By Ashley Oken
On a recent Friday afternoon, musician Jeris Johnson, 25, ran his fingers through his blond hair while settling into a nondescript hotel room in Nashville after a frenzied few days of traveling on his first tour. Wearing a hat emblazoned with the message “Make Rock Great Again,” Johnson shared his thoughts on the state of the genre of which his Instagram bio claims he is “the future.” “Rock has been stuck in the mud for a long time,” he told MTV News over Zoom. “It’s sounded the same for a long time. It’s the same old ‘man with drums and [a] guitar’ and whatever else.”
“Now I feel like we’re at a crisis point in rock music,” he continues, “where it actually will die if it keeps going down the path that it’s going down, because it’s not keeping up. It’s not capturing anybody that’s young. It’s not doing any of those things.” The former metalhead turned TikToker, whose debut album I Want Blood/I Want Love, is out today (February 4), aims to be rock’s fountain of youth. “It needs to be brought into the future.”
Born in Eugene, Oregon to rocker parents — his dad was a drummer and his mom was a singer; they met while playing in bands — Johnson grew up surrounded by music. Now, he is known for his covers of 2000s-era rock songs like “Never Too Late” by Three Days Grace and “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback, which he first posted to TikTok in 2021. These allowed him a platform to enact his mission. He believes that TikTok is a method to bring the genre up to speed with the modern era, citing Tumblr, Myspace, and other sites that saw their rise linked with music over the past two decades. “TikTok has been poppin’ off for two to three years now, and there are still tons of artists and bands who are too cool for it, but they’re just behind,” he said. “If you’re not riding the fucking TikTok wave, you’re falling behind because it’s the only reason that my numbers are in the millions.” Johnson sees the platform as a stage, one where he can wild out as he wishes and embrace his confident and larger-than-life persona.
Given that 2000s radio rock was “all he listened to growing up,” his covers helped him pick up traction on TikTok and eventually hop onto remixed tracks like “Last Resort (Reloaded)” with Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix. Johnson affectionately calls the singer Uncle Jacoby and thinks of him as a mentor. Fast friendships have helped Johnson land other collaborations, such as “Damn” with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and a remix of Bring Me the Horizon’s single “Can You Feel My Heart” with Oli Sykes. Johnson unveiled his debut EP My Sword at the top of 2021, which showed off another key influence: the angst of SoundCloud rap. He also points to XXXTentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God as influences.
Though Johnson’s latest releases, the sobering “27 Club” and the Trippie Redd collab “Friday,” showcase an upbeat, partying side, I Want Blood/I Want Love displays two distinct sides of Johnson — a compelling one ready to take charge of the rock scene and a sentimental one looking to express itself meaningfully. The duality may surprise his fans and followers.
“When they go to check out the album, they’re gonna be like, ‘What the fuck is this kid smoking?’” he said. “And that’s what it should be. Every time you put out music that’s different from what people are used to, you’re always gonna make somebody mad. If I’m not doing that, I’m not making art.”
His parents’ unwavering support of that art “has been the number one thing” and laid the foundation for the life that waits ahead of him. Unlike those who use their parents’ dismissal of their artistic ambitions as fuel for their creativity, Johnson considers himself lucky. “They didn’t care if I didn’t go to college. We didn’t have the money for me to go to college anyway.”
Johnson began playing piano and drums at the age of 2 and went to rock band camps at 13, where he was able to hone his skills as a vocalist and percussionist. Here, he met his future bandmates and decided music was going to be his lifelong focus. The musician spent his high school years in a metal band named Audiophobia. When they split up, he taught himself how to produce and set up shop as his own maestro.
“I realized bands were lame and being in one wasn’t going to work for me because they don’t make any money. The computer is an instrument in and of itself at this point,” he said. “[Rock has] traditionally been done with ‘real instruments.’ It’s a fun and cool challenge to figure out, how can I make rock without live drums and guitar? How can I distort my computer? How can I break the rules, fuck everything up, and still have that rock energy to everything?”
He honed this experimentation further on journeys to Los Angeles that he took at 21, trying to network and lock in writing recording sessions after 13-hour drives. Through this process, he learned that crafting a sound and getting to where you want to be takes time and patience. “I was always confused during that time period, like, why the fuck aren’t I making it yet and why aren’t people signing me yet? I knew I had all this raw talent,” he said. “I look back now and think, ‘You were just clueless.’” Since then, his skill level has caught up with his ambition, and now he’s making the art he’s always wanted to make.
Johnson feels lucky that his first tour is “so dope,” on the road with Falling in Reverse, Waging War, and Hawthorne Heights on a three-week sprint around the country. As ever, it’s all part of his plan: “I think it’s destiny colliding and the universe matching it up where it feels like this is something I just have to do.”
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