Concert Spotlight: Interview with The Night Game

New Pop Act With The Most Exciting Frontman Since Bruno Mars

There are many frontmen, but few rockstars. LA-based Boston native Martin Johnson’s new project The Night Game popped up almost out of nowhere and received the best kind of publicity a musical act get these days, an Instagram post. But not from just anyone, from John Mayer, who gushed about the band’s infectious debut single “The Outfield.” Mayer even added The Night Game to his tour dates on East and West coasts for July and August.

If Martin Johnson’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he led the pop/rock outfit Boys Like Girls for many years starting in 2007 with “The Great Escape” followed by hits “Love Drunk” and “Two Is Better Than One” with Taylor Swift. Martin has also been an in-demand songwriter and producer for years, working with Daughtry, Flo Rida, Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo, Avril Lavigne and Hunter Hayes. But Johnson and The Night Game have a different sound and are poised to smash the airwaves with a number of anthemic songs ready for a stadium of thousands.

As far as American acts are concerned, Martin Johnson has positioned himself as the most charismatic frontman since Bruno Mars – having led bands in the past, Johnson grew up performing in musical theater, his stage presence is captivating, moving his hands while conducting the band, feeling the music, the ticks in his body and face that all draw in the listener and make live music an experience that seems to have lost its way to electronic dance music shows these days. A true showman, Martin Johnson enraptures his crowd with energy the way Bruce Springsteen, Steven Tyler, David Bowie or James Brown may have done, with pipes to match. Johnson has previously played New York venues like Jones Beach, Roseland Ballroom and PlayStation Theatre but looks forward to the reactions from the crowd on new music in smaller clubs, like Mercury Lounge tonight (May 24) and Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn (May 26). The talented frontman shared some personal stories about living in New York and he talked about launching his new music.

A lot of musicians don’t really have the luxury of having a second go. Do you feel like songwriting has really grounded you in a way that you’ve been able to continue with projects that you’re passionate about and just continue making music that you love?

Honestly, yes and no. It’s a multi-layer question because it grounded me, and I think it made me be a better songwriter to super-focus on writing songs for other people, but a piece of it also made me lose focus of really why I started making music to begin with.

When I was making this album, I got to sit in a room alone for a year and remember why I liked music. I forgot. I forgot, because you get to be a certain age, and it becomes about – you stop being the kid who just got a guitar and came home, modeling in front of the mirror with it, thinking about what you want to say, and why you want to rebel, and why you want to create something great, and why you want people to sing along with it. This answer became me versus the industry, and it’s really me versus myself.

I think it grounded me because I was always able to create. I was always able to have a creative outlet, but you get exhausted playing characters that aren’t yourself. It became like that with old projects that I was doing as an artist. You become a caricature of yourself after a while, because you squeeze on skinny pants when you’re eighteen, and you say, “I want to be in a rock band, and this is the sound that I want to be.” You’re so determined and you’re so right, and then you grow up. It’s almost like I knew everything when I was 22, and I know nothing now.

Just hearing you mention skinny jeans and all that, you remind me that 2006 to 2011, your band fell right in at the perfect time with the sound of that era, don’t you agree?

Which is funny, because the actual sound we were doing was a little more pop/rock, which happened to really work at the time, which we’re really blessed, and those guys are my best friends. I’m grateful for that.

Did you wrap up that chapter? 

We did the ten-year tour, which I think was a really, really great thing to do. It was really cool to celebrate the ten year anniversary of that record. It’s tough to say. I think it’s dumb when bands break up. Why are you breaking up?

You’re still friends, you still get along, you still like each other?

Yeah. Nobody yells at each other. We’re on a group text that was going today with everybody. We’re busting each other’s balls. I would say that we’re closer now than we’ve ever been. Everybody is doing different stuff musically, but I don’t know. Maybe one day we’ll make a song.

Fans will love hearing this. People just grow up. They evolve. They want to try different things, that’s admirable.

Yeah. I don’t think you need to close one door to start to open another necessarily. It’s not like I’m in two marriages. I’m creating some music, putting it out there, seeing if people like it, playing some tunes. I’m trying to express myself in that way, and it’s like I still have a group of best friends that I played music with for a really long time. The past is fun, though.

There are a lot of discovery platforms right now for music, but to get a post from John Mayer, organically give you a shout out endorsing your new single and now you’re going on tour with him… 

Yeah, I don’t know John, so it was super fast. He heard the song on Spotify. He heard the song on New Music Friday or something. All of a sudden, I had an e-mail. He had his manager hit up my publisher or whatever, but that’s what happens when things go to the next level. It was exactly what he wrote on his Instagram. It wasn’t different than that. It wasn’t some sort of corporate thing that’s covered up by this cute story.

He’s not someone to just post about some cool, poppy, fun electronic new project.

I was pretty humbled by it, and it really validated a lot of work because I respect him a lot as a musician. I’m ecstatic that he gave that much of a winning click and having that much validation come from somebody that I respect.

You have toured and visited New York in the past, can we talk about New York?

Yeah, I lived in Williamsburg in 2008 and 2009. Experience living in New York shaped me a lot. I love that city so much. I want to go back. It’s a big part of me.

Listening to the new record, you hear a lot of night-time themes, I think of lights, cars, fast-paced everything, nightlight, girls. I think of New York and LA on this record.

Sure. Those are the two places I’ve lived since I moved away from home. It’s pretty heavily influenced by the places I lived.

Which songs do you think touch upon New York?

Definitely “Once in a Lifetime.” It’s about that breaking out of locking myself in my Williamsburg apartment at the time, so it’s pretty specifically subject-based.

You must be really looking forward to getting the new music out there. You’re going back to New York to play Mercury Lounge (as well as Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn). 

I’m excited to play it in New York, it’s going to be really fun. I’m excited to play small venues again, really be able to see people’s eyeballs, and see them react to songs that aren’t out yet. It’s really great to play a large venue, have everybody sing along and put their hands up, and do the whole thing, but it really feels organic and good to see the music react slowly and watch people gravitate to the new thing I’m doing in a true way.

Is there a frontman present or past that you just still feel strongly about as an entertainer? You don’t just get up there and sing a song. You come with force and really command the stage.

I never learned how to play cover songs, so I don’t know how to play any cover songs really on guitar at all. I think it’s because when I was seven and I picked up a guitar, I wanted to make my own music, and I wanted to do things my way. Obviously things are influenced by different artists and the way that people are on stage. You see something and you gravitate to your stage presence. You see Elvis shake his hips a certain way, or Bruce Springsteen do a double-pump on the telecaster, or you see whoever it might be, and you say, “I aspire to have that greatness.” I will say my all-time favorite artist is probably Paul Simon. He just chills. He posts up. It’s finding the balance.

Photo Credit: Patrick Tracy