Q&A With Johnny Normal 13/3/2014
Hi Johnny. You have been in the music business for over 30 years now.
How would you describe the journey?
Hello Andy…You cheeky lad! I did dabble with a Korg Micro-Preset synth at school in my lunch hour, well most lunch hours really… and I was briefly in one or two very dodgy synth bands around that time (Lab XVI was one), but actually I didn’t really touch music again til 2007. That’s when JN came about. It has certainly been an interesting and exciting journey and one that I would take all over again… best of all I’m still travelling.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been a few to be honest… walking out on stage in 2010 at The Scala in London to an audience of 1100 was surreal and something I can’t put into words (and hearing the front row shouting for us freaked me out), meeting and working with some of my boyhood music idols, interviewing them for my radio and journalist projects too. Performing with Psycho is always good fun, he is amazing… and being on stage supporting Adam in our home city in front of almost 3000 people was crazy! The most pivotal moment for me though was the release of Miss Razorblade last Autumn. It was the start of a new era for J-No.
When and what made you wake up in the 80s and say 'I wanna be a pop/rock star' ?
I didn’t really. I tried a few recording projects when I was a lad, but wasn’t really any good and didn’t actually enjoy it that much so I gave up. In 2007, I came back from a fantastic French holiday in the Charente Maritime region and was so fed up coming back to England that I just started writing music to clear the frustration I suppose. So I was a late starter.
You wrote a song for your father and it was very touching. Was your Dad a big part to play in who you have become today?
Thank you, that’s kind. I wrote ‘D.a.d.’ simply as part of my grieving process Andy. I lost my father quite quickly in 1998 and to be honest I hadn’t been able to accept it properly. The song just came out of me. It’s not technically the best song and I don’t mind if people think it’s rubbish either. It was something that just happened and emotionally I didn’t want to dwell on the recording of it any longer than it needed to take. My dad Tony was a very honest, strong and loving man and he never got to hear my music. He was incredibly supportive to me growing up. He probably would have laughed at the guyliner though.
I read a lot of quotes regarding the current synth scene, saying it's either overcrowded or too many acts sound the same – How would you describe it?
Well, there are some who say there aren’t enough quality acts in that crowd. I see a resemblance to 1981 when there were an awful lot of underground synth acts finding their style, and their focus, and learning as they went. The scene is very healthy and through my involvement with the radio show and also Synthetic City Promotions, I can see what a treasure chest of talent there is. Because it is so easy to create and record the music these days, the down side is that some songs are released without the care, attention and technical finishing that they would have with a professional producer… but I am happy with, and enthused by, the strength and diversity of the current electronic scene. So some sound like their peers a little… that doesn’t bother me. If you go to a Depeche Mode or Ultravox gig the chances are you won’t meet the band… these new bands fill that gap nicely. It all goes in phases. Let the audiences decide.
In 2013 You tried to release your album 'Robot Rock' through Pledge Music and although there was a lot of interest and support for it, it sadly didn't reach its target. Was that a frustrating time for you?
The Pledge Music idea was, and is, a very good method of getting your album to market and I can’t fault the process. Once you have generated the interest it takes a lot of hard work and time to convert that support into sales. Support was healthy for the ‘Robot Rock’ album but after about 3 weeks into it I pulled the plug. Andy, Mid-to-end 2013 was a pretty awful time for me personally and I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, or even had the time, to make it work. There was no frustration to be honest, it was an obvious decision. Emotionally I was shot, but at least I was made to recognise that at the time.
Continuation from the question above. Did you actually sit and think 'F**k It! I might as well call it a day' ?
Oh mate. Yes. It wasn’t the album so much, on all fronts I was completely drained and just wanted everything to go away. The radio show, the album, the live shows, everything. People wanted things off me all the time, it was constant. I felt I needed all the messages, emails, telephone calls, etc to stop. My private life was in turmoil, but I discovered that I have some great friends and that alone turned it round for me.
