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Artists in Their Own Words: Shaun Johnson

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Shaun Johnson (photo: courtesy of artist)

Who: Shaun Johnson

What: Sound engineer

Where: New Orleans East

Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: WRBH radio station: upstairs with Mac the cat

Q: What’s a sound you never tire of hearing?

A: I’m going to go lame and say rain. I guess that could get old eventually, but I’m going to stick with that. Because even when it rains hard, there’s something very settling about it.

Q: What’s a sound you have always hated?

And I hate the sound of sneezing. I really hate sneezing. Everyone has these really weird sneezes—sometimes they’re way too loud, but I also don’t like soft sneezes, and every sneeze is too sudden. I jump every time. But you can’t tell someone to stop. I even hate my own sneezing.

Q: If you could have a collection of anything, what would it be?

A: Michael Jackson memorabilia. I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan. I have almost all of his music, but I don’t have any posters or the glove. That glove would make me happy. Either that or a jacket or one of the hats that he’s actually worn. It’d be even better if he wore the hat, threw it at a concert, and I caught it. That would make it the number one Michael Jackson item for me.

When I was a kid he was everything. I could name every Michael Jackson song and list them out. There’s this movie, American Dream, which is about his life growing up, and if it came on, everything else would stop. I would watch the movie for the 67th time. It didn’t matter.

I find him so interesting because he gets lost in what he does, and I really like eccentric artists. Everyone knows Michael Jackson no matter what. Even if you don’t like him, you still know one of his songs. That fact that he can have that kind of effect on everyone says something. And he was always positive. No matter how mean people were to him, he was always positive.

He’s influenced all of my art because all of his music has variation and moves. Even if he repeats something, he changes a little bit about it every time. Whenever I’m doing something I keep that in mind. I think, ‘We can’t let this get boring.’ If you change something—just a bit—it gives you the feeling that it’s moving.

Q: Tell me a story that taught you a lesson

A: This just happened a couple of weeks ago. I interviewed a guy from France who was having a gallery opening in Baton Rouge. He was incredibly open-minded. The moment you asked him to do anything he’d immediately respond with a yes.

So, this other guy I work with at WRBH asked me if I wanted to interview this French guy. My first response was, ‘No. I don’t want to ruin this guy’s one day in town by being interviewed by me’. It just so happens, though, that the French guy came into the station to have lunch, and the topic came up. The guy looked at me and said, ‘Yes. I would love to be interviewed.’

It was so pessimistic of me to think that this guy would be bothered by being interviewed. And as I was interviewing him I learned that this was his whole motto on life—say yes to things. Be open-minded. Be engaged in the moment. There was nothing better for him than to say yes to that kind of opportunity.

That interview was completely on the spot, so I couldn’t over prepare or over think it, and it went so great. So I don’t want to be afraid to ask people things. To engage with them.

Q: If you could remix a famous speech, which speech would you remix and how?

A: I would remix Stuart Scott’s speech. He an amazing black sportscaster, and he gave this speech when he was diagnosed with cancer about how to live every day to the fullest. That speech was amazing to me. It was so genuine. He talked about how he lived for his family and about how he woke up excited to go to work every day.

If I could somehow make that speech even more universal, I’d like to do that. If you put something like that in a song then it might reach even more people. He’s really inspirational, and I like the bigger picture that he gives. I can’t often remember facts—I’m terrible at trivia—but I remember meaning or big pictures. He is one I always want to remember.

Shaun Johnson is a sound engineer at WRBH. His show, Audio Portraits, can be heard Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. on WRBH 88.3 FM, and you can hear interviews from Audio Portraits on his Sound Cloud page.