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Interview: Johnny Gates talks new single ‘Flirt’, his plans for 2021 and getting creative during the pandemic

We caught up with the talented singer-songwriter to find out more about him.

Johnny Gates
Credit: Jimmy Fisco

Country singer-songwriter Johnny Gates first came to my attention last year when he performed as part of ‘Couch Songs’, the online festival set up by Rob Mayes in partnership with Destination Country.

After releasing a handful of singles over the past year, Gates is ready to enter a new phase of his career with the release of ‘Flirt’ today. A taste of the wealth of new music to come, the song begs the summer to hurry up and get here, and reminds us what life was like before COVID halted the world.

I caught up with Johnny recently to talk about ‘Flirt’, discuss the new music he’s been working on and to find out how he’s kept creative during the pandemic…

Your new single ‘Flirt’ is coming out and it’s your first as a writer since signing with Deluge…

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It’s the first one that I’ve released as a writer. It’s the first of this new chapter of music, for sure.

There’s a really nice summery vibe to this song. What was the inspiration behind it?

We wrote it during quarantine over Zoom. I was at my kitchen counter and one guy was actually in LA. We were all just missing the bars and the weekends that we all used to have when life was normal. We just tried to write a song that reminded us of what that felt like. It’s just fun and a little carefree about when you meet someone and it doesn’t have to escalate to this thing; you can just live in this cool moment in this bar and flirt together and have a good night. We were just longing for those hangs, you know? (laughs).

I remember those days. I think it’s four months since I set foot in a pub, which is crazy!

It’s pretty nuts. In Nashville, things are starting to open up a little bit. The shutdown wasn’t as intense here but that’s definitely come with negatives too. Numbers have skyrocketed and it went through my whole group of friends. It’s definitely weird going to bars and having the masks on. When when we wrote ‘Flirt’, we were trying to just remember what those carefree nights felt like.

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Johnny Gates
Credit: Jimmy Fisco

You’ve had a few singles out over the last year and your EP was a couple of years back. Is ‘Flirt’ the start of a new project?

We’re definitely building up towards a release with this. I have my little group of writers here in Nashville and ‘Flirt’ is the first one that we all wrote together. I want to try to get out these singles. I think we’re going to be doing one every five to six weeks, all leading up to a release and a cool little collab EP that I’m going to be doing too. Because of COVID it was just so easy to write with people that were located everywhere. I was writing with so many of my L.A. friends and I even drove home over the summer and was writing with people in Nashville. I just have a lot of songs so we’re trying to figure out the best way to get them all out there. I’ve written some songs with friends like Lauren Duski and Sam Grow, he’s going to be on there, so I’m just trying to get that out there, too. Basically this year, there’s gonna be a lot of music coming out.

Artists seem to either love or hate the Zoom writes. How do you feel about them?

To be honest, it was definitely weird at first. I didn’t love it because I missed being in the room. But having the lyrics in front of me the entire time and there were no distractions, it was almost like I was in my own little world as I was trying to come up with ideas. We were all in our own little worlds but then it all came together. I kind of liked it. I feel like there was such an emphasis on the lyrics during those times. Sometimes when you’re in the room, half the time I won’t even have a laptop with me and I’ll be trying to write the lyrics on my phone, but during COVID everything was right there in front of you. I feel like we literally went line by line by line, and I feel like I wrote some of the strongest stuff I’d ever written. Recording was so easy because everybody’s closet became a vocal booth. At the time my producer lived in L.A., he’s in Nashville now, but I wasn’t having to fly out to L.A. and spend a week out there recording. We were all just recording guitars in our kitchens. I think that’s why we everybody has so many songs right now and I think you’re about to see so many songs being released this year, just because recording became so easy to. It was a little weird at first, but then I kind of liked it. Even now with the snow (in Nashville) everyone’s Zooming again this week.

Will this change the way you write and create moving forward?

I think so. I feel like it made me a quicker writer. In Nashville, you know how Music Row goes, we definitely treat it like it’s a day job. We’ve become pretty quick but something about the Zoom writes… they just went really quick. There were no distractions. When I’m writing now, I’m almost back in that mindset. It’s forced me to get better at recording. I’m definitely not the track person but I’ve become pretty good at recording my vocal, and now it’s nice because I know exactly what I need to do. I’ll just send that to whoever’s doing the track. I always needed to get better at that and I feel like this really forced me to.

