Eleven years is a long time to produce a debut album, and Chase Johnson and his band Open Air Stereo understands that it’s been a Chinese Democracy-esque wait, but at long last, Primates has hit the streets, and the lead singer couldn’t be happier that it has arrived.
“It really was a Chinese Democracy to get it out,” he laughs. “It’s been a whirlwind, but with almost anything, when you give something the right amount of time, and when you have your whole life to do your first record and two minutes to do your second, we figured let’s take a little time with the first, along with a couple speed bumps. But I just feel ecstatic all the time. I’m constantly excited and ready for each day and so happy to be doing what I love. It’s a blessing.”
You knew there had to be speed bumps, and the ones experienced by Open Air Stereo are more interesting than most. If the band (Johnson, Nick Gross, Evan Smith, Scott Pounds) sounds familiar, it’s because they were prominently featured on MTV’s Laguna Beach series in 2006. Of course, with such notoriety comes criticism, backlash, and all that fun stuff.
“The funny thing is, that show did bring a lot of attention - mostly positive, definitely some negative - but that’s just what comes with the territory,” said Johnson. “But I didn’t give them much on the front of drama, or girlfriends, or stuff like that. I was all about the music, and I told them up front that the only way they were going to get me to do the show was if they showcased my band. And it turned out great. For a while we had some skeptics wondering if we were even a real band.”
They were – and are – a real band, but while most would have struck while the iron was hot and rushed out an album to cash in on the success of the show and being an “MTV band,” everything surrounding their stint in the world of reality television actually forced them to break up for three years.
“I think it is much better that the record came out now,” admits Johnson. “We weren’t ready for the type of success that would have come when the show first came out, which is why the break first happened. I think we all thought we were rock stars a little bit too much before we ever put out a record.”
It’s an honest assessment of the situation, not that it made it any easier to deal with at the time. Eventually though, Johnson and company reunited and got back down to the business of recording an album, something the singer-songwriter always felt would get done with his OAS gang and no one else.
“I think anyone in their childhood dreams of doing things as a group of friends, especially as a musician,” he said. “A solo project is cool, but I’m not some narcissistic maniac. (Laughs) I love togetherness, I love the family we have, and I think the main thing about the break was that we needed to grow as people and get to know ourselves first before we could really love one another as a family and grow together as a family. And that break really helped us do that and now we’re stronger than ever and we have no plans to stop whatsoever.”
Were there times when he had doubts that the record would ever get finished though?
“I had those feelings, but in the back of my mind and in my heart I always knew that it would, and me and the boys wouldn’t have let it not come out,” he said. “It’s our bread and butter and our number one passion. We did have other jobs and stuff throughout the years, but the last year or two we dedicated ourselves to it and Nick and I do songwriting on the side for other people as well, so we just surround ourselves with music. And I think when you surround yourself with what you love and you give it enough perseverance and you have a bit of luck, it will all come to fruition.”
In May of 2013, Primates was released to the world and it’s an energetic and hook-filled hard rock album that fans of the band will agree was worth the wait. And when you consider that the band members still haven’t hit 30 yet, it looks like this album will be the first of many.
“I think we turned into very extremely young and energetic old souls,” laughs Johnson. “At 25, we are a step ahead of the game, and it’s an advantage, but a blessing, and we’re so stoked about that. Our writing is better and we can see things in a different light, rather than always trying to impress the next person. We want people to feel with us and enjoy it as if it was their music or interpret it as if it were their music.
“We’re musicians now,” he continues. “We’re not trying to be rock stars. We were always musicians, but I think we lost ourselves a bit and we’ve definitely found ourselves now and it’s an absolute blessing to be doing what I love with the people that I love and going out on amazing tours and playing for the masses every night and showing them my heart and soul. It’s nice.”
Now on tour and visiting New York City’s Irving Plaza on Thursday (with Hinder, Candlebox, and Devour The Day), Johnson and company have made it here years after many expected them to arrive, but they’ve arrived nonetheless. And if you can make it through everything they’ve experienced and still have a love for the game, you’re in it for the long haul.
“The thing about music for me, and the reason I chose it is because I can be the most sensitive person in the world, I can have mood swings, and have everything around me affecting me, and music is the one thing you can do when you’re happy, sad, upset, any kind of emotion in the whole entire world,” said Johnson. “I think that’s it’s a beautiful profession and an art.”
“And also, hearing “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles changed me.”
Open Air Stereo plays Irving Plaza in NYC on Thursday, September 26. For tickets, click here