Oh how I love snobby indie bands who look down on others because they have shit shoes on. Seriously, I do this. This probably doesn’t make me a good person but whatevs! Apparently the brilliant Birmingham Trio who call themselves Johnny Foreigner also do this, and much better than I, waging a full out war against boys that turn up to gigs with “pointy shoes” on. Oh, I love you already!
Johnny Foreigner and I first collided in Liverpool Barfly. I nearly missed their set me and my friend somehow ended up in the wrong room! (Seriously, Liverpool Barfly is like a rabbit warren). It’s been a few months, and when I meet Junior, Kelly and Alexei in Oxford’s Jericho Tavern they’re attempting to put up a banner far bigger than themselves. We retreat to a nearby pub, adequately named ‘Jude the Obscure’ almost like a barometer of indie coolness in itself. They tell me all about their spellbinding year that appears to start and end with touring, touring and then touring some more; on a schedule that doesn’t appear to be lagging until far into the summer months when their album is due out; an album that has been produced by Fall Out Boy’s producer (but we’ll get onto that later!); in short, this twenty five minute interview, appears a well deserved lapse of time where they’re actually able to talk freely and be as cynical as they so wish.
Johnny Foreigners’ debut EP, ‘Arcs Across The City,’ received more trumpet blowing than probably any debut – ever. Were they surprised by its success? Alexei says, “We knew it wasn’t a piece of shit or anything and we all knew that we really liked it but having everyone else confirm it that was well…” Kelly chirps in, “I was thinking about this the other day because we’ve been asked this question before and before we actually started to get the reviews, I never thought once about getting a bad review. It’s really odd.” Alexei continues, “With a few exceptions, most of the reviews we’ve got have come from publications we don’t even read. So we probably wouldn’t have cared if they had slated us.”
They’ve just finished recording their debut album in the States, with infamous Fall Out Boy producer, aptly named ‘Machine’, we presume because he’s like one. Does the band feel that it is important to record with a named producer? Alexei says “It’s been a bit of a learning curve! We didn’t realise how much of an emphasis they put on production out there!” Kelly adds, “Machine really pulled out the right performances from us and captured our energy. Although we didn’t realise we were playing without energy before…” Alexei continues, “The album does sound amazing!”
Johnny Foreigner first came to people’s attention on ‘Road to V’. They would probably deem this unfortunate; since there is a resounding groan as soon as I bring the subject up. Are they glad they didn’t win then? Alexei responds, “The competition meant a lot more to the winners than it did to us, and they probably got a lot more out of it than we did. Conversely, we have a proper record deal, so we get more out of that than they do!” Kelly laughs “Miaow!” Saucer of milk Alexei?! We move onto the subject of band reality TV shows. Alexei comments, “We couldn’t have done something like mobile act unsigned and come out looking like a cool indie band. Whereas other bands that never really have that snobby indie factor, so it doesn’t matter!” Kelly adds “The band that won it is really commercial so they’ll probably do really well out of it. But that’s not us.”
Commercialism… the knife sharply plunged in the ribs of our trio. We talk about Jo Whiley and her incessant banging on about ‘hype’ bands. Kelly says, “She seems like she’s genuinely passionate about music but at the end of the day, she champions crap bands because they’re the ones that sell records.” Alexei adds “We knew how this was five years ago. It hasn’t changed. The industry is just a disgusting horrible skank full of coke sniffing wankers basically”. I ask if they’d like me to leave that out. He continues, “No. We use the machine for what we can get out of it (like anyone else); it doesn’t mean you have to take part in it. Just because our records are played in Topshop doesn’t mean we all shop in Topshop. He starts to mock himself, “Shop at Topshop, you’re a fucking clone! Don’t wear pointy shoes. Our songs will not help you score with your girlfriends, so leave us alone. No we don’t want to sign your trainers!”
This might seem somewhat hypocritical coming from a band who are doing rather well out of the whole hype machine, selling copies of their debut EP faster than hot cakes, and boasting more column inches than Gallows these days. But the sad reality of this is this: a lot of bands, including Johnny Foreigner, live on the road out of the back of their van, using the cash made from selling merchandise to pay for meals and relying on the venue rider to fuel any unbidden alcoholism. There are far lesser bands (in our eyes) that aren’t creating a truly brilliant live experience, nor getting out there and chatting to the people that listen to their music, and are instead moving from five star hotel room to hotel room, perpetrating their shit music to the masses. Not that Johnny Foreigner would probably want this life (they’re way too down to earth), but we totally emphasise with their position, regardless.
Their new single ‘Our Bi-polar Friends’ came out on the March 10 but this hasn’t been without its problems, Alexei tells us, “Our distribution company managed to lose 800 copies of our 1000 copy CD. Thankfully they found 600 of them.” Kelly adds “Yeah, in America!” Alexei continues “well, yes it’s still coming out and the distribution company will pay for however many they’ve lost. We reckon someone has hidden them on the off chance that we’ll be massive in a few years time! They might be waiting a long time…”
Johnny Foreigner are on the road right now; coming to a town near you. They’re pretty sure that their label has found a venue in every city in the UK for them to visit. If you go, buy a CD, Alexei needs some gin! He might even talk to you about how shit your shoes are, but that’s only if you’re really lucky!