Mariah Johnson's guitar is almost bigger than she is, and the sound they produce together is bigger than both.
"I actually got it custom-made from this dude on eBay," she says, "but he also makes really terrible, crappy guitars — shaped like shark heads and alligators. But he had one of these, and he was like, ‘Nobody wants this!' It's a pretty instrument, and it makes pretty sounds."
Johnson is jaunty in her Joy Division T-shirt and leopard-print socks, with haphazard hair barely constrained beneath a black hoodie as her home recordings play. Her cat's name is Bacon, but he's black-and-white, not at all bacon-hued: "If he was the color of bacon, he would have probably been eaten already." The cat meows when she sings, sometimes. "He doesn't hit all the notes," she says. That's OK; his owner prefers instrumentals.
Johnson's become a fixture on the local indie scene in recent years, playing in bands like Holiday Road, Business Casualties and especially Foreign Trade, which broke up in April 2008. Her current project, Woven In, is still in its infancy. "It's the least rockin' thing I've ever done," she says. "It's not as rock 'n' roll as other bands I've been in. I feel like I should've been doing this the whole time."
Hailing from the City of Brotherly Love, Johnson admits her music is all about love. She has a lovely, lilting voice, but often prefers not to use it. Johnson's a big fan of instrumental music, citing bands like Buff Clout and Blood Unicorn among her influences. Her business cards say "Surf Rock," a sound that definitely suffuses the music of Woven In, particularly in her guitar playing, which is tonally almost like Alex E.
Johnson, who turns 23 on March 17, first picked up the guitar a decade ago, around the same time she arrived in Florida. "I moved down here in the summer of 2004, and I still have gripes about it, because Philadelphia's school year starts in September and ends in July, so I lost one month of my summer break," she says. "I'll never forget that. I want it back!"
She does most of her writing in a spare bedroom in her Riverside apartment, a space that's bare except for her gear and a treadmill. "I run a lot, but I can't run outside because my eyes swell shut," says Johnson, who has severe allergies to things like soy, apples, tree nuts, melons and, of course, pollen. Her days are spent working in the surgery center at St. Vincent's Hospital, where colleagues often look at her food choices with amusement. "I have the worst time at potlucks," she laments.
Despite having played in all those groups, Johnson hasn't been any band's leader. Now she is, guiding Woven In. She's written about 15 songs for the project so far, but she's recorded only three, all at home, all lo-fi. She gives those out for free in random places, but is anxious to step things up in the spring. Johnson has taken to Kickstarter to help fund production of the first Woven In EP. The campaign ended on March 4; as of this writing, she'd raised about half of the $1,000 she needs. Recording has already begun.
Having matriculated in the Sunshine State, Johnson's next move is back northward, to join a growing Duval diaspora in Atlanta this June. Florida remains at the epicenter of her creative world, though, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon. o