Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Nation Favourites: Johnny Foreigner

Yes, of course we had to eventually. For a band we've gone on about so much, we felt we had to ask Alexei Berrow some especially probing questions. Couldn't think of any, obviously, so he got these instead.

Who inspired you to get into music?
My dad's ancient Yamaha keyboard got me into music before I was that aware of songs and bands and things; I used to sit up for hours on end playing with the autochord feature. Jun and Kel had similar experiences too. And when I was twelveish I went to some national school quiz night and there was an all girl band playing Katrina and the Waves songs, they seemed like thee coolest people in the world.

What did you expect from getting Machine to produce the album, and did it live up to that?
We didn’t really know what to expect, apart from knowing he’d make the loud bits sound properly loud. Which he did. He gave us loads of advice on singing and playing and arranging and stuff that we weren’t expecting too; bonus levels.

How easy is it to make a living continually touring?
I don’t think any band makes a living thru just touring. We survive on an uneasy mix of merch money, publishing, and gig fees. The bigger the band get, the more stuff they have to maintain and the more crew they need to compete. In our example, its only in the last month or so that we’ve had cash left over after paying our tour manager, petrol etc. And we’re well aware how much we need a soundman, and what a difference sleeping in a hotel instead of the back of the van makes. So; not easy at all. But the very fact we can do it is an amazingly lucky gift, so it’d be wrong to complain (too much).

On the Drowned In Sound tour diary you've noted the disparity between the hype and the numbers often turning up at gigs. Do you feel like a hype band, for want of a better term?
Yeah, slightly.. I'd like to point out, ahem, I dont think it's our fault as such. I had been reading the majority of blogs and websites that shouted about us first for a while, I completely related to their opinions/stances so it felt natural (if extremely flattering) to have that reciprocated. but theres such a knock on effect, if one useless journo writes hype, the next one along will read it and write HYPE!!! We're cynical enough to accept the business, it seems every new band has to have an amount of hype behind them because the major media outlets are so out of touch... arghh, I dunno, I just write songs, I'd like to think they were good enough that after the hype's moved on people will still care about them..

Why so many songs about Birmingham? Do you see yourselves as coming from any sort of Birmingham scene, if there is one?
Most of my lyrics are about stuff that happens around Birmingham cos that’s we’ve lived our whole lives and it's better to write about what you know. I love the way I can look at a map of the Twin Cities and recognize streets and places from Lifter Puller songs. By this logic obviously our next album will be set almost exclusively in our van though.
As far as there being a scene in Birmingham, we`ve been around so little in the past year that it’d be wrong to comment. Certainly last time we checked 85% of Birmingham bands are really, really awful. When we started there were three or four bands we played with all the time, but it wasn’t exactly a scene. Tropical Hotdog and Hott Date would be our most trusted band nights, but theres a continual cycle of amateur promotors putting crap bands on and nobody showing.

You've toured with the oft-compared Los Campesinos! and are about to do same with Dananananaykroyd, having nicked their "fight-pop" tag. Is there some sort of communal support group being formed here?
It’d be nice. We don’t get to hang out with either of those bands as much as we’d like to. There’s definitely some sort of collective righteousness tho, we were each others favourite bands before any of us got critical acclaim (for want of a better phrase).

From the album press release: "Sometimes a band comes along that you want to obsess over, collect all the B-sides, search out the demos. They're very few and far between, but almost certainly, this is one of them." A fair view, and is that something a band can really aim for or just something that happens? Where, generally, did you expect to be at this stage?
Um, I totally think it's something that you have to work towards, and we consciously do, but it seems pretty natural; if you can be in a band, why wouldn’t you want it to be worth obsessing over. Seeing people react to us the way I did the first time I heard Idlewild or Stapleton or Cap’n Jazz, it’s really flattering. We’re forever being told how rare it is for a band to care so much about artwork and B-sides, but we’re more contemptuous of bands that don’t give a shit than thinking we’re special cos we want so much control.

Tell us about the genesis of Lewes Herriott's artwork.
Lewes = absolute genius. We didn’t know him, he did a gig poster for a show someone let us play and it stood out so much, like someone had put our music into colours and shapes. I asked him for help when I was doing the artwork for Arcs Across The City, I knew what I wanted but not how to draw it, and the rough sketches he sent back were so awesome we asked him to be in charge of all our arts forever and he unwittingly agreed. He’s an amazing musician too, annoyingly. The next step is getting him to play guitar for us...

Can pictures in Kerrang! really be used as ID at border control?
As a last resort, if you have no photo ID, and you happen to be wearing the same jeans and shirt and hoodie, and you have the kind of border guard that prefers a cheap laugh over stripping your van, then yes it can. But passports do the same job without the humiliation.

What's the last decent thing you heard?
Fight Like Apes!

What next?
Another interview, then I have to try make some stencils or templates to spray up our hardcases like proper bands. I don’t even know the difference.

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