Man, this song grooves.
That’s what I thought the first time I heard “Gold”, by Patric Johnston. 84 listens later, and I’m still feeling it.
One of my favorite questions to ask artists is: what makes a song good? People offer a lot of answers, but almost all of them are centered around this vague emotive reaction we all assume everyone experiences. It’s not tactics or technicality that make something good. It’s this general feeling at a level below consciousness – this sense that the song catches you.
Like, “I guess a song is good if it makes you feel a certain way. You know what I mean?”
Yeah, I do know what you mean. And that’s kind of how “Gold” makes me feel.
Stylistically, the song’s smooth and shimmering (promise I’ll try to steer clear of the gold metaphors from here on out), with an easy sense of time. The electric jazz keys kind of saunter along with the open hi-hats and snare, and there’s plenty of breathing room for soul in the vocals – hints of James Vincent McMorrow, but a little bit more straightforward.
Lyrically, it feels honest. Patric’s based in Houston and originally from Lubbock, Texas, both of which are places filled to the brim with churches, and a lot of his ideas here come from wrestling to find the right place in that crowd. There aren’t easy answers, but he’s pulling for friendship and kindness to win out, which is probably a good place to start.
And that hook gets me every time:
Who’s to say what a soul’s worth?
Can you measure it in gold?
I think the best and truest things in life can’t be measured in the confines of practical terms. Souls. Friendships. Maybe that indescribable feeling that a good song gives you.
And maybe it’s better that way – that there are beautiful things we can’t measure. Because if you don’t need to measure it, you can just sit back and let it groove, and let that be enough.
So, go do that. Then come back and jump into Patric’s story, and get the magic behind “Gold”.
How’d you get into music and songwriting?
Patric: Well, I’ve always loved music. I came out of the womb whistling, I think. And I’ve just always done it – playing toy drum sets, and all that kind of stuff. So I’ve loved music forever, and I started writing it at a pretty early age. Just poetry, and terrible, terrible songs.
But I started playing music growing up in the church. I played in the youth band – they needed a guitar player, so I got my hands on a guitar. And I was taking piano lessons at the time, too. So since then it’s just kind of evolved as an outlet – just a form of expression.
Did writing come pretty naturally to you?
Yeah, I think so. As my skills progressed in how to play music, my writing kind of caught up. And sometimes I’d write a song and it would challenge my musical side to catch up.
What kind of stuff were you writing at first?
A lot of Christian worship songs. But then, mostly just kind of angsty, teenage coffee shop acoustic stuff.
Were you in bands growing up?
I was typically solo. I always find that it’s easier for me to perform if I have a partner in crime, whether that’s another guitar player, or some type of percussion.
How did your current style come together?
A lot of it came from the producer that I got to work with in Austin. R&B and hip hop are some of my most-listened to genres, just on my own free time. And it’s kind of accessible now, those beats and loops, for singer songwriters. And I think that’s really cool.
But that style was kind of new to me. And there were some points where my producer was like, “Hold on. Give me five minutes.”
And I’d be like, “No, let’s keep it in the pocket.”
And he’s like, “No. Just give me five minutes.” And then he’d pull this treasure out of his ass. And it worked really well.
Who are some of the influences you’d point to?
Noah Gundersen is definitely one of my biggest inspirations. I’ve gotten to hang out with him a couple of times, and he’s just a really cool dude. But yeah, he has a song on his new album called “NEW RELIGION”. And that’s kind of where that line came from in “Gold”:
I hear there’s talk of new religion
And that’s kind of a shout to him, and kind of my own take on it, too.
Why do you write songs? What’s your goal when you write a song?
Almost 100% for me, it’s expressing something. So, “Gold”, for example – coming out of the strict orthodoxy of Southern Christianity, and feeling my own way theologically and just landing in a spot that I’d never really been in, and being able to write about that. Communion, and all of these kind of sanctimonious rituals. You don’t need to be in a church to have that type of fellowship and community.
