“Craver Road, walk sign is on.” The electronic voice echoes in front of the Popp Martin Student Union, telling students when it is safe to cross the fairly busy street. Many people don’t seem to actually obey the sign, and jaywalking is pretty common. Despite this, the electronic voice of the walk sign remains persistent, dedicated to protecting the student population from cars and Niner Transit buses. Due to its location at the heart of campus, most students can testify to hearing the walk sign multiple times a day. It has become a part of the campus culture, an inside joke between students. “Craver Road Remix” was simply a natural extension.
The song, posted on SoundCloud in the spring of 2017, takes the walk sign’s key phrase and remixes it into electronic trap music. It quickly spread around campus and integrated itself into the UNC Charlotte mythology. However, the musical artist behind it remained a mystery. For over a year, it was the only song on a SoundCloud account with the username “Just Johnny.” The account’s profile picture is simply a photo of the Craver Road walk sign with fire emojis over it. But now, Johnny is willing to go semi-public. On the condition that only his first name is used and no photos show his face, he agrees to an interview at Peet’s Coffee in Atkins Library, where he answers questions about the song and about himself.
When Johnny talks about it, he almost makes it sound inevitable, like it was something he always knew he was going to do. His friends made jokes about the sign every time they walked by (which, living in North Village, was a minimum of three times a day). They’d often say, “Oh, someone needs to make a song out of that.” So at some point, he actually records the sign’s key phrase on his phone. Due to course load, nothing really comes of it at first. Until he gets sick. And it’s spring break.
Stuck at home with an endless amount of time, “Craver Road Remix” is created in only two hours. It is the epitome of a do-it-yourself endeavor, created using Johnny’s own personal Mac, a cheap “digital audio workstation” called Studio One and synthesizers and samples mostly bought online from Native Instruments. When asked about the process of creating the song, he struggles to describe it. His first step is simply to throw the Craver Road hook into the software and decide what direction to take it in. Since the goal is to appeal to as many college students as possible, he chooses to take it in the direction of EDM and trap music. This is out of the ordinary for him, as his own personal style is quite different.
From there, he creates a beat out of various drum sounds and decided on some chords, despite the fact there is actually very little chord use in the song. He just wants to find a musical key. Once those basics are set, he loses track. He zones out. The rest of the music making process is complete “chaos” as he “doesn’t really work in a linear fashion.” How does he know when it’s done then? Quite frankly: when it doesn’t sound terrible and when it hits the two minute, 30-second mark. This isn’t like his more serious music, and it goes much faster than normal.
However, despite its quick creation process, Johnny waits to post it on SoundCloud until he’s back at school. It is posted late at night on a weekday; his friends enjoy it and he goes to bed. The next morning, the number of listens is already at 100 people. He was expecting maybe 20 total. In class, people who don’t know he made it are talking about the song. They approach him, excited and amused, and ask, “Hey man, have you heard this thing?” The only appropriate response at the time seems to be, “Yeah, I made that.”
Eventually, though, Johnny stops telling people. For several weeks, the number of listens on Soundcloud continues to grow. Random people he knows spread it around without any clue that they know the creator. Johnny enjoys basking in the anonymity; enjoys hearing it played around him by people who don’t know it’s his own music. Yes, maybe his friends and roommates know, or the few people he told when caught by surprise during the first couple days of its popularity. But he never intended for it to be connected to him. It’s obvious just by looking at the song and SoundCloud account itself. There is absolutely nothing on there that would lead you back to him, beyond a first name and a description stating that he attends UNC Charlotte.
The most interesting questions then shift from simple ones about production and music to questions about Johnny himself. Why was the song created anonymously? And more importantly, who is Johnny, really? When asked about the first question, he tries to explain it. “One of the draws of music production is [that] the anonymity is amazing to me…for example, [take] someone like Ariana Grande, where she’s singing and everything. But who is, like, the producer behind it? I’ve always been more interested in those people. Just because I find that part of the process more relatable…” But over the course of an interview, a new hypothesis develops. Johnny is someone with multiple personas at once, struggling to balance at least the two major ones. On one hand, he’s a computer science student from a small town in North Carolina. On the other, he’s an indie music artist working on finding his own sound and breaking into the music scene. Adding some other persona, one known around campus for the parody song “Craver Road Remix,” might be too much. Furthermore, it may detract from the more serious image he is trying to cultivate through those other endeavors.
