Seconds after engaging Virginia songwriter John Schreiner in conversation, it becomes crystal-clear that you’re in the presence of a devoted student and evangelist of music; a proverbial true believer whose life is governed by the belief that he’s suited for no other professional environment than the stage or studio. You also get the immediate impression that you’re talking to someone with the self-awareness and experience-laced wisdom of a person 20 years his senior; wisdom and self-awareness typically exhibited by those who have successfully overcome addiction. Predictably enough, these qualities come through loud and clear on his debut record, the poignantly titled Kingdom From, released nationally this past week. Recovery Unplugged recently caught up with Schreiner to discuss the new record, as well as life, art and creativity after drug use.
A Long Time Coming…
Apart from the energy and hunger on each track, Kingdom From does not sound at all like a debut record. Its production is the stuff of a veterans’ ear, its songwriting is mature and thoughtful yet raw and unapologetic, and it bears creative imprints from a diverse range of influences. Perhaps this is because, while this might be the first effort from his latest musical iteration, Schreiner has been writing and performing since he was 12, first occupying the Christian Contemporary and Country spaces. After receiving his degree in Music, he spent some time writing and performing in Nashville. Eventually he moved back to Virginia where, at the end of 2017, he began working on the material that would ultimately comprise Kingdom From.
“You Start out with fun, then you have fun with problems, then you just have problems.”
Before his musical rejuvenation, however, Schreiner spent years battling substance abuse. “I guess you can say that, for a long time, I had multiple running addictions,” says Schreiner as he recounts his past. “For a period of about six or seven years, I was very much in that cycle.” Schreiner names amphetamines as his primary drug of choice and recalls with great clarity the morning he first started using, when a girlfriend gave him some after a sleepless night to help him get going. He claims his religious upbringing and multiple other factors were responsible for the onset of his substance use disorder. Schreiner is candid about the decline he experienced after he first started using: “You start out with fun, the you have fun with problems, then you just have problems,” he says, describing the toll that prescription abuse took on his body, mind and ambition.
Recovery and the Way Back
Eventually it was personal ambition that prompted Schreiner to embark on his journey of recovery. “I knew that what I was doing was debilitating, and it was stopping me from me living up to my full potential. I had been in a process of cleaning up my life for a long time, took acid once and realized I didn’t have a taste for it anymore.” Although he continued to write during his years of active substance use, Schreiner readily admits that his writing and performance suffered: “I don’t think that the theory of those kinds of drugs being an enhancement to creativity is true. By far the best work that I’ve ever done was after [I quit drugs]. I could have been writing much better material much more often, had I not been using.”
In his closing musings about the new record, Schreiner describes the chronology and order of the track listing as intentional; a sort-of snapshot of the timeline of his addiction and recovery: “It was intentional in the sense that the early songs are harder and a little angrier. As you get toward the middle and end of the album, a lot of that is related to the relationships I was experiencing with my wife and others. I wrote the last song on it after I found out my wife was pregnant, and it was just the ‘icing on the cake’ for a period when my life improved so much.”
As John Schreiner continues to take charge of his personal and musical destiny, it’s safe to assume that we can expect many more emotionally resonant “concept albums” chronicling a life of enormous and increasingly exceeded potential.
Download Schreiner’s Kingdom From now.