Monday, 22 March 2010

Johnny Flynn Interview

I chat to Johnny Flynn and Matt Edmonds about the good life.

If you could be any bird, what bird would you be?
JF: I’d be a sea bird I think. Curlew Is quite good, Oyster Catchers are nice.
Where abouts would you be?
JF: West Wales, definitely. I used to work as a fisherman on this boat, and we used to take people out on trips and do these coastal cruises, and I had to point out all the different seabirds, ganets, things like that. It’s a good thing to know. What would you be? (to Matt)
I’’d want to be a really ugly pigeon.
With like, half a foot?
JF: That’s in the song.
M: A bit like in the song, but not because of that. I just really like them, because they are so hated, basically. (chortles) I really get a kick out of that.
I wonder what psychologically it is that makes you give that answer.
M: Well it’s because I had an experience with an ugly pigeon, and that’s why I’d want to be an ugly pigeon.
JF: I had a thing with pigeons once, I had to be one in drama school for a term. I had to go and watch them all the time to study them.
I was a crow once in a nativity play.
M: Confused nativity play.
JF: I’m not familiar with that version…
I wasn’t either. It was a strange cross between the nativity story and Noah’s Ark. I had two different roles- a crow and an angel.
M: They asked was it in Luke or Matthew…neither, the crow.
I just think it was one of those school branching out plays. Too many kids, not enough parts.
M: I was an old lady in the nativity play, so…
JF: There we go.
M: There we go.
Inn keepers wife?
M: No, it was a sort of ‘shoot to modern times’ section because again there were too many kids for the parts.
You can’t really have five baby Jesus’s.
M: Exactly.
Did you used to fish on the fishing boat?
JF: Yeh.
I like fishing.
JF: Me too.
I once caught a conga eel, in Devon. My mum and I went deep sea fishing over a wreck. We weren’t really strong enough to reel the eel in, so all these burly fishermen came to help, but once we’d got it out of the water i snapped the line. Then immediately afterwards a man on the next boat caught it and reeled it in, and it was roving around all over the deck, which made me pretty glad I didn’t catch it.
M: He caught it off your work, really.
He did, he did. I got it tired.
M: What’s the best thing you’ve ever caught, Johnny?
JF: I’ve caught quite a few sharks.
JF: Yeh. Just like, dogfish.
Was the boat just for tours, or was it a proper fishing boat, fishing to sell.
Jf: Well it was built for lobster potting and trawling, but we used to take people out on little mackerel fishing trips, which was nice, except I felt sorry for the mackerel. We’d usually catch a hundred on a trip.
And then they didn’t get eaten?
JF: Well they’d take them home but I doubt they’d all get eaten.
Have you ever tried Pollock?
JF: Yes, but it’s not that good to eat though.
Maybe I’m thinking of the wrong one, it’s a white-fleshed fish, kind of like cod but sweeter.
JF: Well I don’t think I’ve ever actually tried eating a Pollock, but everyone says it’s not good eating, a bit muddy.
Well they don’t know what’s what then…
M: They’re all cod fans. They’ve got a fan club.
JF: Ras is good.
M: Monkfish is my favourite fish.
This is just reminding me of Christmas now. My mum used to think of a topic, and the last time we did it the topic was fish, and you have to make pun jokes using fish names.
M: Oh yeah.
Kind of on the subject of fishing boats, how important do you think it is to have a home?- there’s lots of imagery in your songs about not having one. Do you think it’s just a mental thing?
JF: Well for me I guess why the idea of homes and people without homes might be a theme for me is because I never really had any particular attachment to a particular place to call my home. In some ways I have always felt kind of lucky because of that. I’ve always related to people who have been all about the fact that they are their own home, that they are carving their way in the world in that sense, and that that’s all you need. But then again home is obviously a really nice thing.
I think that you can have a home and it feel just as unsettled as if you didn’t.
JF: Yeah you can.
M: I think there’s a difference with having a space in which you settle. I’m very much a settler rather than a traveller. I find touring quite hard because it’s unsettled.
You could think of it like a big holiday?
M: (chortles) It is with these guys around. I find it hard, even if I move to a place and it doesn’t feel like home, I like that centre, that settled centre. I think that’s just the difference in who people are.
Do you think when people live a nomadic lifestyle out of choice that they always believe in it?
M: I think you can romanticise about it, but I also think it’s a real mixture of motives.
JF: I quite like always being on the move in a sense, but I’ve been feeling more and more of a pull to home, my girlfriend lives in London, and I have friends there and stuff, so I do kind of miss that. But I think it’s really important to go out and learn about yourself by being on your own. It’s not really the same thing travelling with work or touring with a band or something, you don’t get as much from that as from just heading off on your own and just being with yourself, that’s quite important.
M: We also have things that centre us that aren’t physical- music, certain songs that are repeated wherever we are.
JF: On tour, doing the same thing every night we can judge ourselves by what we do-
M: Yes that’s true.
JF: By doing the same songs and the same show in different places, being together all the time.
Atmosphere can make you feel at home. If I remember back to my childhood it would be lots of food, walks on the beach, lots of adults, and lots of conversation. And I don’t have that at home anymore, but if I go to a place where that is it immediately feels nostalgic.
JF: Yes, you gravitate to places that have that. I have places that I go to that are like that…friends houses.
M: It’s weird, I felt really homely like that in Wales, on that day off we had.
JF: Yeah, that's the place I was talking about. We had a day off and we went to the mountains in Snowdonia, where my girlfriend has a cottage.
Lucky her.
JF: It was just really cosy.
M: It was just generally a great day.
JF: We climbed a mountain, just…didn’t we.
M: We crawled up the mountain.
I’ve only been to Wales once, for Greenman Festival. Would really like to go again though, it’s beautiful.
JF: Yeah, I’m big on Wales.
M: Yeah.
I met someone on the way back who was going to live on a permaculture farm in Wales, that sounded like a good idea.
JF: My brother’s basically setting up a community in Wales like that. Just helping the community, being self sustainable, they’re kind of going off grid, using solar power, all that sort of stuff.
I so want to have a farm. I’ve never been there but we were thinking New Zealand, for the whole beach, mountains, forest, farmlands sort of thing. So we could have a vineyard and a farm, a cow called Smicheal…
M: Peter Smicheal?
JF: Alright Smicheal.
It’s a pretty funny name. I’m reading this book at the moment called ‘The Young Fur Traders’ by RM Ballantyne, it was written in the 1800s and is about living and hunting as a fur trader in North America; in terms of the theme of permaculture, do you think soon it would be possible to go back to living like that, or do you think we’re just going to sink into some sort of urban decay?
JF: I have a lot of faith in that lifestyle. Communities coming together and doing their own thing. I kind of believe that that’s the only way humanity is going to survive- if enough people offset what’s going on. There’s a really great novel, Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, have you read that?
I haven’t, but someone I met last night was telling me about it- all the stories link together?
JF: Yeah they kind of pick up and all project into the future, it’s like a big pyramid of time.