It’s still important, regardless of where you’re coming from, though. So:
We share communion on my front porch.
We don’t need to be defined by religious genres.
I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and my brother and I were talking about this: there are 600 churches in Lubbock, alone, which is just insane. And so, moving to Houston, there’s probably the same ratio of churches. But the cool thing about Houston, compared to Lubbock, is the mass amounts of variety and diversity of people around here.
When you write something, are you writing to express it for yourself? Or to express it to an audience?
Usually for my own sake. Something happens during the writing process, though, where you kind of look up and think, “This may not be just for me. Somebody could hear this and feel something similar.”
But it typically starts as, “I have this thing that I need to get off my chest.”
Do you think songwriting is more selfish, or unselfish?
I think both. It starts out selfish, for me. But once you start sharing it, it becomes one of the most unselfish things. It’s vulnerable. It’s very – if you’re being honest in your songs – kind of a scary place to be. You’re throwing out those emotions, and that kind of stuff, and it becomes very unselfish at that point.
What do you think makes a song good?
I guess you could get technical with it, but it really comes down to if you feel something, I think. If you listen to more than the first 30 seconds and are still enjoying it, for whatever reason – whether it’s because you feel something, or you like the guitar lick, or the guy’s voice, or the message, you know – you’ve got to feel it.
Do you have a certain feeling you shoot for when you’re writing?
Not particularly. The first album I did, we kind of made the decision just to shotgun it. So there are some rock songs, there are some folk songs, there are some ballads and stuff – because I didn’t want to be stuck in a specific genre. So, the type of feeling is just expressing where I’m at, whatever that looks like. Just allowing that to take over. If I’m feeling really angsty, then let it be a little angsty. If I’m feeling super sad and mellow, then let’s dig into that side of the song.
What advice would you give to other songwriters?
To write! For sure. Recently, for me, the album came out and I just kind of stopped writing for a little bit. Which is kind of good – you can kind of recoup, sometimes. But there have been times where I’ve thought, “Oh, this would be a cool line!” And I just wouldn’t write it down.
And I think that’s one of the least productive things you can do, as a writer or musician. When you get a line or a hook in your head, you need to just go play that hook. So that the next time, when you’re writing, you can go, “Oh, I remember that line. That might work here.”
How do you usually store those pieces? Do you have a method?
Yeah, a lot of notes on my iPhone – just writing them down. And lots of 30 to 40 minute audio recordings on my phone.
30 to 40 minutes? That’s a while.
Yeah, just kind of exploring a lick, or something. If you have enough inspirational smoke, let’s call it, you can kind of just sit there and bathe in that hook for a long time. And sometimes it goes somewhere, and sometimes it doesn’t/
Do you usually write with an end in mind, and write toward it? Or discover stuff along the way – just sitting in the smoke?
Half and half. “Valley”, on the EP, definitely had an end goal in mind. “American Father” definitely had an end goal in mind. But “Gold” and “Trophy” were done in the studio with more of a “see where the wind takes it” type of thing.
So I think it’s important to have a balance to that. Everybody works in a different way, but I think it’s important to have a little bit of both.
Do you carve out time to sit down and write? Or is it more adhoc, when inspiration hits?
You know, I really try. The time that I put aside for writing is usually reading, for me. I think that’s one of my greatest inspirations – listening to other musicians and reading. But when it comes down to the writing, it’s usually, “Yeah, I’ve got a couple of free hours today. Let’s see what happens.”
What kind of stuff do you read?
Right now, I’m reading a book by Chuck Palahniuk – Invisible Monster. It’s great. It’s just good to read words that aren’t your own, and explore other people’s styles.
But some of my favorites are East of Eden, The War of Art.
And just anything, really – my mom will send me some books, or my brother will recommend some. So I usually try to have one or two that I’m just flipping through.
Are you more fiction or non-fiction?
Non-fiction, for sure. But I kind of love the sci-fi, Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game type of scenarios.
Do you ever co-write?
Yeah, but I hate it!
