Olympia-based Calvin Johnson’s music and personality are like a finely crafted bleu cheese—indescribably unique and they only improve with age—which is perhaps why Johnson’s career has withstood the test of time, despite independent music being anything but a secure industry. There’s always a market for a good “bleu cheese,” so to speak, no matter how niche.
You may not have heard of Calvin Johnson as a solo musician, but if you’re into Northwest indie music, you’ve probably heard of at least one of his bands. Beat Happening, The Go! Team, The Halo Benders, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and The Hive Dwellers have all benefited from Johnson’s signature baritone vocals and guitar skills. Johnson also performs and records electronic music under the name Selector Dub Narcotic. Johnson took some time to talk with CULTURE about his inspirations, new projects, and his opinions about cannabis.
Tell us about your musical history.
My name is Calvin Johnson. I live in Olympia, Washington. My first show was in 1979, and now my most recent show was in November of 2017. And that was at Evergreen State College [where] I performed as part of the Return to Evergreen weekend with a combination of some other Evergreen alumni and students. It was fun to play with some Evergreen students.
“When I was in high school, we used to go to concerts at the Seattle Center or the Kingdome and those places were just a fog of marijuana smoke. You know, concerts like Steve Miller Band, Paul McCartney and Wings, Aerosmith, Jefferson Starship, just so much marijuana everywhere.”
Can you name some musicians who have influenced you, either those who have been on K Records (Calvin Johnson’s record label) or just historical figures who have excited your musical sensibilities?
Well, at K [Records] we’ve worked with Mirah. We had LAKE, a music group who live up on Whidbey Island. And then there is the band Aries, who we put out a record with last year. That was a very cool album.
Can you tell me a little bit about some of your upcoming projects?
Selector Dub Narcotic has a new 45 [RPM single] coming out in June. It’s called “Bounce it Out,” and it has a video that goes with it. Just shot the video like a week ago, so I haven’t even seen the rough cuts yes, but it’s very exciting.
How has cannabis impacted you and your musical experiences?
It used to be that people were imbibing in various mind-altering substances, and I would just be like totally unaware. But now it’s hard not to notice. Because what we used to say in high school, is ‘Hey man, you reek,’ and now basically the entire Northwest reeks. It’s like you can’t get on the bus without this sort of overpowering, skunk weed sort of smell.
When I was in high school, we used to go to concerts at the Seattle Center or the Kingdome and those places were just a fog of marijuana smoke. You know, concerts like Steve Miller Band, Paul McCartney and Wings, Aerosmith, Jefferson Starship, just so much marijuana everywhere. And it was just like smoking out in the open like it was cool.
Is there an artist or song or album or band you recommend listening to when consuming cannabis?
Probably, I don’t know. Oh, I know. Doug Martsch from Built to Spill. I don’t know whether he uses marijuana products regularly, but I do know that some of his stuff that he experiments with is probably enjoyable to those who use cannabis products.
See Calvin Johnson Live at Upstream Music Fest + Summit
June 1-3 at Pioneer Square, Seattle