quest to find God often starts in the creative process and nothing
is more creative than the power of music. Music that connects listeners
with their own innate spirituality and the God like force in music
is at the core of Eirlandia, the 2018 CD release
by Washington state based composer / keyboardist Jeff Johnson and
Brian Dunning, maestro of the flute and penny whistles. Also
appearing on Eirlandia are other players, including guitarists
Tim Ellis, Roy Salmond and Eric Miller along
with Wendy Goodwin (violin) and more. According to Jeff, this
magical album of contemporary instrumental New Age music was actually
inspired by the Eirlandia series of books by author Stephen
R. Lawhead. Speaking about the inspiration on his 2018 album with
Brian Dunning, Jeff tells mwe3.com, "Over the past thirty
years, much of the music that Brian and I have collaborated on has
been inspired by the stories of Celtic fantasy writer, Stephen R.
Lawhead. Eirlandia is inspired by Steves soon to be published,
beginning May 2018, Eirlandia Series. Lawheads wonderful stories
are full of great characters, rich plots and lots of dynamics."
Eirlandia also echoes Jeff Johnsons brilliant 2009
album, made with guitar legend Phil Keaggy called Frio Suite and,
after spending quality time in deep listening, clearly Eirlandia
has the same magical, musical power that made Frio Suite such
a memorable listening experience. Central to Eirlandia is
the expert musicianship of both Jeff and Brian and the expert production
of Jeff Johnson seals the deal on this superbly recorded album of
instrumental, and quite healing, spiritual instrumental music. www.arkmusic.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
The Eirlandia Interview
Is there a story behind how Eirlandia came together as an album
and how would you compare it to the last album you made with Brian
Dunning and Wendy Goodwin called Winterfold? How did you meet Brian
Dunning since you have such a long history recording with him?
Jeff Johnson: Over the past thirty years, much of the music
that Brian and I have collaborated on has been inspired by the stories
of Celtic fantasy writer, Stephen R. Lawhead. Eirlandia is
inspired by Steves soon to be published, (May 2018), Eirlandia
Lawheads wonderful stories are full of great characters, rich
plots and lots of dynamics. Thus, the music that weve done based
on these has a much wider dynamic than some of our more chamber
ensemble recordings such as last years If I Do Not
and Winterfold with violinist, Wendy Goodwin.
Brian is a fantastic improviser on the flute and penny whistle and
the Lawhead-based music allows him opportunities to experiment quite
a bit more. I also have the chance to stretch out more with synth
and percussive sounds on these recordings. Thus the production of
music features a much wider soundscape and dynamic.
Brian and I started working together when we both lived in Portland,
Oregon in the late 1980s. He was based there with the group,
Nightnoise, and I was doing a lot of commercial music as well as making
recordings on my ArkMusic label. I had hired Brian to play on a childrens
music project, The Tale of Three Trees and we immediately hit
if off. Shortly after, an opportunity came up to create some music
that would go with the first book of The Song of Albion trilogy
by Lawhead. The rest is history so to say, and even after Brian and
his family moved back to Ireland a few years later, we continued to
record and release new music. We were very fortunate early on to have
much of our music exposed in the Celtic music wave that
was happening through labels like Windham Hill and Hearts of Space.
That helped establish us and gave us the opportunity to build a base
of dedicated listeners who have stuck with us all these years.
mwe3: What would you say about the books of Stephen J. Lawhead
that makes it so inspiring to your music? Can you describe Lawheads
Eirlandia series to those who might not be familiar with them?
You call him a good friend right?
Jeff Johnson: Yes, Steve is a dear friend so that makes an
ongoing collaboration fairly natural. I love his stories and the ones
that touch upon the more Celtic themes play into the kind of music
that Brian and myself have always made together.
Good fantasy has always been about good story telling. And good story
telling touches us and inspires us since it often parallels the narratives
of our own lives. Sure, we wont ever be or meet an elf or a
druid or a Celtic warrior in this life, but like those fantastical
characters, we are often personally faced with great struggles and
must make difficult choices and act upon them to not only survive
but to live lives that are worth living. Thus, our music based on
these books is an attempt to creatively portray the emotions, feelings
and experiences behind the story and some of the characters that inhabit
Unfortunately, Im not at liberty to divulge anything about this
new story at this point. But I can tell you that its really,
Can you tell us about the Eirlandia dedications and about guitarist
Tim Ellis? You have several guitarists on Eirlandia yet the
guitars are very subtle and woven into the sonic fabric in a tasteful
way. You and Brian write the music so what can you tell us about the
other musicians and their contributions to Eirlandia?
Jeff Johnson: Yes, I know that youre particularly interested
in guitarists on this site! Portland, Oregon guitarist Tim Ellis first
started working with me in the early 1990s. There wasnt
a single recording that I released since that time that didnt
feature Tims acoustic and electric guitar playing.
Tragically, Tim succumbed to melanoma cancer two years ago just after
he had turned 60
he and I were the same age. Ill never
be able to replace Tim. We had a fantastic working relationship and
Tim would instinctively know the kind of thing I was looking for 99
percent of the time. He was also a complete professional as a guitarist,
but also as a producer and recording engineer so he just got
it every time. Add our close friendship into the mix and you
can begin to appreciate how much I miss him.
Brian and I had actually begun recording a version of the A
Wonder Voyage track when Tim was still alive and he had added
several parts to it then. The Eirlandia version is quite different
from the original, but I was able to retain Tims beautiful ebow
line on the track. So the dedication of the CD includes Tim but it
doesnt really do his deep friendship and wonderful music that
we miss true justice, of course.
