When Even Johansen was a sickly, anaemic young boy, his father took him to see a half-Indian, half-Chinese Rock n’Roll doctor. With a special ink, he tattooed a picture of a magnet onto Even’s arm. After fainting from the pain, Even woke up cured, the magnet drawing iron into his mineral-depleted bloodstream.
"Some [of my] songs are autobiographical, but I’m not a big fan of something that is always completely autobiographical, there needs to be a bit of truth in every lie." With this, a very healthy real-life Magnet offers me a wry smile and sips his coffee. So surely, I ask him, there must be a pinch of salt taken with all of his stories, including tattoo artist doctors? "No that’s true," he nods. "It works as well." I don’t ask to see the tattoo. I don’t need to.
Story-telling, I’d hazard a guess, went out of fashion musically a long time ago. It comes as a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find a singer and a song-writer who doesn’t merely buck the trend, but wraps it in a breathy, soulful voice, a smattering of spine-tingling licks and loops and swoons it off to bed. As we are speaking, the finishing touches are being made to his first official UK album, ‘On Your Side’. However, the story of Magnet began several years ago, when the first fruit of his labours was born. Called ‘Quiet and Still’, it was a close, intimate album, displaying some of Even’s innermost thoughts, and a very apparent love of American Country…and Westerns.
"How can you not like Westerns?" Even asks incredulously, his eyes starting to light up. "Clint Eastwood’s probably my biggest hero of all time!" Suddenly animated, he stops nervously fiddling with his lighter and starts warming to his cause. "The music in these films as well is perfect, the way it’s written and directed, the way it’s all so far fetched… I think it’s something to do with the drama in those films, it’s incredibly dramatic, everything builds and peaks at the same time, musically, and the way it looks. You’ve got the close-ups, and the BAOWWW! twangs from the guitar. Everything’s peaking at the same time, and that’s a good thing, trying to get everything to peak at the same time, I think there’s an element of that in what I do." Nowhere is this more apparent than in recent single, ‘The Day We Left Town,’ an old romantic love story featuring Magnet’s ubiquitous hero and heroine burning down their stifling town and escaping into the sun to live happily ever-after. A truly astonishing song, beginning with the wistful humming of a choir lifted straight off the set of a 1950’s Western, and exploding into a heart-melting opus of splintered snare drums and soaring strings, it’s one of the stand out tracks on the new album.
"Music is like nostalgia anyway, it’s like a time machine. You listen to something and the songs that stay with you for a year, or whatever, you have an association with something that happens there and then or, you know…" I look up from my notebook, Even’s flow is broken as he tries to explain what he feels people should get from listening to his songs, and I realise on hearing his answer how humble and self-effacing the Magnet philosophy is. There is no manifesto, or deliberate message in these stories. They’re there to plant a seed, light a spark, or affect people in a way only special to them. "…Whatever it might be you know? You fell in love, I know that sounds… but you’d remember that, so it’s basically all nostalgia. It’s much better that people make their own associations rather than me trying to force it down their throats. In an ideal world you’d like people to hear something they haven’t heard a million times before. I’m not pretentious enough to think that this is completely new and has never happened before, but at least you can get surprised. If you’re surprised, it creates a reaction, whether you like it or not, and I’m happy with that."
Last October, the first Magnet EP was released. It sold out completely. The title track, ‘Where Happiness Lives’ had been around for a little while by then, having first surfaced on ‘Quiet and Still’ back in 2001. Even obviously knows the strength of his songs, as the track will re-appear later on this month on ‘On Your Side’. Although very different from the basics of his debut, ‘Where Happiness Lives’ sits perfectly among its shinier siblings. The first trio of songs alone are an excellent introduction to what makes Magnet’s music so special. Opening track ‘Everything’s Perfect’ eases the listener in with a swinging brass section and lush guitars and surges to a swirling peak of emotion, with Even crying "You said you’d die for me…so why can’t you live for me?" at the top of his voice. The music box plinking of ‘Last Day of Summer’ is the perfect partner for such a frantic opening track, as the tinkling of Magnet’s toys lull the listener into a magical landscape of hushed beats, with just a hint of the trademark lap steel guitar which passes into ‘Where Happiness Lives’ echoing away in the background behind Even’s hushed vocals.
As I finish my beer and notice Even looking around, itching to go and finish his amazing new album, I realise I have spent nearly an hour with him, and don’t seem to have got to know him very well at all. This, I concede later, is probably exactly as Magnet would prefer. A scratch at the surface, just enough to give you a glimpse into his mysterious world. I try my luck, hoping to leave with some great revelation I’ll be able to treasure, and ask Even out of all his stories, which comes the closest to revealing him from his alter-ego? "D’you know what I think? To get the whole picture you have to listen to all of it. I can’t say that that song describes me best, all of my music defines me if you see what I mean. It’s once everything’s been brought together as one."