A few hours before the show, RockUrLife’s team had the chance to chat with Hundredth’s singer Chadwick Johnson. Sat down on the Petit Bain’s rooftop, we met up with the musician, who appeared to be an extremely welcoming and open human being, for a nice talk with no taboos.
First, how are you?
Chadwick Johnson (vocals): I’m good! I just went to the Eiffel Tower.
We were sure about it.
C: Yeah. We were on the train when you called me.
You didn’t even lose your way?
C: Not even. We kind of jumped on the train, went there then went back. It was easy!
Cool then! You have a new album coming up in June, it is called “Free”. Why did you choose this title?
C: I think the lyrics personally have to do with me getting free from some things that were holding me back in my life. Situations with people, grudges that I couldn’t let go on. And it just coincides with the overall static of our band, being as free as you possibly can in your mind, and at all times. It just felt right to call it “Free”, to keep it simple. It’s not like a super concept, but every song has to deal with freedom.
I think music always includes a reflection of who as pergson an artist is and I guess that’s why many musicians say that an album is like a post-card from a given time in their lives. With the name of the record in mind, I guess you might be more grown up now?
C: Yes. Especially since our first and second record. Every time I listen to these albums I feel ashamed, because it kind of sucks. I guess everyone does that. But I definitely think “Free” is more like an accurate snapshot of my life over the past couple of years, this one more than the previous ones.
And do you only write about your personal experiences or also about things that happen to the people surrounding you?
C: No, not really. I just write whatever comes to my head. Sometimes it’s about me, sometimes it’s about other people, or just about my general outlook on the way people treat each other or the way the world is. I guess this album is a lot more personal than any other one we’ve put out, but it’s also a little more vague as well. It’s not a lot in the details. There’s metaphors for situations, for example.
There’s a line in “Demons” that says “The strongest are seared with scars”. Often, being strong is translated by leaving your feelings and emotions behind, so you could face almost everything. Is this the real definition of strength to you?
C: I think at one point I would have said that this is the definition of strength. Now the way I see it is that it has to be a perfect balance knowing when to be sensitive and when to not be sensitive. For me, I am fairly insensitive at times, because all I can see is the future. It’s like saying “I don’t care about how I feel right now, I just want to get here.”. When I wrote that line, it was actually from a quote that this author called Khalil Gilbran said. It was a reference to that, but I’ve basically wrote it because no one proves to be strong without being tested by the universe, physical things or emotions. That’s what the line means to me. Someone is strong because they’ve been tested, hurt and learned how to move past it.
In the same song, you sing “Some may say I’ve lost my faith / I just got up off my knees / Stopped staring into the sky / And started looking inside of me.” Do you think too many people hide themselves behind God?
C: Absolutely. That’s exactly what the line is about. When I wrote that part, it was about anyone but me. I used to cast everything, all of my struggles in this invisible ditty that I didn’t know it really existed but I was trying to convince myself this God existed. And so then I decided to go public with me not doing that anymore. People were like “You’re weak now because you don’t believe in God anymore.”, but it was really the opposite. I don’t have a crutch anymore. Often time a lot of people do, and maybe that’s what they need to get by. I don’t hate on it at all, different people need different things. But for me, it felt like I was faking it, like I was living a false life. Where I’m from geographically, there’s a very popular belief. I feel like I was naïve, and now I’m just more free. If it is just me and the universe with no God, I’m totally cool with that because all I need is this life and not an afterlife. I agree with you that people do cast all these false hopes into the air instead of dealing with it.
What made you realize you didn’t need any God in your life?
C: I think people just get lost in it. You see a bunch of different sides of it. Honestly, I would say that travelling really helped me. Just seeing the way that other people do, how they live their life, how close minded Christianity can be. I don’t hate on it but I’m just saying for me, I didn’t feel like I was open minded. You’re become a slave to that doctrine and what’s in this old book. I just felt like I was pretending, doubting that there was an invisible dude in the sky. I’m not saying that man is not at that place you can go to where you abandon yourself, because I believe in spiritual things, but as far as dumbing it down to a set of rules, I don’t think I can do that anymore. I needed to back away from this.
Religion can be a good thing if it pushes you to be a better person every day, with every human being that crosses your path. But when it comes to letting the Bible dictate what you should do and should not do, it believe it becomes a little too dangerous and unhealthy. We don’t know if you’ve heard of what happened in Paris in January with “Charlie Hebdo”, but that’s a good example of what religion can do.
C: Yes, I’ve heard of it, and I agree with what you say. There’s a lot of hatred in those old texts I don’t think is relevant to who we are today as people. I agree with you 100% on that.
As we were talking about lyrics, you seem to be motivated by anger. But we often tend to mistaken anger for negativity. Zack De La Rocha said that “Anger is a gift”, whereas Buddha apparently said once “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”. To you, is anger a gift or a burden?
C: I think it depends on the circumstances, on what you’re angry at. Some people that are very spiritual can zoom out of a situation and realize their passiveness is a gift to themselves. For example, I’m on the street and two guys are being violent toward someone inferior to them physically, my anger is going to make me react and I’m going to try to fix this situation. So I think in that case, my anger would be a gift because if I didn’t feel pissed off about what was happening, I would not be pushed to do something about it. In that case, it’s a defense. But I do see the other side of it as well. I would not have to be violent toward them… I’d say for me personally, if it’s defending the helpless and the weak, then I would sat with my anger all day because it would make me stand up for them. I actually use “My anger is a gift” on our new record, it’s funny!
