Remember when it was okay to smile…or when something just made you feel really happy? Music does that for me constantly even through all of the current lunacy in the world and it’s artists like Carissa Johnson who keep giving me reasons to turn that perennial frown upside down.
Following up on the cover of Metric’s “Now Or Never Now” (Which you can listen to here), Johnson once again partnered with multi-instrumentalist Steph Curran (Also of The Cure-Alls) for a new take on the NENA classic “99 Luftballons” and adds to the above sentiment via email: “I really miss the process of recording and releasing new music, and playing shows to promote it all. These two covers have helped us with that sense of connection and in making people smile during these difficult and confusing times.”
That said, move over Lady Gaga because it’s unlikely you’ll have this much fun listening to anything else this year.
Sung in the original German, Johnson admits to only a passing knowledge of the language but wanted to push herself because “I figured the English version would just be too easy” with Curran adding (via email as well): “There is something extra special about the rhythmic nature of the syllables and patterns in German.”
Johnson continues: “My knowledge of the German language only truly extends as far as “hallo” and “danke” and one Monty Python skit I memorized. I thought it would be a great challenge and entertaining for everyone involved if I tried to sing this song in German, and so I learned the words while listening and reading the lyrics and then pausing every two seconds to write out my own phonetic interpretation of the words. It was a very fun process and I’m super proud it sounds like I’m really singing German!”
As for why the throwback classic, fans can thank the recent Damone reunion show which Carissa Johnson & The Cure-Alls opened for sparking the discussion. Curran continues: “A few days after a friend of mine had recently seen us open up for Damone, he happened to hear ’99 Luftballons’ on the radio, thought Carissa sounded a lot like NENA and suggested we do a modern remake. I passed the message along to Carissa and she was totally stoked since she grew up listening to ’99’.”
Johnson adds: “I thought this was great because I grew up singing ’99 Luftballons’ and have always loved her voice. When I’m faced with a challenge or a dare like that, it’s very rarely I decline. So I had to try, and Steph was down to try with me. We recorded at Mad Oak in Allston with Benny Grotto. Benny produced this one and we all got super experimental and had the best time with synths and other sounds, and not being afraid to go over the top with random ideas.”
“We recorded this song last fall, in October and November, even though it’s just coming out now. I had never recorded a cover before, and so I had to research the legal distribution of it and also wanted to be mindful of everything else going on in the world with the pandemic and the human rights crisis taking priority. At the beginning of the year I left on tour, and the band and I had all relocated to different parts of the country, so we had some logistical stuff to figure out, and also just a proper release plan following our singles collection EP (The Good EP which you can stream here) that dropped this past June.”
Curran elaborated more on filming a video in the current times: “Putting together the video during Covid wasn’t too bad. It was just the two of us when we shot my parts so we just did our best to social distance and be safe. I could see it being more problematic if you had a full band and larger production crew on set but thankfully Carissa knows her way around a camera!”
Johnson continued: “Steph was in town for a few days so we shot a music video in my basement for this song and the previous cover we released 2 weeks ago (The aforementioned “Now Or Never Now” by Metric) and that was an absolute blast. I filmed Steph playing her parts and my friend Tanya Venom (Editor’s Note: Venom is also a part of Stormstress who you can read all about here) filmed me playing mine – it was fun to have some video projects to work on, and it feels good to release new stuff now that it’s been a while since live music has happened.”
Curran also talked about creativity in the age of Covid-19 with optimism towards the future: “I sometimes find myself not wanting to write because my new “office” is the desk of my home studio. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is pick up the guitar after a long day. I’m in another project where I’m the main songwriter so if I’m not writing or mixing stuff in progress then things come to a halt. Obviously, I don’t want to let my bandmates down so I make myself sit there and write even if I’m not feeling it. Sometimes it works out and other times the riffs go into the digital trash can. Also, the lack of being able to perform live is a facet of the creative process that I really miss but I’m hopeful that things will eventually go back to how they once were.”
But. I. Digress.
As for the song itself, the Johnson/Curran version takes the timelessness and innocence of the original and grafts it to this Indie/Punk Rawk body for an amped up and hyper lush redux. Much like Johnson’s patented style, the “99 Luftballons” redux is a Punk Rawk romp that’s eclectic and vibrant with a definitive crunch showcasing synths and more with Curran concluding: “Once in the studio, Benny had a blast dropping 808s and glockenspiel in. We had so many laughs making this.”
“99 Luftballons” arrives TODAY through all your favorite streaming/digital services which you can conveniently visit now by clicking here or here. For ALL the Carissa Johnson music, head here or here and for the most up-to-date news, follow her across the various social media outlets by clicking here, here, or here.