Interview: Boys Like Girls Are Back With ‘Sunday at Foxwoods,’ and Martin Johnson Is Leading the Charge

Boys Like Girls © Matty Vogel
Boys Like Girls © Matty Vogel
Back with their first album in 11 years, ‘Sunday at Foxwoods,’ Boys Like Girls are poised to reposition themselves in today’s rock scene, with ambitious and accomplished singer/songwriter and frontman Martin Johnson guiding them along.
Stream: ‘Sunday at Foxwoods’ – Boys Like Girls

“Imagine a paper you wrote to get into [college], one of your senior year papers,” Martin Johnson, aged 38, says.

“And now, imagine standing up onstage every single day and reading that paper to 3,500 people while they cheer. And you’re like, ‘Yo, I wrote this shit when I was 17 ½ years old, let me show you some of my new shit.’ And they’re like, ‘We don’t care, we just want to hear that one paper you wrote when you were 17 ½.’ It’s pretty crazy to think about it.”

Crazy though it may be, that is now precisely the predicament that Johnson finds himself in now that he and Boys Like Girls, the band for which he serves as lead singer and guitarist, are staging a comeback after over a decade away.

Boys Like Girls’ fourth studio album, ‘Sunday at Foxwoods,’ released in October 2023 via Fearless Records

It’s been a full-fledged comeback, complete with a new album and nationwide tour, but – as its lead singer totally admits to – a lot of it largely comes down to playing the nostalgia card. Propelling the band into the future has required a lot of revisiting its past; that is, its early-Obama-administration commercial heyday.

It was back in 2009, following 2006’s eponymous debut album and the wildly successful breakout single “The Great Escape” (which has since been certified platinum and gold by the RIAA), that Love Drunk and the corresponding lead single and title track lifted Boys Like Girls to what remains its peak cultural prominence. That was eventually followed by 2012’s Crazy World. And that was followed by… not a whole lot, really.

“A lot of bands do this sort of ceremonial disappearing act where they fizzle out in a blaze of glory,” Johnson notes. Boys Like Girls never did any such thing… simply put, “We just didn’t make another record.” Partly because they wanted to take a break from touring, partly because they felt their music was no longer radio-friendly, Boys Like Girls decided to take a hiatus shortly after the release of Crazy World.

“All of a sudden, the market felt completely different overnight,” Johnson recalls. “It’s like being a hair metal band when Nirvana and grunge hits the scene. You were kind of like a rock band in 2011-’12, and it was like, what do I do? Radio’s just not playing guitars, plain and simply, so the two rock slots that bands like us lived and died by in Top 40 radio were gone. Even if it had been like, ‘Oh well, we’re gonna continue on without radio, who cares?‘ we’d gone through it to the point where we were ready to take a minute to figure out who we were as dudes – a little less show-ing 11 months a year.”

“We never made an announcement,” he adds. “We just kind of didn’t tour for a while. And then, it turned into 12 years. We went from being a band that was hard to avoid on the radio to a band that was extremely easy to avoid sort of overnight, just voluntarily.”

Boys Like Girls © Matty Vogel
Boys Like Girls © Matty Vogel

Johnson stayed occupied in the interim, raising a child with his wife, Naomi, and co-authoring hits for other artists, including Avril Lavigne, Jason Derulo, and Daughtry. Eventually, though, he started pining for his Boys Like Girls glory days.

“It’s important to honor that kid who dreamed about” making it big in the music biz, he says. “And that kid didn’t dream about being in a windowless box writing music for other people. He dreamed about singing those songs himself.”

It doesn’t matter what age you are – doing that is still important, and honoring that kid who dreamed it into reality is important.

As it turns out, his old bandmates had themselves been yearning to revive their old live act – the cabin fever caused by the 2020 lockdown seems to have been a factor there – and when they finally reunited for their first live shows in ages in 2022, they quickly decided that they’d have to record another album together in order to truly complete their comeback.

There was definitely chat of a new album and all, but we hadn’t really committed to it 100%,” says Johnson. “[But] I think playing those shows, getting back in front of people after all that time, was so impactful to us emotionally… It made it so like we didn’t really have an option. I’d forgotten how much I loved playing.”

“We came back with a pretty different perspective to the music,” he adds. “I think when you’re 24 and you look at the music you wrote when you were 18, it’s really different from when you’re in your 30s and you’re listening to the music that kind of built you and your friends as well. At this point, we’ve sort of grown up with the people that listened to Boys Like Girls. It’s really obvious when we play a show – it’s like, “they used to be these 15-year-olds smothered in lover bracelets, and now they’re essentially our age.” It’s crazy how much time has passed… I don’t know how time moved that quick, it’s pretty unbelievable, and I’m grateful to re-approach this music with new eyes. It certainly sounds different to me, feels different to me, smells different to me, all of the above.

