THE Crystal Palace-based duo JOHN are excited to announce…
their upcoming album, God Speed in the National Limit. With such an intriguing title; I had to ask about its origins and inspirations. The boys reveal details behind the video for Ghost Printer – the incredible new track. I ask how the Johns got together and whether either had a secret about the other. They reveal future plans and a few artists well worth checking out. I quiz them about humour in their music and why write about improvement and self-improvement – which one discovers throughout Ghost Printer.
I get a glimpse into a wonderful act who has gained support from, above all, Simon Pegg. They are a much-admired live act so I ask whether we can see them tour; some of the artists they look up to and whether they managed to catch any of this year’s Glastonbury.
Hi, JOHN. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, there. Not bad thanks.
It’s now the weekend so I’m just at home watering the ferns and writing this – as ‘Rock and Roll’ as you could ever want to imagine.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
We’re a Rock band based in Crystal Palace, London – consisting of two members; both called John.
We’ve been playing together for around three/four years, I believe.
Did you catch Glastonbury? What was your opinion? Will you be heading to any festivals this summer?
We both caught some on the T.V. but didn’t go in person.
Obviously, it’s a completely mixed bag of a line-up (lots of glossy Pop in there); but I think the diversity is a real strong-point. I sat down in the front room with my dad (who was visiting) and enjoyed watching and discussing Kano’s set. I suppose that scenario was a highlight for me.
We’re actually lined up to play three all-day festivals in Bristol, London and Birmingham over the summer – so I’m looking forward to meeting both new and old friends. I think my younger-self would be a happy person knowing that I would come to do this.
It’s a very satisfying to have created this vehicle where can show up in another city and bring people together. That probably sounds overly-romantic but to hell with it.
Forgive me for the stupid questions – getting it done near the top – but is there some mystical and profound background to the band name – or just the fact you are both called John?!
We are genuinely both called John- and the decision served as a way of remembering that this was just about us to getting together and making the sounds that we’re interested in.
It trimmed the fat away from a more tiring attempt to look or sound a certain way. Having both experienced this when we were younger; we were both very aware that ‘JOHN’ needed to be for us, and hopefully, some other people would enjoy it off the back of that.
How did the duo get together? Have you been friends from way back?
We both met in the halls of residence of our university in East London about ten years ago (I just about remember a beach-themed party where Johnny ‘dropped-in’ from a toilet – into a small paddling pool on a polystyrene surfboard).
But, to be honest, it took us the whole of the three university years to realise that we actually had a lot in common and should probably make more effort to hang out.
Since then, it’s been a bit of a blur. I don’t think any of this would have been possible if we weren’t best mates.
God Speed in the National Limit is a pretty clever album title. Again, where does that title spring from and what kind of themes are addressed on the album?
I remember (just) saying the phrase aloud on the drive back from playing a very satisfying set at A Carefully Planned Festival in Manchester – and it was like a little lightbulb going on. I just thought that it could accurately describe everyone’s quest for self-improvement – but within the confines of the systems/classes we’re born into.
I think this translates well across the whole of the album, whereby each song is a small fiction taken from our lives and moulded into a song. Like with any literature, it wanders further away from the truth when you commit it to language – but all the songs do come from tangible moments.
For example, the opening track – called Balfron – is based upon the Brutalist tower block that I used to pass on the back from practice – although sung from the building’s perspective.
The video for Ghost Printer was released recently. Was it quite cool being involved with the video?
We’ve always taken good care of our videos as it can often feel like these accompanying videos are last-minute add-on marketing tools – that people feel they have to do in order to get the song to the maximum amount of ears.
I’ve worked as an artist for a long time and Johnny as a furniture restorer – so we both enjoy the opportunity to work on something visual to coincide with the song.
That song looks at the pressures of self-improvement and betterment. Is that something you are vulnerable to and see a lot of?
I think the process of music and art is so reflective in general.
It is hard not to fold these experiences in the writing of the songs – hence why Ghost Printer makes a somewhat darkly-comic fiction about the problems of self-belief.
As with many creative people, I have found ways to deal with internal-criticism and often try to push these ideas into the writing – if I think they are relevant to discuss.
It seems humour is pivotal to your music and personalities. Do you think too many artists are po-faced and imperious?
I think humour is definitely a part of our outlook as a partnership – and we hold many comedians/writers in high regard. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that some of these techniques and references have seeped into the writing of songs.
But, similarly, it’s not like we intended to write one-liners. Perhaps humour is only the dangling carrot that can help pull people deeper into songs.
I think people can usually smell you a mile off if you’re playing some kind of act – unless you’re bloody good at it; I’m not sure we are!
Who are the artists you both grew up on and inspired your music route?
Johnny’s dad played on cruise ships around South Africa when he was a kid. I don’t think he would mind me saying that he grew up on absolutely all sorts of music – Rock included. Music was obviously very accessible to him as a kid so I’m not surprised he got the bug early.
I used to record a lot of late-night radio shows on a tape deck so I could listen to them in the morning. This is how I came aware of Punk/Rock music in particular (Steve Lamacq/John Peel/Mike Davies). My local newsagent, then, began selling music magazines and I started building an interest from there.
What does the summer hold? You lads on the road quite a bit?
We’re playing a healthy number of shows around the country in order to get ready for the album launch at The Old Blue Last (on the 18th October).
We’re also already scheduled to get back in the recording studio in August – for something that we will be announced shortly. So, we’re currently putting together tracks to road test them ready for that.
Can each John tell a secret about themselves that we, and the other John, perhaps, does not know about them?
JOHN 1: I had trials to play football for Oxford United’s youth team – although he might know that to be fair.
JOHN 2: He knows too much… I can’t think of one – which means I’ll have to kill him.
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
There are so many exciting bands that we’ve met over the last year…
They’re not necessarily new but they’re well worth the ear-time:
LICE / Unqualified Nurse Band / We Wild Blood / Milo’s Planes / Frauds / Ghosts of Dead Airplanes / Ghost Kings of The Five Regions / SLONK / False Advertising / Rat the Magnificent / USA Nails / Dead Arms / It It Anita… amongst others!
If you each had to select the album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
JOHN 1: I have a massive regret for not being able to see the Danish band LACK (live) before the split up.
I contacted their guitarist when we played in Copenhagen. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the email until we flew back.
This album jumped ship from numerous failing devices and I still love it: LACK – Saturate Every Atom.
JOHN 2: Hot Snakes – Automatic Midnight
It has been a constant influence for years – especially Swami John Reis and pretty much everything else he has worked on.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Have fun and work hard.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
JOHN 1: It It Anita – 25 (From Floor to Ceiling)
JOHN 2: Papa M – Krusty