by Julian Mendoza
In many ways visual and otherwise, Los Angeles-based musician Johan Lenox is unrecognizable from when he was a child in Winchester, Massachusetts. He’s traded a childhood where he wasn’t allowed television or video games for an adulthood of indulgence — grown-out hair, binge drinking and parties with Hollywood’s biggest stars. His credits include collaborations with Kanye West, Travis Scott, Shawn Mendes and more. At his current trajectory, Lenox could go anywhere.
At the end of the day, though, Lenox just wants to go home.
“It’s kind of my happy place, you know?” Lenox said of Winchester, a suburban Middlesex County town harboring a little more than 20,000 residents. “I don’t really know how to intellectualize it, but it’s who I am in a lot of ways.”
Aside from brief stops in Boston to perform shows during May and October of 2022, Lenox’s relationship with Massachusetts has primarily been long-distance in recent years. Becoming increasingly prolific within the music industry has demanded his presence be heavily under LA’s bright lights. All that glitters is not gold, however, as these lights are fluorescent, the city feeling more like a workplace than a place he could ever call home.
“It’s a pure pragmatic decision,” Lenox said of living in Los Angeles. “It’s like, why do you do your taxes with Turbotax or something.”
The city’s feeling is mutual, according to Lenox. He said rather than embrace him as an individual, it sees him as a catalog peppered with household names.
“I feel sometimes when I’m in LA, my only value to people is (my network of collaborators),” Lenox said, scrutinizing the “dark side” of having clout. “I don’t want to discount LA, which is a thriving city with many ethnic groups … but there is this sort of ‘La La Land,’ Hollywood part of it. … It’s all just, ‘what can you do for me?’”
In a video published to music.com, Lenox remembered being a child in Winchester who would “dream and think those dreams really might come true … knowing things may never be like that again” come adulthood. Comparing the musician he once was with the musician he became, it’s reasonable to think these dreams may indeed have been left in the past. Contrary to the trap-heavy, future-focused music of Johan Lenox, a young then-Stephen Feigenbaum exclusively played, composed and even listened to classical pieces.
A keen ear, though, breaches the construct of genre and reveals what’s pulling the strings of Lenox’s newer sound: none other than strings themselves. Be it his own catalog or his collaborative work, the same violins, violas and cellos that strung together Lenox’s symphonies hoist his music to a unique sonic space. This is not just an homage to the past, Lenox said, but a step toward a future tied to the dreams he, in fact, had never forgotten.
“My endgame with music is that I want to get people to see symphonies in stadiums,” Lenox said.
Like his strings, Lenox’s hometown is just as entwined with his future as it is with his past. This parallel is a result of Massachusetts being what Lenox is “picturing visually” when making music, the artist explained.
“It’s kind of abstract sometimes,” Lenox said. “It’s just a place, but in the end, if you spend enough time (there) … (you) just feel a certain way, and I try to put that in my music.”
Lenox was in no rush to get to the airport following his Oct. 22 show at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, despite the show ending near midnight and his flight set to take off before sunrise. Instead, he went from bar to bar with a small group of local musician friends. Between sips, Lenox asked question after question about how others in the area were doing. Even as time was ticking, the Kanye Wests, Travis Scotts and Shawn Mendezes could wait.
“Being in LA, I’m comparing myself to the biggest stars. … For me, my interest in Boston is more about connecting with people who have experiences in common with me,” Lenox said.
Lenox said he expects to live out a happy end to his life in the Winchester area, regardless of where his music takes him before that.
“All the way to the top,” he said, “I want to always be clear that this is where I’m from.”