Last year around this time, I headed to the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood to catch a show for a band called The Night Game. Admittedly, I didn’t really know who The Night Game was at the time, but I ran into several of my hard-to-impress music friends during the opening act, who filled me in that this mysterious musician was the best thing they’d seen in a while. Chatterings of Mr. Night Game spread through the audience while we awaited his set, hearing mention of “He’s best friends with John Mayer,” to “He used to be in an emo band, but not sure which one…”
Looking around, I wondered how someone I’d never heard of could sell the place out and manage to bring all the hipster musicians boys to Hollywood all the way from Silverlake — this dude must be something special.
The stage was covered in a thick haze, and when The Night Game finally took the stage, he was only lit in silhouette and appeared to be a tall, slender guy with a mullet. His guitar player was sporting a nascar jacket and a cowboy hat, and he was legitimately one of the best guitar players I’d ever seen. For a moment, I wondered if this was a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, but just then, they started to play their single, “The Outfield,” and my friend leaned in and said, “You know that’s Martin Johnson from Boys Like Girls, right?”
Over the next few months, I would listen to the new singles by The Night Game, “Kids in Love,” “American Nights,” never fully making the connection to the former Boys Like Girls vocalist in terms of recognizability. I would later find out that this was done on purpose — since the brand’s aesthetic was initially born out of trying to trick people into NOT knowing it was him, in an effort to simply let the music speak for itself.
After almost a year of ultimately confusing most listeners, and having fully knocked his mid-2000’s “affected emo vocals” of the past, The Night Game unknowingly created one of music’s best executed identity coos ever — and the mysterious one will release his debut album on Sept. 7, followed by a hefty tour in both the US and Europe. Today, he released one of the stand out tracks from the album titled, “Do You Think About Us?” featuring Caroline Polachek from Chairlift. If you’re at all a sap, this song will definitely make you cry for the boyfriend (or girlfriend) you don’t even have.
The new single is rumored to be about a real girl in young MJ’s life — who also makes lyrical appearances in various other songs throughout the album. As far as the connection between the old “emo Martin” and the new “Night Game” Martin, there’s no doubt that there’s obvious musical growth in every way possible — and we’re loving all of it. In the end, MJ claims his return to the spotlight was because he wanted to sing again but mostly it was a way to “see if I could love music again…” If that statement doesn’t break your heart, you’re likely not human.
Take a listen to “Do You Think About Us?” and peep our Q&A with Martin Johnson of The Night Game below.
OTW: The sonic vibe of “Do You Think About Us” is still in the same ‘80s vein as all your other songs so far — but with slightly more synth production. How did you land on the production you’ve used in the final version?
Martin: It’s funny — a lot of journalists are talking about this “80’s vein.” I suppose it was the choice to make most of the album’s sounds with analog synths and drum machines as opposed to simulations in the box with midi. The choices were less about finding the right sonic brand and more about how the song makes you feel…like, “Is that guitar part saying something or is it just filling space?” Francois (the albums’ co-producer) and myself wanted to put in the time to be respectful to the stories. On “Do You Think About Us?” the verses are a bit sad and melancholy; the vocal is wet in reverb and it feels like another time — Maybe in the past, with a bit of longing and nostalgia. Then the hook dries up and gets a lot louder, and almost feels like a BPM jump — which sort of makes it go into the “Now;” [it] jumps out of the fantasy of what could have been, and becomes a direct question to a lost lover.
OTW: How does the song tie into some of your previous songs like “The Outfield” and “American Nights”?
Martin: I suppose there are some big broad stroke themes on this album: sports, sex, nostalgia, loneliness and searching for love/lost love (sometimes in the wrong places); searching for the American dream (what is it exactly? is it just a mirage?). I think this song fits into the sex, nostalgia, and searching “boxes,” but could probably also fit into the sports box depending on what type of sex you’re having.
OTW: We were lucky enough to preview the album which comes out on Sept. 7. There are references to remembering “being 18” in other songs on the album…. is there a specific person this song is about?
Martin: Depending on the day, it’s more the “being 18” than it is the girl, but yes, there is a specific girl for this one. She just had her second kid and is very in love with her husband — I’m happy for her. “Do You Think About Us?” is less an “I want you back” and more of a “sliding doors” type fantasy. What would it have been like if I went with her to that college instead of getting in a 15 passenger van with some boys back in ‘04?
OTW: Caroline Polachek is featured on this track and has a great voice, what made you decide to feature her on the track?
Martin: I tried a couple different features on this song but believability and vulnerability were both really important to me. I needed the right voice to tell the story. I had been working with a version of the song where I was temp singing the female part for months when Caroline and I met in Eastside LA with a group of people and became fast friends. We went for a hike the next day and were talking about writing together, and I played her the song in my car. She said “I like this. Do you want me to try to sing it?” — it was as simple as that. I’m really grateful to have her a part of it — she’s an incredible vocalist and performer both in the booth and on stage.
OTW: What are you most excited/nervous about for when the album comes out?
Martin: You know that feeling when you’re a kid: it’s sunday night at 10:30pm and you have an essay due the next day that you haven’t started yet, and you’ve had a week to work on it? I’ve had that feeling for four years. I think the thing I’m the most excited about is just actually being done with it. I’ve been picking at it for quite a while. Once it comes out, I can’t work on it anymore — it just is what it is. I’m doing my best to disconnect from the immediate results. I didn’t make this album for financial gain or to earn praise, I made it to see if i could love music again. I’m still not sure about that one, but I’m hoping the answer is out on the road.
OTW: Speaking of which, you’re about to go on a pretty big tour starting around the time of album release. What are you most excited about for the new tour?
Martin: I’m hoping they put some ice backstage in Europe. usually It’s pretty hard to get ice in Europe.I like cold beverages. Sue me, I’m American.
EUROPEAN & FESTIVAL DATES
9/8 Berlin, DE
9/10 Vienna, AT - Flex
9/11 Zurich, CH - Plaza
9/12 Dresden, DE - Beatpol
9/14 Gottingen, DE - NDR 2 Radio Festival
9/15 Baden Baden, DE - SWR 3 Radio Festival
9/16 Munich, DE - Strom
9/18 Frankfurt, DE - Zoom
9/20 Hamburg, DE - Reeperbahn
9/22 Cologne, DE - Gebaeude 9
9/24 Amsterdam, NL - Melkweg Upstairs
9/27 London, UK – Electrowerkz
NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES
10/8 Vancouver, BC - Vogue Theatre*
10/9 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom*
10/10 Seattle, WA - The SHowbox*
10/13 Sacramento, CA - Ace of Spades*
10/14 San Francisco, CA - August Hall*
10/17 San Diego, CA The Observatory North Park*
10/19 Los Angeles, CA - The Novo*
10/20 Anaheim, CA - House of Blues*
10/31 Denver, CO - Larimer Lounge
11/2 Chicago, IL - Chop Shop
11/3 Pontiac, MI - Pike Room
11/4 Cleveland, OH - HoB Cambridge Room
11/7 Brooklyn, NY - Warsaw
11/8 Boston, MA - Great Scott
11/9 Washington, DC - Rock n Roll Hotel
11/10 Charlotte, NC - Visulite Theater
11/12 Nashville, TN - Basement East
11/13 Atlanta, GA - The Loft
11/14 New Orleans, LA - Gasa Gasa
11/15 Houston, TX - The Studio at Warehouse Live
11/16 Dallas, TX - Trees
11/17 Austin, TX - The Parish
11/20 Phoenix, AZ - Valley Bar
* Supporting St Lucia