He kind of predicts a future where it all breaks down, and then that happens, basically. It’s really cool.
M: I think there’ll need to be a huge shock, like HUGE. Because we sort of have experienced a pretty massive shock and no-ones really done much.
JF: I’m big on 2012 and all that kind of thing, that whole breakdown.
What’s 2012?
JF: It’s a Myan prophecy, well loads of prophecies, it’s an astrological alignment…some people think it’s going to be the end of the world, but I think it’s going to be a realisation. It’s already happening, the banks breaking down and stuff, everything’s all…(trails off).
I think I came to the conclusion, before I decided I wanted to do the farm, is that literally all I want in life is good company. I think if you have that then…
M:You don’t need much else.
I mean, you’d probably have down days, short on food, or whatever, but essentially you’re with good people. I couldn’t live a hermit’s life. Like in this book, just one person lives alone on an outpost hunting bears by a river.
M:I think you do need that space though as well. For me community involves a sense of individuality and the space to be yourself.
Well if you’re with the right people you’ll give each other that space.
M:Completely. There are times when you really need your own space but I think that can be involved in a community model.
I find that when you’re really really alone you go through a kind of relationship with yourself, all one sided. And it goes through much quicker and much more intensely, and then you suddenly find something out about yourself.
JF: Those cycles of realisation.
It’s kind of like if you don’t see someone very often, and you write letters instead, everything becomes much more intense, because you are your thoughts’ only company.
Or writing songs…in a vague attempt to round this in and link it.
JF: Definitely. Any kind of artistic persuit.
Do you write songs to yourself?
JF: Yeah, it’s therapy.
M:It’s quite nice, I hadn’t really thought about it in that term- you as the audience for your own song. It’s quite a nice thought.
JF: It’s quite hard the first time that you know your song is going to be heard by people. There’s a lot of ‘oh shit, I have to get rid of that idea’.
M:I remember practising with you for the first time, you had an incredible amount of like…
JF: Anxiety.
M:About it being public.
I liked your lyric about only writing to someone what you can whisper in their ear. I guess it could be the same in a song, if you can’t say it to the person that you’re thinking about, then…unless you’re singing the song to them.
JF: That’s to do with the protected image that people have of themselves, without necessarily actually being in a relationship, or what’s real of here and how, and people lose themselves in projected fantasies that can’t actually have any kind of fruition in the moment. And people lose each other and themselves in that process of hoping too much- not even hoping too much, because some hope’s really good, but…
I think you definitely get that in letter writing.
JF:I had a relationship with a girl, and it was all about that, about a pedestal that she, or probably we, put ourselves on, and then it all just fell down because it wasn’t real.
That’s pretty crap. It can be ok for a little bit, but,

