2019
02.04

Often during a musical artist’s career, they will ask themselves “What has been my biggest hit so far? What have I done that has made the biggest impact and had the most reach?”

I recently realized that I haven’t asked myself this question in quite a while, so I did some investigation on the various channels I distribute my music through and discovered a surprising result. Turns out it was my cover of The Man Who Sold The World by David Bowie. I was fortunate enough to collaborate on this cover song with Romie Romak who contributed backing vocals in the style of Klaus Nomi and Taylor Shechet who provided atmospheric flourishes.

It’s one of my most popular tracks on my bandcamp site, but my stats for it on my Soundcloud page are the most astounding. Coming in at an impressive 356k plays, 4.6k likes, 366 reposts, and 32 comments, it totally outshines any of my other uploads. To put things in perspective, it received 830 plays in 2013, increased to 7,469 plays in 2014, shot up to 45,540 plays in 2015, and skyrocketed up to a whopping 140,587 plays in 2016! Ever since, it has consistently remained close to 80,000 plays per year.

The next most popular track on my roster is my cover of Worlock by Skinny Puppy, which has significantly lower numbers at 10.3k plays, 199 likes, 18 reposts, and 15 comments. It never exceeded 3,000 plays per year but nevertheless remains my 2nd most popular upload.

I’m pretty sure I understand why the Bowie and Puppy covers got so much attention. With the Bowie cover you’ve got a song that was a hit when it originally came out on their album of the same name released in 1970. It soon became a staple of classic rock up until it was then famously covered by Nirvana for their MTV Unplugged in New York concert album released in 1994. Worlock has always been one of the most popular songs by Skinny Puppy, if not the one many feel most utterly passionate about. It’s pretty easy to understand why these covers would become so popular.

This clearly demonstrates that cover songs belong to a unique category of music that allows anyone who performs or records them to receive notable attention and praise. We’ve seen this happen before with other songs, particularly if it differs drastically from the original due to the production, instrumentation, presentation, or performers involved, thereby creating something both old and new, nostalgic and timeless.

I find that doing covers can be particularly useful when it comes to understanding how a good song is both written and performed, much like a writer might dedicate themselves to typing out a great work by a famous author in order to know how it feels to do so themselves. Music is a language that takes on many dimensions the more you learn about it, so doing covers is a great way to gain insights into new ways of thinking about music. Ain’t no shame in the cover game.

Johan Ess - Shout Out - Album Cover

My 2013 album Shout Out features all the covers I had recorded over the last decade including my versions of The Man Who Sold The World and Worlock.

2018
11.04

Making a fresh appearance after years of radio silence, Johan Ess now presents an EP of four tracks built to last while hopefully also blowing your mind and speakers from over-enjoyment. This release was only possible for Johan Ess to complete after acquiring a new computer since their previous studio equipment had fallen apart several years hence from extensive obsolescence. There have also been countless setbacks for the artist in recent years, such as living in poverty in the Deep South, having their skull cracked open, being abducted by aliens, moving across the country thrice, and what have you. Their passion for quality dark electro-pop has not waned, however, and fans of the Johan Ess “sound” should be quite pleased with this new effort.

Some of these tracks have been in the works for quite a while. Perception Management, in particular, was culled from an early demo made in FL Studio back at the very beginning stages of their career and reworked over a span of nearly 15 years to achieve the driving beats and foreboding message it bears today. Perfect Forward was recorded five years prior to this release when they had brief access to a studio filled to the brim with analog synths but have only recently been able to finish recording the vocals, with subject matter delving head-first into addressing privacy and security concerns in the digital age.

There are also tracks written entirely on their new setup to be found at the beginning and end of this EP. Those who enjoyed Johan’s cover album Shout Out should appreciate these two cover-esque parodies that were made as studio warm ups for more original future endeavors. Forgot About Ess is a vaguely recognizable nod to a well known hip hop artist’s comeback track from the early 2000’s that Johan has reshaped to reflect a similar point in their career, but with a bit more of “tongue biting cheek” sensibility. Micro Killer is an epic anthem many will recognize, albeit styled in a more danceable electronic form, with sardonic lyrics calling attention to those who commit atrocities in order to achieve lasting notoriety for their misdeeds.

Calling into question the nature of pop music and propaganda, mass culture and individual identity, the serious and the farcical, Cranial Indiscretions was designed to be a thought provoking communiqué on our current age of binary command signals that we seem to blindly follow, often to our own detriment. These curious concoctions also show a new level of achievement in production experimentation and attention to detail. Whether this release marks the beginning of a new era for Johan Ess is yet to be known, but it seems equally suited as an intriguing comeback or a final swan song for their catalogue.