by Mike Scarfo
Over the past month and a half, Winchester, MA-native and LA-based musician Johan Lenox has been touring the country, providing an opening act for good friend and fellow artist 070 Shake. For the average mid-to-major label artist, touring is simply a part of the job. However, Lenox's live set is far from the norm, and he hasn't even scratched the surface of the kind of performer he is striving to become.
What do you want to be when you grow up? The age old question we are asked often as children and adolescents is usually coupled with answers of typical careers ranging from "doctor", "lawyer", "teacher," or perhaps dream jobs like "athlete, "singer" or "actor" and so on and so forth. For Johan Lenox (at the time, a young Stephen Feigenbaum), I am sure the answer would have been along the lines of either a classical composer/conductor, or a rollercoaster engineer.
Even though at this point in time Lenox is certainly much closer to the former than the latter, I'm willing to bet he never could have envisioned the journey he has been on the last five or so years. Using his classical roots and talents to his advantage, Lenox has managed to receive production credits for string arrangements and compositions on albums for the likes of Kanye West, Vic Mensa, Travis Scott, Nas, Ty Dolla $ign, and numerous others. He's accomplished this feat all while working on his own solo career, which has finally started to take off.
His debut album, WDYWTBWYGU, is a captivating listen, with dreamy auto-tuned vocals drenched in reverb, backed by orchestral blends of strings and keys, and modern drums and synths. While the guest features are impressive (070 Shake, Ant Clemons, Thouxanbanfauni, Mr. Hudson, Cousin Stizz, etc.) it's the soundscapes Lenox creates with its lush tones and instrumental depth that make it one of the most special, unique contemporary pop albums of the year. When you combine all of these elements, accompanied by honest, relatable lyricism, it's simply an album that is difficult to ignore.
Of course, WDYWTBWYGU is centered around the concept of being resistant and trepidatious towards growing up, dealing with the impending responsibilities of adulthood within the unprecedented and complex world we live in. Before his opening act on May 20th at Big Night Live in Boston, MA, we sat down with Johan backstage and he elaborated on the ideas embedded in the album a bit more:
"I think the overall message of the album is really more within the interludes [recorded by my girlfriend], and my character is more just asking questions. The answers to those questions are not clear, but the message is to keep going and not give up. It's really an anti-giving-up album. The songs present a lot of reasons to want to give up or be apathetic...and by the end my character is still figuring it all out, but he's working on it."
Watch the full Album Analysis episode with Johan Lenox above
Lenox certainly should continue to take his own advice, especially within the realm of music, as he followed our interview up with an unforgettable performance that was divided into two parts: his own catalog of songs, and a 15-minute classical string and key set. Lenox took on the challenge of hiring violinists in every city he performed in to read and play the sheet music for his set, all written himself in the span of two days before the tour started. In Boston, he was able to bring in local violinists Felix Herbst and Justus Ross, all backed by sound engineer Wil Anspach.
Lenox performed many classics in his discography such as the somber "moderation", and ambient "i don't do drugs anymore", along with recent hit singles from WDYWTBWYGU: "Get My Shit Together", "phases", and "You Up?". What struck me most was his mystique on stage, moving elegantly and with purpose while exuding passionate, raw energy. The live instrumentation element really captured these songs musically in a way which brought them more to life than they do by themselves. However, the classical instrumental set was truly the shining moment of the night, as the crowd was enamored by Herbst and Ross's tandem violin performance, paired with Lenox's brilliantly effortless keyboard playing.
Check out our full recap video of Johan's performance above
Lenox has mentioned that when it comes to music, his long range goal of "playing classical music to hoards of screaming fans" is truly the way it should be experienced. Having said that, in retrospect, maybe Johan Lenox really is growing up to become exactly who wanted to be. Perhaps it actually was never in question. Instead, maybe it was this extraordinary journey that was the real unknown all along.