Thursday, 19 April 2012

An Interview With Johnny Foreigner - “I felt like I’d kinda led people into talking about stuff I had no right hearing”

We caught up with Johnny Foreigner (who are playing The Garage, London this  Saturday as the last date of an extensive UK tour). They told us all about the making of Vs Everything, listening to people's conversations, and how being in Johnny Foreigner is like owning a water park.

- What are you proudest of as a band?

That there's a bunch of cites all over the world that we could go hang out in tomorrow; with friends and smokes and good music and adventures, and all because we write pop songs. Everything else, shows and tours and press and status, it's all super but still kinda fleeting; and it's when all that calms down for a few months and you take stock and think, shit, there's no way this would have happened  had we got real jobs.

- Your new album ‘Vs Everything’ is split into three sections did that happen naturally or was it planned from the start?

Yeh, totally from the start. We didn't know if we'd have 3 or 4 till kinda later on, I have a 4 part version playlist that includes all the songs that got used on the eps and single around it, but we scaled that back so the eps still felt special. We debated for ages, theoretically, about the tracklist but when it came to actually deciding we all came round pretty quickly to how it ended up

- Your track-by-track on DrownedInSound was really interesting, particularly the details of the people you’ve written about. How important is it to you to base your lyrics on personal experience?

Um, I think it's getting less and less. It used to be everything. Like, a lot of the stuff Vs Everything is 3rd person. I mean, its all true (more or less) but it's more other folks stories thru my filter. A lot of people said they related to songs on Waited Up; that – i've been there man – empathy. Grace was just as self obsessed, but I think I lost that empathy; instead of pubs and nightclubs and last buses, Grace is full of soundchecks and hotels and air travel. I always had this ideology of pure singing from the heart, I kinda challenged myself to write about stuff I cared about without necessarily lacing it with my opinion or putting it into personal context.

- Have you ever not used any lyrics because they were too personal?

No, I just bury them in feedback..  I think I've crossed the line in a few songs and it annoys me cos I'm onstage repeating it each night, but that's my own stupid hangup to deal with, it's not like I write explicitly enough that other people are going to cringe. And i've had a couple of really awkward stare at the floor moments with girls being like, wait that's me isn't it.. but I never have any kind of self-censoryness, I think the edge of personal/too personal suits us well.

- How did creating your new album with Alcopop differ to working with your previous label?

So so so much easier. I mean, I guess we're older now and we've kinda proven we know what we're doing, but Jack gave us money to pay Dom and left us alone for a few months. Before, it was like, argue negotiate compromise, a month in New York, and a whole dark frustrating world after trying to co-mix via email. I wouldn't change what happened cos we learnt so much, both about  the industry and production. But Jack's completely on our wavelength, it's as if he runs Alcopop in order to accumulate cool stories to tell his grandkids. To disappear and come back 6 months later with a double album is the kind of thing he expects from us

- The way you’ve used the audio clips about cursed songs is extremely effective, how did that idea come about? 

The original plan was to build a bank of conversation samples ourselves, just recording people around us. it just seemed kinda natural to ask out instead of doing it ourselves, both for variety and cos we're hella lazy. Also, recording people's conversations is weird if they know and weirder if they don't. Musique concrete is this hideously avant garde style of meshed field recordings and found sounds, we started off thinking we'd slip samples into loads of songs but there wasn't really the space. And we knew we'd need interval tracks, so I crafted them using whatever sound files I could rob from dropbox in true sonic guerilla style.

- What was it like to listen to them, and the personal feelings and emotions they describe?

Weird. Totally voyeuristic and slightly uncomfortable. I felt like i'd kinda led people into talking about stuff I had no right hearing. Idk, tumblr generation innit; intimacies aren't necessarily a personal thing

- How did you decide which audio clips to include? 

Harriet totally stood out, hers was the perfect mixture of weary resignation and affected teen nonchalance, so the first one was built around her. I've never met her so I hope that isn't offensive. It's super hard to do something like this and not be kinda studied about it; and that awareness in inflection and tones – talking publicly about something so personal, is kinda what made them uncomfortable to listen to bare. For the second one I cut everyone up into sentences and phrases and got stoned and tried to piece them together semi-coherently. And the last one is literally everyone..

- How important is involving your fans in your music? 

Honestly, it's not that much of a big deal to us, all these stupid adventures cos naturally. it's just hella fun. It's like, if you own a water park, d'you try and build a bigger pool to fit more people in, or buy a wave machine and slides and fun stuff for the people already in? We're totally into doing the latter in this awful metaphor, but, if it was a shit water park and noone ever came, it'd still be our very own god damn water park.  Being able to involve people to the level we do is a fun perk of having those people care enough in the first place, and I wouldn't really trust bands that didn't want to be close to the people fucking paying their way. We formed a band cos we wanted a badass hxc gang that listened to pavement and capn jazz and smokes weed and we could hang out with in any city ever, not cos we think we're special, or  worse, separable. 

- I think it’s fair to say the NME weren’t particularly mature or fair about their coverage of Vs Everything, what’re your thoughts about what’s happened between them and the band? 

Meh. Feel like we were kinda set up, in that, a week before that review, they were like, sure we'll stream your record on our site and everyone's into it. It's just that Ricky guy really hates us cos my record store day blog spread around so much and I was really rude about him in it.  Whilst I wish it had got  an 8 or 9 instead, we probably got more publicity this way, so, from a business side, it was fine, and we both got our little ego trips out of it.  I stand by every word I said about Ricky, the fact that he's an editor of the NME says more about the NME nowadays than his review said about us. But really, a dying old magazine sponsored by a hair product, no way are we going to lose sleep over that..

- Where did your anti-leaking strategy for Vs Everything come from?
From seeing other bands do the first part and then still suffer the leak; it's easy to make a spazzed copy of the record, but it has to go viral (at least, in our tiny community) for it to have any effect. The people who're most into the band are the ones most likely to leak the record; kids with review blogs who love what you do so much they're compelled to share it. And bands are always, hey dont do this, don't leak it, don't tell anyone yet. It didn't seem that much of a jump to think, if you involve them in this, explain why it's important and how they can help, instead of begging them to go against instinct, then it greatly increases the chances of getting away with it.

- How much of a difference do you feel it made? 

Idk, it's impossible to quantitatively state innit. I'm not naïve enough to think there aren't people who had copies earlier than they should, but the endgame was to concentrate hype as opposed to win the internet. I mean, it didn't leak, (or if it did, it was so far from our channels as to make no difference)and now we're making money and have a summer of festivals to look forward to. I'd be very surprised if the links haven't died out now, and it was as easy to get as everyone elses records, but more than anything it reassured us that all the people that say they care about our band, really do care. 

- If you could change one thing about being in a band, what would it be?

 If you mean our band, we'd have learnt to drive. Same answer, every time, highlighted bold underlined. I mean, now it's not really practical, but we've spent so much, turned stuff down, missed out on parties, cos none of us has a fucking clue how cars work. If you mean, every band tho, we should all have to wear nametags. Audiences too.

- What’s in the future for Johnny Foreigner?


*One final thing, tonight, from 8-9pm, you can listen in to Spark Radio to hear me (Mel) talk about the interview, and Johnny Foreigner - as well as music from Los Campesinos!, Tall Ships, Summer Camp and Serengeti. If you want to discuss anything you've just read as well, make sure you listen in. Song requests are welcome too.*

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