JF: Yeah it’s great staying for a little while, whilst you believe it.
M: It’s amazing.
I think if you come away from it having learnt something then that’s good.
JF: you definitely learn.
I’ve been talking to people lately and realising they don’t actually listen to lyrics, and thinking about how music reviews often sound like the writer hasn’t listened to the music at all…
JF: Yeah, yeah I always think that.
M: It’s always that ‘this person meets this person’ description.
People need something to relate it to,
M: But there are other methods of doing that than relating it to other musicians
You can relate it to things outside of music. And I think people use the music they listen to so often to communicate feelings to others. Do you always feel, when writing songs, that the music matches the lyrics, do you ever feel you compromise on either side- or do you feel like you achieve the whole feeling?
JF: I think you’d probably be quite disappointed, and a lot of the magic would go out of creating stuff, if you weren’t as constantly surprised by what you’d done. And also, I think you have to know if you’re writing songs or making music that people project their own feelings on to. If you’re a painter, or you write a novel or something, the same thing happens. People have their own unique atmosphere.
Well that comes from whether you’re doing it for yourself or you’re doing it for an audience.
JF: I have my own feelings about songs, in the same way I have feelings about all songs and atmosphere that it’s evoked. But I’m really happy if people also have their own thing, because I’m not in their head, I don’t have any experience of their lives.
It’s totally different for everyone.
I’m usually like ‘wow, these words plus this music’, it makes something that doesn’t deduct from the words or music alone. One of the new songs that we played tonight, the second one, the melody and the chord changes came from another song that I was trying to write but it was kind of failing, because the words were kind of sending up the melody. And then I tried some other words with it, and it immediately went ‘kuhhh!’. The original song was kind of like a comedy, and then the new one felt really serious, which was more like what it should be.
I find it funny, because I have songs that I listen to that mean so much to me because of the feeling of the music and the meaning of the words, but the you’ll play it to someone and they won’t take in the same things.
M: I’m always a melody person- always take in the music first. I come back for the lyrics and it builds up the tension just as well.
JF: With some people I listen out for the words, but just because I know to do that with their music.
For me sometimes just parts of the lyrics come out all joined up with the music, then as you listen to it more they all come out properly.
M: I also think that the rhythmical nature of a word or phrase can really have an impact, I love that.
JF: I was talking to Jeremy Warmesly, and he was saying he has a whole method for the way he buys an album. For him it’s like breakfast. Put some toast in the toaster, butter… The first time he plays an album he has to put it on in the background whilst he’s reading a book, then the next time he actually actively listens to it. But I can’t listen to music when I’m reading, or trying to write, or doing anything with words.
I know what he means, because that would help you get used to the tunes.
JF: I thought it was pretty interesting. It’s nice that that’s what he does- processes it subconsciously and then listens to it and gets and appreciation for the words.
I can’t imagine actually getting a CD and planning to do that.
JF: You should meet Jeremy.(chortles)
I just put it on and walk off somewhere, leave it playing in the atmosphere of the house.
Just one more question then. I really liked what you did with the album, using the fan art in it, how important do you think it is to be able to use something that you create and put out to showcase other people?
JF: I think it’s really important. It’s a karmic thing. If you’re given a gift of a situation where you have been offered to present something that you’ve done I think, if you feel it, it’s your responsibility to help other people. I was always given a foot up by other people. I started out gigging, I used to play in loads of bands, and I used to play with Emmy The Great, I used to play fiddle for her, and she’d always give me a slot before her gigs, ‘this is Johnny, he’s going to play some songs’. So it’s a cool thing to do I think, if you’re in the position to do that.
I find it really intriguing how it’s growing up so organically it seems- all the bands and musicians you’re connected with at the moment. Do you think people will look back on that in 20, 30 years time and see the progress, see it happening as something really good?
It is really good, yeah. But I don’t know. We’re all just trying to get on. I think we know it’s good, we have a really good time and I really love everyone who I am friends with who are doing it, most of them I knew before they wer eplaying music, like Emma, I was at school with.
You need friends who will inspire you, where you can bounce off each other.
Definitely, yeah. You get these little pockets of people doing stuff, and it sustains itself but it has to come out, because everyone’s having such a good time, and it’s just such a good thing, so it comes out and feeds something, feeds back to itself. It’s cool, it’s really nice.

Interview & Words- Ali Hewson

No comments:

Post a Comment