Audio Major Connor Johnson has played drums since he was in fifth grade. Now, he plays in heavy metal band Seventh Sword and produces his own music.
By Andrew McMunn
The smoky and dimly lit bar murmurs with a dozen quiet conversations. The baseball game plays on the TV hanging over the counter, but few people are there to watch it. Instead, they gather around the small stage which spreads across the back of the venue. As the audience bustles with subtle anticipation, the next band finishes setting up their equipment. The band members take the stage as Seventh Sword, a St. Louis heavy metal band.
Webster University audio production major Connor Johnson sits behind the drum kit. A grin stretches across his face. Johnson is a hard hitter. His long hair flies back and forth, up and down, as he headbangs to the beat.
“I got into metal, which is not what I usually listen to on a regular basis, but I like the freedom that the drummer has in metal,” Johnson said.
Johnson first found his place behind a drum set when he was in fifth grade. He learned how to play by covering some basic songs and eventually progressed to writing his own material.
The discovery of nu-metal band Korn’s fourth album, “Issues,” pointed Johnson’s musical direction in a much louder and heavier direction. Johnson joined his first band as an eighth grader for a middle school talent show.
“Me and, like, a crack team of 8th graders got together and were like ‘let’s learn ‘Run to the Hills’ by Iron Maiden’,” Johnson said. “But performing it for the school was really great because we had a packed audience full of the middle school population. They literally made a path for us to walk to the stage.”
Johnson started his current band in 2014 when he met guitarist Major Lee Harper through a Craigslist ad. Harper posted a listing looking for fellow musicians to jam with him. Johnson responded and attempted to set up a date to meet.
Harper replied and the two communicated back and forth for a few months, but were unable to find the time to get together. Harper worked seven days a week at the time and his schedule was mostly incompatible with Johnson’s.
“I was about ready to give up, when I sent another e-mail and I think we set a date,” Johnson said.
The two finally found the time to get together and Harper showed Johnson some of the songs he was working on. The band continued to grow and gain new members, and they started to develop their own sound. Harper said they play ‘weird metal.’
“That’s just something I stole from Tosin Abasi from the band Animals As Leaders,” Harper said. “After the show he said ‘thanks for letting us play weird metal.’ I guess I just mean stuff that’s not your typical radio stuff.”
Johnson prefers to play beyond the confinements of four/four time, the most commonly used time signature where each measure consists of four quarter notes. Johnson and Seventh Sword write songs with unusual rhythms, writing in time signatures like seven/eight time.
David Ecstron, one of the current guitarists for the band, said the unusual time signature was important enough to influence the band’s name.
“A lot of our songs are in seven/eight time,” Ecstron said. “And we have two different songs, ‘Song Seven’ and ‘Sevens.’ We needed to do something with ‘seven’.”
Johnson said Viking culture played a role in coming up with a name as well. The bandmates had even tossed around the idea of medieval outfits when they performed.
“We talked about dressing up like the guys in ‘How to Train your Dragon,” Johnson said.
When Johnson is not playing with Seventh Sword, he works on improving his skills as a musician and an audio producer.
“As an audio producer, I’m always trying to fix things,” Johnson said. “I usually sing to Fall Out Boy or All American Rejects, pop music with strong vocal melodies. For drums, I try to listen to a lot of funk, stuff with really cool rhythm and a lot of activity.”
Johnson continues to push the limits of what he can do with percussion instruments. He said that the possibilities for improving and finding new techniques are as infinite as any other instrument.
“It’s a different thing to think about because there’s no notes. You just hit stuff and try to not create a limit based off the conventions of the industry,” Johnson said.