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Artist Spotlight: Arrested Youth keeps it on the Brightside with new single; talks connecting with like-minded supporters in the Quarantine Sessions

“We released “Brightside” at a strange time.”

Arrested Youth’s Ian Johnson took a break from re-configuring his studio setup to chat with Atlas last week. With the release of their newest song, the band captured the current state of the world….without even knowing how timely the track would be. Now, Johnson hosts weekly Quarantine Sessions on YouTube and Instagram, writing songs alongside supporters who tune in to help with music and lyrics. We chatted about these sessions, staying creative in quarantine and how to keep things on the Brightside. 

It’s crazy how some recently-released music has been so timely without anyone knowing it would be.

It’s a little weird, right? It is, it’s a little strange. Especially “Brightside”. Some of the lyrics are just a little….”when all these people are falling around me, I wonder if I could be next”. That’s just a little strange.

You hit that one on the nose without knowing it. 

I know. I didn’t have insight. I’m not like the senator from….wherever he’s from. I’m not him.

You may have had a psychic moment in the studio.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s what it is. If so, I’m going to keep that secret. Maybe that’s the title of the article- Psychic Artist Musician Predicts Future. I wouldn’t call it clickbait but I’d call it pretty damn close. Psychic artist predicted the future of coronavirus 2020. 

How has Arrested Youth evolved from where you started to where you are now?

That’s a great question. It’s evolved in kind of every way that any music project would. The sound has changed a bit, we’ve played more shows- the simple stuff, obviously. I think overall, I’d say the biggest shift in Arrested Youth has just been the overall message of the music. It’s come from ‘here’s how bad society is’ to ‘yeah I’m still not saying it’s not great but I’m not just gonna dwell on the negatives all day’. I think that’s the biggest thing for Arrested Youth. I’ve taken things in a bit more playful direction simply because I want to be more upbeat and positive as a human being and I want that to reflect in the music. So I think that’s brought us to where we’re at now.

What song resonates with you the most and what song do you see the fans really connecting with?

I think “Brightside” is doing very, very well- not just because of the weird time it was released, but it seems like it’s the answer to what everybody’s dealing with these days. Now we’re in this really weird time, it’s a time where I think there’s a lot of gray area. Do you totally isolate yourself? Do you still see people that matter to you? People are just dealing with a lot of questions and they’re not exactly fun questions and they can be a little daunting and they can make you sad or anxious or depressed. Really I think the only answer to all that is you do your best and you hope for the best and that’s the idea of “Brightside”.  It’s just that- it’s to keep it on the brightside, even when it seems like it’s not the brightest of times. What is your choice? The way you think about things is all that you really have on a certain level right now, so you can either find a way to be positive about it and hope for the best or you can dwell on it.

What overall message are you hoping to communicate to your fans through your music?

I think I’m just trying to, at the end of the day, provoke some type of thought. I don’t feel like I need to tell them something specifically, and I definitely don’t want to come across as an artist who’s telling someone what to do. But I do want to use the platform I’ve continued to develop as an artist to just get us to maybe think about things that we don’t normally think about too often. I think that’s the biggest thing for me- it’s not telling people what to think, it’s just pushing people to think about things and maybe think about them in ways they haven’t thought about them before. That’s something I’m constantly trying to do myself and that’s where I’ve pushed the music.

When I go in to write, I’m almost trying to challenge myself a little bit as a human. A lot of times when I’m writing music- these days especially- I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate. I’m not just going into the studio and saying ‘here’s what I think, here’s what I feel and I’m gonna write this in a song’. I’m more saying ‘here’s how you’ve been thinking and feeling this past week, let’s reflect on it now in the studio’. Is that really the way to think about it or is there possibly another way to think about it? That’s where I push the music these days and that’s where I’ve taken it- just provoking thoughts that you wouldn’t normally have. There’s an influential side to it for sure. 

You’ve become part of an artistic movement of young people basing their music on intellect, reflection, etc. How did you reach this point in your own life? It’s definitely difficult to do when you’re young.

Yeah, it is. And that’s something that I’ve had to accept, too. It can be difficult to see what is massively popular and what kind of thought that’s pushing. To me, the movement of being more conscious of what you’re talking about and being a little more intellectually stimulating with the lyrics and the message, it just keeps me in music. If I was just making music and just making funny or just hyped-up lyrics just to be an artist and get people’s attention, there just isn’t much in that for me.  

