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When Doll Knight, 20, first met Barrett Johnson, 34, she thought he was a jerk. Despite her hasty judgment, the duo worked on the song "Paper Plane" the first night they met. As Johnson's shy exterior melted, so did Knight's first impression, and their chemistry became apparent to both of them. In the Ultimate Bearhug, Knight's strong, smooth voice fuses with Johnson's songwriting skills, honed from 15 years of playing music. Now the jazzy, blues-pop act are putting the finishing touches on their debut album, Just South of Los Angeles, thanks to a successful $10,000 Kickstarter campaign and help from ZionStudios producer and collaborator Dallas Kruse.
OC Weekly: What has been your favorite part of making the album?
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Barrett Johnson: All of it. Writing with Doll and recording are no stress at all. The studio is easy; writing is more labor-intensive. Doll and I tried to write one song a month. That's three or four hours at a time a few times a week, sometimes. It's hard work, [but] it hasn't been a negative experience at all. I've worked with Dallas before, so I know how he works. Honestly, a lot of it is because Dallas is so good at recording. Doll and I have to agree on something for it to be used, but it's always us three deciding what's best.
How does your 14-year age difference come into play when you create music?
Johnson: It comes into play in everything. We have writing chemistry. It's rare; I don't usually like writing with people. She brings good ideas and obviously has a great voice. My weaknesses are Doll's strengths. She's optimistic, and I've been doing this so long it's on the side of "Well, I hope it goes well." She keeps me optimistic.
Doll Knight: It doesn't, as far as goals and what we think the album is about. I feel every song is well-rounded because you have a perspective. I feel like I'm coming from a more immature perspective. It grounds me, especially when we're writing. I help bring in more naive interest to the sound as well.
What has 2011 been like for the Ultimate Bearhug?
Johnson: We haven't played too many shows, but from what we have played, the reception is good. It was a year of working hard at writing. Some songs we worked for three, four months. That's what I appreciate about Doll; we have to be really into something to release it.
What is Orange County's biggest asset in the music scene that other places don't have?
Johnson: [The fact that] there are a lot of good players makes you push harder to do your best. Los Angeles has imports [and] bands flying in from all over the world. In Orange County, people are born and raised here. It makes it a more close-knit community.
What's next after you release the album?
Johnson: We plan on giving all of our CD sales at shows to charity. I'm into charity water and feeding people. Doll is probably going to give hers to cancer research.
This column appeared in print as "The Ultimate Bearhug Share the Love."