Johnny Foreigner, the band with rave reviews and a soft spot for Kingston, talk to RiverOnline.

Interview: New Slang’s most popular band

Johnny Foreigner are no strangers to Kingston. The indie-rock (or fight-pop, as they’d prefer) three piece have notched up the most New Slang appearances of any band since the club-night started back in 2006. They made their most recent appearance at Christmas, when they played a Christmas eve party with local heroes Tellison.


After the gig we caught up with Alexei, the lead guitarist and singer, to find out his views on Kingston, a year of constant touring, and the concept of “fans 2.0”.


The past year has been pretty packed for Johnny Foreigner. A recording session in South Africa was followed by a summer that “was a bit meh, we spent most of it stressing about label things and being bored. Then everything sorted itself out for autumn.”


The band completed their first tour of America with Los Campesinos “which was superrad” before returning to England. Alexei (or Lex, as he likes to be known) refuses the (admittedly cliché) suggestion of a rollercoaster year, saying it was “less like a rollercoaster and more like a dip in the middle of two peaks.”


One of the first gigs booked when they returned home was Kingston’s own Hippodrome. Lex reflects “It’s always good, New Slang. Felt like a homecoming, more so than our Birmingham show. Everyone there is so friendly and relaxed, they work insanely hard to make Banquet and the club-nights special, and the amount of awesome bands cropping up around there is proof that it’s worth it. Nothing but love for Kingston.”


This affection for Kingston seems more than just an act for the local press however. The singer likes the town so much, he even wrote a song, entitled Kingston Called, They Want Their Lost Youth Back, about an experience at McCluskys. He relates the story behind the lyrics: “Um, my friend Joe once tried to set me up with his housemate at New Slang. She had a leopard-skin coat. We hung around for a bit then went home. Wrote the whole thing in the back on the van on the way. It’s kinda more exciting in the song” Queue the refrain; I’d say I’ll take you home, but I’m from Bir-ming-ham…


Lex is very big on this, the idea of song-writing derived from personal experiences, wanting the band to be as authentic as possible. “Absolutely everything, every song I can pin to a place or a situation. Some people obsessively upload photos of their life onto Facebook, I just write about it.  I don’t really like songs or bands where the singer assumes some kind of persona and tries to pass it off as his actual life. What we do is fun, for sure, but it’s more than just entertainment, I think it’s important to be honest and true.”


 The same ethic holds true for the song and album titles, garnered from odd notes and turns of phrase that just seem to fit. But don’t suggest they may be overblown or self-aggrandising. Says Lex: “I don’t really see them as convoluted; “We Left You Sleeping and Gone Now, Also [name of an early album, recently released on download] is a verbatim note some friends left at my house one morning.”


All-in-all, Lex tries his best to be self-effacing, surprising from someone who spends his evenings spitting into microphones in crowded little venues. But then again, the band is notoriously low-key and DIY, glueing together amps (and shredded fingers), and always on the verge of financial disaster. When asked what Father Christmas got them for Christmas, the quick response is: “He bought us a massive debt, which I guess we asked for by going to America.” Then he lightens up “Nahhhhhh, I got a radio control car, it has wheels that light up, it’s pretty rad.” 


See, self-contained and content. But what how does that translate when you have a venue jammed with kids, singing every line back at you? “The term “fans” makes me kinda uncomfortable. A while ago I tried to get them to refer to themselves as “fans 2.0″ but it blatantly didn’t work. It’s awkward because the bigger we get, the less time we have to actually talk to the people that put us where we are, but the whole point of this band is so we can have more friends into the same stuff as us.”


To resolve this, the band use the internet to its utmost, with constant blogposts and reams of free downloads. They even asked for photos to be submitted to form part of the artwork for their last E.P. “I don’t like the idea that we’re put on a pedestal because of what we do so it’s easier just to treat everyone with equal respect or contempt depending on how moody I am that day, and involve people as much as possible. I accept that we write good songs and we’ve either been luckier and/or worked harder at it than most, but it doesn’t make us better people.”


For Alexei, it seems, the band is an end in itself, never simply a route to something more. “I guess our aim is like everyone else’s; to be able to make a profit out of our band so we can justify our existence whilst still writing songs we’re really proud of. Anything else we can pretty much take or leave (though if Levi’s want to shout us some more pairs of jeans that would be good right now).”


After all the touring and recording, a new E.P. was announced last year entitled (deep breath) You Thought You Saw A Shooting Star But Yr Eyes Were Blurred With Tears and That Lighthouse Can Be Pretty Deceiving With The Sky So Clear And Sea So Calm. Another long title: “You Thought… was just a sentence that felt right for the title. We never worry about names for actual records; they always present themselves before they’re needed.”


Originally scheduled for a November release, the release was pushed back to sometime around Christmas, mainly because the band were hard at work cutting and pasting all the little photo-ghosts that adorn the album sleeves.The band “knew it was going to take ages but we thought we’d be able to spend more time than we actually had. We had to spend pretty much every van journey we had sitting round cutting stuff out, got my girlfriend and her mum to help, and still delivered late. We haven’t finished all of them, theres a pile of about 150 sitting in Kelly’s (Southern, the bassist) living room.”


And now they’re headed back to the studio, this time for another full-length record, with an expected release this summer (and assumedly with an even longer title).


“All we care about now is getting a new record made. Anything else can wait. We’re demo-ing songs now and we’re going to keep everything in house, just us and our friend Dom whose been recording us since forever. We’re doing it all at our practice room and our houses and it’s literally all we’re thinking about. We’re turning down spring gigs because we’re scared we’re going to have to snap back into performance mode and start rehearsing. So yeah, album and then back into touring, hopefully in time for festivals…”


So this summer, the band with the longest album names may be returning to Kingston, or ghosting a festival near you. Oh, and another thing…


“Stay close to your friends, clean your teeth, and also, stop clutching at last year’s festival wristbands like they’re medals you were awarded for being so indiecool.”


 Cheers for that Lex.

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