He may have grown up in Fargo. He may call Los Angeles home. But Jonny Lang is still one of us.
The blues-rock guitar hero launched his career as a teen phenom in the Twin Cities nearly 25 years ago. He moved to California in 2000 but he still has sisters and other relatives in the metro area — and two of his bandmates live here.
What does Lang miss about Minnesota?
“I miss the lakes,” said the Grammy winner, who will perform on the shores of Lake Minnetonka Friday night at the Wayzata Beach Bash. “I actually miss the winter. I miss snowmobiling. I used to love snowmobiling. I miss fishing. You just drive 10 minutes in any direction and hop in a boat and go fishing. When you live by the ocean, you never go there. Except when we take the kids to the beach.”
Yes, the guitarist formerly known as Kid Jonny Lang has kids of his own. Five of them — from a 2-year-old son to 10-year-old girl-and-boy twins.
In an interview last weekend from a tour stop in Oregon, the 37-year-old talked about his children, his first new album in four years and those grimacing faces he makes while playing his famous guitar solos.
Q: Why did it take four years between albums for you?
A: Kids is really the best answer. Being on the road as much as I am, when I come home it’s hard to justify going off and doing another [recording] project. I want to be home and not miss these early years with the kids.
Q: This new album seems very guitar-oriented. Was that intentional?
A: That was intentional. I’d been listening to recordings of Howlin’ Wolf and after-the-turn-of-the-century recordings of all those old dudes, and I was just inspired by all the rawness of it again.
Q: Let’s talk about some specific songs that you co-wrote with Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders. What sparked the title track, “Signs”?
A: There were so many events that were world-changing and cataclysmic. It was this era when I decided to not watch TV so much because it was just making me depressed. There was never anything joyful on there. That’s where “Signs” came from.
Q: “Singing Songs” has a very majestic, almost Broadway-like feel to it.
A: It’s kind of cinematic. I didn’t give much thought to that. I just let it come out. I was kind of scared to put that on the record just because it seemed too out of context with the rest of the stuff. But Drew and Shannon talked me into it.
Q: While the album is eclectic, “Bitter End” seems to be in an unexpected zone. It’s almost prog-rock.
A: That was another song I had a question about. It was a happy accident in that I heard it a lot different in my head than the way the [band] interpreted it. I’m pretty proud of that one.
Q: What goes through your mind when you’re playing guitar solos in concert?
A: Nothing at all. I’m not thinking much. It’s more just a feeling, especially when you’re used to the folks you’re playing with and you don’t have to be really conscious of trying to lead them in a certain direction. You just know they’re going to be there. It’s really fun. You just disengage your thinker and just flow. I feel the same way singing some of the time, as well. That’s the feeling I live for.
Q: You’re known for making grimacing faces when you perform. Do you make those faces offstage, as well?
A: Probably. It’s funny, my wife always goes: “Are you mad?” I’ll go, “No. Why?” She’s like: “You’re making a face.” She came up with this picture of me one time and I had this grimace on my face for no reason.
Q: Speaking of your wife, tell us about her home-schooling your kids. Do you help teach them?
A: Haylie is like Ninja Mom. She’s so good at being a mom and a wife. Haylie’s been great at figuring out how they learn individually and customizing curriculum for each one of them. I help from time to time when I’m at home. The older ones are getting to be of an age when I can’t be of much help because I didn’t go to too much school, and the school I did go to, I didn’t score particularly well at.
Q: Are any of your kids musical?
A: They are. They’re always wanting to play music and sing along. They’re all really good singers. We never really push them.
Everything kind of turns into a drum. They start beating on it. We have a piano, and they all sit down and a few of them have been writing songs by themselves. My oldest daughter just last week came up with this song and it was incredible.
Q: How do you balance career and family life?
A: Man, I’ve been searching for that. I don’t know if there is one. It’s a day-by-day thing. I’m the least equipped to be a good planner. Haylie is really good at that. You go out on the road and you’re in a certain gear mentally, you kind of come and go as you please. Then you go home, it’s a totally different thing. Reacclimating every time is pretty gnarly for me. I try my best.
Q: If you weren’t a musician, what would be your fallback job?
A: Having a family now, that’s the most terrifying thing to me. I don’t really know how to do anything else. I’ve never had a real job, so to speak. I did deliver newspapers twice. I worked with my dad and grandpa on farming stuff.
Q: Have you ever wanted to be a sideman in somebody else’s band?
A: I would love to be a rhythm guitar player in somebody’s band. I enjoy playing rhythm guitar.
Q: Whose band?
A: I’ve never thought of that. If he were still around, Prince. Because being a musician with him was like boot camp.
Q: Did you ever meet him?
A: I met him briefly and played with him one time. It was the concert he did for the turn of the century at Paisley Park. I showed up there with my little sister, Jessie; she’s a big Prince fan. We were there to see the show. One of Prince’s folks came up to me and asked if I wanted to play tonight. “Yeah, absolutely.” So then I talked to Prince about it for a second. [Later] I went up there and both him and Larry Graham were playing bass and I was just losing my mind. I don’t remember what [song] I was playing but I remember some of the strings came off the bridge saddle because it was this jazz guitar and you’re not supposed to bend strings on those and I forgot that. So I was playing with just the low strings. I had a great time. Lenny Kravitz was there, George Clinton — and it was crazy.
Q: Where is your Grammy that you won for best gospel rock or rap recording for “Turn Around” in 2007?
A: I keep trying to put it in a spot that’s not so out in the open, but my wife keeps putting it back on the fireplace.
Q: If you have free time when you’re in the Twin Cities, what’s the one thing you must do?
A: I always try to go to Bunkers [bar in the North Loop] to see Mambo’s Combo. I hope I’m in town on a Sunday or a Monday.