Johnny Hanson has spent most of his adult life playing music for and with other people. But after building a career for himself by working with artists like Christina Perri and and Avi Buffalo, the Irvine native is jumping back into the spotlight with his brand new solo project, Walker Reinhardt. Although it’s nowhere near the only personal music venture Hanson’s taken, being able to swing back into creating tunes where he has the final say for the first time in about 5 years often feels like a liberation of his creativity.
“It never completely left me, but I definitely had to put it on the back burner for a while,” Hanson says of his solo music. “There’s a different kind of ‘weight’ when playing for others, because you are trying to serve their music the best you can and support what they are trying to accomplish. When you are working on a solo project, it all falls on you, the creator. I love the freedom in that. The only one to please is yourself so you can truly express and create without limitation.”
Of course, as a veteran songwriter, producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist (although guitar is his primary tool of choice), Hanson is no stranger to the creative process required to craft a song. But whereas most writing and recording sessions involve at least a few people in the room to serve as a sounding board, the new Walker Reinhardt material was done primarily without much counsel. Not only did Hanson play every instrument on some of his latest tracks, but he also produced, mixed, and even owns the Los Angeles studio where he did the recording.
“The main difference for me is there is no collaboration,” Hanson says. “It’s literally me in a room with my instruments and thoughts, which can be very challenging. It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off and bring some sort of assurance that you’re on to something good. When you are writing and producing everything yourself, you have to be cautious not to lose perspective. Sometimes moving quickly can really help because you don’t give yourself the chance to overanalyze everything. On the other hand, it’s also good to let things breathe and come back to an idea to get a fresh perspective.
“I think you learn something with every song you finish, and there is almost always something that you’ll end up cringing at eventually,” Hanson continues. “It’s inevitable when you’re listening to the song over and over again. I think there is always some kind of lesson to take away with you. Maybe it’s as simple as the vocal was too quiet on that song, or maybe it’s something more complex — like the arrangement had too much crammed in it and the song was overproduced.”
Aside from his new Walker Reinhardt tunes, Hanson’s been staying as busy as usual this year by continuing his work for a few other artists as well as composing the score of a short film called Secret Sweets. We’ll also likely be hearing some new music from his other project — a duo named Casavant — along with his continued rebirth as Walker Reinhardt. As for those wondering why the respected musician doesn’t just use his own name (or go back to the moniker of Melanoid, which he’d previously used), there’s only as much explanation of it as you’d like to read into.
“I wanted a fresh start,” Hanson says. “It seemed stale to me to start [Melanoid] back up again. I’ve always loved the name Walker Reinhardt, and it was actually my first email address. I’m a huge fan of Django Reinhardt’s guitar playing, but there’s not much explanation for the Walker part — other than I liked the way it rolled off the tongue. I never wanted to use my real name. I like to have some distance from my personal life and have always liked the idea of a band name or a fictitious name for a solo project. It’s a character you can sort of sink into.”
Listen to Walker Reinhardt’s song “Get Lost” on Spotify here.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.