Johnny Neff is crazy talented and I am really into his music. I could have sworn he was one of those classically trained musicians with multiple degrees in music theory who went rogue and strayed into pop, because his music is so very smart. It turns out that’s not the case, which only makes his talent that much more impressive!
I listen to literally 100s of underground pop artists, and have made it my mission to study them and hype them and document this nascent diy pop scene as it develops. Johnny is definitely one of the most talented and criminally underrated. His songwriting abilities are freaking impressive as hell! Johnny Neff’s songs contain massive pop hooks that are flawlessly constructed and impeccably executed from verse to chorus to verse.
Skinny by Johhny Neff is like, totally my jam. I love the whole concept of his Stan EP, which draws on internet stan culture as inspiration for original music (other song titles from this project include Tea and Shade). Skinny has a soaring chorus (all of Johnny’s songs soar!) and features handclaps and a bounciness that communicates an 80s teen movie vibe. It literally checks all of the boxes for me!! “Mariah passed the torch to me/and not to one of you” is just so cheeky and bitchy and clever.
Johnny Neff is truly a songwriter. In addition to producing his own tracks, the songs themselves are gorgeously constructed. He is truly a composer and I find his work impressive. And FUN! So many artists are lacking a sense of joy, and I think that is a key secret ingredient that many artists overlook. Pop music is an artifice–beneath the surface of even the most tortured power ballad, there has to be some element of kinetic energy, otherwise the song will not be enjoyable. If you aren’t having fun making music, you aren’t making pop. Johnny Neff always sounds like he’s having a blast.
Johnny was kind enough to answer some questions for this profile. His next single, GUY, drops 6/21. It is truly an arena-ready, technicolor pop banger that will give you chills because it is so damn good. And word on the street is that he’s only just getting started–the single after, Time, will allegedly end us all! Be sure to check out his discography, particularly the gorgeous I Will Go With You, which demonstrates that his knack for writing huge-sounding pop hits continues to expand. Enjoy the Q & A below!
POP NOTES: I am obsessed with the relationship between locality and artistry. Can you tell us where you are from, and how (if?) your hometown influences your music.
JOHNNY NEFF: Great question! I remember growing up, my sister used to play a lot of pop songs, “Glamorous” by Fergie, used to be one of her favorites. I was never too interested in pop back then, but had always been drawn to the idea of sound. Growing up in Michigan and meeting the amazing friends I did, definitely encouraged me to pursue and challenge myself in music. I know this isn’t exactly a physical location, or part of my hometown, but I need to give credit where it’s due, the internet. The internet also played a huge role in shaping my sound, it’s so vast, and you could escape the world for a little bit to be with a niche community that meshed with your philosophies.
POP NOTES: You have a massive pop sound that is both timeless and impeccably constructed. How do you describe your style?
JOHNNY NEFF: Haha, thank you, I really appreciate it! My style is forever changing, I don’t think I could stick to one specific type of sound for long. I love to study, deconstruct, and try to engineer new interpretations of all the elements of music that fascinate me. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how to explain my style. I think it’s very conversational and hook-centric with a lot of pop embracing ideas.
POP NOTES: If I am not mistaken, you have a considerable amount of formal music training. Can you tell us about your musical background, and a little about your creative process?
JOHNNY NEFF: So, secret’s out, but I actually have no musical background, other than the recorder I was forced to play in middle school haha! For a long time it’s all been done by ear and what naturally seems to work, I just recently learned about musical scales, oops. For my creative process, I like to switch it up each time to keep things fresh. For example, it could be starting with an instrumental then writing, or starting with the writing and then making an instrumental, I believe utilizing new approaches each time is a really healthy method to keep things exciting.
POP NOTES: In addition to making music, you’re also known for being a funny internet guy. Do you think your sense of humor plays any role in your songwriting?
JOHNNY NEFF: I do love some humor! I think it does sometimes, it depends on what I’m trying to make, if it’s satirical or serious. I think the most important thing in writing is subtext. When you write with subtext, it gives the audience permission to read between the lines and explore deeper themes within your work, it can be an incredibly powerful thing to apply to songwriting.
POP NOTES: If I was trying to turn someone into a Johnny Neff stan, what song would you suggest we start with?
JOHNNY NEFF: Hmmmm, I’d first have to sit down with that person and ask them about their tastes first! But right now, “I Will Go With You”, I think it has a lot of likeability.
POP NOTES: Your 2018 EPs are each centered around specific themes: Halloween contains songs about scary movies and spooky season, while Stan contains songs each titled after stan culture terms. Can you tell us a little about how those came about, and where you like to look for inspiration?
JOHNNY NEFF: I remember sitting around one day and thought to myself, “hey, what if I wrote a couple songs about the Stan community?” this was after I listened to the Lady Gaga “Perfect Illusion” parody song someone made, “Ma-ma-pa-pa-pa perfect illusion” (Listen here). The very first song I wrote was “Skinny”, and then it kinda snowballed into the other 3 tracks (Shade, Tea, Stan). And I sorta have this insane obsession with Halloween, it’s my favorite time of year, so why not!
POP NOTES: What is your goal as an artist?
JOHNNY NEFF: I want to tell stories, through music, that I did not have growing up. There were a lot of pop songs I jammed to in my teen years, but it was always written in mind of a straight audience. So if I can give someone an experience, or tell them something, I wish someone had told me, when I was younger, that would really be something special.
POP NOTES: Can you tell us what you are working on next?
JOHNNY NEFF: I’m trying to release an EP and more singles! I believe my newer stuff is even stronger and better conceived than my past works since I am always growing and learning. I’m in a really exciting moment of time right now where everything is just fascinating, I could spend hours working on kick drums, writing hooks, and mixing stuff. It’s going to be a fun ride. I want to explore all genres of pop one day!
POP NOTES: Finally, is there anything you’d like to the world to know about you and your music?
JOHNNY NEFF: Stan me NOW!
Follow Johnny on all socials and streaming platforms! 🌩️ Twitter, Spotify, Apple, Soundcloud,Instagram, and YouTube.
Pop Notes is written + reported by @bunnymorgana_ for Ersa Magazine.
POP NOTES is a series exploring the emerging universe of underground electronic pop music. Rather than try to name this musical ecosystem or define what it means in terms of genre or substance, Pop Notes will be profiling the many art stars that make up the vanguard of this exciting new wave of pop, in order to render a picture of this digital movement in its own terms. Like punk, rave, electroclash, and bloghouse before them, this is a scene bursting at the seams with a reality-warping diy energy that is undeniable, addictive, and seemingly poised for world dominance(??). Stay tuned for more profiles of exciting artists emanating from the online pop scene!