A man of many talents with a Brooklyn attitude. Johnny discusses his music life and his album, Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria.
MUSICXPLORER —We caught up with Johnny Pisano last year when he was playing with Willie Nile at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, New Jersey. We talked about his musical adventures, the people he has met and played with, including, Ryan Adams, Woody Harrelson, Marky Ramone, Willie Nile, and jazz guitarist, John Pisano, whom he has never met. We also talked to Johnny about his album, Punk Rock Pizzeria-Everybody Gets a Slice.
Johnny, you are not related to the jazz guitarist, John Pisano, are you?
Johnny—No. I’m not. His name is spelled the same as mine, but he’s John and I’m Johnny. It’s funny you ask because I do have a story about that. Sometimes there’s a story behind everything.
Johnny —In 2004, I was recording with Ryan Adams for his Rock N Roll and Love is Hell records. When the record came out, under the credits for the songs I played on, it said John Pisano. I prefer it read Johnny. I didn’t think anything of it, however, I called his management to see if they can change it to Johnny for the second pressing. Then they asked, if I received my check for the session. I said, “No, I didn’t.” They said they sent it and asked, “Don’t you live in Sacramento, CA?” I said, “No, I live in Brooklyn.” I’m pretty sure they made the check out to John Pisano, because he’s in the Universal Music Database, so I assume that is what happened.
Did you ever talk to him about it?
Johnny —I wanted to get in touch with him and joke about it, but I wasn’t able to reach him. I would love to though.
Did you get paid?
Johnny —Yes, they cut me another check. I don’t care what happened. It’s good he got the money. If a check comes in my name, I’m going to cash it, it’s fine. Can you imagine if I ever got to play with him? That would be really cool. He’s an amazing guitar player.
When I Google your name, he comes up.
Johnny —You know it’s funny, when I look at his face, he does look like members of my family. So maybe, I mean, you never know. We could be related.
Johnny —And I’ve even got another story about him.
Lets hear it!
Johnny — I got a phone call once, because, I’m in the Musicians Union, so they called me and said, “Hey there’s this guy who wants to interview you.” I said, “OK, sure, whatever.” The interview guy calls me one day, “You’ve played with Patsy Cline, right?” and I said, “No.” and he goes, “But, you played with…” and he’s naming all these old school people from the 50s and 60s, and I said,” No.” you must be thinking of John Pisano, the jazz guitar player. They replied, “Yeah.” and I said, “Well, you got the wrong guy. First of all, I’m a bass player, but tell him I said hello.”
Sounds like you’re destined to meet him.
That’s enough of John Pisano. Let’s talk about you…Johnny Pisano. Your main gig is with Willie Nile, but you’ve got a long history of playing with a lot of people. For starters, story has it, Woody Harrelson saw you playing at the Bitter End in NYC one night, and he asked you to be in his band. Was he the first well-known person you came across and played with?
Johnny —Yeah. Well that’s an interesting question, because I didn’t actually get to play with him. He walked up to me after a gig I did with Crispy Brown and said, “I’ve been looking all over the City for a good bass player and would like you in my band.” He told me to come to his place in upstate New York. We had fun, but I was afraid to quit my job at FedEx. I went home and I was not sure what to do. I was going to claim a fake back injury with work. I was trying to figure out how to make this thing work, but instilled with in me are my parents’ work ethic. I felt I was compelled not to quit my job. Like an idiot, I never went back with Woody. I think back now man, I should have jumped at the moment when opportunity knocked.
When was that? Were you kicking yourself in the ass?
Johnny —Yeah, it was 1995. I think I was 27.I was so upset with myself when I told Woody I couldn’t do it. It was the first time I ever met anyone famous. Opportunity knocked for the first time, and I slammed the door in its face. He told me, “I’ll pay you a weekly salary. We’re going to go on tour.” But I just couldn’t do it. In the end, it was a quick passing fad for him. So, I told him no, and I went home with my tail between my legs.
It hit you pretty hard, huh?
Johnny —Yeah, then he haunted me.
Johnny —I had to go to work every morning and take the train, and I saw these big billboards on the platforms along the way. They were advertising for the Natural Born Killers movie that was coming out, and they all showed his bald head on all these billboards. It was haunting me.
Johnny —Now it is, but it wasn’t then. It took months to get over it, and I was really depressed.
How did things work out for you after that?
Johnny —Within six months, in April of 96, I joined Marky Ramone of the Ramones’, with his band,The Intruders.
How did that work out?
Johnny —It was great while it lasted, and I got a lot of experience; but then Marky realized that he could make more money playing Ramone’s songs, and ended it in 2000.
Did that set you back? Were you angry?
Johnny —I don’t blame him at all. I would have done it. We are still friends to this day. I still had my Fedex job because Marky wasn’t playing out all the time. I then hooked up with Jesse Malin a few months after that and did some recording with him.
How did that go?
Johnny —Great. I played and recorded with him through 2005.
Didn’t Ryan Adams produce his first record?
Johnny —Yeah, he played on it too. The record was called The Fine Art of Self Destruction.
What happened in 2005? Did you still have your Fedex job?
Johnny —In 2003, I said, “Fuck it,” and gave up my Fedex job. I decided I was going to be a musician full time and was always finding work to do one way or another, including working at Jesse Malins’ bars.
So, you then hooked up with Willie Nile?
