Arrested Youth talks about how his new excellent ‘Nonfiction’ album came to be as he wraps off his headlining tour (before joining twenty-one pilots for their fall performances).
The human experience is multifaceted. There’s happiness, sadness, and a slew of other feelings in between. It’s a difficult challenge to condense all of this into a three-minute song, but Arrested Youth makes it look easy on Nonfiction.
Arrested Youth (aka Ian Johnson) covers a wide range of topics over the course of fifteen songs, including the awkwardness of growing up (“Find My Own Way,” “Woke Up In This Body”), anxiety and alienation (“Paul McCartney”), angst at an increasingly commercialized world (“1984”), and the pain of loss (“My Friend,” “Leave My Casket Open…”).
Nonfiction walks the line between introspective and inspirational, between being positive without being cheesy, with heartfelt lyrics paired with production that draws sounds from punk, hip-hop, and pop – and while this appears to come naturally to Ian, he tells HollywoodLife that he feels “the challenge” of that push-pull “on every song.”
He tells HollywoodLife, “I didn’t feel it throughout the recording of the album since I didn’t realize I was making an album.” However, while I’m creating a song, I’m always aware of the juxtaposition and tension.
I try to challenge myself whenever I write a song: ‘I want to say something, and I think about it — not overthink it, but analyze about it, and I say, ‘Is that the complete story?’ Is that anything that actually adds layers?’ Isn’t that a little too on the nose? And it’s how I’ve always viewed life. That’s how I approach lyrics. I definitely consider my songwriting approach in that light.”
He continues, “This album was essentially a compilation of tunes – it wasn’t like I went in to make an album.” “We just generated so much music in such a short amount of time that it felt like an album. ‘This is enough music,’ it was like. I’d like to record an album. ‘I believe the time has come.’ Because I have so much music, it’s actually called Nonfiction.
It didn’t have a specific theme. It wasn’t like an album had been planned out in advance, but I knew it was going to be honest songs about where I was at in my life. So I responded, “Let’s not try to put a square into a circle,” or something along those lines. ‘Let’s be upfront and say, ‘This is honest music.’ As a result, the title is Nonfiction.”
Nonfiction was released at the beginning of the summer, but Ian says it took nearly a year to complete. He’s been writing music since then, and he says the next stage of his career will be a slight divergence. “Obviously, Nonfiction is highly poetic, with a lot of hip-hop influence. So I think you’ll see a lot of that hip-hop fading where I’m headed next.”
“It’ll still be original songwriting and lyricism in and of itself,” he adds, “but I think you’re just starting to see the presentation grow and shift a little bit and become something that the human ear doesn’t have to work as hard to follow.” Ian describes nonfiction as a “anxious record” that “keeps you attentive.”
It’s a period record, as this is an anxious era for an anxious generation. However, the human experience is multifaceted, and it is impossible to be nervous all of the time. As a result, he believes his next step is to “create a body of work that elicits a variety of emotions.”
Is he less frightened in 2021? “I do in certain aspects, and I don’t in others.” Ian, on the other hand, feels at ease in his own skin. It’s evident from the first moment you speak with him that he’s secure in his own skin. However, there are still some underlying concerns about the world – “and the development of my job, and the development of everyone’s lives?
” he says. “And I believe that is probably true of anyone. How can you be someone right now in the United States and not be worried? Uncertainty causes a lot of anxiety. And find me someone who can argue that we’re not living in an incredibly uncertain time right now.”
Arrested Youth began his summer tour with cautious optimism and a commitment to be “as safe as I possibly can.” The Nonfiction tour, which ended in mid-September, took him across the country. He’ll join twenty-one pilots for a stretch of gigs in Denver, Los Angeles, and Chicago less than a week after the last date. He told HL before the Nonfiction tour begins, “We’ve really put up built out a game plan for how we’re going to protect ourselves.” “I made it a policy for our employees to be properly vaccinated,” she explained. Our entire [setup] has been modified. How we conduct ourselves at events and how we handle the merge booth. All of that has unquestionably changed.”
“I used to be the polar opposite of a germaphobe in that I was the first one to leap into crowds, hug everyone, and do everything. I’m a little more cautious now. And that isn’t just for me; it is for everyone else in the room, as well as the band. If one of our tour members becomes ill, the rest of our trip, as well as the twenty-one pilots tour, is jeopardized.” And for an up-and-coming musician like Arrested Youth, that’s neither a danger nor an opportunity he can pass up.
He says, “I was just thinking about the other day.” “I just released an album, and we have two major tours coming up that will help me take the next step in my career. If I were a well-established musician who could sell out gigs everywhere I wanted — you know, sell a lot of tickets — I’m not sure there would be the same debate about whether or not to go on the road right now. It’s all depending on each artist’s career, and then analyzing the risk that you’re prepared to take now to continue expanding your career – while also keeping yourself, your band, and your fans safe, and just being cognizant of everyone in the country that this thing is spreading.”
Arrested You should be established as one of the top performers in the new alt-sound by the end of 2021, having flagged the genre for years. It’s a popular sound right now, with Gen Z experimenting with heavier punk, metal, and rock sounds.
When asked about the growth in alt popularity, Ian responds, “I think it boils down to underlying feelings of the kids, for sure.” “It’s a mixture of anxiousness and uncertainty. This movement appears to have created a lot of space for artistic expression. It only encourages more angsty looks in culture, fashion, and general appearance.”
“And I believe a huge part of this current resurrection is, while the music is vital, the culture, the energy, and the angst is what’s driving it,” he says. “And that makes perfect sense because that is exactly how young people feel. I believe it gives me an emotional outlet.” According to Ian, these heavier sounds “give a new feel emotional sense that rap or pop don’t provide.”
“It gives you that youthful, rebellious sensation that everyone experiences at some point in their lives, regardless of age. It’s simply another emotion rap delivers, right? Rap provides cool and it provides lifestyle sensations, right? Pop, of course, gives you that happy-go-lucky vibe. Then there’s this rock area, which offers genuine revolt and a sense of fighting through self-deprecation and other means.
What does Arrested Youth’s future hold? Will he continue to defy authority and fight through his feelings? He says, “I believe I will continue to progress.” “I’m going to take a few more chances. I’d like to take more risks, but only the ones that feel authentic to me.”
“I’ve always been focused on the show for me. I concentrate on the music. “I’ve focused on doing minor things that are new and different for Arrested Youth while being true to its roots and who I am,” Ian explains. “However, I am aware that [Arrested Youth] is still on the rise, particularly in terms of music and live performances. How we play live and how we create albums are two areas where I think I’ve put a lot of my cards right now. And I think I’ll be extremely glad in the long run that those are the locations I selected to spend my time.”