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Martin Johnson enjoys wearing many musical hats. Last year, he mounted an extensive tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of his band Boys Like Girls’ eponymous 2006 debut (the group hasn’t broken up, it’s on hiatus), and he’s also penned hired-gun hits for Avril Lavigne, Chistina Perri and Taylor Swift. Now he’s pursuing a soulful pop side project, The Night Game, and creating a stir with the ballad, “The Outfield.” It caught the ear of John Mayer, who invited Johnson to open his recent summer tour.
What did a decade in Boys Like Girls teach you about songwriting?
It’s interesting. I’m 31 now, but when you’re 18, it comes out like whatever’s in your bedroom, you sort of write about — what you feel and what you’re listening to. And that changes as you grow up, until you start to become a caricature of yourself a little bit. So for me, working on The Night Game — especially after writing so much for other people — was challenging, because I wanted to say something that was totally real and unaffected. So I had to tell myself, “I am not going to write a hit.” It was an opportunity to go back to being a kid again and figure out what I loved about music.
Because you had a minor existential crisis after writing for other folks?
Other artists started to find me kind of naturally, I think, and I was known as “the guy from that band.” So you take the smaller sessions, they develop into larger sessions, and pretty soon you’ve got a name. But then I found that I was just writing songs for maintenance — to keep the lights on in the house and not for self-gratification. You get to a point where you’re like, “What am I trying to say?” I lost the joy. So I just shut everything down for a couple of years, and I was even thinking of opening a ski shop. But I thought, “Before I do that, I’m going to see if I still love music.”
How did John Mayer find you?
How cool is that, man? I was pretty floored. I put “The Outfield” in the universe on my own label and Spotify, and I get this email saying, “John heard your song, and he’s excited. Are you available to go on tour with him this summer?” At first, I didn’t think the email was even real. But there I was, two weeks later, loading my gear in on his tour. It was just really validating.
IF YOU GO
The Night Game
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 7
Tickets: $12 to $15
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com
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