Reclinerland (1998)

Track Listing

1. Venezuela (Hating Trains)
2. 1981
3. First
4. Littlestar (звёздочка)
5. Two Contortionists
6. Olive Green
7. A Lonely Boy Makes A Handsome Steed
8. Audrey (Squishing Butterflies)
9. Drugs I Need
10. Symphony No. 1
11. Catherine
12. Orange County Revisited
13. Baby, You're A Rich Man
14. God Is
15. Olive Green (acoustic)


The Story Behind the Album

On the New York City subway, ca. 1999

I moved to Portland in 1996 with my friends and band mates the American Girls. Our manager Adam Zacks advised us to move there after he got a job at Double T Promotions and our label suggested we move to a bigger city. We lived in Portland in sort of a vacuum, being that we were one of the only Brit pop inspired bands in a town filled with musicians who were either playing Neo-Swing, punk, Grunge, or sad, quiet, emo music. I didn't like being so isolated, and I felt a bit stifled. The idea of starting my own solo-act came to me on tour when we were driving up to Seattle. While the boys were ribbing each other and fighting, I was staring out the window when we passed a big box store called Reclinerland. The idea hit me that it would be cool to be a single performer with an expansive name like Reclinerland. I filed it in the back of my mind. When our manager invited me to open for Mark Koselek at Berbatti's Pan, I really got the itch to perform solo.

So, after my falling out with the American Girls in late 1996, I declared myself Reclinerland and played a series of residencies at obscure places in Portland, like the Onion (a middle-eastern restaurant), and the O. I was eager to make new friends and play with different musicians. In early 1997 I moved around in different circles until Jeff London, socialite and singer/songwriter extraordinariness, introduced me to Eli and Allegra, a couple who were trying to run an art center (without the proper permits) on Oak St. in the industrial sector of SE Portland. They called it the Oak Street Art Center, of all things, and it was a veritable bee hive of indie rockers, hippies, and DIY kids all milling around and working on their craft. They had band practice spaces in the basement, a cafe, an art gallery, and they frequently put on shows. I met Eli at a "hot cocoa night" show set up by Jeff and Eli offered to record my album at the Oak St. building. He gave me free reign of the place, including unlimited use of microphones and his digital 8-track machine to use for tracking.


Unfortunately, I had no songs! All of the songs I had were written for my old band, and I wasn't used to writing songs just for myself. I had to build a whole new repertoire. None of the music that was going on in Portland at the time interested me, except for the quiet, spacious, emotional music that some of my new friends were doing. So I imitated a little bit of that music, but still retained my influences: Billy Bragg (which is obvious in some of the ripped off melody lines), Ani DiFranco, the Red House Painters, Nick Drake, Blur, and of course the Beatles. Some of the material was very old. I recorded my version of Baby, You're A Rich Man, for example, on a cassette four-track at my parents house in California in 1994. Olive Green came to me in 1995 or so, after my sister died. I wrote Catherine in 1995 and the American Girls recorded it on the album Fair Weather Words for Four Letter Friends. In writing and recording the material, I felt genuinely liberated. I didn't have to impress any band mates, or compete with another songwriter. I could do what I wanted. I could even write string arrangements!

I recorded the first Reclinerland album between July and December 1997. It was a long, difficult process. The warehouse was in a constant state of chaos. Eli showed up to sessions sometimes almost 4 hours late. Every time I'd scheduled a time to go in and record a hardcore band was practicing somewhere else in the building, or some artist was blasting his or her music while working. The police were constantly coming in to shut down the building when it was too noisy. I used to have to go to the building in the early hours of the morning to get anything done. I recorded Symphony No. 1at 3 in the morning, sitting on a large black stage in the main room of the warehouse. It was pitch dark, except for a dim lamp. I was the only person in the whole place. Even the slightest sound I made reverberated into the deepest, darkest recesses of the building. I was scared and alone, but I got through the song. Other songs we recorded elsewhere, like Olive Green, which we recorded at Gung Ho Studios in Eugene, OR, with Bill Barnett, who'd recorded two of the American Girls' albums. Eric Mast and I drove down to Eugene one day and knocked out the song in a day.


I wanted to release the album on Eli and Allegra's label, Bent Records, but they never got the business off the ground, so I approached my friend Adam Zacks, who had managed the American Girls, to put it out. The album came out on his Expanding Brooklyn record label in 1998 in a tri-fold Digipac with a design by Bob Smith that incorporated my illustrations and a lyric booklet. Adam Zacks went on to work with me in the capacity of booking agent and manager. Without him there would not have been any Reclinerland. Adam was responsible for all of my big shows, all my high profile opening slots, everything. From the time I met him in 1994, until Parks & Recreation played at Sasquatch in 2005, and beyond, Adam has been a great confidant, a good friend, and a tremendous influence on me. We only ever made one pressing of the first album, but in 2009 gave the packaging a redesign, cut some of the worst songs, remastered it, and reissued it online.


Around this time I met more of the most influential people in my musical life. People like Pat Gamble, Bob Martin, and many others. It was at the warehouse that I met Chad Crouch, for instance, whose album Portland, OR had a huge influence on me, and whose label, HUSH, was a revolving door of good, talented people who became my close friends. Chad, Jeff London, Ben Barnett and I recorded the first compilation for HUSH records that year, and my relationships with everyone involved with and surrounding HUSH have been the most important of my creative and personal life. If making music is about making friends, then I have been truly blessed.



Michael Johnson - guitars, vocals, string arrangements, piano, vibes, keyboards
Eric Mast - drums
Eli Amendolara - drums
Pat Gamble - double bass
Katherine Shuh - violin
Jacob Degraw - violin

Recorded between July and December 1997 in a warehouse on Oak St. In Portland, OR, at Gung-Ho Studios in Eugene, OR.

Mixed by Eli Amendolara and Michael Johnson. Mastered by Ron Guensche.

All songs: words and music by Michael Johnson
© 1998 Zubsongs, ltd.