On December 1st, JohnlikeJohn release their EP, “Vegans are Evil Too”, a distinctly British mixture of whimsy, introversion and head-spinning flights of fancy, all wrapped up in Tom Wait’s raincoat and Robert Wyatt’s mittens. Speaking to head JLJ, Calum, we found what it means to be a modern folk musician and what makes the band tick.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to at home?
Well between the hippy refugee that is my mum, and the zoot suit, white jacket and side vents-wearing mod that is my dad (The Who reference) I’ve have a fairly eclectic mix of music growing up. Quite a poignant moment of first falling in love with music, was when my dad first played me Matty Groves by Fairport Convention, the song plays like an old-timey English folk song, detailing a man found sleeping with the farmers wife, they then have a sword fight for the love of the wife, the farmer wins (apparently most farmers are skilled jousters). I remember thinking, wow that was like a whole entire story in a song, it was funny, it was tragic and there was a sword fight. At that point I became obsessed with folk music and the troubadours of the 1960s – there was something about the emotions behind the stories that seemed so theatrical and I never doubted they were lying, everything was said with such truth and conviction that even at 8 I could listen to someone like Joni Mitchell or Neil Young and feel the full force of words and be a bit changed with each listening.
What’s your local music scene like? How do you think you fit in?
Well local to Battersea? Ha, I can’t imagine I could pin a musical movement on Battersea in 2017. There are only a few venues I go to, one of them being that Magic Garden that’s always got good stuff going on – they always have great gypsy jazz bands and blues acts, so I should probably try get a gig there since it’s a 2 minute walk. Also I’m a bit of an open mic addict since there just aren’t enough stages in London to play everyday, I’d highly recommend The Grove on Battersea Park Road – really fun and laid back, unlike some snobby ones I could think of.
What names did you consider for the band before settling on JohnlikeJohn?
John likes couscous, John likes curtains, John likes chesterfields….. But then I finally realised I like myself the most.
You use your music to tackle some serious issues – is this just cathartic for you as a songwriter or are you hoping to change peoples’ minds about the subjects?
For the most part I use my music, as vehicle to spew out the most embarrassing, tragic and ugly parts of myself out. listening to the EP is pretty much the splash zone. The track Vegans Are Evil Too is essentially a long list of things that have gone wrong so far, but there’s a gag or two in there to stop you from completely overdosing on melancholia. But yeah, I write a lot about anxiety, depression and “purpose” and it is cathartic: the more I write about it, the more I open up a discussion in myself as to why I feel this way and hopefully in others too.
Tell us about how you go about creating your music, from initial idea to completion. What equipment do you use?
As I said before, probably the most crucial element of making my music is to be painfully honest and really embarrassing, I figure most people are as embarrassed and as anxious as I am, the only difference is I happen to sing about it. So, I normally start with the lyrics. I write them as more of a conversation with myself, kind of like a really incoherent monologue. And from there, I’ll grab my Guild acoustic guitar or ukulele and play something that sounds how the words feel…God, I sound like an art student! I’m not the most confident of singers, so a lot of times I put on different accents or character depending on the song. I was heavily discouraged at college from doing this, but, meh, it’s fun. The same applied to the humour in my music, which at this point I find is impossible not to put in. Since I tackle issues that are fairly dreary and melancholy, I feel it’s my duty to contrast it with whimsy and levity, reminding people not to take it all too seriously, cheer up, have some dip!
Tell us about the rest of the band and how you met Kano (The Guitarist)
I have him in the band because he looks like a mixture of Neil Young and Nick Drake, plus he’s a wicked guitarist, especially when he’s got a slide in his hand…also he shares his tobacco with me. Pedzy(Ukulele/backing vocals/flute/general sound-maker) I first met Pedzy my first year of studying music at BIMM – he was the only person in the whole college who shared my love for freak folk music like Daniel Johnston, The Squirrel Nut Zippers and Coco Rosie. He always carries at least 8 different instruments with him at once,: they usually include a melodica; harmonicas; ukulele, and a bamboo saxophone, Tibetan bells and various percussive shit. He’s one of the golden ones that Pedzy. Iain (Mr Double Bass). The direct descendant of William Wallace, he is the only person in the band who actually knows what were doing, musically I mean. Sometimes I just am amazed at how intricate his knowledge of music theory is. I first met Iain at my second home, El Metro, a tapas bar next to our college (couldn’t afford it, but you got free bread). We instantly clicked, even though Iain’s more about the funk than about the freak, but we compromise. Twiggy (The Fox) – so you will either recognise her as a human girl or as a fox. A lot of the time, Twiggy is wearing her famous fox mask at our gigs. She’s making her first online debut on the 31st of October when she appears in my spooky music video to Faking Foxes.
What have been your acting highlights?
One of my earlier jobs was an episode of Casualty where I played the character Rory Ronson who suffered from severe autism and absent epilepsy. It was the first time that as an actor I had to do real research and actually change how I thought about everything in order to portray the character. I must have watched Rain Man 100 times, since Dustin Hoffman’s character was a massive inspiration and, funnily enough, Michael Cera too.
You’ve got a huge gig lined up – what would be your dream venue?
There’s a gig at the beginning of the film Lost Boys, where the big muscle guy’s playing sax. I’d play there.
Describe a typical JohnlikeJohn live show
Wow, see, when we play live its so much different to what the EP sounds like. Since I come from working in theatres and stuff like that, I’ve always had a strong on-stage vision. We’ve definitely toned down with recent gigs but there were goats and mimes and confetti, all kinds of shit but at the root of it all, its very entertaining. The audience aren’t separated from us and they are with us the whole way: making jokes; dancing with them, speaking to the audience. If I could, I’d spend all my time just playing shows.
What would be your ultimate aim in the music industry?
Honestly, just to keep doing what I’m doing but get paid for it haha! I suppose that’s they key really, write music, play amazing shows, say words occasionally and then get paid to do it again. I’d love to get a record deal with who ever Alabaster Deplume’s with.
Is there anything you would like people to know about your current release?
Vegans Are Evil Too, but so are milkmen, sausage dogs, barbacks and pretty much everyone. (I’m not just coming after the vegans)