Album Preview | Johnny Foreigner
by Tom Johnson
When Johnny Foreigner released their previous record, Vs Everything, back in 2011 we celebrated with them. Awarding it our only 10/10 (back when we used to award scores to albums) it felt like the triumph they’d always been working towards, the pinnacle of all they could muster. More than that though, it was the record that I wanted them to make. A huge, lovingly sad epic pop record that was the very definition of what growing up alongside that band felt like to us, the fans.
Perhaps some of that was lost to the casual observer but even now if I try and take myself out of the situation, if that’s at all possible, it sounds pretty flawless, even despite its many flaws. The one obvious question that slowly started to emerge from the aftermath of that record was ‘how on earth do you follow it?‘
Thankfully, despite any number of misgivings, follow it is exactly what they’ve done. You Can Do Better is released on March 10th, via Alcopop! Records, and it’s brilliant. Not in the way that Vs Everything was brilliant, but in a way that’s very much of its own making. It feels fresh and alive and urgent and a more than worthy addition to a back-catalogue that continues to flourish.
With the release of the album now only a month away – and available to pre-order right now – we spoke to Lex about wiping the slate clean and starting over again. We’re also very pleased to bring you an exclusive stream of new album track WiFi Beach which you can listen to below. Enjoy…
Hey JoFo, it’s been a while. What’s new in your world?
Nothing! Well, songs, album, tours. We have a new agent and a new van + driver and we just got all our guitars back from a wizard and they feel new. Also, me and Lewes have rediscovered Space Hulk. So everything’s new, but also familiar. OH we made a map. This is for sure a New Thing.
The new record is out in March; what can people expect from it?
I feel like every other record we’ve released has secretly wanted to be Pinkerton, and this one wants to be Domestica. It’s for sure the loudest and stroppiest. It’s like dark mirror universe us.
You’ve released Le Sigh in the past few weeks, how indicative is that track of the rest of the LP?
It probably sounds the most like old model johnny foreigner, but with new us’s guitars turned up and stuff. Also felt kinda right to start off with a local song. But the rest of the record isn’t as happy or set in Birmingham.
Vs Everything felt like such a monumental record for you – was it a difficult record to follow?
Tbh I spent a good 6 months not wanting to admit I didn’t want another record. The whole sprawling dumb idea of VsE was us using every technique and talent we had and me writing this epic lyrical analysis of my life. Anything we said after that would just be post-script, like a reissued biography with an extra chapter tagged on.
So we got Lewes and spent ages rebuilding old songs for two guitars and it opened up a whole other box of sonic trickery; we realised how many more bands we could steal from, and writing new stuff became fun. So we committed to a series of EPs and managed one before we got overwhelmed in songs, and by the end of last summer I’d got a way more distinct idea of what the next johnny foreigner record should be like and how to approach writing words without repeating or boring myself.
What was that approach? What did you feel like you wanted to cover on this record?
I guess the simple answer is that I lied. In as much as an actor or author lies. I created like, an alternate universe me, that could make decisions and do whatever I told him to in order to reveal greater truths. It’s sort of what Le Schwing is about, I guess; truth in fiction. I made a record of life pre-band in bham, a record about life in band on tour, and a giant record that tried to cover everything. So it felt like, dimensionally speaking, the obvious next step, but it took me a while to see it ‘cos I was totally wrapped up in this ideal of ‘you have to be truthful above all else’. I still totally believe that bands should sing of what they know and what’s in their hearts, and this seemed like the best way to tie the two together when they started contradicting each other, or just became repetitive. But yeh, that was my angle, and it made spending hundreds of hours on a map of an imaginary city make a lot more sense too.
What are your feelings on Vs Everything now that the dust has settled on it?
I think we could have had a bit more commercial success if we’d released a shorter record with a load more bonus tracks for things. But we went into the whole process knowing it was like an exercise in overkill. Same with the little concrete cutscenes; they felt like an important, inclusive Thing we had to do despite sounding cringy or jarring (depending on how much emo you were expecting from the record). I don’t really revisit stuff aside from relearning songs for tour, but I’d like to believe it’s still an endearing hopeful sprawling mess.
You Can Do Better feels like a much snappier and lighter record; did Vs Everything feel like the drawing of a line under what you’d done up to that point?
Yeh, very much so. That is definitely like, The Most that old-model johnny foreigner could do, and having 2 guitars makes us feel like a whole new band.
What’s your personal favourite track on the new record?
I love ‘Shipping‘ way too much to be cool about it. I literally picked up my guitar, told it I was going to write the opening song, and it fell out in like 10 minutes. It was like a direct broadcast into my head, zero effort. How does that even work?
Did you approach the writing and recording any differently compared to what you’ve done before?
Slower. Not consciously, but just ‘cos the songs are a lot denser we ended up spending more time working and reworking loads of little tiny things. And Dom has his own studio now, so we tracked mostly all the instruments there instead of Candyland. I think the only thing you can’t fake a big budget on is drum sounds so it was pretty great of Dom to get this place at the same time we decided to sound like a big proper rock band. But yeh, we definitely went over deadline a bunch of times being anal about tiny stuff no-one will probably ever notice.
Kelly’s vocals are more prominent than maybe ever before; was that a conscious decision or just something that happened?
Honestly, I hadn’t noticed until you mentioned it. Who sings what in this band is basically decided by some weird switch in my head and I have no idea what that switch is connected to. That’s good tho, she has a better voice than I do.
There are a couple of digs at the current Birmingham “SCENE” on the record – has it been strange seeing that develop over the past year or so? How do you find the city at the moment?
We’re so out of the current scene we make excuses when they invite us to house parties. The thing is, re B-town, we have this instinct to be like AWW YEH when we see a bunch of local greebos doing good. They could be us and our friends ten years ago, with their messy hair and Nirvana smiley hoodies and generic-but-well-meaning songs. But like, the hair is stylised, (we never cared that much) and the iconography worn out from chainstores is just like their music. It doesn’t matter if they’re selling records or not, it’s embarrassing to see a city play musical catch-up so incompetently. We’re in our 30s and we’re not scared by local bands yet, that’s fucking ridiculous.
How difficult is it to be a band in 2014? What makes you carry on doing all of this?
C.R.E.A.M. Even when we’re doing nothing, the band costs money, so we just have to be super careful that we always have income that vaguely matches last months bills. And we’ve got pretty good at that now. But really, what else can we do? We could all quit and take our IRL jobs seriously and be stable and unfulfilled, or we could keep doing this ’til it kills us in the hope of leaving a legacy that’s greater than something money-related.
You Can Do Better is out March 10th via Alcopop! Records
13th New Slang, Kingston
14th The Penny Theatre, Canterbury
15th Firebug, Leicester
16th Guillivers, Manchester
20th The Hop, Wakefield
21st Joiners, Southampton
22nd The Flapper, Birmingham
27th JT Soar, Nottingham
28th Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
29th The Star Inn, Gilford
30th Moles, Bath
31st Borderline, London
3rd The Harley, Sheffield
4th Shits Freaky Club, Durham (TBC)
5th Lounge 41, Workington