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It sounds like you’ve really embraced this time to be creative. Did you struggle at all over the last 12 months?

For sure, it was definitely hard especially in the beginning because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was releasing stuff before, back in 2019, and it was all leading up to signing this publishing deal with Deluge. I signed back in May but we were negotiating in March and April, and I didn’t know if it was even going to happen. I was like, definitely feeling pretty lost. I released thed single ‘Sucker Punch’ that I’d recorded in my apartment. I was just like, ‘what is happening? Am I about to lose this deal? I don’t know, what’s going to happen’. Eventually, I was able to sign over there. I thought I can sit around all summer and wait for my calendar to get full again and do the whole publishing deal thing and be in the room with people, or I can try to write as many songs as possible. I already felt like I was having a slower start than everybody else. I wasn’t in the room with all these bigger writers. I was having to write songs in my kitchen.

I was like, ‘alright, if I’m gonna make the most of this publishing deal, I need to have as many songs as possible’. If I’m trying to get another record deal, which we’re in that process right now, I’m gonna have to have some songs. I can’t just take a year off. I’ve been doing music now for a while. I was in a band before this and came really close to having something really big happen, and it didn’t work out. I don’t have all the time in the world, this time around. I’ve used the time to get creative and even if I’m not creative at the moment, right now,  I’m gonna make myself creative however I have to. The goal is getting getting back out on the road with songs that I love. Maybe I’m not playing shows right now but I will be like. What do I want that set to look like eventually?

Have you developed any new hobbies or skills outside of music?

I’ve been trying to cook more, I was always the Uber Eats guy. With COVID I couldn’t do that so I started cooking more. My family actually used to own a restaurant when I was a kid. We had an Italian food spot, so I’ve been trying to mess with some of that stuff and hopefully make my Mom proud.

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Johnny Gates
Credit: Jimmy Fisco

A lot have people have been getting into cooking this past year. Are you getting good now?

I really do enjoy it. I’ll put on a podcast and it’s almost therapeutic in a way. My go-to dish has become grilling some chicken with some brown rice or quinoa, and then some some vegetables. It’s not the hardest dish to cook but it’s what I love to eat anyway. I feel like, I got really good at cooking what I love to eat so what’s better than that?

When the world gets back to normal, might we see you performing here in the UK?

I would love that. On Spotify for Artists you can see where plays are coming from. I have a decent amount of UK streams. I know that you guys have been listening to more Country stuff over there. It seems to me Country’s kind of growing over there. My stuff has always been a mixture of the more Americana / Country type of stuff. My producer and his girlfriend, best friends of mine, have a new band called Girl House and they’re focusing on the UK. They’ve been telling me about all these cool shows and tours and bands that they’re about to be setting up over there. I feel like I’m going to be getting over there sooner rather than later.

It’s hard to predict how the year is going to pan out but what do you want to achieve over the next few months?

Touring… we’re talking about stuff but I can’t even really get too deep into thinking about it because who knows even if it’s gonna happen. For me, it’s just getting these songs out. That’s been a huge goal for me because I was writing so much last year and I want people to hear the new stuff. Getting another deal would be huge. My old band, we had a major and it was awesome, but then it didn’t work out. That’s when I moved to L.A. and came back. Getting back to where I left off in Nashville would be huge for me, that’s probably the ultimate goal for me. I have a little nephew back home and I’m trying just to get home more. I wasn’t able to get home that much last year, obviously, because of everything. My nephew is already going to be turning three in May. As a personal goal I want to try to get home a little more and be an uncle. The drive is about 18 hours away so it’s not the easiest drive but it’s not the longest drive so it’s kind of doable. Those are my, my main goals this year. Hopefully this summer things will be OK enough to get back home.

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‘Flirt’ is a fantastic start to the year for you and I can’t wait to hear more music, and hopefully see live at some point…

I feel like the way that I connect with people best is live so it’s been really difficult. Live streams and stuff started popping up so much last year. It’s cool that even in these crazy times, you still discover the music via a live performance. I can’t wait to get back out and play and hopefully make my way over to the UK because that’s always been a goal too. The only time I even went overseas and played, I went to Sweden and I did a show over in Stockholm. I had a label over there for a little while. Just seeing the energy over there for live music, it was really fun. That was my first time traveling and playing overseas. I grew up listening to rock and roll bands from the UK so it’d be really cool to get over there and play some music.

Johnny Gates’ new single ‘Flirt’ is out now to download and stream. You can listen to it below:

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