Secret Notebook (2009)

Track Listing

1. Vibrator
2. Secret Notebook
3. Braces
4. Troubled Girl
5. Records
6. Dog Days
7. Washington Street
8. Field Trip
9. Mayfair
10. Silhouette

11. Stereo
12. Rebuilding
13. Physical
14. Wet
15. Egg Hunt
16. High Dive
17. Nicknames
19. Hiding Places
20. The Stilts


The Story Behind the Album

The studio apartment.

The studio apartment.

Work on Secret Notebook began in spring, 2008, when I received an email from some organization who wanted to give Kevin Sampsell an award for his contribution to the Portland artistic community. They asked all of Kevin's friends to create a 30-second sound snippet to be used in a film to be shown at the awards ceremony. I immediately leafed through Kevin's book A Common Pornography and came across a story called Vibrator that was only a paragraph long. I set about challenging myself to write a 30-second song using Kevin's words. After Vibrator was complete, I submitted the song. I think everyone liked it.

Vibrator, I then leafed through Kevin's entire book and set about writing a short song for each story. These "songlets" as I called them were to be very short, like the stories that inspired them. I wanted them to have simple, folk song structures, and to be as catchy as possible. My goal with these songs was to boil the music down to the most clear, singable, foot-tapping, melodic material that I could think of. I took inspiration from all kinds of sources, from Mersey beat to David Bowie, to The Greatest American Hero, to Johnny Cash. Finally, I adapted Kevin Sampsell's words for the lyrics. Converting his prose to poetry yet preserving the innocence and grit of the original stories provided me with a wonderful challenge. The end result was 25 songs (out of 33 stories), of which 20 made it onto the final album. This album marks the first (and only) time I've ever adapted another person's words to music.

The entire process of writing and recording the album took place in my apartment on SE 12th and Stark in Portland, OR. Mixing and mastering took place in my little room in Milwaukee, WI. 


Michael Johnson - guitars, vocals, pianos, organs, percussion, noise effects, programming

Recorded in Michael Johnson's apartment in Portland, Or between January and May, 2009. Mixed and mastered by Michael Johnson.

All songs: words and music by Michael Johnson
© 2009 Zubsongs, ltd.