We remember an interview we did with Art Brut, in which they attempted to entertain us with their wisdom and faux pharmacological humor. Frankly, we thought it came off a bit forced and that they took themselves a bit too seriously. Enter Britain’s Johnny Foreigner and their attempt to charm us with music and their interpretation of the way of the world. I remember going to see Guided By Voices shortly after they signed to Matador and as they prepared to join a Lollapalooza tour. Despite the lofty expectations of the crowd, Robert Pollard showed up, stumbling drunk as if he didn’t care (which he didn’t). He wandered onto the stage, did his best Pete Townsend leg kick and proceeded to blow us away with his ramshackle interpretation of rock and roll. Listening to Johnny Foreigner’s music and reading this interview is as close as you’re going to come to reliving that experience. Aggressive, shambolic, entertainment without a hint of pretense…. just the way we like it. Alexi spoke with us for this interview and gave us the view of the world from the mountaintops they’ll be climbing as they ascend to rock greatness.
TDOA: It seems like packaging and artwork are something you put a lot into. Can you tell us a little bit about the artwork that appears on your records and website? 3-D album covers, handmade cardboard covers and such, they all look great! Who is the mastermind behind all of this and is there a central theme that we should be looking for?
Lex: Ha, there’s no mastermind as such. Just us drunkenly throwing ideas around and not enough people to tell us no. All the fancy packaging we’ve done has a) lost us money and b) been totally worth it. The drawings are done by our friend Lewes Herriot. (myspace.com/thedarkinventory) He’s started branching out now, designing for other people and getting his shirts in topshop and such, we’re dead proud. Our emails generally go like this – “Can you do a ghost, eating another ghost, with a telephone in its mouth and a speech bubble coming out of the receiver? – “What, like this?” – “YESSSSSSSSSSS!!” We’ve never met anyone who can put our music into pictures as well as Lewes. We got to know him from some awesome gig posters he drew and he’s done all our stuff since we signed to best before. And he’ll do the rest of it too. He’s as much a part of our band as guitars and gin.
TDOA: You recorded a record in New York City, you’ve toured in Japan and you’re based in England. Can you talk about the cultural differences that you perceive between the three?
Lex: In as much as musicians should probably stfu about cultural differences, here’s my 2 cents. There are cunts all over the world and there are lovely people all over the world. And if they wear Pavement t-shirts then they’re probably friendly. If they’re men with pointy shoes in England then they’ll probably fuck you over at some point. I think American people take everything too seriously, Japanese people take everything too seriously, English people take everything too seriously and we’re all idiots.
TDOA: We’ve gotten a great response to our site from people in Japan, so we feel obligated to ask for you to share some of the crazier stories of your tour their.
Lex: You get off 12 hour flight, you take two trains with all your gear and suitcases and walk to hotel in sweltering heatwave, you dump gear, change clothes, go out with friends of your label, get messy drunk in a succesion of gaijin bars and restaurants, get future-taxi to warehouse birthday party in downtown shibuya, score some weed and finally get to sit and reflect on being awake for 48 hours and spending the last 7 wondering what was going on. Gets to about midnight, birthday boy strips naked onto trestle table and his friends move it to the centre of the room and place little birthday cakes on him and light the candles. Stroke of midnight, all lights and music cuts out and everyone in the room, as if brainwashed, starts singing Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds at the top of their voices. You’re well above the streetlights so you see this mostly as shadow light by frequent cameraphone flashes. Friends blow out candles and eat cakes off naked guy with their mouths alone. Singing finishes, lights and pa come back on, boy gets dressed, party carries on as normal. It’s over a year and your still not sure if this is a normal right of passage for shibuya teenagers.
TDOA: Who directed and thought up the concept for the video for Criminals and how you like making videos?
Lex: it was a louche genius called matt maude, he works as part of a collective called left eye blind and they’ve done videos for sky larkin and grammatics and a bunch of other cool bands. we loved the concept when he told us (chainsaw!) and we spent 2 fun if tiring days in an abandoned film school making it. we’re pretty lucky in that thats only the second “performance” video we’ve done and left eye blind are all young and unembittered as well as being super professional, so it was a lot of fun. usually, making videos is us sitting down with various memory cards of footage on different file types and swearing at windows movie maker.
TDOA: You’ve played with a lot of great bands. What have you learned from the assortment that has helped you with your career?
Lex: Um, find your advantages and play to them mercilessly! It’s a weird thing to talk about and a lot of bands don’t, ’cause stagecraft, for lack of a better word, is sort of the same as cheating or posing in indie rock. Which is why Dana and the Mae Shi are awesome to watch because they have these hyper personalities and watching their band is like trying to have a conversation with all of them at once. Whereas if we tried those kind of antics, it’d be stage school forced cos we’re not naturally that POW!!! as people. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone in a band and realizing they have a stage persona, it’s a fucking con. And while you can respect people for being good actors, it doesn’t make them good humans.
TDOA: I noticed a reference to Lex reading Martin Amis. I feel like bands rarely admit to reading at all any more, let alone someone like Amis. Are there literary references in your lyrics or are you just broadening your horizons?