You are releasing a new album very soon Johnny. Would you like to add a few more details?
The new album has been underway for a while, but other projects got in the way and removed our focus. It has a working title of Robot Rock and the songs are about 70% completed. We are hoping to release it finally in May, at least that’s the plan. There are some exciting recording projects we are working on at the moment, so it’s all down to time and money, as usual.
What can we expect from the new album?
I am so happy with the songs on the album, and we have been playing some of them live already. I think any of the songs could be released as a single… that is the nice thing about Robot Rock, no ‘fillers’. Anthemic, catchy, and we’re not copying anyone really, it’s quite a distinctive album.
I have to mention Psycho Pete. How long have you known each other and has he always been a part of the Johnny Normal sound?
I have known Psycho for about 15 years, we used to work together on live corporate event projects. He appeared on two songs on the There’s Nothing album, but only joined me when in 2010 we got the call from Adam Ant to do the shows with him and my existing guitarist couldn’t make it.
You became a Radio DJ at Radio Happy. Was this your first experience as a Radio DJ and what made you decide to give it a go?
I was interviewed on the Dave Charles Show at Harborough FM. It was fun and afterwards I thought, ‘I’d like to have a go at this’. And I did. Thanks Dave! And Phil Marsh had been a great mentor during my scary early shows. It seems to be popular now an that means such a lot.
Last Year, I attended the SyntheticCity Gig in Birmingham. A great night was had by all and now we see SyntheticCity Promotions organising more events such as Ides of March , SyntheticCity2 & Digital Darkness. Are you the mastermind behind these events?
SyntheticCity Promotions is a partnership of Ian Wall (Among the Echoes) and myself. We could see that synth-based bands were not getting gigs, other than with guitar bands and then nobody turned up to see them. We took on the traditional promoters and created some strategic events with carefully chosen acts using an existing pool of our Facebook friends, the radio show audience, our contacts in the industry and friendly venues. It’s going well. The Digital Darkness gigs will see a slightly darker style of electronic music, and as many of the darkwave/ebm clubs are disappearing, we saw an opportunity to fill the gap.
You recently worked with XMS on your Miss Razorblade single along with Izzie Kirk-Voodoo. Do you plan to work with other artists in the near future?
The XMS involvement in creating a totally different version of Miss Razorblade was very flattering. Izzie will be on the new album and I am so pleased because I have such respect for her as a singer and musician. Collaborating with Alex Juno on ‘Don’t Blow It’ was amazing too. There will be another album coming out soon where we are working with a major artist, but I’d rather not be drawn on that just yet. We are also weighing up some offers to collaborate with other unsigned synth bands. On the live front there will be some surprise appearances at some interesting gigs.
I always ask this question on Q&A's but who has caught your ear the most of late?
There is so much talent out there… I suppose if you look at what I am playing at home the most, Sinestar are making waves now, The Deviant UK album ‘Very.Bad.Things’, I love Vile Electrodes, and having heard parts of the new Among the Echoes album that is sounding amazing. But there are so many good bands coming though.
Looking back now Johnny over your music career, If you could change anything or you wish you had done something differently, what would it be?
I’m actually pretty happy with how it’s gone so far Andy, I have recorded and performed with some amazing people, played live to big and small audiences, got into some wonderfully funny scrapes, and I couldn’t ask for more really. I appreciate everything I have got from this. I am a lucky man.
Finally Johnny, Thank you for taking part in this Q&A. I don't have to ask you if you would like to plug anything because you can plug better than our council plumber :) Would you like to add anything further.
That deserves a ‘lol’!
I really want to thank all the other DJ’s who are part of the current electro scene for promoting the unsigned artists with such passion. There are some very passionate bloggers, yourself included, who also play a big part in advancing the scene… the fans who spend the money coming to see Johnny Normal and the other bands, buying the CD’s and the merchandise. Finally to the wonderful listeners of RadioHappy who sit through my show every Monday night. Keeping the synth scene alive is a team effort and it’s a fantastic community we have.