November 29, 2012

Making Noise: Johnny Cremains band succeeds with distinctive sound, dark lyrics

Vocalist and theramin player Sean Libby gives the low-down on the band.

Rock band Johnny Cremains formed in 2007 when vocalist and theramin player Sean Libby and piano and Hammond organ player Erik Winter started writing songs together after their former band collapsed. They brought in drummer Michael Anderson and guitarist Doug Porter, and, after some trial and error, ended up with bass player David Joy. The band released "Leave It to Believers" earlier this month, and marked the occasion with a show at Geno's Rock Club in Portland. Here's the Johnny Cremains low-down from Libby: 

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Johnny Cremains includes vocalist and theramin player Sean Libby, piano and organ player Erik Winter, drummer Michael Anderson, guitarist Doug Porter and bass player David Joy.

Michael Batchelder photo


"Black Tongue," Mastodon

"Grounds for Divorce," Big Business

"I'll Go Crazy," James Brown

"Televators," The Mars Volta

"Putty Tat Trouble Part 6," Carl Stalling

"Low Down," The Mallett Brothers Band

"The Bloated Pope," Lustmord & Melvins

"The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden," Concrete Blonde

"Hypnotize," Notorious B.I.G.

TURN YOUR RADIO DIAL to 102.9 WBLM every Friday at 8:30 a.m. to hear Aimsel Ponti wax poetic about her top live music picks for the week with the Captain and Celeste.

Where's the best place online to hear songs and learn more about the band?

Bandcamp has our new stuff online at You can also buy our album at Bull Moose or at any of our shows. We have a bonus disc that comes with the "Leave It to Believers" discs sold at our shows. It's a recording of an older tune engineered by my close friend Wally Wenzel (Mallett Brothers) called "Glass Necklace," and a cover by the band Cock Sparrer called "Out On an Island." 

How did you come up with the band name Johnny Cremains?

My keyboard player woke up one morning and the book "Johnny Tremain" was lying on the floor, and Johnny Cremains popped into his head. He laughed and thought it would make a suitable name. He mentioned it to me and I said, "Let's do it." I say "yes" to about 101 percent of Erik's creative intentions, and that idea wasn't any different. 

"Tattooed & Harpooned." What was the inspiration behind that song?

I was working out a vocal melody while Erik was playing and he was either making fun of me or mimicking my line, and I'd heard him and I started to write down what I thought he was saying. And then when he was finished, I wrote down what I had been singing and combined the two lyrical ideas, and they fit almost magically. 

There's something cinematic about some of your songs. Ever done any music for film?

We've never done anything musical for film, but would love to. We've always fancied the idea of doing something David Lynch-y or something in that vein. Fragmented insane stories are what he's best at, and we can relate. I definitely write lyrics as though they're telling a similar type of story, almost movie-like, if you pay attention and know what the words represent. Mostly, all our songs are very tragic or comedically tragic, but I suppose that's where some of the best art comes from in my opinion -- tragedy and comedy. 

What's a Johnny Cremains live show like?

Live shows are where it's at with us. The energy and emotion are something you usually can't capture on recordings. That's the biggest reason we recorded the newest album live. All of the tracks were recorded with everyone in the same room, at the same time. Like the old days where everyone stood around the mic. You either knew it or you blew it.

I believed in the band enough to think we could pull it off without overdubs of any of the parts played. The only things that were added as an afterthought was an organ track that Erik absolutely wanted on the album, and a small vocal part that Doug added. Other than that, there are zero overdubs. It's a "what you hear is what you get" type of recording. 

How do you personally like to describe the band's sound?

I'm fairly certain that we've been fortunate enough to create our own sound. It's unlike mostly anything else I've heard. When people try to describe it to me, they use everything from Tom Waits to Muse, which is fine. I can't quite nail out a definition of what we are, either. I usually say something clever, like "pop-depression" or "funeral lounge," but then other people or bandmates remind me that just because I know the stories are tragic, doesn't mean the music is. I actually enjoy hearing what people compare it to. It's interesting to hear the diversity in the answers. 

What's next for the band?

We plan on recording a few new tunes soon and maybe doing a gig in January or beginning of February in town. I'd like to actually get out of town and play in other places to see what the response is to our music. 

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:


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