It's not important where you've been, but where you are, and at 22, Jonny Lang is right where he wants to be. Though his past awards, commendations and achievements are enough - including having two platinum selling albums and a Grammy nomination by age 19 - Jonny comments, "I'm the happiest I've ever been, and I've just finished recording an album I couldn't be happier with."
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That album is the aptly titled Long Time Coming. It is Jonny's third release, but it celebrates several noteworthy firsts: this time around he not only wrote or co-wrote all but one of the album's tracks, and served as its co-producer, but also he has made an album that he feels very honestly reflects who he is.
With a four-year gap between his last album and Long Time Coming, many people have questioned his whereabouts. Taking it in stride, Jonny revealed his sense of humor and good nature by once joking with an interviewer, "I promise it'll come out before I'm 40." Launching a preemptive strike by naming it Long Time Coming, Jonny explains, "Of course the title is about how long it's been since I've had an album out, and it's pretty much about trying to be patient."
A more fully realized album than his earlier efforts, Long Time Coming has a much greater emphasis on the songs than ever before. Jonny channeled an autobiography of sorts into this album. And, as it turns out, Lang has a gift in creating gritty heartfelt songs about relationships precariously poised on the edge, and winsome love paeans. With the help of co-producer Marti Fredrickson (Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Faith Hill), he has been able to craft a dozen soulful and canny songs that are full of nuances and emotion, conjuring up a spirit of Muscle Shoals and Motown, filtered down through his own life experiences. "The album is really a journal of my life for the past two years," reveals Jonny.
Initially not feeling up to the task of writing his own songs, after a single day in the studio with Fredrickson he was convinced. "Marti and I got together to do a song and the first song we did was 'Get Me Up Again' and everyone loved it. This album really is all about the songs. To me I knew I succeeded when I could get them to sound just like you would say them. Like in a conversation. They all seemed to make sense that way."
Marti also helped Jonny develop a new respect for his prodigious talent on guitar. Though the blues guitar great Jimmy Thackery once commented about Lang, "He plays so good, I want to break his fingers," Marti pushed Jonny past his comfort level.
"It really humbled me working with Marti because it was the first time anyone really critiqued my playing," says Jonny. "Before I could just play whatever, solo or whatever, little guitar riffs between vocal lines and be like, 'okay, cool, we'll just keep that.' But when I was in the studio with Marti I'd play something and he'd be like, 'That sucks. You can do better than that.' Of course I'm getting all offended. But after a while I just really grew to just love him for that because I learned I'm the kind of person who should be produced."
And about album's sole cover and first single "Red Light," which he makes his own, Jonny comments "It's rare to cover a song and feel you're really a part of it. There are those times when you feel like you can really relate to the song. And that's what happened with it. It's also great to be able to record a song and have fun doing it."
Working alongside Fredrickson not only allowed Jonny to grow musically, but encouraged some self-exploration as well. "It was incredible how well we worked together. It was pure chemistry," Jonny enthuses. "I felt like he made me more of myself and for the first time, I felt like this is the 'real me.'"
Not without impressive backing, Lang and Fredrickson commissioned the help of a rock and roll great for this much-anticipated release by asking Steven Tyler to contribute to a track, "Steven doesn't sing, but he plays harmonica on 'Happiness and Misery.'" Explains Jonny, "He's such a nice guy. He is not a prima donna at all. We asked him to play and he was like, 'Yeah man. Send me the tracks; I'll do it right away.'"
With age and maturity, Jonny is growing into his vocal gifts. When he began his career at 13 years old, his voice, which sounded aged and weathered, inspired U.S News World Report to write, "Don't be fooled by that peach-smooth face. Jonny Lang has the voice of a grizzled blues veteran with a 20-year Marlboro habit - and guitar skills to match." But on Long Time Coming, there is more of an authentic expression of who he is, passionately veering somewhere between rock and soul.
"This is the most complete thing I've done. I think everything else has been okay up to now," Jonny continues, "On my other albums, I felt I was kind of pigeonholed as doing what a blues guitar player dude should do, but in my mind, I'm not a blues singer. And I'm not a blues writer either. This record is more rock than any of the others, but there are a lot of different things going on in there."
Now when Jonny Lang performs he feels more of a connection to the songs and his audience. "I used to feel when I would sing or play guitar it would all go off into thin air and disappear somewhere. But now it feels like something is happening when I play music. It's not just to satisfy myself, but it's about giving with my music. And that makes all the difference."
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