Interview With Ace Von Johnson
Of Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns, and Neon Coven
Rockin’ Interviews- When did you start playing guitar?
Ace Von Johnson- “I started playing guitar when I was about 13 and my mom had an old acoustic she kept in the garage. I pulled it out when i was maybe in middle school and started tinkering around with it, trying to figure out a couple basic songs like Smoke on the Water and things like that. I didn’t get serious about it until I was about 17 or so.”
R.I.- When you were younger what was your goal in music?
A.V.J- “I don’t think I really had one, I think I just sort of progressed as time went by. I wanted to start a band, I started writing songs, and I achieved that when I was in high school. We were playing with what they call national acts, like bigger bands and touring bands and I was able to use a lot of those opportunities just to network. That’s how I ended up joining other bands. When I was 19 I was in a band with a decent record deal and we did some national touring. Off I went and did that for a couple years and that led to another gig which led to another gig which led me to another gig with some of the guys from Faster Pussycat, and that was how I joined Faster Pussycat.”
R.I- What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in the music industry so far?
A.V.J.- “I don't know. I did a session for what would have been the first posthumous Michael Jackson record called Michael. It was being engineered by a friend of mine named James Murray about 8 years ago and he had me come in and play guitar on a song of Michael Jackson’s, he had already passed away of course, that was supposed to come out on that record but they took any alternative mix which was something a little more radio, dance, hip-hop kinda thing, versus the version we did with a live band, it was a little more in line with Beat It, like a rock song. That was kind of a big deal at the time. Being in Pussycat for almost 10 years has been a cool accomplishment, getting asked to join L.A. Guns is a big accomplishment, there’s a bunch of stuff. But I don’t ever really think about it in that context, it’s just sort of when it’s happening, it’s happening.”
R.I.- You’ve previously done some voice over work. What is that like compared to the music industry?
A.V.J.- “It’s different, voice over, it's a lot more creative but in a way at the end of the day you’re an actor and trying to appease a producer or an engineer or a director, you’re trying to give them what they want. I haven’t done enough of it to have a whole lot of opinions, I’ve only done maybe 12, if you will. But I enjoy it, it’s completely different, you’re an actor and I’m not an actor, which I think is why I didn’t succeed in that field. I wasn’t interested in being an actor, but all my life people told me I had a nice speaking voice. I used to prank call people when I was a kid and my friends and I would record them, sort of like the Jerky Boys. I was constantly coming up with characters and doing voices, so that was something that was kind of innate for me. As far as playing music, it’s kinda different, really the only similarity I can say I feel is when I get on stage I wear a certain outfit and act a certain way, so it’s like getting into character and then when you’re doing voice over someone says we want you to be a pioneer, an old man panning for gold, you have to change into that, or whatever character you’re reading for. I would say that’s the only similarity I can think of.”
R.I.- What led up to you joining L.A. Guns a few months ago?
A.V.J.- “It had kind of been a long time in the making, I suppose. I have gotten on stage and played guitar with Phil Lewis 7 or 8 times over the last 5 years or so. We would be playing shows together or I would be at the show and the previous lineup with Michael Grant and Phil would play rhythm on a couple songs and Phil would say, ‘Oh, my boy, do you know how to play this song?’ And I would say, ‘yeah, totally.’ So I would jump up there for Ballad of Jayne or Rip and Tear or whatever it was. They’d called me a few times over the last year about the gig. Scheduling wise it wasn’t gonna work out for me, I wasn’t just gonna leave Faster Pussycat in a lurch to do L.A. Guns stuff. But when they called me in the summer, everything they had coming up indefinitely didn’t conflict with Faster Pussycat, so I’m able to do both. Here I am 6 months later, still doing both. That’s kind of it, I’ve known those guys for varying degrees of time. Johnny Martin, the bass player, I’ve known for 15 years, I’ve known Tracii for about 9 years and Phil for about 7 or 8 years and their manager is a friend of mine and they have pretty much always publicly said they’ve always wanted me to take that gig. They continued to pursue me and it finally worked out for both parties and here I am in L.A. Guns.”
R.I.- Even still, is it hard to be the “new guy”?
A.V.J.- “Not really, no. Because I feel like without saying too much I’ve been in the same circle as that band, being in Faster Pussycat for so many years now, I may be the new guy in that band, but I’ve known everybody for so long and even the fan base is pretty much aware of who I am, I guess. So it’s not like that at all, there’s a sort of camaraderie in L.A. Guns that doesn’t exist in any other band I’ve been in. So there’s no hazing or new guy treatment, I think, if anything, they’ve gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable which has been a nice change.”
R.I.- What’s your favorite part of the Monsters of Rock Cruise?
A.V.J.- “I do enjoy interacting with all of the fans and getting face time with people I don’t get to see on a regular basis. Just like any other festival, it’s kind of like summer camp where I’m reuniting with all of these guys from other bands that I only get to see every 6 or 12 or 18 months, so that’s a big factor. It’s a vacation almost, I gotta work a few hours out of the trip, the rest is just for fun.”
R.I.- Tell me about when you met your dog Maila.
