I hope there’s enough room for more spank out there,” says Jennifer Johns. The 26-year-old Oakland-based singer is calling in mere hours before catching a flight to Europe, where she’ll perform in France and Germany, before returning to the bay. She explains that, due to some recent eye-opening experiences, “There’s a little bit more spank to my voice, just because I’m feeling something different.” In the past, she says, “I might have been more gentle.”
Specifically, what’s got Johns’ dander up is the state of humanity, and the state of our youth today, which has her feeling, as she puts it, “turmoiled.” It’s a subject she explores in depth in the poignant “Ghetto Stories,” a duet with fellow Oaklander Mystic from her debut CD, Heavyelectromagnetic
soularpoeticjunglehop. Johns calls Mystic “one of the kindest, most mellow, honest, compassionate sisters I’ve ever met.” Plus, she adds, “She is straight out the town.” The two talk often, Johns says, noting that Mystic, who lives in Los Angeles now, wants to know how the young people are doing in Oakland, and what’s happening in the bay these days in general. Meanwhile, Johns is reconsidering her creative process: “I haven’t figured out the definitive state of my mind yet.”
In the meantime, she’s going wherever the flow takes her, be it Elysée-Montmartre, Honolulu, or Düsseldorf (where she’s slated to sing the national anthem for the NFL World Bowl). Such tempest-like activity only adds fuel to Johns’ fire. A couple of weeks back, after performing at Los Angeles’ Templebar, she drove up to SF to perform at Carnaval on two hours’ sleep, then coheadlined with Jean Grae later that night at Oakland’s 2232 MLK.
Anyone who has seen Johns perform can attest to her passionate intensity live. Being onstage, she says, gives her that little something extra she just can’t get from studio recording. “It’s an ebb and flow between the artists onstage and the people in the audience,” she explains. “I definitely believe in the ‘yes yes y’all’ factor, the call-and-response, whatever you want to call it.”
Jennifer Johns opens for Mystic Saturday night at Berkeley’s Shattuck Down Low. ShattuckDownlow.com