I’d like to say one thing….that actually gives credit to young fans. When I first started this, that was the question- are kids even going to care about this? It seems like kids only want music that’s telling them to space out and not give a fuck about anything. I’d like to give credit to how many incredible kids that I’ve interacted with and met through Arrested Youth who very clearly show that, while the world thinks every young kid is brainless and doesn’t give a fuck and is just in their emotions, there’s some very intelligent kids out there still who are not buying into that and who think like you or I do or who want to be a part of something more thought-provoking. They’re out there. 

It inspires me with this kind of movement because, through following through with it and continuing to do what I’ve been doing, I’m starting to see that maybe the mass scale may be a certain way like that- maybe they want something a little less….call it brainy or thought-provoking- but, at the same time, there are many, many kids who haven’t bought into that and who still want to think and push the envelope and be a part of stimulating intellectual conversations. I think that’s what it is for me. That’s the inspiring part. 

I almost want to answer that question and be like ‘don’t make me sound cynical there’. I don’t feel that cynical anymore about it. There’s some really cool things going on with the Youth and I think that these writing sessions that we’re doing is a great example of it. Some of these supporters have amazing lyrics they’re throwing out, really good stuff- really cheeky, funny, cool, introspective stuff that I don’t even know if I could come up with writing in the studio. Stuff like that is really inspiring to see.

If the music’s out there and the thought is out there, people will find it. And that’s what’s happening now.

Yeah- build it and they will come. And that’s what I’d put my PR statement on this topic is kids are out there and if anyone’s out there who feels like ‘kids my age….no one wants to think and really get into a deeper mode of thought through music’, come check out the Arrested Youth community because that’s what a lot of kids are doing in this. There’s other artists that have also done a really good job in developing that, really cool. 

What’s the experience of the Quarantine Sessions and the Youth Discussions been like so far? 

The experience has been amazing. It just came up as an idea. We have a song about it [quarantine], it’s called “Corone”. We have these words buzzing around- social distancing, quarantine, isolation, stay away from people- and it’s just ironic to me, in kind of a fucked up way, because I feel like we’ve been doing that as a society for awhile now. We’ve been shutting off from each other for a bit of time now. And now we’re being demanded to shut off from each other and we’re being demanded to be in our rooms more. That was already a trend and now there almost has to be a reason for it because it was going that way and now we’re being told to go that way. My idea of doing this was like ‘I know it’s going to be stronger now with the social isolation and sitting in your room on your phone, watching movies, just always doing something probably technology-based’. I don’t wanna do that- I want to get back in the studio and write music and I’m sure there’s some of the kids who are stuck at home….and they probably want a creative outlet too. 

So that was my idea. If I’m going to write all this music, I’d rather not just do what I normally do and write it all alone in my studio. Why don’t we bring all the supporters of this project who are stuck at home as well? It’s just been a really awesome outlet for everyone. It’s funny- I think these kids look forward to the sessions so much but I look forward to them just as much. It’s really fun and some great music is coming out of it. I would be excited just for the hell of doing it, but it’s even more exciting because the songs are actually really, really good and I’m coming up with all these ideas of how we could put it out into the world.

You’ve been working with John Feldmann on new music as well. How did that partnership come about and what’s it been like to work with him?

That came about through my publisher, [who] actually set us up, ironically enough, just to grab some coffee. Classic right? We just really got along and our energies matched up. I think he saw something in me which means quite a lot, because he’s obviously an incredibly talented, amazing dude. He’s pretty profound, I like to say, in the rock space, in the new wave of rock. It’s been amazing working with him and I have learned quite a lot- some things I can’t even express in words. The confidence and the energy and the way I approach melodies, and I’ve just kind of taken his energy and his approach to how he’s inspired to write a melody or write a song. I’ve really observed that and taken it to what I do and it’s definitely been incredibly….career-changing for how I approach songwriting.  

I’m really very grateful to work with him. A lot of fun, a lot of coffee. 

What’s coming up for Arrested Youth for the rest of this year?

More music, absolutely. Obviously we have a Sobville Episode II coming and obviously we’re figuring out the best way to do that amidst the incredible, incredible moment we’re experiencing right now, just in history actually. We’re trying to figure out how to be mindful of that and be conscious of that but continue to do what we’re supposed to be doing with Arrested Youth. As artists, it’s obviously a weird time because you’re wondering, am I just capitalizing off of people’s boredom at home and anxieties? And then you have to realize, not really, this is one of the best times for music. This is where you can actually do your job as an artist. So I’m definitely planning on putting out music no matter where the world goes in the coming months. 

