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released April 20, 2015


All songs written by Penn Johnson


Produced by Mark Files Schwaller & Cal Brockie
Mixed and engineered by Cal Brockie
Mastering by Simon Katz

Recorded at Monkey Palace Studio, Jamaica Plain, MA

Vocals, guitar, and harmonica by Penn Johnson
Drums & Percussion by George Lernis
Bass by Greg Reinauer
Additional guitars & mandolin by Mark Files Schwaller
Banjo by ‘Sonny’ Jim Clifford
Fiddle and all strings by Zoé Rose de Paz
Trumpet by Cal Brockie
Piano by Stephen Lichota

Cover Art by Mike Bailey (

For The Trees © 2015 Penn Johnson Music.
All Rights Reserved

Special Thanks to:

Jess Illuzzi for teaching me the ropes of the music biz. Mark and Cal for providing a recording studio and for all the constructive criticism and guidance while recording and after. George, Greg, Mark, Sonny, Zoé, Cal, and Stephen for their dedication to their respective musical crafts. Mike Bailey for the best freehand album artwork I've ever seen. Everybody in Northeast Pennsylvania for their stories and resilience. Vera, Alex, Carol, Carolyn, Matt, Tammy, Gerri, Ray, Craig, Sunny, Whitey, Zeb, Paul, Otto, Allison, Rusty, Gian, Eric, Bemis, Alan, Rob, Tim, Tal, Ethan, Susan, Jerry, Kevin, Terry, Timm, Sarabeth, Sarah, Erik, Amanda, my other friends, and family in no particular order for supporting me, guiding me, and helping me through. Todd Snider, Townes Van Zandt, and Elliott Smith for being musical pioneers with a message worth listening to. Mother Earth for her endless wonders and gifts.

‘For The Trees’ Album Liner Notes

The album came together accidentally. I wasn’t playing professionally or anything like that. I was in Northeast Pennsylvania working with a non-profit and hanging out with this chick Jess who’d been on the music scene for about a decade or so. The night I met her, I played a couple songs and I guess we were into each other so we met at this festival a week later and we were together at her house on the lake a lot after that. I’d hop up at her gig breaks and play a few songs here and there. She taught me about the music biz and introduced me to Todd Snider’s music. Then we saw him live at the Sellersville Theatre one night after a last minute decision two-hour car ride.

Todd’s been my mentor in a way, though I haven’t met him yet. I admire his love for music and the idea of playing for the sake of playing. He and Townes Van Zandt have been inspiring to me because they both traveled the sofa circuit, lived the free spirit lifestyle, took all the criticism that went with it, struggled through alienation and addiction, and turned all their adventures into stories. That’s all I wanna do: write stories and travel.

I’ve got a part-time job to support me, but I wanna just keep playing, traveling, and experiencing this world as much as I can. I love meeting new people, visiting old friends, and being inspired by all the happy and sad things I see every day. It’s a lonely life, in a way, but it’s something I’ve fallen in love with. Maybe there’ll be time for true love later, but for now, it’s all about music, couches, weeknight bars, hookups, and long car rides.


I brought my guitar to Pennsylvania hoping maybe I’d have some time to play it. I used to go out to the creek behind our house off Silver Creek Road in Montrose, and sit with my guitar pretending I knew how to play. I’d written some songs, but none of them were as good as I wanted them to be. So one day I went out and started thinking about my story.

As far as I could tell, I was only there in northeast PA because there weren’t any other options after I graduated, despite the numerous organizations, professors, non-profit staff members, and people I’d connected with during my time as an undergrad at Franklin & Marshall College. None of that had helped me get a job. But unlike all the people I knew making big salaries and living in the city, I wanted more from life.

So there I was wandering through life, looking for something to be inspired by, looking for what I wanted to leave this world. I’d written a couple novels and self-published a book about my time abroad in Australia, but no one really cared. It’s hard to get people to read your book, nowadays.

I called that story ‘Wander.’ I played it around campfires and everyone asked when I was going to record it. I thought about the idea as a far-off possibility. I’d never recorded music before and had only started taking guitar seriously a month previous in July.

My housemate Charlotte––a union organizer and radically politicized poet––and I went to an open mic that ended up being a concert for an Irish rock band called The Mighty Stef, who’d been touring with the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. They said we could play after them so we played a few songs I’d written and the lead singer, Stef, told us to come back. I played with them a few times, learning about the music business and being more and more inspired to play and spread my stories.

