Questions With: Chris Johnson of Telegraph Canyon Urges You Not to Smoke Crack for Free

Telegraph Canyon got their start in 2005 straight out of Fort Worth, managing to keep the six core members consistent throughout their “rise to the middle” success. Their grassroots sound is reflective of the humbled and existential life of being a traveling artist, bringing forth a combined sense of nostalgia and freedom that makes folk music so worthwhile. “I think we want to be successful but also we started doing this for wanting to do it, the love to travel, and that sort of thing,” says lead singer Chris Johnson. Telegraph Canyon’s members are all multifaceted when it comes to playing instruments and it’s not uncommon to hear a wide selection of sounds and styles throughout their show.

With a new single scheduled for release in February – hot off their upcoming record, – I thought it would be fitting to chat with Johnson and give him the ‘Questions With’ treatment. His foul-mouthed language and colorful personality were refreshing, to say the least. We covered everything from why Darius Rucker shouldn’t be singing country to how better healthcare in the United States could mean a more thriving job market. Right before we said our goodbyes, he did ask me to include one last thing, so here you go: “Do me a favor and tell people I’m not a dickhead so maybe I can repair my reputation.”

FrontRow: What is the best concert and the worst concert you have ever been to?

Chris Johnson: My Morning Jacket Bonnaroo 2004. They played through a storm, it was awesome. It was incredible, I mean the sun came out in the middle of the set. It was storming and then the sun just like comes out and everyone’s soaking wet. I don’t know, it was one of those times in music. You can Google it and find out about it. And the worst concert? That’s hard. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them once they’ve sucked that bad. All of my friends’ concerts. I almost want to just say someone I know so they’ll be like “What the f*** man?” Oh, I got the worst concert! I lived in New Orleans and I was just walking around, just partying during the day, and I hear this distinctive Hootie & the Blowfish voice. It was Darius Rucker playing this free concert and I’m like, “F***, that’s going to be good,” and it was bad. It was pretty awful, because you know he’s a country guy now so country Hootie by accident was the worst one. No good.

FR: What was the first movie you saw in the theaters?

CJ: Dick Tracy in a s***ty mall. And my grandpa went and bought me a t-shirt before we went to the movie. So, I went to the Dick Tracy movie, first movie ever, and I had a t-shirt for it. It was pretty bad.

FR: If you were auditioning for a voice competition show, which song would you choose to sing?

CJ: They used one of our songs on American Idol this year for like a bumper thing and I always said that’s the closest I’ll come to doing it. But, you mean what cover song would I sing? I don’t know the band but you that song that goes “I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love Tonight?” What band is that?

FR: What’s the closest you have ever come to dying?

CJ: I’ve had guns pulled on me several times. I do a lot of crazy traveling and I’ve lived in the South in weird places so people have guns all the f***ing time. Oh, I got one. Our first tour that we went on in the Northwest, we drove through an ice storm and our trailer, there were trucks all on the road and the ditch and s*** and snow and ice everywhere. Our trailer got away from us and started to swing around and jack-knife and hit us. We saw the trailer like coming at us and Austin, our drummer, who’s like an awesome bad weather driver, just like cut the wheel like it was supposed to and we slid. We’re on a sheet of ice, you know? He just cuts it just right like a ballerina and as it levels off and the trailer goes behind us, he exits. You know when you exit and there’s a fast right turn right there? There’s a hotel and we pull into it. Like we’re about to die and we’re exiting and now we’re in a hotel parking lot and sucker gets up out of his chair and he’s like, “I’ll pay for the hotel tonight.” It was awesome.

FR: If you could choose any decade to live in, which would it be?

CJ: Now. Because it’s now. I wasn’t alive for that other stuff and I’m stoked to be here right now. I have this thing, we were talking about time machines, and I was like it would be cool to be part of going somewhere in a time machine but after you were there for like a week, you’d be like, “Man, I’m totally not living at all.” So, as exciting as that is, I don’t want anything other than what’s real now.

