Interview: Peter Johnston RVA

Aug 28 2020

Catholic Indie Rock artist Peter Johnston RVA, from Richmond, Virginia, releases a new EP, called 'The City of God' on St. Augustine's feast day, August 28, 2020. Louder Than The Music spoke to Peter about this three song EP and where the inspiration came from, plus his musical journey and hopes for the future.

For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?

Well, I didn’t really get into music until I was 17 when I taught myself how to play the bass, which was a travesty since my mother was a music teacher. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the patience to learn an instrument as a kid, but I slowly started playing guitar and writing songs through college right around the same time that I started to more passionately embrace my Catholic Christian faith. I was born and raised as a Catholic and always knew what I believed, but in my college years, I really started to focus on learning why I believe what I believe as a Christian and the history behind the beliefs and traditions. So I started to dig deeper into the early Church, the Old and New Testaments along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The more I read, the more I appreciated the inherent beauty in the way that Christianity cares for the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. I also gained a greater appreciation for the pragmatism associated with Christian thought that makes you realize that clean living really is its own reward and the only way to experience true freedom. All of this was occurring at the same time that I was writing music more and more, so themes of spirituality began to show up more frequently in the music over time. I’ve played in several fun indie rock bands with lots of great people, but Peter Johnston RVA is the first project where I’ve set out to specifically focus on matters of human dignity and common good in society in the context of Catholic Christian imagery. It’s something I’ve wanted to do forever, so I’m really excited about it.

Tell us about your new EP 'The City of God' and what the inspiration behind it was?

The primary goal for Peter Johnston RVA songs is to faithfully draw inspiration from Catholic Christian theology and tradition. In that spirit, The City of God EP largely draws inspiration from an older Byzantine requiem prayer, reconciliation, and St. Augustine's text titled The City of God. The EP is being released on the feast day of St. Augustine, who I have a great deal of admiration for; he is such an interesting figure and his transformation from ardent sinner to ardent Christian is one we can all learn from. This latest EP tries to focus on the key takeaways from his life that include the importance of a sincere relationship with God, the importance and necessity of the Church, and the theme of Christian life as a journey of faith and mission.

I also put out a seven song EP called 'Be Not Afraid' earlier this year. That phrase is the most frequently repeated language in the Gospel, and in my estimation seems to be one of Christ's most important messages, so that record focused heavily on that theme. My next record, which I’m hoping to put out before the end of 2020 will focus on Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel, so I’m pretty excited about that too.

Which is your favorite track on the EP and why?

My favorite track on the EP is the title track, The City of God. The lyrics are excerpts from St. Augustine's writings and it talks metaphorically about building a heavenly city in this world that is true to Christ versus building an 'earthly city' that focuses on the love of self, which ultimately leads to isolation and unhappiness. I really like the divergent city imagery though, which comes straight from St. Augustine’s writing.

What message would you like people to take from your music?

I think the underlying message of both the City of God EP and the Be Not Afraid EP is to highlight the fleeting nature of life in this world and the importance of living in a way that prepares us properly for the eternal life.

How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?

While I wish I had some fancy description to put on it, at the end of the day, it's indie rock that is influenced by early 50s rock n roll, early country, 50s R&B, 80s/90s punk rock, and 90s slacker indie rock. An ultimate playlist for me would have to include Roy Orbison, Fats Domino, Sufjan Stevens, Damien Jurado, Patsy Cline, Sam Cook, The Kinks, Little Richard, Wire, Pavement, and The Pixies.

If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?

I’ve recently become a big fan of Luxury and Lee Bozeman’s solo work, so if I could work with any songwriter right now, I would have to say Lee Bozeman or all of the guys in Luxury, since they all seem pretty brilliant when it comes to song arrangement and production ideas.

How would you define success in your career as an artist?

Success for me will simply be to put out as many records as I can as long as the songs have something meaningful to say, and as long as I’ve got someone who will play drums!

What is your favorite album of all time?

It's a very cliched response for anyone who's really into indie rock, and I am one of those people, but I'd be lying if I said anything other than On An Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. It's easily the most creative and naturally melodic album I've ever heard, and no matter how many times I hear it, it always feels like the first time. That's the true test of a timeless record for me.

You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?

I love questions like this even though they make me crazy with music nerd anxiety! I guess if I'm stuck on an island, I would probably want the last song played to provide some happiness but mostly solace and hope. So I think I would have to go with 'Strangers' by the Kinks off of the Lola Versus Powerman record from 1970. It's a little bit of an odd pick for me now that I think about it. I'm a big Kinks fan but I mostly only enjoy their records from the 60s. Also, I mostly like Ray Davies' songs, but ‘Strangers’ was actually written by his brother, Dave. That song really captures a moment though. I believe it was written about a friend that had died at a young age of a drug overdose, but the music strikes such a forgiving and hopeful tone. The main lyric, "Strangers on this road we are on, but we are not two, we are one" always gets me.

What does the next year hold for you?

In the next year, my hope is to release three records; I’m not sure how long each one will be, and right now, I only have a theme for one, but my goal is to hopefully release music every four months or so. The Catholic Christian traditions and historical texts, particularly from the early Church, are an unfathomable well of inspiration for music, so I’m really excited about the possibilities for future song topics.

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