Johnny —Actually in 2005 with the help of my friend, Leah Lax, helping me, I auditioned and got a bunch of gigs that turned into other gigs and I was spreading myself pretty thin. In 2007, Willie was looking for a bass player and asked Jesse if he knew somebody. Jesse gave him my number and told him “You gotta call this guy.” This is your guy.
And you’ve been with Willie since?
Johnny—Yeah, it’s been great.
So, let’s get on with your record. Why did you call it Punk Rock Pizzeria?
Johnny —Its a quirky title, yeah. Willie, Jesse, and others call me Johnny Pi, kind of poking fun at my uber Italian name. So I came up with the title, “Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria-Everybody Gets a Slice.” It’s a long title, but I thought it was funny.
What made you want to do the record?
Johnny —I always wanted to do my own record, and I already had this Reggae version of Willie’s One Guitar in my head for three years. It was just looping in my brain, and I knew I had to record it. Finally, one day I got Alex Alexander and Matt Hogan in the studio with Dave Steckert, and we cut it at Dave Vogel’s studio. It came out great, I even had Willie sing on it. Dave Steckert, did a video slideshow and put it on YouTube. It then wound up sitting on a shelf. One day, I decided, if I don’t do a full record now, it’s never going to happen. I had this fantasy of putting up my own record for many years, and I was determined to do a punk rock record. I didn’t care if people liked it or not.
That is pretty cool that Willie did it. Did he like your version?
Johnny —He did. There is a good story about the song, One Guitar, where Tom Morello was involved in a march in NYC with at least 500 people playing that song with acoustic guitars, during, the Occupy Movement and they’re all singing it marching down 5th Avenue.(Check out the Video)
That is awesome!
Some of the songs on the album aren’t punk. Like you said, you have a Reggae version of One Guitar.
Johnny —Right. There are certain songs that aren’t really punk, but I have the punk rock attitude on the whole album.
Johnny —Maloveilove, is not a punk song. It’s rock, but not every song on the album is catered for everyone to like, and I don’t care, so there’s my punk rock attitude again.
MaloveIlove definitely sounds like the hit off the album. It’s pretty cool.
Johnny —I’m proud of the bass line on that one. It sounds like a synthesizer, but it’s an envelope filter, a pedal. It’s kind of like a backwards Wah.
I never heard of that pedal. Sounds cool.
Where did Maloveilove come from?
Johnny —The name, Maloveilove, is kind of a pet name you would say to your girl. My love, I love, but I made it into one word.
Right. What about MusicXplorer. It’s one word?
Johnny —I love it. It’s art.
What about the song Pilicious Bitches?
Johnny —Pilicious is another word I made up. That idea really came from Matt Hogan. Willie and Matt always tortured me about my name because of Pi. “With anything, you got Wi-Fi. Oh, you mean Wi-Pi.” Matt would say, “Hey, have you heard that song it’s Pirific,” instead of terrific, or Pitastic instead of Fantastic, and it just went on on and on. I said, “You know, I can make a song out of that.” But, I can’t write a song about myself. That would be narcissistic, and I’m not ego headed. So then I came up with Pilicious Bitches, and knew I had to make a song about pizza.
Pilicious is definitely a new word.
Johnny —Another cool thing about this, is that my friend, Alex Coletti, who is one of the inventors of MTV unplugged, said, “Listen, I’ve got this reality show. I’m not sure if we’ll ever do it, but if we do, it is about a pizza delivery guy, and we can use your song Pilicious Bitches.” The song I thought no one would care about, and I put it on as kind of a half a joke, could be the one that makes it into a reality show. That shows any song could be a hit. A song you would never think twice about, and be the song that actually makes a splash. You never know. I’m not getting my hopes up. We all know how these things go.
Johnny —Some of the songs have curses in them, like Maloveilove. But I have clean versions of the songs with no curses, in case somebody’s kids are around, or more importantly, a DJ wants to play it.
How did the other songs all come about?
Johnny —Some of the songs were supposed to be on the 3rd Marky and The Intruders record, but Marky wanted to stop before we finished it.
Johnny —All Fucked Up From Growing Up and The Streets of Sao Paulo, which we were already playing in the year 2000.
How about Superhero? That is funny that you have the Mighty Mouse theme song in the beginning.
Johnny —Yeah,I loved Mighty Mouse when I was growing up. I went to my friend, Arlan Fieles, and we created all the instruments in his home studio. I’m singing it with him, and he did all the instruments on samples of harps and then at the end, there’s the Superman flying sound. I had the Mighty Mouse part squashed sounding in the beginning, like it was coming out of a transistor radio, to make it sound like it was coming out of a TV from the 50s. But at the end of the record, after One Guitar Mon’, there’s a hidden track, and it’s the longer and better sounding Mighty Mouse.
Johnny —I didn’t write anything political on the record like some artists do. The strongest song on their regarding that would be the Know It Alls. Assholes who think they know it all. Basically, it’s about when you have to work for a boss that really breaks your balls all day, but you can’t quit. You’re stuck with this shit, and it’s about how they treat you. So this about anyone. It could be your boss, could be manager of the band you’re in, etc. Anybody that treats you shitty.
What’s your favorite song?
Johnny — I think between Maloveilove and Superhero for different reasons. Maloveilove has become everyone’s favorite, a close second seems to be Superhero, All Fucked Up, or The Know it Alls.
You’ve got a lot of good stories, and a lot more history to talk about. So much in fact, we are gonna have do a follow-up video interview. I’d love to interview Willie some time.
Johnny —Sure, I’ll talk to Willie about it. I’m sure he’d do it.