Daniel Johnston Talks ‘Space Ducks,’ Songwriting and ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’ – Exclusive Interview
Daniel Johnston is a bit of a renaissance man. The Austin, Texas indie fixture has been making eccentric, lo-fi folk rock since the days of handing out his tapes to strangers, to now being covered by the likes of the Flaming Lips and Glen Hansard. Outside of music, he’s painted murals, designed a video game and been the subject of a documentary film. He released his first comic book, ‘Space Ducks,’ last March (with an iPad app!) and a soundtrack of the same name. Johnston talked with Diffuser.fm about underground fame, being inspired by his nephew and why the ‘devil’ is pretty hardcore.
What inspired ‘Space Ducks’?
‘Space Ducks’ — my dad turned to me and said, “We’re going to make a comic book.” He says, “What kind of comic book do you want to make?” And I said — I thought for a second and then I said, “Space Ducks.”
The record with ‘Space Ducks’ on it, yeah, it sounds pretty good. There’s different ‘Space Ducks’ songs, and then there’s my theme from ‘Space Ducks’ song. It’s a pretty good collection.
How did you decide to do a comic book?
I always wanted to do comic books. In this new format there’s like real big comic books, and the color and everything looked just radiant. I was impressed.
What was it like to make it?
Well, I was having fun. I just kept on drawing, trying to decide which would happen first or something, you know — what would happen, trying to figure out a plot for it.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
Well, I like to cut pictures out, and then I paste them on notebook paper, right. And then I thought, then I’d write it down and make a poem for it. And then I had, on the page it said, ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost,’ and, uh, my nephew had a toy of Casper the Friendly Ghost or something crazy, and so I wrote a song called ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost.’ You know, I wrote the title before I wrote it.
What did you really think of the film ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’?
Well, of the video, right? I know I consider it to be what some people call art, but it definitely was exploitation. But the truth is, there wasn’t much footage they could have found that I wouldn’t have been doing something crazy anyway. So it’s more my fault than them, but still, to have the name “devil” with your name in a movie is pretty hardcore.
What’s been the biggest change in the music world that you’ve seen in your career?
I don’t know how to answer that, other than when I got into the underground, I became famous for being from the underground, and like — there’s a billion people that record their own tapes and hope to make it with their demo tapes, as it was called … It seemed like a lot of people just trying to record at home instead of in the studio.
What’s stayed the same about the music industry?
Well, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll. I want to have a good group and really give it a try, to, you know, hit the Top 40 and everything.
What’s your favorite record of the past year?
Um well, let me think about this … I don’t know. I can’t quite remember. I have a memory problem.
You listen to older records, right? What did you listen to when you were growing up?
Well, my brother, somebody’s brother, he would play albums all the time. He was such a luxury, and I would just go and record, not record … but draw all the time in the basement, ’cause he would always have the music playing, and he was doing the things that he did.
So what were some of those albums that you heard?
‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ the Who, the Carpenters, Bread, a lot of different groups. They just sounded like finished product[s], you know. I’d like to sound that way someday.
You’ve toured all over the world. Does any place hold special memories?
I like Spain and I like Japan. Those are my favorite places.
How do you feel about Austin?
Oh, it’s a wild town. A wild town.
Listen to Daniel Johnston’s ‘Space Ducks’ Theme Song