Cheap Plastic Seatsby Roger Young / 27.01.2010
Johnny Foreigner play a sorta fast guitar indie pop that’s upbeat and a bit shouty. They have played festivals like T-In the park, Reading, Leeds Fest, SXSW, Summersonic (Japan), Offset, Sugarhill festival and London Calling. But they’re practically unknown here. It’s a bit strange for a band to tour a country where they don’t have any songs playlisted on radio but they’re coming anyway. We asked Alexi, the lead singer, some questions.
So, are you bringing pith helmets? Rook Rifles? Sun Block?
We don’t know what them first two are! But yes to sunblock, me and Kel burn like the pasty goths we used to be. It’s quite a heartwarming thought to be considering sunblock, our town has been covered in snow since December.
No, seriously, seldom does South Africa get to see bands from other countries that aren’t Chris Rea, so how did this tour come about?
UB40 were busy and we live next door? Nah, we just have some amazing friends who set it up for us, and we really need a holiday. It’s our most spied on country on Google Maps, we’ve wanted to do it since Jun came back off holiday there saying he’d found the world’s best country. So, no high expectations then.
The little sampler you made available for free download for this tour is very cool, was it easy to find songs that you all felt represent your total output so far?
Thankee, we love stuff like this. The sampler happened a lot more because Griet are super on their game than us being, um, organised them songs are pretty much all our radio singles from the last couple of years in the UK, it’s like a mini greatest hits.
You’ve been Johnny Foreigner in your own country for a while, now you get to be the actual Johnny Foreigner, is your name a reaction to xenophobia (we’re big on that in SA) or is it some sort of comment on the fact that we are all immigrants in some way? What I’m saying is how did it come about? And do people read too much into it?
Right, we answer this properly once in every country we’re asked, then just take the piss, so you guys are the lucky virgins:
“Johnny Foreigner” is a xenophobic diss my elderly neighbours used to use to describe the blossoming Asian communities in our city. It’s only meant to be mildly offensive, like bad 70s TV shows. The irony being said Asian population worked harder and longer than their native counterparts, and now drive their taxis, sell them their food, prescribe their tablets and are generally an integral part of their daily lives. I was trying to be clever and compare us and the local scene that birthed us to that situation, which kinda works in a print interview but not so well with border guards or plainclothes German detectives…
Do you find that music journalists come up with incomprehensible genre tags for your music?
Ha, its part and parcel of what we do. It’s like a gang, if you “get” it, then you’re in and you don’t question what to label it as ‘cos that’d be like labeling yourself. But if yr on the outside, like say, an objective music critic, you need tags to apply so you can contextualize it with everything else. 90% of those labels are used exclusively amongst journos, its kinda mad. If were asked we say we’re indie rock or country depending on whether we want to carry on the conversation.
Are you more of a jam-to-find-a-song band, or does one person go away and come up with the lyrics and another with the music?
I mostly Hitler it. I come up with the chords and melodies and stuff in my head and take it to the others, and we work out what sounds good till it’s a whole song, then I put off writing the words till the last possible moment. Jun’s started coming up with whole chunks of stuff lately too, I can’t work out if that saves me writing more music or means I have to do more work writing words. It’s all good, we always have a surplus of songs.
How much does production pay a part in the creation of a song?
Next to nothing really. If we can’t make something sound good and right by ourselves, we just bin it. Not that faking or adding stuff in the studio makes something any less valid/good, we’re just primarily a live band that also makes records.
The Pac Man ghost things are big with you, what’s that all about?
They’re a mix of Namco ghosties and Quentin Blake’s vermicious knids. I couldn’t even tell you when we first started using them. Like, since ever. They can be used for any kind of metaphor and they’re easy to scratch into bus stops. If anyone accuses us of theft we’ll just scream cultural reappropriation and run.
Who draws your artwork?
His name is Lewes Herriot and he’s like our 4th member, he’s been drawing for us since we were signed and will hopefully be with us to the bloody end. I’d totally recommend checking out his internet world, its AMAZING.
Do you miss CD covers?
Ha, YES! We’re totally backward in the respect that CD booklets and art and all that jazz, the presentation, is integral to bands and their products. ‘Tis sad we’re the last generation to have that link hardwired into our heads. We still try and package art with product, be it desktop wallpapers with dl’s or drawing stuff on envelopes from our merchstore. We’re so so proud of the graces art; hopefully people are grateful we still put the effort in.
Do your mothers think your music is too noisy?
Our parents have never seen us play. That probably says it all. We had an acoustic song on BBC radio 2 for a while (middle aged quiet station); Jun’s mum quite liked that. As long as we’re having fun, that’s the main thing.
Do you own your own tour bus yet?
Ha, we wish. No really, we totally wish. We have a floating pool of 4 different buses we hire out; each has its own personality and driver. Its probably better that way; everything we own with wires and electrics in it dies horribly within a year.
Link to their FACEBOOK group for all tour info and band bio.
13th FEB – CAPE TOWN
17th FEB – STELLENBOSCH
19th FEB – PRETORIA
20th FEB – JOHANNESBURG
26th FEB – RAMFEST – MAIN STAGE – 20:00