Guitarist Jacob Johnson’s new single, “Old Soul,” is an instrumental. But the music the virtuoso-level acoustic guitarist wrote is so evocative that words aren’t really required. The song is divided into two very distinct vibes; it’s bookended by a loping, mid-tempo groove that features a melancholy, percussive melody from Johnson’s guitar.
But then the mood shifts.
In the middle of the song, Johnson picks out a low-down, dirty blues-style solo, but not the kind of blues that’s meant to be sad. This is the kind of playing that gets an audience excited; it’s forceful, gritty picking that you can practically hear people cheering for in the background.
And then, after that muscular musical detour, Johnson slides back into the main melody, ending the song on a resigned note.
Johnson says that “Old Soul” is explicitly meant to evoke the lows and highs of being a touring musician.
“There are these two moments that happen when a musician is on the road,” he says. “One of them is when you’re standing onstage, and there are all these smiling faces, and they’re cheering, and you’re the most important person in the world. And there’s another moment where you’re in the car, broke and hungry. And those moments are like 45 minutes apart.”
Johnson says that the song is a sort of search for balance between the euphoria of performing and the hard, lonely work that musicians put in behind the scenes.
“In terms of mood and tone, the great thing about instrumental music is that it doesn’t have to be explicit.”
“There’s something about the feeling of that song that, in my mind, is resolving those two moments,” he says. “I try to put both of those moments in perspective and say, ‘Neither one of these is real; I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.’”
Johnson usually performs as a one-man-band more or less, knocking out melodies, bass lines and even percussion on his trusty acoustic and singing, as well. But he says that as the song developed, he knew that “Old Soul,” which he recorded at Greenville’s Sit N’ Spin studios last year, wasn’t going to need any words.
“Sometimes I know it’s an instrumental, sometimes I have to play with it for a while before I know what direction it’s going to go in,” he says. “This one took me a while. The musical hook just kind of showed up, and I wasn’t sure where the rest of it was going to go. But eventually I figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to add to this musical idea. In terms of mood and tone, the great thing about instrumental music is that it doesn’t have to be explicit.”
Johnson does an annual Christmas-themed show, reworking many of his favorite holiday songs (including the Peanuts theme “Linus and Lucy”) for solo acoustic guitar.
One of Johnson’s previous singles was a cover of “Chim Chim Cheree” from the film Mary Poppins.
Johnson’s first guitar teacher was his grandmother.