You were recently on tour with Enter Shikari, which is a good excuse for me to introduce this next question with something that Rou Reynolds said in a speech he gave about music and its social value. He said : “Music is an instrument of unity”. Do you make music to share a connection with people before anything else, or are you in a more personal and introspective perspective? Or both?
C: Honestly, I was going to say both. When you first write a song, it’s a reflection of you, your art and what you want to create. You can do in a fashion that only pleases you, but we, our band, do it in a fashion that other people can connect to, so at that point, it becomes unity because that person can relate to what you’ve done. You can connect to that person because you both personally relate to something. I think it starts with yourself and obviously it is great for us when we see people can connect to the songs live. That’s what fuels me to care about the music even more. On shows when no one is there or when the crowd doesn’t really know us, then it becomes a personal outlet, like saying “Okay, this song means a lot to me.”. But when it’s packed, it’s all about the connection. So I agree with him. I think it’s about unity, sharing a connection is the goal. By the way, they were very cool as a band. We had never toured with them before. I had never listened to them!
C: I swear, until we toured with them. I watched them on stage and thought “This is fucking crazy!”. They were super nice as well, we really enjoyed it.
Being a touring musician there is a big price to pay, especially in terms of family life. Anita Pallenberg once said : “It’s such a lonely existence, living with a rock n’ roller. No matter how much he loves you, he will always love his music more.”. What drives you to keep doing what you do? Do you think being a musician means being selfish somehow?
C: Yes. At times you do. This will probably be a better question for my wife, but for her, she understands what I do as a career, a job. When I’m doing band stuff, it’s band stuff. Not necessarily tour because I can speak to her throughout the day, play a show then FaceTime her. But when we’re writing a record, she knows how it works. It is selfish to be like “Yo, I need absolute solitude to write a song, unless it’s gonna be shitty.”, but she understands it because she is a pastry chef and I don’t bother her when she’s creating a new dish. I think it comes down to respect what the other person does. Obviously I can’t talk to her 24 hours a day but I don’t think she wants that. It’s also great to do what you have to do, then reunite with your partner then tell her what you’ve done all this time. So yes, it is being selfish somehow. I would love to hear what she’d have to say about it.
Ask her on FaceTime!
C: (laughs) Yeah, I will. Like “Hey, do you think I’m selfish for going on tour?”. She’ll be like “Erm… yeah…”. I’d be like “Alright, cool!”.
Let’s talk about ego now. We have an ego, you have an ego, everybody has it, but I think in terms of sharing a creativity, making music together, there must a time when those egos clash. Somebody might have an idea, which is not really accepted by others. From your experience, how much ego is present in the process of shared creation?
C: I would say a lot. There’s a lot of ego when you’re writing music, you have to make an opinion about everything. But as far as ego lies, if you’re collaborating with other people and you’re ready to listen to what they have to say, try their ideas and compromise, then it’s okay. There’s ego involved but it’s manageable, as long as you know how to compromise, to think rationally without letting emotions get involved. That’s how we try to write. We try everyone’s idea than decide what’s best.
You have a humanitarian project called “Hope Into Humanity”, but the last post on Facebook was two years ago. How has it been going? Is the project over?
C: I guess everyone thought it was an ongoing thing, that it was going to be forever. We just did it for our second record. We wanted to do something, so we did the “Water Project”. We ended up sponsoring two villages in India with clean water forever. That was what we wanted to do out of our record called “Let Go”, because there’s a lot of social issues on that record. And then we got into more political issues, so we came out with “Revolve”. And then out of that birthed “Resist”, which was more about the self and the ego. It has basically just been us trying to figure it out. It’s not that I don’t want to do anything humanitarian anymore, but I guess I just should have said that it was only a one time project. We wanted “Hope Into Humanity” to be legit so we created a non-profit organization, that way there was no weird taxes situation going on, and made a profile for it. We might do more in the future though.
What is your opinion about the idolization of the artist and this sort of boundary that separates an artist from its fans because of the feeling of superiority that it involves?
C: I don’t think any artist should be idolized. Art is amazing, but idolizing another person to the point of worshiping them is healthy for anyone. I appreciate and respect an artist’s privacy. Every human deserves privacy. I know a lot of dudes in bands that act like they’re Gods, but they’re just regular guys that are fucking lame at the end of the day. They’re no more special than anyone else. So I think when an artist acts like that, it’s ridiculous but I do think if they give a certain amount of time to connect that’s cool, but if they’re just about being God like, it’s bullshit and that kind of shit should end, especially in what we do. Obviously what I am going to say is going to reflect the way Kanye West acts or any of those people, but I don’t think he is the greatest artist in the world. He thinks he is, which is the problem. The humility of an artist is extremely important. Anyone who acts like they’re above another human just because of what they create is a bigget, and they can fuck off. Forever.
That’s a good conclusion.
C: Yeah. (laughs)
It’s time for the last question now. A nice and simple one. Our website is called “RockUrLife”. What rocks your life?
C: What rocks my life? (pauses for a long time)
It’s supposed to be the easiest question.
C: I guess my wife rocks my life. Yeah.
That works. We’re done. Thank you for your time.
C: Thank you! See you at the show.