On his debut LP, Alabama poet & performer Johnny Coley delves into the saltwater poolof his mind to extract lucid observations that drip like surreal front porch gossip. With a drawling voice equally poignant and comic, Johnny's experimental storytelling unfolds like an old familiar blanket...musty and stained with various bodily fluids...a map of time, pleasure and disintegration. The music surrounding his verbal riffing is made by an array of off-beat combos: two banjos and a transistor radio screeching and braying in a field, amplified chalkboard paired with upright bass and mysterious German electronics, a brushed snare gently sizzling with harp and pyraharp. Johnny Coley & crew keep things loose, unpredictable and juicy.
Percussionist Jimmy Griffin reflects on improvising with Johnny:
Jimmy: I had a mustang that hadn’t broken yet. Johnny lived at Highland Towers, you know the one, the middle tower between the two parks. And there was a cool, black gentleman named Horace, who could do the moonwalk. He lived in the projects in West End, close to where I lived. So every morning, I would get in the mustang, drive to the projects parking lot to pick up Horace, go to Highland Towers, pick up Johnny, and it was a Mountain Brook lawn service, drive to Mtn. Brook, and do this lawn service gig. Oh and then Johnny was the driver for the lawn service truck we were using. And they would send us on jobs in Mtn. Brook, and we would get lost half the time (laughs), and we’d have to come back and say, “We couldn’t find the house!”
Jasper Lee: It’s like a labyrinth over there.
JG: So, one of the things was, um… I think the lawnmowers had a brand name like “Lawnboys”. So Johnny and I would joke about, “Well, we gotta load the lawn boys onto the truck”, like they were living things. It was a wild job. But I remember everyday, you know, it was kinda like a gig. And so.....to tell you the truth, it just seems like I always knew Johnny. So I can’t tell you when I met Johnny, but we had mutual friends, mutual activities, and just faded in and out.
I can say about Johnny, because thinking about calling the lawnmowers the “lawn boys”, and they were like, you know, what is it, Lord of the Rings, you know? Inanimate objects can be living objects. So I wanna say that Johnny had this sense of improvisation always. Even while cutting grass. (laughs)
JL: Even while cutting grass.
JG: Even while cutting grass, so that’s sort of, that’s where we could have endless conversations, and when they were over, you don’t even know what you talked about, you know......So, Johnny’s a master improviser.....though we weren’t very good at mowing grass. (Laughs). I think Johnny’s such a good improviser cuz, like myself, we both had jobs we weren’t really that good at. (Laughs). So if you give him something he’s really good at, like art and poetry and improvisation, and listening and responding to musicians, well there you go. Johnny has some magic in his voice that catches everybody’s attention, I think if Johnny’s reading or especially improving the music, people are kinda leaning forward because that voice, that cadence, unusual juxtaposition, things you know all about and things you don’t know anything about. It just pulls everybody in. And he knows when to stop. Some of us don’t (laughs).
Suggests Nightfall is like a surreal Southern diary brimming with sensuous languageand biting wit. In this, his fourth book, Johnny Coley takes us to that liminal space at the edges of language, where ideology loses its enchantment and it's possible to see beyond the veil. Taking cue from Situationist and Surrealist writers, Coley's prose poetry melds street level observations with wild free verse to invoke a prismatic view of reality. This collection of writings made between the mid-90s and 2020, is a brilliant chronicle of queer life as told by a sage of the Birmingham experimental scene. Coley's ability to improvise words in a live musical setting is an utterly entrancing experience that many have had the pleasure of witnessing in the past few years. Now, finally, here is the magic dust of his daily life; a deeper dive into the poet's prolific and ongoing transformation of words into "another music." His lyrical narratives here are at turns poignant and hilarious, conveying the absurd experience of living within the paradoxes of our current sociopolitical state. Beyond that there is the primal beauty of earth, sky, wind and dreams that the self can dissolve into. Suggests Nightfall takes you there.
In conjunction with the release of Antique Sadness, we are thrilled to publish a new collection of Coley’s writing. This is the very first Sweet Wreath book title and we expect there will be more literary releases to come.
Sweet Wreath featured in About Town: read here!
How Come Your Sister Doesn’t Know My Name Anymore
Out Now on Tape / Digital
Double Vanities is the project of Atlanta based poet and musician Matthew Goethewho sings and improvises on the ukelin, an early 20th century psaltery instrument. Using it as a sounding board for metaphysical free verse, Goethe's incantatory songs unfold in a rustic cascade of melody and dissonance, like a hand drawn map to a dilapidated barn you didn’t know you inherited. Featuring performances at several DIY venues that are either now gone or no longer hosting shows, this album serves as a poignant document of an evolving songwriting process within the ever shifting landscape of the Southern experimental underground.
As Goethe reflects, "I think the isolation of living in a small, strange town—Montevallo, Alabama—played a big role in how this music turned out. You’re imagination has a lot of space to wander in the slowness of a place like that and it can be easier to allow your mind to drift into that poetic state of unfocused focus where the best bits of imagery and language usually lie in wait for you."
"How Come…, is an album that rescues both the tradition of ancient folk music and an experimental heritage with which it manages to tie in this material. An album that seeks to be a transdimensional experience, beyond just a simple album....it creates spaces between pieces that are formed in complex memories of other times and other lives."
-Sebastián Franco, Review of the album in Densidad 20.25