John E. Knehr is a musician in the state of flux. The singer and guitarist is changing his sound from the rhythm and blues stylings of his 2002 album "Swang Thang" to a more dark Americana type of feel.
"Over the years, I've been a Johnny Cash fan, and I love the way he tells a story in a song," said the 49-year-old from Andover. "I've changed up the style more and I've been trying to look for a banjo player for the last year."
Current inspirations, which indicate the direction of the sound he's aiming for, include Mumford & Sons and Trampled by Turtles. "I kind of like the new bluegrass" sound, Knehr said.
The musical shift is evident in the songwriting. Before, the songs were jaunty and upbeat, the lyrics mainly concerned with women.
"I've always been intrigued by how strong women are so I've always written about that," he said.
Encouraged by his brother-in-law, Linkin Park's lead vocalist Chester Bennington, Knehr explored the dark side and what he found was a well of inspiration. Fond of reality television shows such as "Bering Sea Gold," Knehr noted that one new song titled "Raven in the Sky" is inspired by the suicide of John Bunce, one of the dredgers on the show. "The whole song revolves around suicide. Is it really bad or is it the person setting themselves free?" Those are the type of philosophical and moral questions Knehr's songwriting is now concerned with.
Knehr initially picked up the guitar when he was a sixth grader at Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School in Sparta, learning the instrument from one of the school's nuns. But by high school, he had laid the instrument down in favor of pursuing sports. Eventually, his life moved cyclically and he returned to the instrument.
The impetus was a series of accidents. At his construction job, he suffered a three-story fall that left him with back injuries that would crop up in ensuing years. A separate fall from a step ladder left him with nerve damage along his right arm. He picked up the guitar in his early 20s as a way to improve the dexterity in his limb.
Always a scriber, he decided to take a songwriting course in Edison in an attempt to make sense of the stray lyrics he always wrote.
Fast forward to the 2000s, and John E. K. and The Memphis Storm, his previous band, had three CDs under their belt and had performed over 700 shows. After two neck fusions, a result from his construction fall, Knehr put down the guitar in 2009.
But music is a calling, and he didn't stay away from the instrument for long. Invigorated with a new sound, inspiration and name, Nice Guy Johnny, Knehr gathered musicians from his former musical forays and returned to the scene. Greg Lwowski on Lead Guitar and Backup vocals and Kurt Colon on Stand up Bass and Backup vocals.