Via Shore Fire Media

Arrested Youth Offers Insight Into His Expressive, “Fiction-Free,” Two-Sided, John Feldmann-Produced LP

Stylish, boundless, humbling, revelatory, and gratifying. Arrested Youth’s Nonfiction – out now – is all of that and more. 

Oh, and did we say that is’s a whole lot of urban-tinged pop punk fun? Because it’s that, too.

Arrested Youth found peace of mind within music. As much as he is an advocate for creating, he is an advocate for immersing. Each and every song of his allows the musician, whose real name is Ian Johnson, to dive headfirst into sonic musicality and defiance that was strategically laced with vulnerability. As he built an album from the ground up with no clear path in mind other than wanting to share himself with the world (and his 1.1 million monthly Spotify listeners), there was an element of personality and freedom that, while in all of his previous releases, felt more cathartic than ever before.

The foundation of this album is spontaneity, reality, and genre-less perimeters, not only showcasing what modern music can sound like, but putting Ian Johnson’s soul-stirring, exploratory, and introspective stylings on full display.

Yes, Nonfiction is an immersive piece of art for the world to enjoy in any and every way possible. It tackles growing up, growing out, and using art to grow through love, loss, and life. Nonfiction is also, as noted, a clear peace of mind for the rising star. How many artists can throw their own experiences at the wall of studio and have it bounce back to them written with finite care, expertly produced, and even featuring a member of Blink-182? Not a lot, but this record allowed that for Arrested Youth… and we couldn’t be happier about it.

By the time this feature on you comes out, your debut album, Nonfiction, will have been released into the world. That being said, this full-length record is a long time coming. Is this the debut album that you always hoped you would make?

Oh man, that’s a big question. Because you never know with that question, right? Is it the album that I hoped I would make? The thing about this album was that it actually wasn’t supposed to be an album originally. I recorded a lot of songs when COVID had first hit with John Feldmann who produced this album with me. At the time we were actually in the process of making another EP, it was going to be called Sobville (Episode II) because we put out a Sobville (Episode I). What ended up happening was that we just recorded so many songs that by the time we were finished in that month-and-a-half of working together, we had enough music for an album. I had been always thinking about doing albums, especially over that last year. It just kind of felt like the cards aligned to say, “Hey, we’re not going to do these next two EPs. We’re just going to make an album.” So to answer your question in a more confusing way, is it an album that I always wanted to make ? I wouldn’t say that. I would say it’s the album that I never knew I was going to make.

Very intriguing. I had no idea it came up like that, because like I said earlier, it’s very cohesive. I wouldn’t have thought that you didn’t go in with the mindset of, “This is an LP. This is what I’m going to do,” but it seems to have worked out that way.

Yeah. The thing that was cohesive – in my own opinion, so it might be a little biased – was that I really had something in that time that I was trying to express and say. With the music, we took it in all different directions and there are different types of songs on this and the production is pretty varied throughout it, but my voice and what I’m trying to express… that is pretty consistent throughout. I think, again in my opinion, that’s what kind of holds the whole album together. Just to add onto your question, to give you a little more insight, the reason that it ended up being called Nonfiction was because, again, it wasn’t a planned, fictionally written album. I didn’t go in writing a concept album. It wasn’t like, “Ok, I have this idea for this album called Nonfiction and this is how I’m going to make it.” It wasn’t any of that. It was sitting with all these songs and it was saying, “Ok, I’m going to turn this into an album.” I did not want to fit a square into a circle or whatever that phrase is. Instead, there is a really genuine theme that ties all this together. I really sat down and spent a lot of time with that. I was lucky that COVID hit actually, at least for the project itself, because it gave me more time to get comfortable with the body of work and say, “What is the title of this? Why is that? How do I track this and this?” So anyway, the conclusion I reached was, “Hey, this is a batch of really honest songs about where I was at about a year-and-a-half ago and what I was going through. It’s my own story told in a creative way – with some liberties.” It’s the opposite of making music to say what someone else wants you to say. It’s the truth. It is fiction-free. That’s kind of where we reached the idea of, “Well, let’s call it Nonfiction,” because it is.

Yow know, Ian, I’m looking at my notes from when I listened to the album for the first time cover to cover, which is usually what I do, but I made a note at the end of the 15 songs and it says, “I find that this is a really stellar blend of genres with Arrested Youth, as a whole, at the heart of it. It also shows how widespread his reach can be as an artist.” Now, listening to you know the backstory of the whirlwind record and it’s subsequent title, it shows just how vivid your vision was and how it’s already resonating with people. Congrats, you’re coming through loud and clear.

That’s amazing. Thank you. Those are really kind words and I appreciate that. I think it’s special. I think this whole era is special. I think that maybe because it wasn’t written with a theme in mind or writing it as trying to be something, I just kind of let it be what it was at the time. That mindset has kind of molded this into what the final product is. I’m really glad that you felt that way, too.

One million percent. I know that you mentioned that you did this album at John Feldmann’s studio, who also produced the whole thing. I adore him. I can imagine that everyone who worked with him adores him, as well, but what was working with him like for you? What do you think he brought to the table that some of your previous releases didn’t have – or just hadn’t been explored quite yet?