Johnny grew up in the ultra-suburban city of Gastonia, North Carolina. The town likes to think of itself as a suburb of Charlotte, though Charlotteans would probably prefer not to consider it one. It consists of a downtown that has been “revitalizing” for years, an ever-expanding road of department stores, and an intersection with a Mattress Firm on each corner. There’s not a ton to do there, especially for teenagers, and Johnny suspects that might be why he was such an indoor kid. He spent his childhood listening to music and playing video games, both of which were also a family endeavor. He gets excited when talking about his family’s early entry into “World of Warcraft,” though he was too young to understand it at the time. A continuing love for video games caused him to decide relatively early on that he wanted to study computer science; whatever it took to get him designing games.
Doing everything he could to get out of Gastonia and into a great academic program, Johnny originally applied to NC State for computer science. After a rejection letter, he found UNC Charlotte’s computer science program. He’s since fallen in love with the school and program, and can’t really imagine leaving the University. The idea of being in such a high-tech industry, of “working in the future,” seems incredibly exciting. However, Johnny’s original love for video games has changed directions. It’s now a side hobby, and his concentration shifted to cybersecurity. The decision was mostly a practical move; it feels safer and more secure than something like game design. There is also another important factor though: he wants it to fund his music and creative endeavors. In fact, he’d leave computer science behind to focus on completely music if he were to achieve success there. Thus, the computer science side is intrinsically linked to his other persona, one focused on music production.
Johnny has no real musical training beyond some simple drum lessons in elementary school. He never played an instrument or joined a high school band. Yet, he grew up surrounded by music and significant musical influences. He distinctly remembers listening to classic rock with his family, specifically the works of Queen and Fleetwood Mac. However, his two older brothers may have played an even bigger role. As a kid, Johnny often mirrored them and picked up their interests. While he eventually became his own person, they still have very close relationships. He credits one of them with introducing him to the band Tool, which led him down a path of “weird, experimental” musical influences.
He started actually making his own music in high school after stumbling across some computer software for it around the age of 15. From there, Johnny states that his sound has gone through three pretty distinct periods. The first he classifies as “long, ambient and electronic” sounding. Other adjectives he included were “weird” and “odd.” According to him, “It was just easier to do as someone who had no idea what they were doing.” By senior year of high school, he’d moved to a more disco and dance inspired sound. It had a more cohesive and recognizable song format and was largely influenced by the music of the ’70s and the more-modern band Daft Punk. Today, Johnny feels pretty confident that he’s finally found his own unique sound. It takes elements of both prior phases and throws some EDM and electronic elements into the mix. His official description: “Electronic music with a slight dance flair that is weird.”
Unfortunately, it can’t really be found anywhere online. This is a sharp contrast to “Craver Road Remix,” which can be found quickly via a Google search. Part of this is a question of location. While Johnny initially had another SoundCloud account for his personal music, he began to question if it was really the right place for it. As SoundCloud generally seems to be aimed more at rappers these days, he took down his original work. Thus, while “Craver Road Remix” continues to draw in listeners, the music he is most proud of can’t be listened to anywhere. Eventually, he’d like to make it available on Spotify or iTunes. He doubts its ability “to be super popular, just because it is very experimental and strange…” Still, he believes there’s an audience for it, “like some subculture of niche music snobs.”
People all cultivate images of themselves. In this day and age, it is both a coping strategy and a necessary tool to navigate the increasingly online world young people inhabit. Johnny has two of these images, or at least it looks like that at first. That isn’t that unusual. He’s a professional, academic-focused computer science student. He’s also a young musical artist who would give everything up if he knew his music could be successful. However, those two sides ultimately have the same roots. A love of music and a need for creative expression combined with a fear of failure and a need for job security. Yet, behind all of that, there’s also an anonymous song floating around cyberspace, continuing to pick up listeners on a daily basis. It is Johnny’s most popular song and a bit of a campus sensation, despite the fact it’s not a work he’s entirely proud of. “I’m still kind of accepting the fact that this song, based on the Internet and the archives of things, is going to outlive me,” he says, surrounded by the smell of Peet’s coffee and the sound of Atkins Library’s radio mix. “I’m going to be outlived by a parody song that I made in two hours, which is both inspiring and terrifying at the same time.”
You can listen to Johnny’s top ten playlist, comprised of his many musical influences, here: