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Smalltown Poets Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Smalltown Poets lyrics)
Smalltown Poets Biography
Little did Michael Johnston and Danny Stephens realize on that first stuffy August day at their Tifton High School creative writing class, their future was being changed. Through the camaraderie of the choral music program, and that influential creative writing class, Johnston and Stephens began to share their interests. "We were kind of thrown together on an artistic and musical performance level at the same time. And we were both Christians who wanted to share our faith and shared a love for music," says frontman and rhythm guitarist Michael Johnston. Both were influenced to profess their faith at early ages. And both knew music would be a lifelong craft.
"It's really as simple as that," says keyboard player Danny Stephens. "I just knew, probably from the time I was 12 or 13, that music is what God wanted me to do. And He's just led this group of men to be the team, Smalltown Poets, to fulfill that calling."
During those influential high school years, fellow student and preacher's kid Byron Goggin got a drum set and invited Johnston and Stephens to play. Bassist Miguel DeJesus moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta, GA. With the knowledge that God had made music his life's call, he went on to study music at Greenville College where he befriended the Jars of Clay members and helped to inspire their hit "Liquid." Miguel then moved to Nashville, TN and met his fellow Poets through mutual friends. While pursuing Christian music as a guitar major at Belmont University in Nashville, native Californian Kevin Breuner also joined Smalltown Poets via mutual friends. "And we all lived happily ever after," Kevin quips. "We're riding off into the sunset ... "
The joyful contentment the Smalltown Poets possess is often expressed through their shared sense of humor. The quintet is certainly satisfied and awed that they pursued their callings until they found one another.
"We've played in different bands together ever since high school," says Michael, of Danny, Byron, and himself. "In May of 1996, the three of us met Kevin and Miguel. As soon as the five of us started playing together we discovered that this is the band we have always wanted to put together."
"This is the thing musically, of all I've done since high school, that's the most satisfying," adds Danny. "It's relevant. It's very modern. It makes sense. The chemistry is there. Everyone that plays in the band just fits in exactly as you sense they should. When it's right, it's right. When this band started to happen, we just knew this was it."
Strummy guitars and solid rhythms, layered with electric guitars and keyboards, draw up a southeast region modern rock sound that Grammy nominated producer/engineer John Hampton (Gin Blossoms, Audio Adrenaline, Big Tent Revival) was eager to encourage. The Poets rose to the occasion and created 11 tracks of stunning textural and lyrical poetry.
"Michael and I have been challenged ever since our writing class to be real poetic and real creative with our lyrics, and yet at the same time, just to be honest and accessible," says Danny. "That's even what the name Smalltown Poets means. We view ourselves as the guys next door: even-keel, straightforward, and real up front."
"Our creative writing class really shaped and influenced what we do now," says Michael. "Our teacher said, 'the best writing is honest writing.' If you're being vulnerable about who you are and let that come across in your writing, then that's going to move people."
Songs like "Everything I Hate," the first radio single from the Smalltown Poets self-titled Ardent/ForeFront debut, take a gut-wrenchingly honest look at the sinful desires of the self, and wrap it up in astute thoughts and hooks. That kind of truthfulness takes extra effort, but the Poets are up to the challenge. "You've got to balance being poetic with being understandable," continues Stephens. "We're always looking for a better way to say something. We don't want people to be confused. We really had to learn to rewrite our lyrics. But, that's a lot of the fun of it, to watch a song grow and develop."
Sincerity in writing does not mean always gushing about their faults, and the Poets are eager to voice the joy they have found in their relationships, and that includes their faith.
"We want to communicate with anybody who will listen. We want to share what we've experienced in our relationship with God. Obviously of Christians, we want everybody to have access to that grace we have experienced in Christ. It's not really a planned thing. It's just natural."
Not only do their true-to-life experiences translate into the Smalltown Poets' songs, but stories and poems often shared in concert have inspired the artful scenes of "Who You Are" and the troubled imagery of "Monkey's Paw." "We desperately want to continue being creative. We feel like that's a gift that God has given us that we don't want to squander," says Danny. "We want to say things in a different way than they've been said before. Not to the point that we're so obsure we don't make any sense, but just put a different twist on things. It's fun to listen to lyrics and see images being created through word pictures. That's the fun of poetry. And songs are just poetry put to music."