Eventually, Charlotte and I played ‘Wander’ at an open mic in Scranton, Pennsylvania at a dive bar called O’Leary’s Pub where my friend Trish heard it and told me I needed to record a demo. We tried to set up a time to record in Scranton, but I was too busy with organizing and all the dates we set fell through.

In New York, the day before the People’s Climate March, I played it for a group after a workshop about frontline resistance and some filmmakers asked me if they could record it. It seemed as though all points were leading to an album. It was sometime around here that the idea of ‘For The Trees’ came into my head: a new age hippie social justice album inspired by my time in Pennsylvania.


These liner notes aren’t written in order, but I hear they rarely are. If there were a single for the album, it would be ‘Sprouts.’ I’d written it a while back in college, near the end of my senior year. A combination of a children’s sing-a-long song and a radical tree hugger anthem, it was my attempt to describe the growth of my college’s Divestment campaign. It was catchy, vivid, and anyone could play along to it.

After my time in Pennsylvania, I took off to my parent’s condo in Marco Island, Florida to work on the album and attempt to drink myself to a place where some of the things happening in this world made sense to me. On the first day I got to Marco, a manmade conservative retirement hub in Southwest Florida, I was in line at an Ace Hardware store and the guy in front of me was talking in a cockney accent to one of the workers about playing guitar. His name was Tony Smith.

A couple days later, I went and played some songs for Tony at Tigertail Beach where he worked and we recorded Sprouts, which happens to be the video that’s gotten me a lot of gigs over the past couple months. He was supposed to come record it with me in Boston, but he got caught up in some stuff down in Marco. Tony will always be a part of this song and I’m glad I reached out to him when I did. He knows how much he inspired me and if he doesn’t, he should now.


This was another song I wrote a while back. It has undertones of resistance and sort of talks about the modern-day dystopia we’re living in. The title comes from George Orwell’s novel 1984.

I wrote it back in college because I saw people shoplifting at the local market, war vets in the streets asking for spare change, and people throwing themselves in front of the status quo to demand justice. I was, and I guess I am, one of those people, but I’ve been pretty removed from the activist organizing scene recently.

When I think of the faraway “American Dream” we always talk about, I think about ‘Telescreens.’ In reality, from what I’ve seen, people are struggling, people do bad things to other people, and the majority of people don’t care about their fellow human for one reason or another. We’ve gotta change that, stand up to the suits, risk arrest in the streets, all that 1960’s peace protest stuff.

Trusting Uncle Sam

I tried to come up with the words to what I thought the elements would say to me if they could talk. Since I’ve been writing for a while, I figured they’d tell me to keep writing, to tell my story to the people and the children, to tell everyone stories of how everything would eventually be okay. The choruses come from a place of desperation––the last of the cigarettes in a pack––that time you know you’re gonna need to get more to feed your addiction.

One Day It'll All Be Okay

After living in Pennsyvlania, I felt guilty about everything I have in my life. That sorta came together in this song, after a half a bottle of 100 proof whiskey and almost ended with me jumping into the Pacific Ocean and swimming as far away from shore as I could and letting myself sink.

The refrain ‘One Day It’ll All Be Okay,’ was the only thing I could tell myself to get away from that shoreline and away from the sad thoughts I’d been having. I do believe, deep down, one day things will be some form of okay. And till then that’s the only thing we can tell ourselves to stay above water.

Traveling Piano

I was at this Thriving Changemaker’s Conference in Washington D.C. and after the second day my friend Doug and I went into this café/bookstore to listen to this guy who was playing a guitar up on a balcony. We ended up listening for a while and at the table next to us was a group of people. This one girl caught my eye and I jumped into that conversation, mentioned I was a folksinger, and the only thing I found out was that she was an elementary school music teacher.

I guess at this point, I decided to write a song that detailed my struggle with writing about the earth and coupling it with writing a love song about this girl. It became the ‘Traveling Piano’ because I remember thinking that we’re both trying to inspire people with music it’s just two different angles inspiration. I started getting lost in this fantastical relationship, came in with a bridge that snapped back to reality for a second to talk about what’s happening in Pennsylvania, then went right back to this girl, whose name I forgot to ask.

Top Shelf

This could be looked at as the comic relief of the album and closely resembles the kinds of sarcastic songs I’ve been focusing on since I finished the album. This is one of the songs that Todd inspired me to write. I figured some of the people listening to this, if they get anything out of it, it’s gonna be this song because it’s the life a lot of them are living.

