| How long are you over in the UK for? |
Only 5 days! It all seems a bit jet set doesn’t it!?! I haven’t got too much planned whilst I’m over just V and some press. It’s quite lucky actually because some of the girls I know in LA think that London is the best place for shopping so I have been given a load of other peoples money to spend but not on myself ,on them, so whenever I have some spare time I’m shopping for bras that I won’t ever wear! Well I guess there are worse jobs in the world!
When did you finish recording Trouble is real?
Oh it was quite a while ago now. I actually finished this album in the fall of 2004. I had been recoding it on and off since 2003.
When was it released in America?
It was May time. Even though it was released in America prior to the UK I have spent the majority of my time touring over here. The response here has been so lovely that the UK and the rest of Europe has kept me pretty occupied, I think I will continue working over here but I hope to get on the road in America around Christmas time.
How long have you had a record deal for now?
Well I’m 22 now and I got a deal when I was 19, so I guess it was 2002 when I got signed. I was always the baby of the group really. I guess I have to enjoy it whilst it lasts though! One of my groups of friends in New York about a year ago when Willy Mason first showed up we became friends but when I found out he was a year younger than me I was gutted!! Course he was lovely, well he’s one of my very good friends, he was sleeping on our sofa and I thought to myself ohhh it’s all over now, I’m no longer the youngest, I’m 21, I’m old hat!
But go figure, you’re only just old enough to legally drink in America!
Yeah, I’ve been drinking legally for a year now and it’s wonderful! I think the UK attitude to drinking was more rational because in the US you can drive or go off to war years before you can have a drink. It seems a little skewed.
How much material did you have finished before you went into a record the album?
Actually it was all pretty much ready to go. By the time I got to Nebraska I had already attempted to record the album 5 or 6 times. I recorded it in New York, Virginia, Nashville, Montana, California and I binned them all! There’s 5 different versions of this album all locked in Warner Brothers’ vaults in California. I hope they never see the light of day!! Nothing really seemed to click for me until I got into the studio with Mike Mogis.
How was it working with Mike?
A true joy. He is this boundless talent, I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s the best kept secret in the mid-west. All the albums I liked at the time like Bright Eyes & Rilo Kiley, I looked at all the records that I had recently bought and I noticed that he had recorded and produced all of them! Every single record was so different, all too often when you hear new albums it can sound like the band is singing backup on the producers album but that was never the case with Mikes records. I knew a load of kids from Nebraska and I asked them to put in a good word for me and they did! It was just great to be out in the middle of the country in Lincoln with some great friends and it was a lot of fun. When I listen to the record now the general impression that I get from the songs is that everyone was having a great time recording them. Well you can actually hear people shouting and screaming in the background.
The songs on the album you must have written in quite a few different places?
Yeah, when I look at the track listing or listen to the record I think they look more like a road map than anything else. It’s like oh there’s Nashville, New York, Virginia just all these different places that I visited when making this record.
Where was your favorite place to write?
Well the most productive place was my wee room in New York, when I was 18 years old I wrote so many songs. New York was a really inspirational place to be at the time. I moved to New York on the night of September 9 th just before it all kicked off. The only other person I know of who moved to New York at a similar time was Jem, I haven’t actually met her but a mutual friend told me. I’m going to track her down at the V fest and tell her!
As you moved around did you find your style of writing changed?
Yeah I did, I kind of made a habit over the past 4 years of consistently changing my scenery. I find my most creative times are when I first arrive at a new place. The first few months in New York I wrote the most songs. My first impression of places usually gets my creativeness going.
Where do you want to move to next?
This is actually a current subject of discussion in my house at the moment. At the moment it doesn’t really matter where I move to because I am never at home but if I ever get a good stretch of time when I’m off for writing or whatever then I’m thinking about moving to upstate New York, Woodstock or somewhere but I need to make some money first!
So no plans to move back to the UK/Scotland?