Lex: There’s loads of stuff that I’ve stolen! I read waaaay too much and waay too fast. I think it helps (that) I smoke a lot of weed. I have a DS with like, every game ever and I waste so much money in second hand book shops. I don’t follow the literary scene at all, and I get just as much out of a well written trashy 70s sci-fi novel as whatever stuff I buy that has Booker Prize stickers on it. But I mostly only buy from charity shops, frittering my PDs away £1 at a time.
TDOA: As you prepare for a new tour, what can folks expect to see at a Johnny Foreigner show?
Lex: Junior playing a bit of guitar, Kelly pressing the happy birthday button “accidentally” in every fucking show. One of our techs Gaffa taping my guitar back together mid show. Our merch boy San obsessively filming everything for the film about our selves we’ll never make. Me trying not to lose/break the mic, and us borrowing members of the other bands for extra bits and bobs. Same as ever, really. Only, slightly tighter and maybe less sweatier (I’m kidding myself. I’m fitter till proven otherwise)
TDOA: How often does someone ask you, “which one of you is Johnny” and how badly do you pummel those folks?
Lex: It’s odd, ’cause we don’t answer, ’cause we think they’re referring to someone else, then when we realize. We still don’t answer. I dunno, using a name as a band name is a concept that some peoples minds literally cannot handle.
TDOA: If you could “eliminate” one current band from the planet, who would it be and why?
Lex: Can we kill off the Manic Street Preachers now please? I just read an interview with Nicky Wire (I used to WORSHIP this band 10,15 years ago) and he’s like a bumbly old man trying to be controversial. It’s Gene Simmons-embarrassing. He was talking about the FAC and how he was opposed to anything involving Ed O’Brian on principle and he got all his facts wrong. It’s so fucking desperate and pathetic, like, he knows the only we he can get attention is by moaning about something. We could just bring his old self back from the past and he’d stab him up with no hesitation. If someone could write that into Radiohead fanfic, it’d be made up..
TDOA: Can you explain how you got from ‘We left you sleeping and gone now’ to where you are now, musically? Is it reflective of a change in what you’re listening to?
Lex: Um, sort of like this – waited up was as much us experimenting for our own sakes and me playing at being a producer as it was a band album. When Kelly came in we made a conscious decision to limit ourselves to guitar, bass, drums and sa21, so we could go play as much as possible (we toured by public transport. awful idea) and the best of those songs went on arcs and waited. Then we spent 14 months on tour and wrote a bunch of songs around/about/because of it and that became grace. We’ve had the summer off and now my head is full of a million new songs and I’ve had the time to play around with 3rd album ideas like brass sections and drones and a triple lp set made of gold etc. So there’s definitely a connection in how much time we spend sitting around doing nothing and the amount of alternate instrumentation in our songs. um.
TDOA: You’re tour itinerary for the remainder of the year is amazing. Are there particular cities that you’re particularly excited about seeing? Any chance we’ll see you in America in 2010?
Lex: Berlin, again, and Tokyo, again, and Amsterdam shows are always fun. There’s a bunch of smaller UK towns we’ve never been to too They can either be dire and blacklisted forever ever or be amazing, whole town comes to party shows, its always slightly more fun not knowing. To be fair, we’ve madly excited for all the exotic places we’re going to, but they’re all dwarfed by our South African tour in February. It’s our most spied upon wishiwasthere destination on google maps. How many indie rock bands get to touch actual elephants? we = privleged beyond status.
Winter Tour Dates
Nov 16 2009 MTC Cologne
Nov 17 2009 Bang Bang – Karrera Klub Berlin
Nov 18 2009 Astra Stube Hamburg
Nov 19 2009 the marquee brussels
Nov 20 2009 Paradiso Amsterdam
Nov 21 2009 BIG REUNION Skegness
Nov 23 2009 Louisiana Bristol
Nov 24 2009 Joiners Southampton, South
Nov 25 2009 Sub 89 Reading
Nov 26 2009 Boiler Room Guildford
Nov 27 2009 Sugarmill Stoke
Nov 28 2009 Fibbers York
Nov 29 2009 Cabaret Voltaire Edinburgh
Dec 3 2009 Drunkard’s Stadium (Minami-Kashiwa, Chiba) Chiba
Dec 4 2009 G-Side (Hamamatsu, Shizuoka) Shizuoka
Dec 5 2009 HMV Yokohama instore Yokohama
Dec 5 2009 Dragon Club, reclash all night event (Yokohama) Yokohama
Dec 6 2009 British Anthems (TOKYO GIG) TOKYO
Dec 11 2009 Cyprus avenue Cork
Dec 12 2009 Auntie Annies Belfast
Dec 13 2009 Academy 2 Dublin
Feb 12 2010 JF ARE OFF TO S.A Cape Town
Feb 17 2010 Klein Libertas Stellenbosch
Feb 19 2010 Hotbox Johannesburg
Feb 26 2010 RAMFEST worcester, south africa