TAKING IT TO THE STREETS: Johnny Lingo.
Johnny Lingo just may be the unabashed king of piano-pop ditties here in Li'l Rhody, as showcased on his recent full-length debut Shake It Off
(Onetime Records, available at myspace.com/johnnylingoband
), displaying his penchant for quirky and twinkling hooks with a reverent nod to influences like Billy Joel, Elton John, and Ben Folds. On Saturday (the 31st), Mr. Lingo will pull double duty with an opening slot for the Gay Blades/Kiss Kiss/makeupbreakup show at Club Hell before shooting over to the Century Lounge to revisit his role as keyboardist for local jam-band institution Fungus Amungus. Lingo will also stop by 95.5 WBRU on Friday (the 30th) for an on-air interview at 3 pm.
"Fungus is a great party band and my solo project is more sober and intimate, so the balance works out great," he told me earlier this week.
Lingo formed his first band while attending Connecticut College years back ("an inspiration between Medeski Martin + Wood and Dispatch," he recalled), and subsequent highlights included opening slots for New Found Glory and the President of the United States of America, as well as a victory at the 2004 WBRU Rock Hunt. The Lingo split in 2005 and Johnny was recruited by Fungus Amungus after a piano residency at the Century Lounge and tapped further into his artistic vision.
"Playing with Fungus has expanded my skills tremendously, but I write a lot of songs that don't really fit their style, so I needed an outlet for my solo material," he said, and promptly hit Danger Studios in mid-2007 to cut the album.
From the brash and playful openers "Step Outside" and "1 in 10" to the lounge lizard blues of "This Man," Shake It Off provides a nice canvas for Lingo to display his charm and skills with various friends lending some help, including violinist Spencer Swain (Zox/Cowgirl) on "1 in 10." A personal favorite is "Guess Again," a stark and emotional detour from the album's overall poppy vibe.
"Not many parents want their kid being a musician and, like most artists, without my personal struggles I would probably have nothing to write about," he said. "You need fuel for the fire, and 'Guess Again' is a metaphor for those who have been doubted or doubt themselves.
"I call myself a 'piano rock' artist, so I wanted the sound and songs to be diverse yet focused around the piano," he said. In contrast to the approach on Shake It Off, Lingo recently downsized to a two-man operation for shows — just keys and drums — but affirmed there will be "plenty going on to keep the listener interested."
Lingo will stay busy on the live circuit in '09, booked for weekly solo sessions through March with the after-work crowd at Tazza as well as channeling his inner ham at McFadden's, all while continuing his duties with Fungus and further promoting Shake It Off. And working a real job or two like the rest of us.
"Over the last eight years I was beating my head working crappy sales jobs, and now I'm teaching piano lessons to kids and feel like my life has more purpose than ever before," he said. "And if my dream of being a rich rock star doesn't work out, then I can always fall back on teaching piano."