A.V.J.- “Maila I found at a shelter in the Los Angeles area and I was going in to look at another dog and at the time I was going to the gym a lot and this shelter was about a mile from my gym. I went there to see this other dog but we really had no connection and I noticed Maila was one of the only dogs in there that wasn’t worked up and barking and going crazy, it can be chaotic in these shelters sometimes. She seemed pretty mellow and she was a good looking dog. So I came back two days later, next time I went to the gym and I sat there with her for a few minutes and I thought she was a good dog and I did that for about 3 or 4 more times. Then after that I asked to see her and they brought her out into this visitation area and she just sat at my feet and put her face on my lap and just looked at me, which she still seems to do, she said, get me then hell out of here. The next time I came back they took us out into this backyard area to play and I could see what she was like personality wise and she kept running around and repeatedly bringing me her toy and I decided I was gonna take her home. They had to hold them for two weeks to wait for a potential owner to claim them and the first day she was available I came in early that morning and picked her up and at the time I was playing in a band called Unwritten Law and a few other bands and I was about to go on a weekend tour and I picked her up and threw her in to my car and off we went to three or four gigs through Southern California and I got dog friendly hotels and she’s been by my side ever since. She definitely made an impression on me right away and she’s been the best dog I‘ve had all my life.”
R.I.- Do you still feel nervous before going on stage?
A.V.J.- “Predominantly no. If there’s not a lot of people at a show I might get nervous because I feel like I can see everybody’s face. If there’s like 10,000 people I might get a little nervous because it’s such a large crowd, but if it’s a normal size show, like a few hundred or a thousand people or whatever the average is, nothing really bothers me, it just has to be hard on one end of the spectrum or the other.”
R.I.- What’s your favorite part of playing live?
A.V.J.- “I don’t know. All of it? I love playing guitar and I don’t think that will ever change. I guess just playing on stage because I can sit in my living room and play guitar all day and it won’t be the same as playing a concert in front of a live audience. I guess that sort of factor. I’m there to entertain I refer to myself as a grinder box monkey because I’m in a tour bus or whatever all day and they I get let out and they wind me up and I go off and do my little backbend moves and whatever the hell else and clap my monkey paws and entertain. Then I get put back in the box and brought off to the next city.”
R.I.- How do you deal with people who are rude or hateful towards you?
A.V.J.- “In various degrees. It’s interesting, at this point in my life I seldom will take shit. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I have no problem getting into it with somebody. So many people are keyboard warriors, they think that because they have social media that they’re entitled to be what I refer to as a piece of shit. Someone speaking poorly about a bandmate or any form of bullying or people having a problem with pitbull type dogs or singles me out individually which happens occasionally I have no problem basically telling them to go fuck themselves. I act accordingly depending on who it is. Surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of people backpedal. I like to think that I’m fairly intelligent, so sometimes I outsmart these people and in the end I’ve had a lot of people come around and say, ‘oh wow, you’re a really cool guy and I shouldn’t have said whatever it was I said.’ I had that happen about I week ago but I was like, ‘We may disagree on something but I’d rather have you be with me than against me.’ And we ended up following each other on Twitter and it was like well, ‘Merry Christmas, bro.’ I’m not out here to make enemies and I have no problem sticking up for myself.”
R.I.- What keeps you constantly motivated to continue to make music?
A.V.J.- “That’s complicated because technically I haven’t been making music lately. I think the last original project I did was about two years ago it was called Neon Coven and we put out an EP. But since then I haven’t been doing a lot as far as creating music goes. I have a writing session tomorrow with a buddy to finish up some stuff. As far as motivation, I’m not as motivated as I used to be, I put out probably 15 albums from the time I was 17 to when I was about 25 and then I probably put out 5 albums in the last 10 years. It’s kind of waned, I wish it hadn’t, but I’ve been really busy just being a hired gun. I’ve been in Faster Pussycat the last 9 years and we haven’t put out anything which is disappointing, to say the least. I’d like to collaborate with more people, I’d like to write and record more. I’m working on an EP of original material within the next 6-12 months of stuff I’ve written in the last few years. It’s not something I would tour, but I hope something will come from that. I hope Pussycat puts out some new material soon, but that’s up to Taime. And L.A. Guns is coming out with a new record in two monthst, that is phenominal, I’ve heard all of it, but it was written and recorded months before I was in the band, so I had more or less nothing to do with it. I was at a show last night thinking about something and I just starting writing down lyrics, words, poetry whatever you wanna call it in my phone and maybe that’ll turn into something and maybe that’ll turn into nothing. I guess life is my motivation.”
R.I.- What do you do in your spare time besides music?
A.V.J.- “I try to be as pro-active in the rescue community as possible, in mostly a hands-off way. I wish I had more time to do in person stuff, but it’s a stretch for me time-wise with how little free-time I have. I’m an insomniac so often times I’m up really late just trying to connect the dots of someone who’s trying to rehome a dog or someone who found a dog or some rescue in some city who needs someone to transport or pick-up. So I try to b as invloved in that as possible, from my own home. It’s pretty common to see me out in Hollywood at events or at The Rainbow Bar and Grill. I feel like I don’t have enough free time. People always ask me what TV shows I’m watching and I don’t, I’m probably about 3 years behind on every TV show I’ve ever watched. I just don’t have enough time. I try to indulge on a few horror movies every now and then because I’m a big horror movie fan. That’s kind of it. I think between my social life, having a dog, rescue work and being in, however many bands I’m in, I don’t even know how many, I’m in 4 bands. That’s kind of all the time I have.”
R.I.- What’s your favorite horror movie?
A.V.J.- “Of all time, probably The Shining. But it varies.”
R.I.- What is coming up for you?
A.V.J.- “I have thankfully the rest of January off, I think I deserved that. Then next month I go back to work, off to Australia with Faster Pussycat for a week, then we’re home for about 48 hours, then off to Monsters of Rock then that brings me to March and I have presumably a few days to myself, then L.A. Guns gears up to start working on the tour cycle for the new album so that takes me periodically in and out of town for the rest of 2019.”