The school I went to focuses a lot of its attention on business and I always found it funny because personally I think we should all wear loin clothes and live in the woods and migrate with the birds and smoke peace pipes and whatever else. This song caters mostly to the college students who study all day long to get good grades to get a high-paying job in hopes of climbing the corporate ladder. It affirms that as long as we get paid and laid the rest of the stuff we think about can be drowned out by alcohol or ‘firewater,’ as the native peoples called it.

For The Trees

The title track of the album came coincidentally and almost as an accident. I was walking the beach in Marco Island one day and I saw this dead bird with its eyes open and started writing about that. I was wondering what it was like to be that bird, with the tide washing over me, people walking by and doing nothing, saying nothing.

I transitioned to writing about myself once I realized that the night before, I was busking on the beach with my guitar case on the ground trying to get people to listen to what I was saying, the message of my lyrics, and they were doing the same thing they did to the bird, ignoring me. Some people threw change but most just laughed. I was that bird, or at least it felt that way. I was motionless, not reaching anybody, and getting more lost in the rising tide of my anxiety, depressive episodes, and worries.

At this time, I wasn’t making much money (not that I am now, either) and my parents were embarrassed and I felt like I was letting them down. All I wanted was for us to live in harmony and get back to telling stories, sitting in circles, like the natives used to do. I still think I might be writing these songs from a jail cell some day and I really don’t know where I can go to feel like I’m home because nowhere seems to feel right. Maybe someday I’ll know what home feels like again, but some day’s far away.

I’m here now and I’m doing my best to tell these stories. I know some people who like them and that’s enough for me. The weird thing is that I always feel like I need to be doing something, going somewhere. Even when I’m just sitting on a couch like I am right now, I feel like I should be on the road, traveling, getting away from everything.

PJ // 4/10/15 // Marion, MA



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Penn Johnson & The Lost Tribe Austin, Texas

consciousness weaving spiritual folk rock duo telling stories and singing songs. find us around the campfire.

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Track Name: One Day It'll All Be Okay
One day it'll all be ok
People won’t get mad at the things I try to say
Like 'hey don’t throw that plastic away'
It's causing my friend some pain

I'll keep walking
Down this beach
One last moonlight swim
Man, that sure sounds nice to me
There's no more wild turkey anyway
And I'm strung out on mental cocaine

One more sip or maybe one more glass
Hey you look like you might wanna dance
Can I touch your ass?
I'm sorry that’s the voices inside my brain
I can’t control what they say

Hey have you heard?
They’re destroying the earth
They’re drilling through her body and its kinda hurting her
But, no, I know you’re busy with your fiancé
Enjoy your wedding day
Enjoy your weekend stay
Cause one day it'll all be okay

Don’t listen to me cause I’m probably wrong and I
Wouldn’t wanna rough up your suit and that fancy tie
So keep your head down and your briefcase way up high
I guess we disagree about who was destined to die

Little comic relief for the wounded heart
Like that time you were stuck in the rain
And your car wouldn’t start
And that talk show host came on and started talking about veterans coming home and taking too many shots
Shotgun sparks in the dark

Hey have you heard the news
Slavery’s back again
It never went anywhere
But we thought it might shoulda been
That twelve-year-old black kid done made his last mistake
He thought it was all just a game
He only wanted to play

I tried to get rid of the poison inside myself
Took a half bottle from that corner liquor shelf
I said it’d be the night when I drifted away
Seems like that’s every day

But one day it’ll all be okay
One day it’ll all be okay
Track Name: Traveling Piano
Met you in a cafe
Late night Friday
I come to the city
Every once in a while
You didn’t care bout the words I was sayin'
More concerned with the chords I was playin'
That rising tide never troubled you anyhow

I need a song to sing about a future with more trees
I need a second to feel that salt ocean breeze
I need a show of hands in here: how many of you people still dream?
Dream with me

Take a stroll on your piano, girl, I said, yeah,
Walk those keys
As you teach the voiceless to sing
You’re like a honeybee caught in the hands of a child
Of a child
So try not to sting

I need a song to sing about a future with less greed
I need a second to feel the bark and sap of a tree
I need a show of hands in here: how many of you fine people smoke weed?
Come on, pass that joint to me

Gas man took the land
The trees came down
Right through the old produce stand
The trucks came in and ripped up the town
Neighbors are enemies now

