This interview was supposed to air on the radio, except
that technical difficulties got in the way of tape quality. Dang. Still,
getting to talk to Dan was pretty cool.
Daniel Johnston: Hello?
Celeste Bernabo: Hello, how are you?
DJ: Fine, how are you doin'?
CB: Just fine. Remember when I talked to you last week?
DJ: Yeah, I think so.
CB: Okay ... did you get the letter I sent you?
DJ: Yeah, I got it the other day.
CB: Oh, I'm glad.
DJ: Are you going to do it now?
CB: Well, is that okay with you?
CB: Oh, that's great. Thanks for doing this, and you know I am
recording this. I'm going to try to play it on the radio.
DJ: Hello everyone, everywhere. I wish you well.
CB: Well, first question I'd like to ask you: On some of your albums
you call yourself "Daniel", but on some of your earlier records like
Don't Be Scared you call yourself "Dan". Which --
DJ: I'm gonna call myself "Dan" again. I'm tired of being called
Daniel. My birth name is Daniel, but when I was growing up everyone called
me Danny and by the time I was in high school I called myself Dan. And then
when i wrote Hi, How Are You? I called myself Daniel, just for the heck of
CB: Now, I know you used to live in West Virginia ...
CB: But where did you you live?
DJ: New Cumberland, West Virginia, up by the panhandle of West
CB: Oh really?
DJ: I started writing songs when I was a little kid. I used to make
up music like ... ahhh, music to like a horror movie or something.
(laughing) When I got -- when I started buying my Beatle records when I was
about 18 or 17, I started to make up songs every now and then. And I met
this girl, that .... in college, I wrote her a couple songs and she liked
them a lot, ya know, so I started writing every day after that .... writin'
about her and funeral homes and things like that.
CB: Do you still write every day?
DJ: Yeah, I try to. I try; it's a struggle. I try to write every day.
CB: Well, you just mentioned that you like the Beatles and we all
know you're a fan of the Beatles. What's your favorite Beatles' album?
DJ: Oh, I'd have to say Magical Mystery Tour. That's my
favorite, yeah ... really great. I always considered myself a fool on the
hill, because I lived on a hill and played piano and stuff ... in West
CB: Mm-hmm, when did you move to Texas?
DJ: Well, we came to Texas because ... uh, it's too long to explain.
We just -- all my family lived out here, all my brothers and sisters moved
out, so my mom and dad wanted to move down here, so we finally got a house,
about four years ago.
CB: Oh, okay.
DJ: That's how we ended up down here. (laughing)
CB: Um, other than the Beatles, who are some of your other favorite
DJ: I like Elvis Costello ...
CB: Oh, yeah.
DJ: Queen, uh, Led Zepplin ... Lisa Loeb. Yeah.
CB: How did you first contact Jad Fair ?
DJ: Well, when I went to New York to record 1990, he was
there, he was up in New York there at Kramer's studio, ya know?
DJ: And we wrote a song together that ended up on the 1990
album, and he said, "You know, we should get together soon." So it wasn't
too long after I got back from New York I went to Alabama, I guess, I think
that's where it was, and recorded an album with Jad Fair, which was a lot of
fun. Maryland. Maryland. It wasn't Alabama.
CB: What was it like writing songs with him?
DJ: With Jad? Oh, it was a blast because he had the beginning of most
songs, something weird like "Frankenstein Conquers the World", ya know?
DJ: And I just finished it up. It was fun and easy. So we wrote a lot
of songs together and it was fun. But there were than what were released on
the album -- plan to release them someday, somehow.
CB: That'd be great. Well, you have an album in the works, and what
are you considering calling it?
DJ: It's called Rejected Unknown, and its got this picture of
a skull girl.
CB: ...Skull girl. (both laughing)
DJ: She's got a skull on her head. It's about rejection and love and
the unknown. (laughing)
CB: When can we expect to be able to get a copy?
DJ: Oh, it should be released in March. That's what we're shootin'
CB: (surprised) Next month?
DJ: Uh, it's February now, isn't it?
CB: That's great. Well, now, on Fun you worked with Paul Leary.
CB: What was it like working with him?
DJ: Well, he was an old friend .... and it was pretty psychadelic to
work with him; he had some good guitar riffs. It was fun.
CB: You're working with Brain Beattie for your next album. What made
you decide to go a different route?
DJ: Well, I recorded a little bit on four track and I used to open up
for Glass Eye and that, ya know?
DJ: And a long time ago he agreed to produce an album with me. So
about a year ago we started working like once every week, once every two
weeks, on the weekends, we'd get the bands together and record. It's been a
lot of fun.
CB: Now you've been becoming more popular in the last few years, and
you're starting to work with producers more often, and record in studios?
DJ: We record in the house here with, uh .... a portable studio.
DJ: That's what we did for the last two albums ... for Fun and
this new one that we're doing ...
CB: Hmmm. So you still record at your house?
DJ: Yeah, I'm doin' pretty well. I'm doin' pretty well.
CB: On the inside cover of Artistic Vice you're pictured with
your back-up band. Who are they? How did you meet them?
DJ: There a bunch of friends from this church that I went. They're
all from church. Different churches.
CB: Could you tell me more
about [the Texas Trip] album, which is very hard to find?
DJ: Well, I went to the [Butthole] Surfers' house one night, ya know?
DJ: And everything was pretty cool and everybody was havin' a good
time and ... so we were just goofing around and turned on the recording and
started playing and recorded that version of "Grievances" .... "I Don't
Wanna Die", that's the title of it. And we had a lot of fun.
CB: So it was just something that just ... happened.
DJ: Yeah, it just happened 'cause we were just goofing around. So ...
it was a lot of fun.
CB: You're on the School House Rock Rocks! album. And ... did
somebody ask you to do it or did you ask to be on it?
DJ: They ask me .... they had me pick out which song I wanted to do.
It was pre-written by somebody else, ya know?
DJ: And I just chose that one that I liked the best, and we had a
recording session and it happened.
CB: Well, now lately -- well, not lately, but -- a lot of cool bands
like Yo La Tengo and fIREHOSE and the Pastels have covered your songs, too.
How do you like that?
DJ: Pretty good, I heard some of those. It was pretty good. I like to
hear people doing my songs.
CB: Do you?
DJ: Also, a group named Black Spring and Kathy McCarty did a CD of my
CB: Right, I love that Kathy McCarty record. She -- actually, I
really like it a lot, because then I started listening to Glass Eye after
CB: What was the other group called?
DJ: Ahh ... Black Spring.
CB: Black Spring ....
DJ: Yeah, they used to do my songs.
DJ: And Chlorine used to do "Casper the Friendly Ghost".
CB: So that's good .... we can look those groups up.
CB: What is your most
favorite food in the world?
DJ: I like spaghetti, and pizza, and tacos, and fish, and french
CB: Do you have any words of inspiration, words of wisdom -- now that
you've been writing and making records for a while -- do you have any advice
for people who are trying to write songs and make records?
DJ: Just have a fun time writing. Just strum along, strum those
chords and make them up to whatever you're thinkin'.
CB: Thanks a lot. I just wanna thank you for your time, and your
DJ: Okay, thanks a lot. I hope I did well. I tried my best but I was
CB: Awww, I'm sorry. Actually, it was wonderful. And I'm very glad to
have gotten to talk to you.
CB: Happy Valentine's Day.
DJ: Yeah, you too, all right?