As soon as we have more information about posting more updates on tour-related issues, we’re gonna put that out. So what you can expect is you’re going to see “Brightside” popping up in some cool new places and then absolutely you’re going to see another single coming very soon. And then you’re going to be looking at a potential album release by a band called Arrested Youth and the Quarantiners. We’re working on some really cool things with that and I think what’s going to end up happening is when we do put it out, it’s going to serve as a way to help people who are really struggling with what’s going on right now in the world- especially people who may have lost jobs that may have been the only reason they were able to pay rent and eat food. So that’s really cool and then we’ll just have to see where it goes! Hopefully, in a very short time, the whole entity of Sobville II comes out.

I know that was a lot but essentially, a new single and soon enough a second EP and somewhere in the middle of that a collaboration project between myself and the supporters of Arrested Youth. And I’m hoping to get some other artists involved in that, too. I think once people see how cool the music is and what’s going on with it, I’m hoping some friends and some artists and some collaborators are gonna want to hop on and maybe help out a little bit with the project.

The project reminds me of grandson’s XXWhy and the XX Resistance.

Hell yeah. Jordan’s awesome. Honestly he’s- I don’t have a ton of artist friends [but] Jordan’s one of them. He’s a great guy; he inspires me a lot. We always keep in touch. He actually just dropped in yesterday on the Youth writing sessions to say what’s up and a lot of the kids in the chat were happy to see that.  

What advice would you give your supporters in these strange times we’re living in?

I would say I think we all have a duty right now to at least make sure that we’re staying healthy and ensuring that other people stay healthy. So that’s number one. The other part of it is just do your best to not buy into the fear of it. I think when you buy into the fear of something is when it becomes really dangerous and when it consumes you and when it can start being counterproductive. I think it goes back to the message of my first album which is just it’s always good to be conscious of things and to take precautions and to be in tune with what’s going on, but it doesn’t mean you have to emotionally buy into the fear of it.

I think that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to play my part, trying to quarantine, all those things but I’m refusing to buy into the fear of it. For example, I’ve been singing for the past four days and my throat is really sore today and I’m kind of losing my voice. And I can easily buy into the fear of- am I getting sick? Do I have this now? Anyone could have it- “all these people falling around me, I could be next”. And I’m starting to get a little heady today, a little bit like ‘throat’s pretty sore, losing my voice, what’s going on’. But I’m really refusing to buy into the fear and buy into the panic and buy into the stress.

So that would be my advice- just stay up and stay positive. This is a great time in the world to connect with your creative self- do something that’s creative. That’s the whole reason why these Youth Sessions were started. This is a chance for people who were maybe wanting to be creative and do something outside of their daily routine tasks….those things are all canceled. If you ever had a chance to connect with that, it’s now. Don’t pass it up, you’re never going to get a better chance. If you have a creative ambition and you want to do something with it, there’s never been a better time in history than now to do it. I’d say that’s my end-all statement- go do something creative because it’s the perfect time.

Well it’s incredible what you’re doing with the Quarantine Sessions and the Youth Discussions.

Thank you. It’s incredible that people want to do it, that’s the coolest part.

Like we were talking about, people are always reaching for something to connect to and that’s what you’ve been doing.

I am having just as much fun as every kid in there is having and I think that’s the coolest part. It’s very organic and fun and overall a really fun and inspiring thing to be doing- and the music is great. The kids don’t know, but in these sessions [and] during my free time, I’m working on all the production in these songs, I’m trying to arrange them. This has been a really fun project for me too.   

Sometimes in music, there are things you have to do that you don’t want to do and they’re forced. And that’s life and that shit sucks but when you don’t have to do that and it just comes and it is what it is, that’s the best.

Is there anything else you want people to know about or something you wish you got to speak about more that you may not get asked?

I don’t know, that’s a hard one. Does everyone have a good answer to that question? 

My answer would be I’m such a loudmouth and I’m always posting what I think. I can never shut up. I would say I wish there was something I could tell people but I talk so much that it’s never gonna happen. I’m an open book- there’s pretty much nothing that’s off the table for me. Maybe I’ll repose that as a challenge to anyone reading this- come up with something that you think I won’t answer and I’ll still try to answer it. Tell them if you can get a question that I say no to, you can have a free t-shirt. This is a deal right there. 

“Brightside” is out now. Catch Arrested Youth (hopefully) on tour later this spring with Palaye Royale.


Story and photos by Olivia Khiel