I guess the times that I’ve done it, officially – you kind of just walk into this room with this random person that you’ve never met, and you’re both kind of insecure and have some ideas that you want to do but aren’t sure about them.
So, to clarify, I guess – I go to LA, and there’s a person that’s hooking me up with other artists, just to kind of mingle and get to know each other, but it’s under the guise of, “Hey, let’s write a song.” So those situations are kind of weird.
But I have a buddy who’s a poet – his name is Ryan Hildebrand. And he’s one of my go-to guys, where if I’m like, “I need some words,” we’ll just have a phone call and I’ll play him the song, and we’ll just kind of talk about it.
So that’s kind of co-writing, I guess. But it’s not like, “Hey, let’s sit down, here’s my hook, and let’s write it together.”
How do you usually write lyrics?
Typically, it’s a process of doing it over and over and over and over again. I mean, there are obviously some songs that you kind of just write it, and you’re like, “Oh, shit! That was it.”
But there are a couple that I’ve been working on for like the last two or three months, and I just have a full notebook dedicated to it, and it’s all scratched out. But every two or three pages, I’ll be like, “Oh, that line works,” and I’ll save that nugget. And then you hope that you can find something else within the pages that works with it.
So it’s usually separate from the music for you?
Sometimes. Again, it’s kind of half and half. Sometimes they come together, sometimes the words come first, sometimes the music comes first.
Do you tend to value the lyrics more so than the sound?
I think I’m definitely more critical of the words, at first. Because my biggest fear is, “Is this cheesy? Has somebody else already said this, or is the thought completed?”
How do you test that?
I definitely try to think about what I’ve been listening to, because that always tends to creep up. If I’ve been listening to Manchester Orchestra and I write something that feels like Manchester Orchestra lyrics and think it’s incredible, I have to check if it’s Andy Hull’s words, and not mine.
And then you get real depressed, and think that you might not ever write anything good again. Until tomorrow, when you’ve gotten to let it ferment a little more.
Yeah, I usually bounce it off people. Like, “Hey, do you dig this? Do you feel anything with these lyrics?” Just stuff like that.
What do you do when you get discouraged – when you feel like you’re in a rut, or an idea isn’t fully formed?
I play for a couple jam bands, in Houston. A friend named Jeff Paxton – he’ll come over and jam through a song if I’m stuck.
But most of the time, I just kind of let it be. And then I come back to it when I feel like I have the energy to try to tackle it again. Because that’s one of the more frustrating things – to sit there, just killing yourself for two hours, and still coming up with nothing.
So sometimes you just need to give yourself space, and let it breathe.
What kind of role does production play in your writing?
So, I self-produced the first album, which was a lot of fun.
Almost all of my stuff starts out with just me and a guitar, or me and a piano. So, you kind of have the vision or the sound in your head – “Oh, the drums would be cool if they did this.” And then you get to the studio, and it kind of blossoms into the sound in your head.
With Abe, though, it was real fun – and challenging, I guess, would be the first word. But it was fun, too – here’s this thing, let’s see if you can write around it, I think your voice would sound good if we did this.
And I’m like, “Abe, I think you’re full of shit. I’m not going to do that at all.” And then you start gaining a level of trust, and taking some of his notes. Some of them are really good, and some are not as good, and you just take the good with the bad.
I really enjoyed producing my own stuff. But when he came in, and I let him work his magic, it took a level of pressure off to make the whole song and sound what I was trying to go for, and I was able to just focus on lyrics or certain instrumental parts, and that kind of thing – instead of micromanaging the whole thing.
Did you know Abe before?
I did not, actually. We had coffee once, and we vibed.
That’s always a good sign.
Yeah, for sure. And we just kind of did a test couple of days, and it was working. So we went ahead and completed the EP together.
That’s sweet. So let’s dive into “Gold” a little bit. What was the first part of the song to be written?
So I had had the verses written, previously to going into the studio. And it was kind of a different style song, but once we started working on it – it’s kind of like I was talking about, the songwriting style where you go through your phone and say, “Oh, I think these lyrics might work here!” And they did.