No not really! I think I have proved to myself that I can withstand the cold and the rain after living in Glasgow so now I want to go somewhere relatively dry with less soul crushing bad weather! I love Glasgow but the weather is horrible.
Trouble is real was released over here last month, how’s it all been going?
Well it all looks pretty good really. More and more kids keep on showing up to the gigs. The band & I were just saying how strange it was having so many people turning up without really having released anything. We couldn’t really believe it, it made me very happy.
You were pretty young when you started out, was college ever on the cards for you?
Oh yes definitely! I was planning on moving back to the UK and going to Edinburgh university, I was pretty dead set on that actually until I met some guys in Virginia who had their own record label and they told me they wanted to release my stuff and after all those plans went out the window. I guess I was kind of planning quite an academic life for myself. I wanted to do the University thing and study political science then move back to central America to do human rights work. That was my general plan when I was 17, things changed in the space of 2 weeks!
You obviously have very strong feelings about political issues; do you think they ever come out in your music?
I think every teenager believes they are living in the most momentous time in history but moving to America when I did, things were just turning pretty toxic and it really gave me something to hate. I was really saddened and my feelings about that remain the same, no one really gives a toss about what I say now but if they do in a few years then I will be sure to get in a few words about that.
Do you see yourself as an American through and through now?
No not really, to be honest I don’t know what I see myself as! I have moved around so much. Some days I feel American, some days I feel Scottish but most of the time I just feel strange. I guess I’m just a mutt!
Which song off Trouble is now sums up your mood today?
Behind the Frontlines. I wrote that song when I first fell in love with California. California has a really strong hold over me at the moment and I just wish I was there all the time.
You’re obviously a very good musician, what aren’t you so good at?
Everything else!! Music has always been close to my heart so I would hope I was pretty good at it but I really am not so good at anything else! When I moved out of home to pursue my music career I had to pay the bills somehow and I took lots of different jobs and I wasn’t really good at any of those. Thank God I started getting paid for playing music because if I hadn’t I don’t know what I would be doing!
How old were you when you first started playing?
Well I started playing guitar when I was 8 or 9 and I started writing when I started to sing. I was quite nervous about singing to be honest, looking back I don’t really know why, I guess my family had something to do with it. They all had lovely high singing voices and I knew mine wouldn’t be like that. I guess my tone is more like a gargle with battery acid in comparison to the rest of my family.
You’re adoration for music is obviously huge! What else are you really passionate about?
Traveling and seeing as much as I can before it’s my time to go you know. I love visiting places, there was this one time I was in Zurich in Switzerland and it was snowing and I was right next to a river and I just felt wonderful about it. When I was walking around Hyde Park today I was thinking to myself about how my music had taken me here, I was just thinking how music can take people places literally. I’m so pleased and lucky that I get to travel.
Any plans for a new album?
Yeah, the new album is all written! I’m going to record it at the start of New Year. I’m not sure when it will be released because I still have quite a lot of work to do on this one first! I have chosen a name for it though, California Negra which is Spanish for Black California. Every single song of the album mentions either money, California or both. I guess it turned into a bit of a theme for the album. I think Trouble is pretty firmly rooted in New York so when I moved to California it had a different aesthetic. It’s a group of people trying to get rich in this beautiful weather with stolen water you know? It’s this flower in the dessert. It shouldn’t exist, it’s just an artificial landscape.
If the new album is all about California what is ‘Trouble is real’ about?
I guess to sum it up briefly I think it’s a widescreen teenage movie. I think it was all about my life at the time when I wrote it.
If you could take another band on tour with you past or present who would it be?
Well there is a great band from Nebraska called Neva Dinova, they’re one of my favorite bands of the moment and I would love to do some work with them.
What’s next for you Johnathan?
Tons of gigs, writing, recording and more scenery and places I have never been & meeting new people. It’s not really a bad way of life, I do recommend it! I’m planning on coming back over to the UK on a death valley tour, Death Valley are my backing band and we are going to play all over throughout October.