Hobo Johnson interview: from sleeping in a car to a rock opera about cockroaches

The cockroaches will inherit the Earth

“I made my first album while I was sleeping in a car,” recalls viral rap-rock sensation Hobo Johnson of his early days and the origins of his name. “It was a ’94 Corolla. I’m like six foot two, so I’d have to sleep like sideways and crunched up.”

Watch our full video interview with Hobo Johnson above

Does he have any tips on how to sleep in a car successfully?

“The best thing you can do is get a hatchback, so then you can get the seats down. You can put a nice little small mattress of foam down there. It’s pretty hard to do in a sedan.”

From sleeping in a battered old car to sleeping on a bus with 12 of his friends as he tours the world, we meet Hobo Johnson backstage at Reading Festival 2019, ahead of his coveted slot headlining the Festival Republic Stage.

Despite his talent, Johnson’s career appeared to be running to somewhat of a standstill when he released ‘Hobo Johnson’s 94 Corolla’ in 2015 and then 2016’s ‘The Rise of Hobo Johnson’. Then, everything changed. He landed himself a world-renowned Tiny Desk Session and went viral overnight. The people had spoken.

“Dude, so we were a band in Sacramento and no one liked us at all,” Johnson recalls. “When I released my last album, no one cared really at all. We entered this contest for NPR, which I really love, then out of nowhere we started getting an insane amount of views and our whole band took off. We immediately announced a tour. It was quite mind-blowing.”

Now he’s back, with follow-up ‘The Fall Of Hobo Johnson arriving on September 13. So far, we’ve had the drastically different tasters of the record with ‘Typical Story‘ and ‘UglyKid‘. Are they representative of what we can expect from the new record?

“They’re not at all,” replies Johnson. “On the new album, I really wanted to be sure that every song sounded different from each other. ‘Typical Story’ and ‘Ugly Kid’ are more or less opposite ends of the spectrum. Every song is different from the others.

“I try not to follow one genre, especially on the last album. I definitely had a certain sound but this time I tried to make it so there was no way that you could nail it down. That’s tough to say. ‘Typical Story’ is like a rock song, ‘Ugly Kid’ is like some weird jazz, hip-hop song. I would just say that it’s ‘alternative-hip-hop-rock-folk’.”

Weird sounds aside, Johnson has declared that he wants the new album to “make everyone feel less alone and a little more that they wanted to stay alive“.

“It’s a bi-product of what I do,” he admits. “At the end of the day, I make music to make myself feel better. That gets me out of whatever spot I’m in, but I notice that people resonate with what I’m saying somehow. So it’s important to me that I continue to be honest, but I don’t aim to do that. Maybe I should, but it’s pretty hard.”

It’s a message of solidarity that needs to be delivered. In these fractured times, Johnson is keen for his fans to know that they’re never alone.

“In our culture, at least in American culture, when you’re sad you don’t want to say those things because you’re looked at like you’re weird, sensitive, or almost ‘weak’ in a sense,” he says of his stance on mental health. “To me, it’s just how I feel and expressing that makes me feel better. Other people express that through listening to it. I think that’s the reason.”

Does he feel as if culture is changing?

“I don’t know. I would like to think that and I hope so, but at least with everything going on in America right now and the political climate, it’s tough to say that anything is going well or progressing, but I hope so. I hope that a lot of artists continue to be honest and express how they feel.”

Touring and celebrating his new record aside, Johnson tells us that the rest of 2019 will be spent cleaning his “new, dirty ass house” and thinking about his first ever musical, with hope for it arriving in 2020.

“I have a song on the album called ‘You And The Cockroach’, which is about the world becoming how it is: there’s amoeba turning into fish, then fish losing their scales and getting onto land, then turning into human beings, then starting religion, starting government, to now with Trump and wanting to blow up the world and him ruining fucking everything,” he begins, very excited. “Nuclear war happens, then after that there’s little teeny cockroaches that are still left alive, then they get bigger, lose their shells, start standing upright and start creating religion and government.”

“It’s like, the world so far in a parody way, then the coackroaches starting their own civilisation and history repeating itself – maybe.”

So it will be a full-on rock opera?

“It’s going to be like a rock opera, but I can’t make that very well – so it’s going to be more like a weird, hip-hop, folk opera where I’ll sing. I’ll be in the crowd narrating it from the point of God and I might shoot a film version of it too. It will be edging the lines between science and God and blurring the lines so you can’t really tell the difference.”

Heavy stuff. Watch our full interview with Hobo Johnson from Reading 2019 at the top of the page.