The Andover Townsman caught up with Martin Johnson, frontman for the band Boys Like Girls, for a Q+A:
What would you be doing right now, if you weren't in Boys Like Girls?
Either being on a street corner somewhere begging for money with a guitar, or doing what I do now. Some things are a stroke of luck, and I've been blessed with a lot of luck along the way. I can't picture my life without music in it.
What's the first thing you do when you come back to Andover for a visit?
I run directly to my front door and give my dad a hug. I miss him.
Then I drive straight to Harrison's (roast beef restaurant in North Andover) and order a roast beef with mayo and horse radish. Then I call my friends, Dan Gillan and Brian Ma, to get together.
What advice would you give to current Andover High students who want to make it in the music business?
If you have that passion, don't follow the norm. Don't get caught up in the expectations of our town. We have one of the most incredible towns in the universe to grow up in, but it's not perfect for allowing people to break out of the mold.
A kid like me that did not apply to college, but graduated with high honors, no one understands. There is such a blueprint for success of an Andoverite, and that's not necessarily everybody's blueprint.
I did my own thing, and I think that's important. I said, "I'm going to go get a record deal." It was hard, and I ate a lot of Ramen noodles.
How did you learn to play guitar?
My dad (Daniel Johnson) was in folk band in college, so I picked up his old guitar. I learned to play "Wild Thing" and "Louie and Louie," and from there on you couldn't break me away. I got my first guitar for Christmas at age 7, and now I own 23 guitars.
I took a couple of lessons, but I'm mostly self-taught. I played from heart, initially it was about feeling the music and not reading (music). I learned guitar not to play other people songs, I learned guitar to write my own songs."
Talk about your rise to stardom.
The summer of junior year of high school, toured with my first band, Strutter, which had John Keefe in it, the drummer for Girls Like Boys. When I got back (from tour), I begged (AHS Principal Peter) Anderson for a senior project, so I could graduate early (to start playing music professionally).
I wrote a record's worth of songs and a paper on why this was my career move and what the lyrics meant. I got honors English credit for it and graduated early.
I moved to Taunton, with John Keefe, my drummer, and hooked up with our other two band members. That's when Boys Like Girls was born, but we were originally named Lancaster. I was 19, almost 20, and we were just doing everything we could to get by. I was waiting tables, and the other guys in the band worked in landscaping and at CVS.
We were living in a rat-hole attic apartment, and John slept on the kitchen floor. We were practicing every night, and eventually got evicted due to noise. Then we all moved into my dad's place in Andover.
We met Paul (DiGiovanni, lead vocals and guitar), and that's when the real Boys Like Girls got going, in November 2005.
We released some demos online, and it was a crazy whirlwind of events. Some sort of magic was happening, and all the sudden labels were contacting us and wanting us to go on tour.
What was it like when your heard a song by Boys Like Girls on the radio for the first time?
It was a "That Thing You Do" (1996 movie, starring Tom Hanks) kind of moment, when you hear your song on the radio for the first time.
I was driving our 15-passenger touring van through the desert in Arizona. Our song came on satellite radio and we all started freaking out. When I started screaming, the guys in the band realized that I wasn't playing a CD, and our song was on the radio.
I pulled the van over, and we all danced around the van while the sun was coming up. It was really poetic.
What's the best thing about your career with Boys Like Girls?
Being able to do the thing I love the most, and the thing I've dreamt of since I was 3 years old. As a kid on the playground, I used to pretend I was Paul Simon, singing in front of Central Park.
Being able to take that dream I've had since I was 3, and turn it into a career.
And being able to walk into Denny's and say "Hey, I'd like my sandwich!" (The Great EggSteak at Denny's is named for Boys Like Girls single "The Great Escape")