John Splithoff: tales of a nomadic lothario

John Splithoff has a long, confident stride. Head held high, chin up. He has a lot to be proud of. He walks into the coffee shop where we agreed to meet. A firm handshake (the first good sign), and a warm smile, he introduces himself. Splithoff is something of a misnomer. Tall, charming, and attractive with an edge of awkward that only adds to his allure. Immediately one fact is obvious, this man is going places, and the public is going to eat him alive.

I discovered John Splithoff’s music through Noisetrade.com (a social platform where burgeoning artists share their EP’s or singles for free), and attention needs be paid to his swoon-worthy, velvet-pop hooks, that grapple with R&B infused, translucent Dub-inspired beats. From track to track, his inability to stick with a single genre isn’t unsynchronized but exactly on point, he insists on blending his sound into a fusion of sure-to-quench hits that skim all surfaces. What he refers to (with a goofy smirk) as, “just pop.” The first single on his album, The Love Went Wrong, has all the makings of Top 40, Billboard charting, success. Looking at Splithoff, you wouldn’t immediately picture such a mature, developed, soulful voice coming from whatever trove he keeps his treasure hidden. He has the kind of talent that forces a double take, and the kind of voice that lasts like the final fumes of white whiskey at the bottom of an abandoned tumbler.

At one point during our interview, Splithoff mentions that the recording studio where he recorded his album, The Move, is only a block away. Not one to miss a photo-op, we take a trip to the spot where he spent a good chunk of summer ’13. We were greeted by Rick Barnes (one of the founders of Rax Trax Recording, located in Chicago’s East Lakeview). A pleasant, passionate, man who was very willing to provide a tour. With gorgeous red and mahogany tones and two large recording spaces, Rax Trax is a diamond in the rough. It was inspiring, knowing that many great artists had filled that very studio with genius and prose. John Splithoff being, without a doubt, one to join the ranks.

Without hesitation our chat began and what follows is a glimpse into the beginning of an era for Splithoff, Chicago-bred and cross-country bound.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from originally and what’s on your agenda right now?

I’m from Chicago. I just finished school at University of Miami down in Florida. So, after finishing up there, I came back here. And, actually, that’s the recording studio right there (points to a brick building only a block away). That’s Rax Trax Recording. So, I lived right around here. My buddy, whose place I crashed at last night, he’s one of my best friends from high school. He’s an artist and a producer and we basically produced my entire EP over the summer. It took about three and a half, four months to get it done. Then, after doing that, I just wanted to make the move to New York. It’s just where I wanted to be. I know a lot of musicians out there and there’s a lot of work lined up. My brother’s out there, my favorite people from school are out there, and there are just a lot more great opportunities to get work going out there. I just love the city. It’s really different from Chicago.

What’s the message that inspired your album? My personal favorite track is Love Affair. But it sounds like you’re channeling your inner jilted lover…

I mean, all of the songs I wrote…the only song that’s really about me, and just about me, is What I’m Dreaming About.

Another one of my favorites. 

It’s one of your top five (laughs)?

Yeah, I’d have to say so (his EP is only five tracks…)!

That’s really the only one that’s about me, not about someone else. It’s about growing older. I studied music in college and I was so excited to get there. I was like, man… there are going to be so many amazing people wanting to do the same thing as me. Be a recording artist, so many people trying to be famous. I got there…and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I mean, they don’t really teach you how to be a rock star at school. They teach you skills, not how to perform. I write a lot of my songs about breakups, and getting back together. A whole lot of that happens in college. Love Affair was kind of the, “Fuck you, I’ll sleep with someone else, you’re whack.” The Love Went Wrong is more complex, learning how to let go and to quit. I wish I could quit you (delivered in his best southern, Brokeback accent)! Vagabond is about someone who is never happy with where they are, and I know plenty of people that are like that…unhappy with where they’re going. I dated someone like that, they were like, “I need to get out of here”. And that was the whole relationship. She wasn’t happy with where she was. But it doesn’t have to be about love. It can be about anything. And then Leave It All Behind is just about, you know, let’s leave that shit behind us. Enjoy this, right now.

So you produced your EP over the summer, and it was recently released in iTunes on November 22nd. What’s next? What have you been working on currently, now that your main body of work is completed?

Well, I got a band together. I’m trying to get my shit together, get it booked up. I’m just trying to get shows lined up in New York and play around the city. I want to really amp up a show every six weeks. Have a show that I bring out like, 250 people. It’s so much easier now. I never had songs I was proud of, I never had a fan page to start or any social media page, until I had something I wanted to show people. And now that I have that, I want everyone to hear it. The hard part is over, now it’s all about having fun.

How did you get hooked up with Noisetrade?

They actually reached out to me. They emailed me and they loved my stuff. They told me they wanted to run a special and have me as one of their featured artists for a week. And they asked for some money, we negotiated a little bit, and it was a good deal that worked for both of us. Through that, I’ve gotten a lot of responses and reviews. I’m trying to get way better at Twitter, at all my social media, really. But being on Noisetrade definitely blew up, and gave me some attention.