Yeah, that’s a really good question. John definitely was a big mentor for me over this time of creating the album and us working together. You know, we started working together in 2019 when we put the Sobville EP together. Then we did this album together. I think John has the insight you need as an artist. Also, just the overall inspiration that he’s had on me is continuing to push my love for songwriting and my love for melody and the idea of bringing energy to a record to new heights. He has this idea of pushing for something that really, really stands on its own vocally. I think a lot of my growth with John was, then, vocally. I also think a lot of my growth with John was through expressing energy through melody, too. Those are two big areas along with, you know, inspiring me to continue to learn production and song structure, that I got from him this time around. He’s been really great. I have fond memories of making this album together for sure.

How amazing that he let you be your original self as an artist, but also still let you evolve as your own person in the industry.

Oh, absolutely. I think that’s the thing: John’s really good with letting you be you. He’s continued to get better and better with that over his career, too, because he’s worked at this for so long that he knows when an artist maybe needs more help in the creation of music or when some artists – like myself – are stubborn and want a lot of it their way. John didn’t have a bias for that, which was so great, and he really allowed me to learn lyrically and still grow with the songs that I had in my head. I’m really grateful that he gave me the creative space to do that. 

I’m glad that you had that experience. I find that a lot of artists are seeking that out with who they surround themselves with, especially when going into a new project. To have that for an EP and then again for an album – and hopefully in the future – is so special. 

Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, it is. Relationships through music are some of the most interesting relationships. In my opinion, they hold a lot of weight and a lot of emotion. There are some tough things that happen with relationships in music and some really great things. All that is up in the air per project, but all of that can come together because of just how important and special and meaningful it is to everyone you’re working with. Good music relationships are about really sharing such a creative passion and such a drive and such an energy with someone that at the end of the day, as an artist, as a producer, as a songwriter – and I think I speak for everyone when I say this – when you find those relationships in the moment that you have them, they’re really special and so important to your life and tp your career.

Going off that and speaking about the importance of artistry, over here we have been enjoying every second of this new album and your work. We think you’re this really fun mix of dynamic soundscapes, similar to the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, Mayday parade, and even a little bit of Billie Eilish, just in the way that you craft your songs lyrically. You’re also carving your own path, though. Many of your songs seem to be written very fluidly and like your own stream of personal consciousness and experience. With that being said, where do you go for inspiration?

I think stream of consciousness is probably the best way you can describe my songwriting process. I always look for sonic inspiration to start out. It could be as simple as a guitar chord progression, you know, or something on the piano. It could really be anything. In that moment I always allow something to come out. I always allow just a little something in the conceptual or emotional world that I’m in at the time to be released. It’s kind of about knowing as I’m beginning to write a song knowing when there is something that is meaningful enough to create a whole track out of. It’s like my own test, my own judgment of knowing as I’m putting together a song, as I’m filling out a demo, if something’s going to come up in a lyric or a melody that I know is worthy of building a song out of. Once that comes, I just run with it. Once that lyric comes or once that picture in my mind comes, whatever it is that I feel is genuine and I feel is creative and I feel that is unique to me, I embrace it. It’s then that I go with it… and that’s kind of always been my process.

That’s very organic, wow.

Thank you. Yeah, it is. I’ve tried all kinds of stuff with songwriting and I loved that, but I think the best stuff just kind of comes when I find that one thing I know is worth telling. With my process, it’s not just a stream of consciousness and it’s not just emotional. I build out for those, though. I like juxtaposition. I like when there’s contradiction in songs, so another big part of how a song has always come about for me – you can probably hear it in the music and the songs and the album’s tone – I really like to get all sides of life covered. If I’m going to offer something negative or self deprecating, I like doing it in the same vein of something that offers an element of hopefulness and positivity. I really try to keep the songwriting dynamic and always kind of offer two sides to life, because in my opinion, that’s how life is in itself.

There truly are so many elements, layers, and emotions to each of your songs, especially on Nonfiction. By chance, do you have a favorite song off of it? This is definitely a really hard question to ask, I know. I’m just thinking that for me, my favorite songs off this record keep changing. I went from loving “Paul McCartney” to “Ryan,” and right now I really like “Parallel Lines.” 

That is a really good, but hard question. Mine changes, as well like with you. As I listen and prepare to go on tour, which I’ve been rehearsing for so much, there is this same effect on me of newness. I step into the studio to rehearse every day and my opinion changes on what I enjoy to perform the most. I think on record, on this record itself, I’m incredibly fond of “Find My Own Way,” specifically because that was actually the first song John and I ever created together. The first day John and I met were over at his studio in California. We had coffee and we decided to get into the studio. That was the first thing that came out and was kind of the song that sealed the fate of working together. I think after that song, I said, “I want to work with this guy. I want to work with John,” so that’s why it is special in that sense. You know, when Mark Hoppus came up and wanted to be a part of it, that was obviously a really cool moment with the Blink-182 guy, as well. Therefore, on the record, that’s the one that I’m always super proud of and enjoy sharing and listening to. They all do carry emotion, though, and a story of mine that I needed to express in some way. There’s a lot of self-discovery on it that I think a lot of listeners can relate to.

When it comes to performing the songs themselves, I really do love the whole album. I love performing the whole album. It’s all really fun in a live setting and so comfortable to put onstage. I really enjoy performing “These Days,” so far. I really like performing, “98 Degrees,” and “Ryan.” A lot of the more hip-hop forward songs are also really fun to play and translate well in a live setting. Like you, my favorite changes, but I’d say with the record itself, it’s “Find My Own Way.” In the rehearsal space, it’s all of them.