The The: Fighting the corporate monster

By David Kenney

Matt Johnson has the Aimee Mann virus. Like Mann, The The’s mastermind says he’s been forgotten by his label due to his lack of commercial viability. Unlike Mann, Johnson’s still a label musician on Universal Records–for now.

"It’s very complicated but you have to fight; there’s no alternative for me," says Johnson, who plays the MacEwan Hall Ballroom Fri, Sept. 28. "You put so much into a project and you’re greeted with this wall of utter indifference and you just have to get on with it and just put your money where your mouth is."

These days, Johnson is spitting out all his nickels and dimes. Financing the tour behind The The’s latest record Naked Self, Johnson is engaging in what he calls "The The vs. The Corporate Monster." On tour since last November, Johnson has even considered giving up music.

"It’s something that’s drawn all my resources emotionally to sort and figure a way through because the oxygen supply of radio play has been shut down by Universal [U.S. division]," says Johnson. "They didn’t service it to radio and I’ve had radio stations calling me saying they weren’t getting copies. It doesn’t make sense."

Most definitely. The The’s past efforts have garnered millions in sales. Johnson’s cult status with his cynical rock made The The an influential alt-rock band. Unfortunately, Matt Johnson and company can’t compete with Britney.

"It’s been a very strange time and if you were a paranoid person, you’d really start to ask some strange questions," says Johnson. "It’s awful because I’d say there’s probably more interest in music now if you can find it."

Apparently, Johnson’s not the only established artist with label problems. He’s heard Beck, Nine Inch Nails and Chris Cornell are treated equally "shoddily." Johnson adds it up to the record industry being in bed with advertisers, trying to conserve costs at every corner. In other words, no singles means no support.

"It’s this patronizing attitude which creates this awful homogenized culture," Johnson says.

In contrast to his support woes, Johnson’s outlook is surprisingly cheery. The infamous unreleased Gun Sluts will finally hit record shelves on Johnson’s own label, Lazarus Records. As well, Johnson is hooking up with former label Sony to release a The The retrospective. Finally, when he’s not touring, Johnson is busy writing songs.

"Funny enough, I’m writing some of the best stuff of my career right now," says Johnson. "I feel kind of invigorated."

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