"Applause time is Christmas morning for a musician," says Johnson, the group's singer and guitarist. "When there's silence, something evil is at work."
It's not as if Everybody's X hasn't won over hostile audiences in the past. At its first show ever, it opened for metal-health advocates Quiet Riot, and the once-skeptical crowd ended up demanding an encore. When headlining funk-rockers Jimmie's Chicken Shack failed to show for a scheduled gig, Everybody's X sent everyone home happy with an extended set. And when the group breaks from its high-volume routine to deliver an acoustic ballad, "it confuses a few WWF fans in the audience," Johnson admits. "But that's the fun of it. I love playing sappy love songs in front of death-metal fans."
Still, something far more sinister was taking place at the Grandview club Filling Station, where Everybody's X, Canvas, and another group (Johnson calls them Band X) composed the New Year's Eve lineup. Johnson claims Band X brought along fifty or so friends who clapped only for the headliners, made noise during the opening acts' sets and loudly yelled Band X's name between songs. "I've seen that happen in a Battle of the Bands type environment, but there was nothing to be gained here," Johnson says. "The people who came to see us were eventually so uncomfortable in the situation that they stopped applauding us out of fear someone might break bottles over their heads. By the end of the night, I was like, 'Let's hear it for Band X, cheer for them, do something.'
"I don't understand how it accomplishes anything to play to the same forty people you always play to," he adds. "If you play rock star at the Filling Station once a month to the same guys you just played to at your house, how are you going to expand your fanbase?"
Johnson had an expanded fanbase in mind when he split from his previous group, The Threat (which featured future members of local metal heavyweights Thrust), to branch out into other genres.
"I have a leaning towards harder things, but lyrically I'm more akin to Adam Duritz than James Hetfield," Johnson explains. "I'm trying to write hard rock for grown-ups."
This mature undertaking stems from a breakup that led Johnson to pen dozens of cathartic angst-filled tunes. "They're all designed to be therapy for myself," Johnson says. "Remember that crazy girl with the acoustic guitar in Say Anything who wrote fifty songs about one guy? I'm her."
Johnson sells himself a bit short with that comparison; his introspective lyrics have levels of emotional complexity that put Joe lies/when he cries to shame. To metal fans more interested in crunching riffs than clever couplets, such distinctions might not matter, but Johnson says he wants to reach out to open-minded fans. "I don't understand how all of a sudden sticking out from the sheep is not acceptable anymore," he says. "There's a faction somewhere that's just interested in music and not pigeonholes. And I'm egotistical enough to think that if we play well in front of other people, we're going to win new fans."