Thanks again so much to Johnny. If you didn’t know the ex-East Village and ex-Episode Four released some years ago an excellent solo album called “Quiet Storm” on the Japanese label Excellent Records. I recommend getting it! It’s a bit different to his previous projects, but great anyways. Now sit down and enjoy this trip down memory lane.
++ Hi Johnny, hope you are doing well. I’ve been listening a whole lot your solo record since ordering from Excellent Records a couple of months back. So I’m very glad that you are up for the interview. My first thought, and question, is if you were making any music in between this album and the last East Village release? What happened in those “lost years”?
++ And also, how did your music evolve from the jangly masterful and luminous songs of East Village to the personal, introspective and moody songs of your solo album?
Well, obviously EV were four people, who all had empathy. We had been together a long time and had evolved our sound. Great guitars and amps helped too of course. So, for me the QS songs aren’t far removed from EV but just myself playing them with no amps. The fact they are moody and introspective was just where my head was at that time …
++ There are some great notes you wrote about the album. On them you mention the album took life on an inter-railing trip around Europe. I’d love to do a similar trip! What gave you the energy or the will to take the train and just travel around? What places struck you and you would recommend visiting?
Spain was great – Seville. Palermo, Sicily. Athens. Sophia, Bulgaria. Budapest. All resonated with me, for differing reasons. But it was fantastic. I was still at a low place – this was a few months before Sept. 11th – and just had to get away from everything. I was working night shift sorting parcels for the Royal Mail. I was going nowhere. A friend said ‘if you’re feeling lost, why don’t you literally get lost?’ So I did. Spent a month sleeping on trains, no plan. Saw some great places, got inspired.
++ How long did you travel? Did you carry your guitar with you? How did these places shaped your songs? And can you connect particular places to particular songs?
++ Did you ever think of having a band for recording this album, or did you know you wanted to do it yourself from the start? Would you say that was an advantage or a disadvantage?
All I had in mind was to get the songs on tape for posterity. I had a lot of ideas for musical parts. Not just guitar but for other instruments too. So I just played them all on guitar in case I was ever going to get a band together again. It could be a template. But I didn’t have the energy or inclination to form one. The songs were about me. I didn’t have any dreams.
++ What about the name of the album, “Quiet Storm”? Where did that come from?
++ And is that you on the front cover? Do you smoke?
Unfortunately I do. I wish I could stop – if you know how, please help!
++ The second song on the album is about “Casey Jones”, the TV series, right? Was that your favourite TV show when growing up? What other shows did you enjoy as a kid?
Yeah, inspired by that show … not about it! A cartoon called Marine Boy. I loved that. There was a European version of Robinson Crusoe with lovely theme music. Captain Scarlett was a fave. Other things like Hawaii 5-0, Kojak etc.
++ The third track is called “Tony Joe”. Is it based on a real person?
was trying to write a tribute to Tony Joe White, the American singer-songwriter. Some of his songs knocked me out and his style of singing influenced me too.
++ Which would you say is your favourite song on the album and why?
‘Misty’ because it has the most direct memories of that euro train journey. I like the sentiment of it. Equally I like Orphan Child. It works well I think.
++ You were saying that the songs were recorded as demos. You mean you would have wanted to re-record them or? I don’t think many notice that! They do sound very good to me, but then I’m no musician 🙂
Maybe it crossed my mind to re-record them. It was suggested by someone. But Eexcellent Records liked them the way they were and I thought OK.
++ So how did the contact with Excellent Records come about? You never expected to release these songs as an album, right?
No I never expected that. They were in London and wanted to meet EV because they were fans. They wanted to re-issue the Drop Out album. So we had dinner and they asked me if I had done anything musically since EV. Well, it just so happened I had a cassette of 3 or 4 of the songs, so I gave it to them and they got back to me and asked me to do some more in the same way.
++ I just heard that Excellent Records will be folding or has already fold, which makes me very sad as it was a great label. How important and supportive were they to you?
Yes it’s such a shame. They put out an album for me and gave me something positive, which I needed. And of course they re-issued the EV albums. So very important to us and me. I think they were a little put out that I didn’t promote the album with gigs etc but Kei came to understand my reasons and wanted to promote it again because of those reasons.
++ After releasing the “Quiet Storm”, do you have any plans of making more records? I do know you have recorded some songs!
My life took off in other directions once i’d finished QS but I recently realised I had 10 or so songs written and quickly recorded a couple of them when I ws in England a couple of months back. But they are pretty rough mixes so far. Yeah, I would like to make something of them.
++ By the way, how do you record yourself? And at what time would you say is the best for you to make music?
A lot of the QS songs were written dead of night. In EV days they were written anytime, anywhere. But the recent ones just as they come. I learnt a lot of other peoples songs over the last couple of years and these ones are a kind of mix of what I learnt, I think. I also recently discovered an old Episode 4 era song that never got past rehearsals. It sounds pretty good to me so I might well resurrect that one too!
++ And going back to your traveling, and now that you are living there, is China inspiring you, in any ways, to make music?
I think so. Take a walk in the park and people are out there singing old songs, playing traditional instruments. I love that.
++ And what about the city where you live in China, are there any sights or places that you recommend visiting?
This city is so new, so big. Some nice parks, beaches, friends houses. Why are you coming over for a visit?
++ One last question Johnny, what would you say has been the most rewarding thing music has given to you?
well, that’s quite hard to answer. The chance to express myself for one. The chance to do what everyone wants to do – be in a band, tour, make records for another. But – without being too cheesy – some of the feedback i’ve had about my/E4/EV music has made me feel like I achieved something in a good way. To know you have affected people in their lives, is something else.
++ Thanks again a lot, anything else you’d like to add?
thanks Roque ….
John Wood – Misty