FR: What was your favorite toy as a kid?

CJ: My uncle and my grandpa both did this, they used to carve me cucumbers. I grew up on a farm so there were cucumbers that fell and if they weren’t good and they weren’t going to eat them, they would just carve me cucumber boats. So, I would play with G.I. Joes and these cucumber boats in the bathtub cause they float. I always wanted them to carve me another cucumber boat because I’d always be like, “You threw my cucumber out,” and my mom would say, “It was brown and stinking,” and I was like “Man, I need another cucumber boat.”

FR: Should the United States adopt a national healthcare system similar to the United Kingdom or Canada?

CJ: I don’t like the idea of us doing a healthcare system similar to those two countries as much as just taking whatever they’re doing and learning from it and doing something different than them. My best friend lives in Winnipeg and we talk about this kind of thing a lot. But, there’s a lot of drawbacks to their system, so I don’t think we should do something like someone else. But, I do think that humans should have access to healthcare in their country, especially when there’s enough money for roads and sidewalks and s***. We could all just wear cowboy boots and get our feet a little dirty and have good healthcare, you know? It’s like there’s all this money spent on everything else and there are kids that have no access to getting their runny nose or their flu taken care of.

I don’t have health insurance. Most people in my band don’t and I think that we’re looked as being delinquents or something by parents or other people. They’re like, “You should have a job with benefits,” and I think that’s a stronghold for them and the workforce. It’s like, “Here, you get a s****y job where we pay you $10-$15 an hour and we’re going to suck your life away so you have it for two reasons: One, I’m giving you a Christmas bonus every year. So, every year, it’s only a thousand bucks, but every year you’re going to be like man, it’s October, I got to f***ing at least get my bonus. And then in January, you’re f***ing broke anyway so it’s just difficult. And two, they’re like you don’t want a pizza route do you? Because I’m paying 10 bucks a month dental insurance for you and I actually got your healthcare covered too but you’re deductible’s like $500 like every time you want to go to the doctor. If there was better healthcare in America, I feel like people would work less dumb jobs and maybe pursue things that they want to do. ‘Cause we’re taking a risk by doing this. I worked at a law firm for eight years so that’s where a lot of this comes from. I was doing that while I was working on the band. After you do a s*** ton of bad jobs, you just realize you don’t want to do something you don’t like anymore. Take your life back man.

FR: If global warming melted the ice caps covering 90 percent of the known world with water, what city would you hope was spared so you could live there?

CJ: Cartagena, Columbia. It reminds me of New Orleans, it looks just like New Orleans, but instead of iron banisters, they have wood banisters. And it’s other worldly because it’s Columbia. It’s completely exotic but it reminds me of home.

FR: If you could change one law — make something that is illegal legal, or something legal illegal — what would it be?

CJ: Marijuana, for sure. I would end the drug war, basically. I would do it across the board, but with regulations. I would change things from being criminal to be something that would treat it. I’d make it more of a health concern. You should put that in there, “I don’t want people doing crack for free! I think everyone should have to go out and pay for their crack.”

FR: If you weren’t playing music and had the talent and circumstances to do anything else, what would it be?

CJ: I’d like to be a father that travels the world and teaches his kids through the eyes of traveling. I’ve met a bunch of families from all over the world that school their kids on a sailboat and they went to different islands and countries. They’d go to South America or f***ing take them to Caracas and crazy places that people are scared to go. But, it makes those people not scared of life when they grow up, you know? It makes for well-rounded individuals. I think being a father would be the coolest thing ever, and I think you can do that playing music so I still plan on doing that at some point. But, if I didn’t have music right now, I would either live on a sailboat – half the time in the woods and half the time on the sailboat – and raise my kids.

FR: What’s on your playlist right now?

CJ: I’ve been listening to a lot of Birds & Batteries. They’re a band from San Francisco and they have a new record out called Stray Light.