I have been greatly blessed over the years to have had some fantastic
musicians join me on my recordings. Portland, Oregon violinist Wendy
Goodwin plays a leading role on this new one as she has on most of
my records the past nine years. Also featured is the wonderful American
soprano, Janet Marie Chvatal. Janet is based in Germany and has appeared
on numerous recordings of mine. Phil Baker of Pink Martini fame plays
bass. Phil has also appeared on all of my recordings since the 1990s.
The guitars were handled by Canadian guitarist/producer, Roy Salmond,
and Seattle singer-songwriter, Eric Miller.
Would you say Eirlandia is more Celtic or Chamber music style
and do you mind music fans describing as meditation or New Age music?
What is your opinion on both modern day Classical / Chamber music
and are there differences between Celtic / New Age music and are you
receiving airplay from classical radio?
Jeff Johnson: I alluded to the contrast of Eirlandias
Contemporary Celtic style earlier in contrast to some of the other
instrumental recordings like If I Do Not Remember
being more in the Chamber music genre. Up to the present, when Brian,
Wendy and I have performed live, its definitely a more chamber
sound where the musicians are working from arrangements that allow
us to improvise a bit more.
Having said that, Im pretty sure that most folks would consider
this music fairly New Age. I used to struggle with the
term on several levels especially since new age spirituality is quite
a contrast to my own Christian worldview. Yet, the term has evolved
to convey less about spirituality and more about a genre of music
that includes even classical and world music influenced recordings.
Thats made it a little easier for me to live with.
Yet, our music has never really fit into any one particularly genre
very well. And consequently, it gets played by a fairly broad and
eclectic variety of syndicated and college radio stations. Echoes,
Hearts of Space, Sirius and Pandora have been great supporters over
the years. Sadly, there certainly is not the network of radio stations
that we had even ten years ago anymore.
mwe3: How has your work been going with your Ark Music label
and what other albums have you released over the past few years, leading
up to Eirlandia? You have other more religious based works
on the label too right? Tell us more about Ark Music and its recent
Jeff Johnson: As I already mentioned, I released the instrumental
EP, If I Do Not Remember
with Brian and Wendy last year.
I also snuck out a digital single, Home Again based on
Psalm 90. My dear Dad passed away at nearly 90 years old in July 2016.
A lot of my time was spent helping him that year and the previous
one. Consequently, I put my music on the back burner a bit during
that time. I wouldnt trade the experience of helping and being
with Dad for anything.
Along with the yearly Celtic Christmas tour that Brian, Wendy and
I have presented for many years each December, I also lead a Christian
contemplative service called Selah that features hymns, choruses,
instrumental pieces along with readings from Scripture, prayers and
silent prayer. Ive also been leading a few pilgrimages to Scotland
and Ireland the past two years.
All of this comes out of my own Christian faith experience and the
expression of that faith in my vocal recordings that Ive released
over the years. I mentioned the Home Again single and
the most recent CD along these lines is Broken, Gazing
which came out in 2014.
Have there been any changes to your synth / keyboard lineups in recent
years? I know you use a bunch of different keyboards including Omnisphere.
Would you say your keyboards are state of the art and where do you
see the synths and keyboards of the future? Did you alter some of
the piano sounds to get different effects as you do on the title track?
Jeff Johnson: I love the Spectrasonics offerings of Omnisphere,
Stylus RMX and their most recent, Keyscape. I met Eric Persing, who
began that company, years ago through our mutual friend, keyboardist/composer
Richard Souther. I think what he and his collaborators do is brilliant.
Along with the plugins featured in Logic X, I also use the Korg Wavestation
as well as Synthogys Ivory, which is my main piano sound go
to. And, Im always altering things - thats half
the fun of working with all of this wonderful software these days!
Speaking of which, I recently updated to the UAD Apollo interface
prior to beginning Eirlandia. Some of the plugin modelings
that come with that are out of this world and made a great impact
on the new recording.
mwe3: I know youve done shows with Brian and Wendy in
the Northwest. Are you planning to do shows anywhere else? I guess
the US let alone the world is so large, so that putting on a show
in other areas of the country is cost prohibitive?
Jeff Johnson: Im getting too old to do a bunch of touring.
Meanwhile, Wendy just had twins a year ago so thats going to
have an effect on the trios plans going forward. Lord willing,
Ill continue to do music for Selah, retreats, pilgrimages and
the occasional tour with Brian. Weve just finalized a short
December tour in the Pacific NW that will feature Brian and myself
along with classical singers, Janet Chvatal and Marc Gremm who were
part of the Coram Deo Ensemble that released Antiphon.
mwe3: Have you spoken with guitarist Phil Keaggy in recent
years? Whats he been doing recently? The albums you made with
Phil WaterSky and Frio Suite, are still classic.
so I imagine Phil is another go-to artist you have to continue making
classic New Age / Celtic instrumental albums with. I sure would love
to see another album with you and Phil.
Jeff Johnson: Well, I have good news for you. Phil and I are
almost finished with a brand new studio recording that will come out
later this year. Its turning out great and we cant wait for
folks to hear it!
Now that youve made so many amazing albums over the years, are
there still musical mountains left to climb for you? What would be
considered your dream album when you get the chance to make it? And
what else have you planned for 2018 and beyond?
Jeff Johnson: I dont really think that way, especially
as Ive gotten older. I was telling folks when I finished Broken,
Gazing a few years ago that maybe that was the last one. Yet,
now youve got Eirlandia and a new one coming from Keaggy
and myself. So, I take these things as they come. I do have some new
vocal material that I think is good so theres a decent chance
I might be concentrating on that once the Keaggy-Johnson CD is out