The unplugged electric guitar didn’t leave Jonny Lang’s hands for about eight hours — unless he was making a phone call or eating lunch. At every idle moment, he was either strumming a tune, picking a solo or possibly creating a new idea.
That was 10 years ago in Los Angeles on a long day filled with interviews and photo shoots.
Now, Lang keeps a couple of beat-up acoustics in the garage of his L.A. home. But all his good guitars are with his band’s gear, “marinating” in a Minneapolis warehouse.
“There are no guitars in the house whatsoever,” Lang said on a recent morning.
That’s because Kid Jonny, the guitar wunderkind who came out of Minneapolis in the 1990s and played with B.B. King, the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, is now Daddy John Langseth, father of four children under the age of 6.
“The kids are very music-oriented; they bang on any instrument we put in front of them,” said Lang, who will return to Minneapolis at the State Theatre on Wednesday. “They’ll find the guitars — they’ll seek and destroy.”
Not that Lang is complaining. In fact, he calls the kids a blessing.
“Fatherhood has made me a more balanced person. At first, having children was almost this train-wreck experience where psychologically it took me by surprise,” he said in a long conversation from his L.A. home. “The kids were great. But the change of lifestyle was crazy. Now, the more the merrier. I love it. It’s finally made me feel like a grown-up.”
The kids — twins (a boy and girl) about to turn 6 in November and daughters who are 3 years old and 3½ months old — are the reason it has been seven years between studio albums, from 2006’s Grammy-winning “Turn Around” to this week’s “Fight for My Soul.”
Seven years is nearly one-fourth of his life.
“I didn’t think of it in those terms. Now I’m really depressed,” Lang, 32, said with a chuckle. “I wanted to wait until we had some time where I could both be at home and work on the record. It took a while to find the right places to record. I didn’t want to be the dad who’s gone all the time.”
No label interference
After recording four studio albums for A&M/Interscope, Lang finally got to make the kind of album he has long wanted to make.
“In albums past, I was afraid a little bit to completely let go,” he admitted. “I would steer the songs in the way people would expect them. This time I wasn’t worried if this was blues-rock enough for people or, ‘Is this guitar-centric enough?’ I was conscious to just let it be what it is.”
“Fight for My Soul” embraces different styles — blues, rock, soul, pop, gospel — with Lang adding some new Santana-evoking guitar licks and even some flamenco passages and using some fuller, almost Broadway-like arrangements. Under the direction of producer Tommy Sims, he even sometimes sings with a new, softer voice.
“That voice was always there,” he said. “Not hearing it in the past was me trying to stay away from that and me being more the rough-voice guy. In this one, I didn’t care about that. The songs are more dramatic on this record and call for that deliberate quiet.”
“Fight for My Soul” is clearly a spiritual album, although Lang never mentions the Lord or Jesus by name. His previous album, “Turn Around,” was more overtly religious and earned a Grammy for best rock gospel album.
“The only goal is to try to be a blessing with music,” said Lang, who became a regular churchgoer after marrying actress Haylie Johnson in 2001. “In that sense, it is spiritual for me.”
Recording “Fight for My Soul” on his own before licensing it to Concord Music Group (current label of Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Booker T. Jones), he wasn’t concerned about radio airplay, as he had been with his previous studio albums. But there clearly is some radio fare, especially “Breakin’ In,” with its Maroon 5-like chorus. Producer/songwriter Sims, who wrote “Change the World” for Eric Clapton, knows about radio success.
There’s even a holiday-themed song, “Seasons,” near the end of the decidedly unseasonal “Fight for My Soul.”
“That was a song I did not want on this record. Why did I play that for Tommy?” Lang asked. “He heavily encouraged me to put that on the record. I’m glad that he did now. It was really what I was wanting to do with this record — to have songs with intricate arrangements and something I haven’t done. I was excited to finally feel the freedom to do that. I feel ‘Seasons’ in particular is an accomplishment for me, musically and creatively.”
Lang may sound tired — four kids in less than six years will do that — but clearly mature and more fulfilled.
“I feel like I’m less of a basket case. I’m more comfortable being myself and in my own skin,” he said. “That has affected me as a musician — playing live especially. I feel totally unhindered when I play these days. I’m very satisfied as a creative person. It’s good right now. Every day doing dad stuff is great to balance the rest of me out.”
But he has to be a breadwinner, too, so he averages 120 gigs a year. That will increase in the next 12 months, with a new project to promote.
Being on tour means he’ll get to play more golf to justify his handicap of 3, said Lang, who sits up late at night either watching the Golf Channel or playing one of those beat-up acoustic guitars in the garage.
On the road, he plays golf maybe four or five times a week. In fact, he’s hoping to squeeze in a round in the Twin Cities with Mike Larsen, drummer in his first band, the Big Bang.
“I’d play every day if I could,” Lang said. “I’m addicted to it.”