BA Johnston finds inspiration in the most unusual places. His fourth record, My Heart is a Blinking Nintendo, is a collection of quirky, sad songs about pirates, poutine and the CFL. On January 20 at Tribeca, Johnston will be celebrating the release of his record, and the performance will also mark his 30th birthday.
“It’s really my 57th birthday. There will be streamers, party hats, free cheezies and a piñata filled with gold,” he says. “The piñata will actually be invisible and filled with invisible gold.”
By birth his name is Christian Johnston, but in high school was given the nickname “bored again Christian.” It stuck over the years and became his stage name. When he’s not captivating indie rockers or playing video games, he spends his time as a yam cook at a sushi restaurant.
“Oh yeah, I’m super rich now. There’s good money in sushi,” he says. “I’ve got a gold sushi medallion, there’s lots of money in deep frying.”
It’s Johnston’s sneering sarcasm which almost makes it believable that deep-frying is his muse.
“I draw my inspiration from the crushing failure that is my life,” Johnston says. “The hatred of mundane pop culture, of course deep-frying is a big influence and naturally the Hamilton Tiger Cats.”
After emerging from his mother’s basement in Hamilton, ON he fled to Halifax. On-stage his grease-soaked Casio melodies aren’t the only attraction that draws a crowd. At past shows he’s sold records, t-shirts and a soft-boiled egg holder that was invented by his father.
“Unfortunately I’ve sold all out of egg holders. I haven’t eaten a hard-boiled egg in years, but some people seem to like them,” says Johnston. “I told my dad I’d give him a dollar for everyone I sold—I think I owe him like $35.”
In addition to kitchen gadgets at the merch table, he’s also got a partner in crime on stage.“I have a helper monkey who sits on my lap while I’m stage, he’s a part of the charity I started in my mom’s basement: Helper Monkey, Help Myself Charity,” says Johnston. “He’s a stuffed monkey and over the years we’ve collected plenty of money. Well no, not really.”
BA Johnston is the kind of songwriter who deeply understands the unromantic elements of life. His past three albums are sad but humorous insights into his seemingly troublesome existence. The lyrical landscape ranges from stories about crushes on fast food employees, “Pita Pit Girls,” to his dumbfounded infatuation with video games, “Luck Be a Playstation Tonight.” Although there is an almost pathetic element to these songs, they are terrifically clever and quite catchy. A girl can’t help but feel a little sorry for him, possibly even a little charmed.
“Love is kinda evil, it’s like an asteroid. You know the big rock is going to destroy your ship,” says Johnston. “BA has no luck with the ladies—he’s female kryptonite.”
His previous records, Bury Me At Make Out Creek, Love Letters to a Girl in My High School Art Class and In Situation Bad, are like fast food chains of rock ‘n’ roll: short, sweet and, once consumed, often painful to digest. In contrast, his latest 19-track masterpiece, My Heart is a Blinking Nintendo, recorded by Steve Kelly, is a four-course meal at a fancy restaurant. It features guest appearances by Eleanor King and members of the Sweet Tenders.
Johnston is slightly anxious about his upcoming cross-Canada tour—dubbed No Fans, No Money, No Chicks, No Car, it begins after the Halifax show. There’s nothing pretty about touring Canada by bus.
“I just hope I don’t have a nervous breakdown on this tour,” he says. “Last time I was on my last tour date in Saint John, NB and I was wandering the streets, broke, sobbing and eating stale bread.”
With the birth of another year and a new album, things are looking up for BA Johnston. Hopefully he’ll be able to keep his position as yam specialist, catch a couple of Ti-Cats games and even waltz with that special lady to “Stairway to Heaven” at his mom’s place.
“Oh wait, I guess I have already achieved one of my New Year’s resolutions,” says Johnston. “I’ve moved out of my mom’s basement.”