“He was an outsider and I related to that”: Beabadoobee on how cult hero Daniel Johnston inspired a new generation of songwriters

"I had two people I was completely obsessed with: Elliot Smith and Daniel Johnston"

Look at Beabadoobee’s catalogue, and you can see the influence of Daniel Johnston everywhere. From the intimate bedroom songwriting to the hand drawn artwork and slacker demeanour, the work of the cult artist is crucial to Bea’s work, from debut EP ‘Patched Up’ through to recent thumping tune ‘She Plays Bass’.

Johnston died yesterday following a heart attack, aged 58. Tributes from artists including Beck, Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes have already come, but there’s also a new wave of music makers directly influenced by him. Gen Z star Clairo and The 1975’s Matty Healy both shared their condolences for Johnston, but none have been shaped and influenced by him quite like rising star Beabadoobee, as she tells us below.

READ MORE: Daniel Johnston, 1961-2019 – The NME Obituary

“I was going to write Daniel Johnston a letter. I have a draft of it in my diary, but I never finished it. It was gonna say: ‘You’re such an inspiration; you’re amazing. Everything I do is because of you! I just wish I could meet you and maybe work with you one day.’

“I was in Wetherspoons last night when I found out he had died. I’m in a group chat with Matty Healy (I know he’s a big fan) and Jamie Oborne [boss of Dirty Hit, Beabadoobee and The 1975’s record label], and Matty just said, ‘Daniel Johnston is dead’. I went to the toilet and just broke down crying. I was like literally taking a wee and I broke down crying. It was so intense.

“I first came across Daniel Johnston when my boyfriend and I watched [2005 documentary] The Devil and Daniel Johnston. That film hit me so hard. It’s like: Fuck. It was made during his most successful moments but also his most vulnerable. I watched the film and I felt I could totally relate to him. He was just this kid who didn’t fit in and made things in his bedroom and didn’t expect anything. I saw the fact that he was just so strange and motivated with everything he did, and I wanted to be just like him. 

READ MORE: Daniel Johnston’s 13 best songs – wonderful tales of mortality, purity and… cartoon characters

“That was around the time I started my musical career. I had two people I was completely obsessed with: Elliot Smith and Daniel Johnston. Everything I did was based on them and everything I did was inspired by them – I got tattoos inspired by the both of them because they were my whole life. The Daniel Johnston tattoo is the bat from ‘Continued Story’; that was his first tag that he did in his school notebooks and on school walls and shit. 

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“I spent so long just constantly listening to him and I didn’t listen to any other artists, because you just get drawn to the guy. His lyrics are just so genuine and he’s so honest with what he says. Now, everything I write is inspired by what’s in my head. There’s nothing to hide and I just say it straight, just like him. Even down to the production, like all the broken keyboard sounds, and the simplicity of the music and the shitty recordings.

“He didn’t purposefully think about doing in a shitty way, or want to make it a trend, but he’s basically the start of the DIY ethic that everyone keeps searching for. He was the one who did it, because he just did it.”