Indie Spotlight on Sam Morrow, Stephen Jacques, Johnny Ironsights and More! by Lee Zimmerman
“No one really gives a damn,” Johnny Ironsights declares on the title track to Murder Mountain, a stirring set of songs that conveys an unsettling sense of menace and mishap. The combination of reverb, vibrato and gutsy vocals make for a decidedly ominous sound, one conveyed through songs that suggest a kind of goth Americana and outlaw insurgence. Think Steve Earle in league with Nick Cave. Ironsight’s subjects focus on a varied array of lost souls, loners and losers— stories that underscore the darkness and despair suggested throughout. In a sense, the material reflects the malaise that the world has witnessed for the past year or so, but at the same time, there’s a dramatic narrative here that adds to the ultimate allure. That’s especially evident on songs such as “Ghost of Orson Welles,” “Three Nickels for a Pack of Smokies” and “Before the Quake (Summer of ’95),” all nuanced narratives with a decided sense of adventure, intrigue and allure. Indeed, that’s what makes Ironsight’s insights so genuinely intriguing.
Johnny Ironsights Found Inspiration In a Deadly and Marijuana-Infested County on “Murder Mountain”
Humboldt County, known as an epicenter of cannabis farming and one of the most dangerous places to live in California, also served as inspiration for Johnny Ironsights’ newest song “Murder Mountain.”
Despite the beauty which surrounds Humboldt County because of its location in the Redwood Forest, Ironsights describes the dark undercurrents of the area which led him to writing this song.
“People believe it’s linked to either the cartels, or somehow a serial killer or something to do with illegal marijuana cultivation, so that’s where that idea came from, Ironsights tells American Songwriter. “But then I was also thinking about isolationism and that kind of spirit of the people from my take on life in Humboldt County. They’re kind of like hippies, but with AK-47’s.”
His wife’s family is from the area, so he’s been able to really feel the atmosphere of the place. But what makes this song different is the way in which Ironsights weaves in broader themes of societal issues.
“I was writing this song also thinking about the racial tensions in the country, the war on drugs, everything. Kind of linked to that ultra nationalism, right wing nationalism, and that, in a sense, these people are in their own world,” Ironsights notes. “And not to criticize them or something, but that somehow they’ve created their own space that is outside of the law.”
With all of these topics circling in the forefront of his mind in conjunction with the bizarre anomaly which is Humboldt County, it only took Ironsights a mere minutes to write “Murder Mountain” and then perform it for his fans in an Instagram live session in which they encouraged him to record the track.
Just as the song is multifaceted lyrically, so is Ironsights’ music genre wise, as he describes it as Gothic Americana. Aptly titled, his voice is undeniably punk-driven but buoyed by unmistakable elements of Americana and supported by his distinctive songwriting capabilities.
Podcast: Making a Scene Presents (EP594) "Johnny Ironsights is Making a Scene"
Song Premiere: Johnny Ironsights "Fertile Reign of Juarez" by Melissa Clarke
Americana Highways brings you this premiere of Johnny Ironsights’ song “Fertile Reign Of Juarez” from his new album Murder Mountain out March 5th. All songs were written by Johnny Ironsights (ASCAP). The album was produced and engineered by Johnny Ironsights and recorded in his home studio in Phoenix, Arizona. “Fertile Reign Of Juarez” is Johnny Ironsights on vocals, guitar, bass, percussion, and organ; with Tommy Detamore on pedal steel. The pedal steel was recorded at Cherry Ridge Studi in Floresville, Texas. Analog mastering was engineered by Gavin Lurssen of Lurssen Mastering in Burbank, California. Photos are courtesy of CK Langdon.
With the foreboding support of Western-style pedal steel, Johnny Ironsights tells classic Western tales of discrimination and defiance.
I wrote this song about my hometown of El Toro in Orange County, California that was renamed Lake Forest in 1991 by efforts of the wealthier white population. They named it after their housing track that was surrounded by a fake lake with newly planted trees. I wouldn’t call that a lake or a forest. Some didn’t want a name that was Spanish in origin, or associated with “The Bull,” and some wanted to attract a different demographic, despite the area being referred to as El Toro since the 1800s. I remember the anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiment as a kid in my working class and diverse neighborhood along the I-5. “They killed El Toro and gave boon to the forest. Good fortunes gather at the border.” It will always be El Toro to me. — Johnny Ironsights
Tales of Criminality, Hopelessness and Memories, Translated into Verse
Recorded in his home studio in Phoenix, Arizona, during the 2020 Pandemic, Murder Mountain by Johnny Ironsights is an album of songs that burn like a fuse towards what you know is an inevitable destruction. Outlaw Country meets in your face Punk, tinged with an ash of slow burn Gothic-Americana. Less of a mash-up, more of a retooling. The title track, “Murder Mountain,” is a cinematic crime-infested story of isolationism and drugs. It would work wonderfully as a soundtrack to a film such as Winter’s Bone, and is perfect as the kick-off single for the album, yet my ears keep going back to “Three Nickels for a Pack of Smokes,” with it’s warm nostalgia and playful melody. “Before the Quake (Summer of ’95)” tells a tale of friendship, open mic nights, and teenage dreams. Nostalgia without the novelty. Ironsights’ voice, big and bellows-like, may be the closest Americana has to the rocker Meatloaf; a voice which envelops the songs, strengthening them, enriching them. Ironsights has big ideas and isn’t afraid to chase them in a song. True tales of criminality, hopelessness, memories, translated into verse. Fearlessness is one of the best tools a songwriter can have, and Ironsights knows it. In the closing song, “When I’m Gone, When I’m Dead” Ironsights exclaims “Like birds trying to fly with broken feathers,” and I wonder: Is he wishing or invoking? Drama is no stranger to popular music, as death has long been a part of folk music. Ironsights is doing an admirable job of keeping up the tradition. If I have any complaints about Murder Mountain it would be that Ironsights’ punchy vocals can get a little tiresome, and as much as I love a good pedal steel, it could use a rest on a few of these tunes (a bit meandering – ‘less is more’?) Yet Ironsights does have a way with words and storytelling that causes many of these songs to rise way past any perceived musical faults.
Review? The legendary Roy Peak Released March 5th 2021
JOHNNY IRONSIGHTS/Murder Mountain: Can a former Fulbright scholar shave his head and credibly peruse a career as a country Goth punk that belts it out in an earnest voice and sings about the underside of America that lurks behind the curtains and under the surface? Seems like it. With lots of reverb guitar and lyrics that cut to the quick quickly, Ironsights rules as king of an underground of his own making that draws you in like a Tarantino movie. Wild stuff that takes you on a well guided tour of the modern take on the wild side of life.