But back to you
In that cafe
Cause no one wants to think about that other shit anyway
I forgot to ask for your name
I hope that piano of yours can travel
Cause I got a feeling
That our destination's the same

We'll write a song to sing about a future with more trees
We'll take a trip out west to feel that sunny Appalachia mountain breeze
I need a show of hands in here: how many of you people still dream?
Dream with me

I need a show of hands in here
Cause I know you all want the future to be
A place where creatures and humans can live in harmony
Track Name: Telescreens
Swiping for love
Pretending we know how to talk
Skipping stones
The rivers cast their smiles
Digging for bones
Of animals now gone
Gotta light the stove
To keep you warm

It's always sunny on the other side of the moon
A whole community of eyeless wanderers
Cleverly shielded from camaraderie
Flashlights out
A culture eaten by shade.

Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell

Scars and nightmares and broken marriages
Send our children off to fight and nobody asks why
Unemployment's hit the lower classes hard
So we shop lift at the market to stay alive

War vets asking for tips for progress and
Kids and hippies protest congress cause we
Gotta stop the suits dead in their tracks

Cardboard peace signs
Exploding pipelines
The innocent thrown in jail
The ones in power
Their morals gone sour
Democracy has failed

Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell

War vets asking for tips for progress and
Kids and hippies protest congress cause we
Gotta stop the suits dead in their tracks

Cardboard peace signs
Exploding pipelines
The innocent thrown in jail
The ones in power
Their morals gone sour
Democracy has failed

Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Eyes can tell
Track Name: Top Shelf
Radical hippies complain
We lost another brother today
We're closer to God with these city skylines
But these shorelines continue to fade

Think it will all go away
Pass like the springtime rain
Cover your eyes don’t believe all the lies
Our clueless leaders continue to say

As long as we all get paid
And as long as we all get laid
It's every man for himself
Up here on the top shelf
And firewater sure helps with the pain

Thermometers getting confused
Mother Earth she gets battered and bruised
Colors are choked and our rights are revoked
But that's not what you hear on the news

Women and children are used
As toys till the big man is through
Squeeze 'em too tight
And turn off that light
And say, 'Nobody's gonna believe you'

As long as we all get paid
And as long as we all get laid
It's every man for himself
Up here on the top shelf
And firewater sure helps with the pain
Yeah, firewater sure helps with the pain

Following hopes and dreams
As the world comes apart at the seams
Sit at a desk calculate your interest
Sounds like a shitty American Dream

Well, as long as we all get paid
And as long as a bunch of us get laid
It's every man for himself
Up here on the top shelf
And firewater sure helps with the pain
Yeah, firewater sure helps with the pain
Well, for now it helps with the pain
But it won't always help with your pain
Track Name: Trusting Uncle Sam
Paint me a picture said the ocean
Don’t be afraid to draw outside the lines
Keep that picture in your jacket
Throw it into the rising tide

Empty hearts but six more cigarettes
A penny in the rock will ease my mind
Never too young for revolution
Time to leave these dinosaurs behind

Tell me a story said the forest
You’re living out of trunks, no elephants allowed
Tell that story to the people
Sound it out
Be sure to sing it loud

Empty lives but two more cigarettes
Whiskey on the rocks to ease my mind
People warn me about this monkey on my back
But I’d rather leave dystopias behind

Can’t feed me confidence said my insides
No matter the bottles you have drowned
Don’t want no judgment on this sidewalk tonight
Keep my head and eyes aimed low toward the ground

Sing us a song said all the children
Make sure you pass it on to us before
You are taken from this battlefield
Goliath always wants a little more

Empty lives and no more cigarettes
My reality is swirling, I don't know where I am
Street signs they point me in opposite directions
That's what I get for trusting uncle Sam

Rural communities manipulated into shale gas slavery
Increased rates of cancer and asthma in children and the elderly
People in poverty disproportionately affected by climate change
The destruction of rainforest utopias for pharmaceutical dominance
Track Name: For The Trees
Father sun goes down
Southern tide glides in and out
Here I sit eyes barely open
Shattered heart a chokin'
Waiting for the sea to carry me in

A million people pass me by
Purple clouds they dot the sky
Pretty girls they all ask why
I always leave without saying goodbye

Probably just the way I am
Spending all my money on tattoos and booze again
Searching hard to find true love
But addictions in my jeans
And whiskey fits me like a glove

Maybe someday I'll finally find a place where I belong
Maybe someday I'll realize that I've been there all along
Maybe someday I'll write more than a basic four chord song
But someday's far away from here

