Tag Archives: Joy Division

The Essential Simon Joyner

July 3, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in The Encounter July/August 2015. 

Simon Joyner is an American songwriting treasure. Writing, recording, and releasing music out of Omaha since 1992, Joyner has steadily built a resume as a timeless talent. Cut from the cloth of Dylan, Cohen, and Van Zandt, Joyner has inspired countless artists of this generation with his masterful spin on literate songcraft. Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch are just a few to sing Joyner’s praises in recent years. The newly-released LP Grass, Branch & Bone on Woodsist Records is easily one of Joyner’s strongest in a catalog as expansive as is it impressive. Having no anthology or “hits” collection of his own, the following selections stand as some of Joyner’s strongest works.  Those unfamiliar with Joyner or looking to make a killer playlist of amazing songs cannot go wrong with these nine classics:

Double Joe- Joyner’s 1993 sophomore album, Room Temperature is required listening for anyone interested in the history of Omaha songwriting. This raw album of solo performances is pure literary energy. “Double Joe” offers a timeless sense of wisdom that will grace Joyner’s entire career, “Why don’t you go see a show? It’s a surefire cure, pretend the drumbeat is your heart.”

Joy Division- 1994’ s  The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll placed Joyner on the international songwriting map and it was famously played in its entirety by legendary DJ John Peel. The closing track has become a classic in its depiction of passing youth and the ensuing confusion.

I Wrote a Song about the Ocean- The music throughout Simon’s fourth LP, 1996’s Songs for the New Year, establish the somewhat out-of-tune tunefulness he still employs to great effect. This song has all the hooks, insights, and imagery that endear Joyner to singer-songwriter fans the world over.

Bring Down Goliath- This driving number that opens 1998’s Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between proves that Joyner’s folk songs have a pounding rock and roll heart. Over the years “Goliath” has  become an in-concert staple.

One for the Catholic Girls- Not just confined to LPs, some of Joyner’s best works have sprung up on numerous compilations, EPs, and 7s. This composition from 1998 is a lo-fi masterpiece giving us the timeless self-aware observation, “If I was drunk, I didn’t let on.”

My Life is Sweet- Throughout the Joyner discography a balance is struck between the lowest of lo-fi recordings and masterfully executed studio productions. This standout track from 2001’s Hotel Lives features the percussion talents of Wilco’s Glenn Kotche. The playing, singing, and writing on this gem perfectly embody the depths of its characters drunken escapism.

The Only Living Boy in Omaha- On 2006’s excellent Skeleton Blues Joyner presents this classic, both a play on his namesake and his hometown.  Stretching over an epic seven minutes is nothing new for a Joyner song. This one reaches orchestral catatonic heights on an outro that is pure shattered beauty, a beyond signature work.

Under my Skin Again- In a perfect world Simon Joyner songs have occupied the radio dial since 1992. Unfortunately, most of his works run a touch too long for modern programming. This jewel off the recently released Grass, Branch & Bone may be the closest Joyner has come to a possible crossover. With its beautiful melody on love and drifting, we are given the sage advice, “Make like a tree boy, lay down some roots.”

Nostalgia Blues- For a man with several masterworks, the sheer quality of this closing track off Grass, Branch & Bone is staggering. Anyone anywhere near their middle age years can easily relate to this timeless tale of time passing and, “All those sweet dreams we bartered and sold so long ago.”


Très Johnson

February 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Très Johnson is pouring water in a slow, circular motion around a paper filter resting just inside a glass jar. Inside the filter, coffee grounds are mixing with the water, tiny bubbles forming on the surface of the gritty liquid. The glass chamber below collects the drippings of fresh, dark coffee.

At 1010 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs, (drips) coffee shop serves only pour-over coffee.

Johnson had wanted to open a coffee shop almost since he managed one back in 1995. Unfortunately, “the cost of the machinery prohibits just jumping in,” he says.

He and his girlfriend, Amber Jacobsen, took a trip to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. There, they visited Blue Bottle Coffee, which does pour-over coffee—Johnson’s first taste of it.

“It was the best cup of coffee I’d had,” Johnson says. “And I realized it took a smaller amount of equipment to be able to make it. You just had to boil water, have the filter and the stand. And I actually use glass Ball jars instead of a stand.”

Re-inspired by this method, Johnson opened (drips) on July 1, 2013.

This particular brew is Nightingale Blend, roasted by Beansmith Coffee in Omaha, and prepared in a personal pour-over, which has four drips. He also uses a Chemex frequently, with a single drip.

“I do have some French presses and an AeroPress,” Johnson says. “But I’ve found that the pour-over just tastes better. The people that insist on French press have tried the pour-over, and now they don’t insist on the French press anymore.”

A coffee shop is the perfect place to be on a day like this—cold and rainy. Amber is doing a puzzle. Two locals are enjoying their pour-overs and accusing Amber of cheating by looking at the photo on the puzzle box.

(drips) is located in a mixed-use space occupied by artists, including low-income artist housing. The coffee shop definitely has an artsy feel, probably because Johnson is both a painter and a DJ.

One half of the wall space displays Johnson’s art. The other half is space for rotating guest shows.

For Valentine’s Day, (drips) will display the work of approximately 20 local artists in a show called “Lovesong,” named for The Cure song. A Brian Tait show will open mid-February.

The Cure is already present in lyrics painted onto Johnson’s pieces. He often uses stencils to inscribe lyrics from bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division—words that “people from the ’80s, if they know the song, they connect with.”

He describes his style as “heavily influenced by street art, and then some post-World War II art thrown in.”

“When I’m tired of painting and waiting for paint to dry, I produce music,” he says with a laugh.

He DJs a set every Sunday night for an online radio station, lowercasesounds.com. “Then that’s what I listen to generally throughout the week when I’m painting,” he says. “I listen to it over and over again, because I usually listen to newer music or music that I just picked up. I listen and paint.”

Johnson describes his sound as “deep house and ambient.” He DJs Silicon Prairie News events, like Big Omaha, and he has recently released EPs on the label Deep Site Space.

“There’s always been a combination of the music in the art,” Johson says. “They’re both something that I let myself go into. I don’t really sweat it. I just let it all flow.”