Talent buyer Colin Johnson isn’t afraid to say the R-word—after all, raves are what got him his start in music, down in the smoggy reaches of Los Angeles. The Seattle transplant has been hustlin’ for the past 10 years, as a promoter, DJ, and band member, working his way up the food chain to talent buyer. Recently, he found himself unexpectedly ousted from his post at Capitol Hill venue Chop Suey. As the music community speculated as to what caused the sudden split, another club wasted no time. Within hours Johnson was snatched up by Nectar, the Fremont venue known more for its reggae than rock. Can hippies and hipsters find a common ground under Johnson’s reign? As he takes the helm, he hopes to bring in music fans of all kinds with his eclectic résumé. Minus the glow sticks and pacifiers.
Please introduce yourself and tell me just what it is you do at Nectar and beyond.
In the music biz I’m what’s known as a talent buyer; I represent the venue and try to bring in the best talent I can to Seattle. Nectar just brought me on board as they want to become more renowned nationally and are hoping I’ll be able to bring in some of the great shows that I used to put together at Chop Suey. In addition to booking, I’m active in the community as a DJ, band member [Mercir], and generally just a guy you’d probably see out and about town supporting [music].
How did you come to work in music?
I’ve been promoting events and performing for about 10 years now. I got my start in Los Angeles, where I lived until four and half years ago, as a DJ and party promoter…OK, we’ll go ahead and use the R-word—”rave.” After a few years of promoting in the L.A. electronic and hip-hop scene, I moved to Seattle and helped form my band, Mercir. It was actually from my failed attempts of getting us our first booking at the club that Chop Suey first noticed me. I offered up my promotional assistance and took on an internship. After a few short months of doing grunt work, they took a chance on me and offered me the full-time local booking position. I was offered the position of national talent buyer last June. I’m very proud of all that was accomplished this past year at Chop Suey; many have said the club has been more relevant to the community than ever.
What are your feelings about Chop Suey’s decision to make a change in the booking?
I’d seen a lot of changes take place over the last three years at Chop Suey, and it felt like things were better than ever. I’m going to have to say that I was as surprised as anyone that the owner wanted to change the structure of the club. I’m not really privy to how the format is going to change or if they have new goals over there, so I don’t really think I could fairly comment on recent developments. Let’s just say that I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks. If anything, I’m far more focused on what the future has in store for me over at Nectar than in getting all caught up in the past.
How did you come to be involved with Nectar?
After they got wind of my availability, Nectar contacted me within a few hours. They have a vision of taking Nectar to the next level and want to host touring national bands. I’ll be helping relaunch the club, Nectar 2.0, so to speak.
In what direction do you want to take the venue?
Overall, I’d love to take it in a direction that makes it more relevant to the rest of Seattle and the region. It’s important to learn from history, so I feel it’s my responsibility not to totally alienate all the people that love Nectar so far but to do things that will bring in new people and music appreciators of all types. That will be the balance I’ll have to find.
What can people expect from the switch?
More reasons to come out to Fremont at night!
Do you feel this will affect the face of Fremont?
I really hope it does. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the idealist in me thinks that this will be an opportunity for people in Seattle to get to know each other in a new way and get out of their comfort zones a bit. Some Capitol Hill residents (I’m still one myself) may have certain preconceived ideas of what Fremont is like or what the people are like, and conversely, people that live in Fremont may have attitudes and ideas about what people in Capitol Hill may be like. Hopefully, we can get beyond stylistic differences and get behind a common goal…like supporting amazing music and building up the Seattle music community.
Top five records to listen to…
While sipping on a cup of coffee at 8 a.m. as you open your e-mail inbox:
1. The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society.
2. Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information.
3. Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul.
4. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.
5. Panda Bear, Person Pitch.
A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won’t see onstage, but who make it all happen.