“I don’t even really know the dude who made the music that made us as a band, but i know its important that I make peace with him, that 18/22-year-old version of myself. So that’s been a beautiful experience to do as a man. It’s been pretty wild, stepping back into the shoes after so long.”

I remember the days in the class of ’04
In the back of the Jeep, crashin’ out on the floor
We had nothin’ in our pockets to cling to
And, baby, nothin’ but the sky in the rearview
In the halls with a rock tee, Dickies and Chucks
All the meatheads and mean girls like, “Dude, your band sucks”
Had a bandana hangin’ out of my grad gown
Like you can push me all you want, I won’t fall down, no
It’s okay, it’s alright
Baby, welcome to life on the outside
Sleep all day, ride all night
Yeah, we’re livin’ it up on the outside
– “The Outside,” Boys Like Girls

Boys Like Girls © Brian Doherty
Boys Like Girls © Brian Doherty

It didn’t take long for Johnson and his Boys Like Girls bandmates — drummer John Keefe and guitarists Gregory James and Jamel Hawke— to get back in the studio and start rocking away.

“It kind of felt like there was a direction that had been dictated by playing those shows,” Johnson recalls.

They ultimately emerged with Sunday at Foxwoods, a collection of songs that had been initially conceived at various points in the group’s hiatus – songs like “Cry” and the nostalgia-laced “The Outside” had first been penned back in 2014 and ’15 – but which were all formally recorded and mixed at the Blackbird Studio in Nashville in recent months.

“[Whether] you’re revisiting Boys Like Girls after 12 years or you’re just discovering them for the first time— either way, it’s a decent entry point into our world, and I think that it will appeal to old and new fans alike,” Johnson says of Sunday at Foxwoods. 

“I’m super excited about the record, I feel really good about it as a reentry for the band,” he adds. “We had to abandon worrying about what people think in order to make it great, but I think at the end of the day, making ourselves happy was the thing that was most important, and we’ve had such a great time playing the music live.”

The band wasted no time giving their 13 new tracks the live treatment, embarking on the nationwide Speaking Our Language Tour this past fall. Bringing along guests they’d shared the stage with long ago – 3OH3!, Four Years Strong and The Ready Set among them – along with some relative newcomers like LØLØ really helped to make an old-meets-new bundle of joy out of the experience.

“It was awesome being back out,” Johnson exclaims. “It’s been super, super, super rewarding to play the new stuff. It’s been a really long time since we were onstage together, and being onstage playing new material has been massively, massively, massively rewarding, and it’s super special to keep it going. We’re already back in, working on more material now that the tour is over, which is faster than we’ve ever gotten back into the studio. I’m excited to keep the run going.”

Boys Like Girls © Brian Doherty
Boys Like Girls on the Speaking Our Language tour © Brian Doherty

Boys Like Girls © Brian Doherty
Boys Like Girls © Brian Doherty

Of course, Johnson appreciates that the bulk of concertgoers are there not only to hear the band’s new material, but to reconnect with the act that they’d first became enamored with many a moon ago.

Not wanting to disappoint fans of Boys Like Girls’ early hits (“Nothing really annoys me more than when you buy a ticket for a band that you really loved at a formative age, and they refuse to play the song that you bought the ticket to hear,” he says), but also keen on promoting the band’s contemporary identity in concert, the singer resolved to strike a balance between old and new while onstage.

“We try to play every single song that people came to hear, and try to do that with grace,” says Johnson, who ultimately devoted about 70% of his 105-minute set to the band’s back catalog, and 30% of it to Sunday at Foxwoods, on a typical tour night. “We played, like, five new songs [per show], but that’s half the new record, so we got it in and we felt good about it… It’s been a really beautiful experience.”

Boys Like Girls © Matty Vogel
Boys Like Girls © Matty Vogel

We’ll see what the future holds for Boys Like Girls now that they’ve formally re-established themselves in the musical landscape of the 2020s.

But it’s highly doubtful that they’ll go another decade-plus without touring or performing. Their latest round of it has been too infectious for them to stay away again for that long – and they’re already back in the studio making more music, inspired by what has clearly been, for them, the comeback of a lifetime.

We have the best job in the history world, getting to sing melodies onstage for a living and getting to see the world playing music. What a gift,” Johnson says. “We’re going to keep playing music, keep writing it, and try to not put our blessings in the corner for another 12 years.”

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:: connect with Boys Like Girls here ::

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