So how is Chicago versus New York? Do you plan on coming back to Chicago, or staying in New York full time?

No, I’m definitely up for coming back here to produce.

How long have you been in NY?

Two months.

So it’s a NEW transition.

I’m fresh dude. So, fresh. I’m just moving into my apartment in Murray Hill next month. East side, 32nd and 2nd. Until then, I’ve been living with my best friend from Miami who’s this phenomenal jazz pianist. So, I’ve just been making the jazz hang in New York. He travels all around the world, just to play the piano. And it’s great, coming from here and being around the songwriting culture in Chicago and being with my friends, working on my EP. Listening to shit everyone is putting out there. And then going to New York and listening to that whole side of music, and my buddy who’s all jazz. It’s all about the live performance.

Well, I’m keeping my eye out for any Chicago performances…

Yeah, man. It’s going to be interesting with this band and how I’m going to execute this live performance. I’ve been writing a lot more, because I just want to keep on getting it. I’ve been in such a, “feel good,” since this album came out. I love New York, and what I have lined up for myself in the next few months, that I just want to have some feel good music. And the music scene in New York…it’s incredible. Every night in NYC has the potential to be the best night of your life. It’s an incredible place. I mean, it’s hard. It’s so fucking hard. It’s crowded, everyone’s in a hurry, and rent is no joke!

Are you playing music every day?

Practicing, everyday. My goal, my New Year’s resolution, is to become a one man show. To be able to put on as entertaining a show by myself, as I do with a band. What I’ve been doing is only singing. Playing with a band, being the front man, and playing some guitar. But mostly it’s just been dancing. I sang with a big band last week and it was great. I studied jazz in Miami, but what I know of jazz…there are people that,“know,” jazz and people that live, breathe, sleep jazz. All they know is jazz. And I’m not like that. I grew up listening to music, and I loved Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. Eventually, I got into Stevie Wonder and D’Angelo. The shit. Then going to Miami, I picked up the house music scene.

I thought I heard the beginnings of a dub-beat in The Love Went Wrong.

What keeps my music from being,“house music,”…it’s not aggressive enough, or loud enough to be house music. In your face, you have to throw your hands up. But when people remix my music, it will be that. My buddy right now, is actually remixing The Love Went Wrong as we speak. He just texted me, “Yeah, this is going great!”

What’s in your future? What’s your plan?

People go to NY to use it as a launch pad. You connect, you network, you get a band together, you start playing shows together. And then you go elsewhere. Making it in New York City is not being in New York. I’m getting situated, I’m continuing to write, and I’d like to have enough songs to play up to a two hour set. Just get a tight band, and eventually just play. A lot.

You funded your album through Indiegogo, correct? How does that differ from Kickstarter or Pledgemusic?

It’s kind of a better deal than Kickstarter. Kickstarter is direr in the sense that, if you don’t meet your goal, you get nothing. Whereas Indigogo, if you don’t meet your goal, they just take 5% more from you and from your proceeds. So when I made a thousand bucks, I was like, awesome! I used that to help with the mastering. I got my EP mastered at Sterling Sound. The same guy that did mine did Adele’s 21, Beyonce’s last three albums, Miguel, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift’s Red, D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Some of my favorite albums, some of other people’s favorite albums. So, he just made my stuff sound great.

Well, I’m ready for a full length album already. What’s your goal for a project like that?

Yeah, man. I want to have enough songs to be able to choose from. Not just have ten to twelve, but a catalog. That was the thing with my album, I was asking myself, do I like these songs, even? How do I feel? It was like I was in a relationship with these songs. But I was concerned whether or not it was going to be a cohesive thing to listen to. I mean, the first song you have an electro-pop, Daft Punk inspired, almost Katy Perry-esque pop song. And that blends into a neo-soul, punk track. It’s not genre specific. I would just sum it up as pop. There’s a hook, they’re songs you can sing. But then it goes into a John Mayer sounding track. How I felt about it, just kind of felt, yeah, this is great. I’m really happy with how it turned out. You can listen to the whole thing and it’s not jarring, which is awesome for an EP. EP’s are intended to be only a couple songs, and it sounds like it can go places.

It’s time for my favorite question. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you during one of your shows?

One time I was playing a show… a year and a half ago maybe, and I think it was my first show that was just me. We were doing this intro, and my roommate at the time had his laptop set up. And I was on the keyboards. We had it set up where I was playing it by myself, and we had this intro. Well, his stand… that he put his laptop on, was a music stand we had brought from home. You put your laptop on a music stand and you’re just asking for disaster to happen. So, there’s a buildup, the beats about to drop, and the beat drops, and everyone’s like, “Yeah! This is great!” Two seconds, three seconds after the beat drops, the laptop tumbles over. Sound goes out and I just hear everyone go, “Ohh, shit! Damn!” I just look at my buddy, shared a look, and we just did it again (laughs). I’m kind of glad it happened.

John Splithoff is my great discovery of 2013. I look forward to his successes. Keep an eye out for early February performances of his EP The Move in New York City. And as always keep your peepers peeled for Chicago appearances. We’re not done with him yet. 

-Cole Scott, junior editor, On Tour Magazine