Freedy Johnston is back in business 

Freedy Johnston wasn’t looking for a career epiphany. He just wanted to clean out his Nashville storage space, then head back to his new home in New York’s East Village.

But then he stumbled across a stack of his earliest songwriting notebooks, 30-year-old journals filled with wry wordplay and cartoon doodles. “They were all just very different than I expected, much more who-gives-a-damn playful,” recalls the singer.

“I was looking at them thinking ‘I don’t know this kid, but he’s kind of funny!’ Later on in my notebooks, I get all serious, down and depressed. But I want to get back to that funniness, because I feel like I can now.”

Johnston — who plays The City on Friday — is up front about what he’s been through. His effervescent new release, “Rain on the City,” is his first album of original material in eight years.

“But it’s been a good decade, I’d say, since anybody even knew I was alive,” he deadpans. Few fans heard his late-1990s outings on the major Elektra imprint, he says. So he flew solo, and attempted to finance everything himself.

“But then my life changed,” he says. “I got married, got divorced, moved to Nashville, then to Austin. I was just trying to figure my life out, and the years slipped by a little bit.”

This turbulence led to a serious case of writer’s block. So Johnston busied himself with an all-covers set, 2008’s “My Favorite Waste of Time,” before finally getting his mojo back with “Rain,” a return to the brilliance of 1994’s definitive “This Perfect World.”

Between the barb-sharp hooks and feather-soft vocals of new numbers like “Don’t Fall in Love With a Lonely Girl” and “What You Cannot See, You Cannot Fight,” you can still sense his debilitating ennui.

That’s the downside of composing, Johnston says.

“I was going through stuff in my life that everybody goes through. But unfortunately, I have to go through it and then talk about it, because even tangentially, it comes out in my work.”

He also remains defiantly old school.

“Once you learn your method, you’ve got to stick to it,” he says. “So I like working on a timetable, on sets of songs for albums, and with a record label, like this new fifty-fifty arrangement I have with Bar/None.”

Johnston is on a roll. He has already penned much of “Rain’s” follow up, and even started sketching cartoons again.

“Like a ‘whatever, I’ve paid my dues’ kind of thing,” he says. “Now I can enjoy myself and get back to what I was doing in the first place.”


Freedy Johnston

Café Du Nord, 2174 Market St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $15
Contact: (415) 861-5016,

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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