new music recorded by the end of 2019, and more sessions booked for April 2020. Though our records always tend to be something of a love letter from me to the band, this one obviously REALLY became a very specific version of that once Joe died. There are other themes that always ran (and run) through the record, but once Jim and I came back to finish putting it together, it only felt right to really feature and memorialize our friend. When a world-renowned musician dies, there’s not much need to explain who they are, what they did, or why they were loved. Obviously, with Joe, we felt compelled to really illustrate what made his playing and musical personality so special.

Andrew:
What lyrical themes do you tend to explore with your music? Is your music intensely personal, or are you only telling stories?

John:
I think a person can reveal a lot without being horribly explicit or “on the nose.” Musically, lyrically, we’re always trying to capture something of an “essence.” I think a person can extract as much or as little as they like from that.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

John:
Oh, I think we like a mostly empty room. I can’t imagine having to deal with a producer. If there is an advantage to flying this far below the radar, it’s that people really let you just get on with your work.

Andrew:
Let’s go back a bit. For those that don’t know — how did The Hushdrops come together?

John:
I was nothing more than a guitarist who got pushed out front when I left my teenage band. And I only started writing songs because no one else would. Meeting Joe Camarillo in my early 20s (I’m 51 now) was the big bang for me, musically speaking. He added a lot of depth to my efforts. When Jim Shapiro joined us 10 years later, Joe and I were similarly galvanized, validated, and emboldened. I’ve played with a lot of people, but…the three of us together has always been absolutely the gold standard for me.

Andrew:
There are rumors that this will be The Hushdrops’ final release. Is that true? If so — why?

John:
It could be the grand finale, but…if I wrote twenty songs next week, then maybe it wouldn’t be. I think the incentive to start a new record can’t possibly ever be what it was when Joe was with us. And…Jim and I are both enjoying family life while both our kids are still at home, so…never say never, but always say, “Who knows?” So much of life, as we’ve learned, can’t possibly be planned for, and — if this WERE to be the last word — I don’t necessarily feel that our body of work is incomplete.

Andrew:
What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?

John:
Oh, jeez.

Fragile by Yes. Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. Nilsson’s The Point. Elliot Smith’s XO. Husker Du’s Zen Arcade. Tommy by The Who. I’d say if there’s any commonality among them, it’s mainly that they all really tend to sustain a mood throughout without losing momentum. Even the variety on something like The Beatles (aka The White Album) congeals in a way that really satisfies me.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

John:
I dunno — apart from personal relationships and family, nothing has ever really competed with music.

Andrew;
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

John:
I never felt that the music business was in any sort of amazing state (certainly not during my own lifetime). I think there have been occasional happy accidents and flukes, but…I’m not sure that I’d want my kids staking themselves to it as a livelihood. If you’ve got a song in your heart, go sing it, but…that may have to be its own reward.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

John:
I think I’ve got a lot of press and promotion ahead of me for the time being. And there’s always music to play. A big turkey for Thanksgiving. As for a post-COVID world, I can only hope to dream that we’ll get there. I promise to indiscriminately carpool when we get the numbers back down.

Interested in learning more about The Hushdrops? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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