I think the first lyric I had was:
All my friends have recklessness in common.
Where did that idea come from?
It was just a time where a bunch of my friends were going through some shit, and dealing with it in their own ways. And it was just kind of funny to see a general reckless theme happening to them all. And I was just like, “I think all my close compadres are a little reckless.”
And the first line of the second verse is:
All my reckless friends have me in common.
And it’s like, “Ah, shit. I’m probably that way as well.”
How would you articulate the main theme of the song?
It’s kind of a – not a protest song, but – it’s like we were talking about with religion and stuff, and finding where I’ve landed recently, and just wanting to be able to express that, for me and my reckless friends. The line,
I hear there’s talk of new religion
And just being inspired by Noah’s song, and running with that. I think we’re evolving as a society toward a Golden Rule-based thing – “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” Or, “Love your neighbor, and love them well.” And I don’t think any sect or religion can argue with that. And typically it’s even the point that they’re trying to make, too – but it can get lost in specific religious orthodoxies.
Where’d you get the ideas around the chorus?
Who’s to say what a soul’s worth?
Can you measure it in gold?
That came in the studio. We were trying to find a tag for that, and that just kind of wraps up that idea – that we’re all people. We’re all a little broken, we all have the potential for good and for bad. And that’s also a line from the Bible. You can’t measure a human’s worth in monetary value.
Would you say you wrote this song more for yourself? Or your friends?
So I was writing that with my buddy Ryan, and he lives in Austin, but he was in the studio while we were doing that. So it was kind of a communal thing, at that point. But for me, it was definitely like, “Oh, this feels like a comfortable place where I stand. And I’d like to say that to people.”
What would you want people to take away from it?
Probably to give them a little fuel to be a little introspective – to become a little more self-aware. Maybe even kind of excited about the future, and where it’s going. Like, get on board. It’s a good thing when you love your neighbor, and let go of some of that religious identity. Because if that’s taking away from your ability to love the person next to you, then maybe it’s not such a good thing.
Any cool stories from the recording process?
Yeah, I’d actually broken my wrist about a month before recording. We’d set up the times for it, and I fell off my scooter going to a gig.
That’s why you don’t scooter to the gig, I guess.
Yeah, ha, I haven’t gotten back on. I was on a moped – probably should clarify. I wasn’t on a Razor, or something, although that probably would’ve been a better story.
But yeah, for the first half of our time in the studio I was in a cast. Hence the name of the EP (Cast Off). But yeah, that was interesting. It was a huge bummer, and I really didn’t think we were going to get anything done. But it’s cool now. It’s like, “Yeah, that piano lick right there? I did that with my cast on.”
Yeah. And it actually kind of helped in spots like “Gold”. Because there aren’t a whole lot of acoustic instruments – there are some, but Abe kind of helped me. Like, “Well, since you can’t play guitar right now, let’s try to make this bit work.” And that was super cool.
How did you know when the song was finished?
I don’t know if there was a specific time. When I finished “Valley”, I had it all written out, I came to the studio super prepared, so once we had that final note, I was like, “Yep, we’re done. Cool.”
But with “Gold”, it was more of a process of listening to it for a couple of days, then going back to the studio and saying, “This spot needs a little extra something, and you can take out that.” And then just doing that process for two weeks or so.
And it just got to a place where we were like, “Yeah, I think we’ve done everything we can.”
We were happy with the way it sounds, the lyrics, the vocals, all that stuff. And once you get to a spot where you don’t have anything else to nitpick, you kind of just give it up and let it go.
What’s next for you in terms of upcoming shows and music?
I’m always playing around Houston. But I’ve got a real cool Colorado run coming up. I’ll be doing four or five house shows and a couple of breweries, and then going back through Texas and hitting all the major cities – Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, all that kind of stuff, with my buddy Andrew James. He’s a singer-songwriter, as well.
So that’ll be the end of June, and the beginning of July. Should be a lot of fun.
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