Another day and what’d I see
Met some drunken people who will never remember me
Just a kid playin' in the sand
Not much change in 20 years but the shovel in my hand

Tryin' to protect the earth
But folks are more concerned with how much the people they’re with are worth
Probably never make it big
But I'll sing with a smile if people show up to my gigs

Maybe someday I'll finally find where I was going wrong
Maybe someday I'll find how much I love my dad and mom
Maybe someday I'll write these songs from a single cell block
But someday's far away from here

Someone's got to speak for the trees
Cuz heaven only knows we're running low on fossil greed
Only so many dinosaurs
And all we do is fight over whether they’re mine or yours

Hope is all that we need to win
So let's light that peace pipe and live in harmony again
Don’t you crush your children's dreams
Cause when push comes to shove
That battle's harder than it seems

Maybe someday I'll finally find a place where I belong
Maybe someday I'll realize that I've been there all along
Maybe someday I'll write more than a basic chord song
But someday's far away
And all we got is today
Cause someday's far away from here
Track Name: Wander
Started life in small town suburbs
Got a job and lost it too
Heard interviewers liked impressions
Got accepted, went to school

Ended up in Amish Country
Fell in love and wrote some words
Heard folks were looking to stop a pipeline
Met some hippies who loved the earth

Maybe it's coincidence
But I always loved that sweet humidity
Came back to where my momma grew up
Grandmother passed, she said it's up to me
Don’t think my soul could ever leave here
Cause my heart's inside a giant hemlock tree
Somewhere down in Pennsylvania is the place for me

Flatlander came here from New England
Found some friends, found a place
We always talked 'bout getting famous
And now our egos have been erased

Took some classes, learned some sad things
Changed direction, risked arrest
Tried to combat the ones in power
But I was told they were the best

Maybe it's impossible
But I’d like to think the people have a chance
Go on and show me your statistics
But I'll laugh and say I’m sticking with my stance
Got a guitar and some beers to do my writing
and I’ve got some folks to lend a helping hand
Somewhere down in Pennsylvania we'll save the land

Bring your drilling bring your industry
And we'll bring songs to fight to pain
Bring your police and law enforcement
And we'll bring peace and locks and chains
Won’t fill your tankers up with oil
Won’t fill your pipelines with natural gas
Won’t let you rip away our planet
Gonna stay right here so don’t you try to pass
'Cause down in Pennsylvania we're growin' fast

Can’t say what’s in store for the future
Meet a girl and settle down
Not gonna stop fighting for justice
Gonna lay my body down
Maybe I'll get to write some stories
Tell the people what I’ve seen
Hopefully they'll understand my scattered mind
Tell their children what I mean

Maybe I am just a dreamer
But I’ve got things I’d really love to see
It's up to you and me and everyone
We gotta speak for all the creatures and the trees
Just want the children enjoy this world
Want the future to be sunny and frack-free
If you’re looking down in Pennsylvania
Well you'll find my soul down in Pennsylvania
Cause I belong in Northeast Pennsylvania
And that's where I'll be
Track Name: Sprouts
Plant a seed
Watch it grow
You won't be disappointed
Water it with care
Cuz I hope you know
That nature shouldn't be exploited

You gotta start at the bottom
Make your way to the top
Take it step by step
It only takes a few drops
Before long you'll be feeding your family
Everything is equal
Just like you and me
Reflect upon nature and biodiversity

Be observant and patient
Good things take time
Don't get stressed or angry easily
Look around about you
Enjoy living life
Protect your air and water quality

You gotta start at the bottom
Make your way to the top
You won't find enjoyment like this
in your local stop n shop
You can grow almost everything you need
We all are one
We all have a place
And sometimes kids like us need to take the lead

Monsanto owns a lot
GM crops are bad
We got a lot of hungry mouths to feed

So if you really want your plants to grow
And the birds to sing and the wind to blow
Support organic and grow food locally

You gotta start at the bottom
Make your way to the top
We're the generation now
That needs to make it all stop
Cease pollution and political bribery

We need to look seven generations ahead
To what the world will be like
It looks like oil and dread
Polluted water and no clean air to breathe

You gotta start at the bottom
'Fore you get to the top
Boycott Wal-Mart and Exxon and Stop n Shop
Protest their bullshit
And risk arrest for peace

Plant a seed
Watch it grow
You won't be disappointed