Arts & Entertainment
2 min

NXNE highlight: The Johnnys are loud, fast & fun

I just want to be onstage to get the girls: Barbato

Veronica Johnny (left) and Oriana Barbato of the punky, punishingly fun Toronto band The Johnnys. Credit: Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Black shoes, black pants, black shirts: this is The Johnnys.
They stay true to their album name, Louder, Faster, More Fun, and they have crowds doing the same. In May, The Johnnys rocked a room full of headbangers at the Hard Rock Café in downtown Toronto. “Louder! Faster! More fun!” sang fans as Veronica Johnny and Oriana Barbato danced onstage with guitars in hand.
They smiled at the whistles and kisses blown from the ladies dancing in the front row.
Apart from being talented, hip and sexy, Johnny and Barbato describe the band as “really fast rock and roll; 220 beats per minute rock and roll; punkish rock and roll.”
The Johnnys were formed nine years ago by two-spirit artist Veronica Johnny (Chippewa, Slavey and European ancestry) and her husband, Dave, who met in the Northwest Territories. They moved to Toronto in 2005, and the band now consists of four members: Veronica, Dave, Tim Bones and Barbato — the newest member.
“They called me up and said, “Do you want to be part of the band?” I said, “Yeah, of course!” says Barbato. Veronica and Dave found her on; a talk over coffee in Kensington Market led to a rehearsal and then membership.
A freelance musician, Barbato jokes, “I just play bass to get the girls. I just want to be onstage to get the girls.”
There is no shortage of fans swooning over the Chilean-born bassist, and she knows it.
“Everybody loves a woman bass player. They think it’s the sexiest thing in the world,” she says.
Johnny and Barbato don’t hold back their feelings about women.
“It’s not like I advertise it, but it’s not like I hide it either,” Johnny says. The band’s latest song, “Motorcycle Mamma, about a friend who recently got into a motorcycle accident, is described by Johnny as being “about a really hot chick who rides a Harley.”
That’s how the song was introduced at The Hardrock Café, followed by loud vocals, fast drums and Johnny and Barbato side by side, taking centre stage.
Chrome diva, living the dream
Red hot, she’s a native queen
Iron lady, the story’s told
She keeps cruising on the damn road…
Johnny has participated several times in the Gay Games and was once in a five-year relationship with a woman before marrying her husband. She misses being around queer folk on a regular basis: “I feel at home when I’m in the queer community.”
Barbato credits her sexuality for making her the musician she is. “Being queer makes me feel more relaxed onstage. I don’t have to fit the stereotype of a girl. I can do whatever the hell I want,” she says.
“If I weren’t two-spirit, I think I would feel the pressure to be sexier, that pressure to be the lead chick onstage. It [being two spirit] gives me a kind of power that I think people who aren’t LGBTQ don’t have; they don’t have that kind of energy,” Johnny says.
With a feather hanging off her guitar, Johnny shows her two-spirit identity and culture with pride.
Barbato’s cutoff T-shirts show her chiselled arms and drive the ladies wild.
“The Johnnys, the whole act, gives me that extra push. The music is fast and crazy,” she says.
The Johnnys
Part of NXNE
Cherry Cola’s Rock ’N’ Rolla, 200 Bathurst St
Fri, June 17