Last year, the very wonderful Johnny Foreigner played for the first (and only) time in Belfast. As I absolutely loved their debut, I convinced the Telegraph to let me interview them just to get the word out about such a great band. Unfortunately people don’t seem to have caught on to their honeyed sound as much as I thought they deserved, but hey…
Here’s a reprint of the original piece and check them out on MySpace coz they rule the school. www.myspace.com/johnnyforeigner
In a few weeks time Johnny Foreigner’s debut album Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light will finally hit the shelves in record shops across the world. Inevitably it will catapult the Birmingham-based three-piece to super-stardom as the slab of wax is without doubt one of the most exciting and stunning sonic manifestos that you will hear all year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before fame comes knocking on their doors, Alexei, Junior and Kelly (they have all shunned the burden of surnames) are currently paying their dues by sleeping on floors, drinking as much rot-gut vodka as possible and generally having the time of their lives. Who said youth was wasted on the young?
“At the moment we’re playing five nights a week, driving around in a van and living disgracefully,” laughs singer/guitarist Alexei. “It’s been the best fun I’ve ever had in my life. I think every decent band worth their salt has to pay their dues and that’s what we’re doing. Although I have to say we’re not too bad off at the moment because the promoters are now starting to give us what we’ve asked for on our rider every night, so we actually get to eat! It’s been a fun year so far and I can see more good times ahead.”
If Alexei sounds pretty jovial it’s because he has every reason to be. He’s in one of the hottest bands in the world right now and once their debut comes out this summer his career is set to reach supernova proportions. So who cares about a little hardship if it gets you to where you want to be?
“I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad review about our band,” Alexei says. “Everyone seems to get us, which is an amazing feeling. I do worry that maybe a few people will be disappointed with us as I know there’s been some hype. We received a 10/10 review on Drownedinsound.com for our mini album Arcs Across the City and how the hell can you top that? I guess we’ll have to see.”
They mightn’t be able to top a perfect score, but Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light has enough head-spinning, tooth rattling guitar-pop songs to please even the most rabid Johnny Foreigner fan. It’s full of instant anthems and totally justifies the record label bidding war they were involved in earlier this year.
“We ended up signing with Best Before Records because they were really enthusiastic about our band and they let us do cool things like have pop-up sleeves for our mini-album,” says Alexei. “They also flew us to New York to make our album, which was brilliant. Our producer was a guy called Machine who worked with bands like Fall Out Boy and he really helped us make the best record we could. We didn’t want to sound like yet another generic British Indie band and he helped give us a more international sound. Plus we got to stay in New York for a while, which was just awesome.
“It still sounds like us though-so don’t worry, we haven’t gone emo. We still have the huge riffs, the boy/girl vocals and everything else. A lot of people seem surprised when they find out there are only three of us but we like it better this way. We started out with just the three of us and I think that’s the way it’ll stay. We’re all really close and it is fun to sit in the back of our van and get drunk and post rubbish on MySpace with my two mates after a gig.”
The Johnny Foreigner story is a simple enough tale that begins in Digbeth, Birmingham. JF founder Alexei met bassist/singer Kelly at college and drummer/keyboardist Junior was a friend of a friend. They decided to start a band in December ’05, released their first single Sometimes, In the Building/Camp Kelly Calm a year later via Laundrette Recording Company and lo, your soon to be favourite new band was born. It mightn’t be the most exciting of starts, but it makes a change from stories about rich parents, drug abuse and violence, eh?
“I could make something crazy up if you like,” jokes Alexei. “It’s weird because I know that people always want to read about limos and champagne and that whole crazy world of rock bands, but nine times out of ten it just isn’t like that.”
In a crazy turn of events, Alexei has actually helped make the struggle of being a new band sound much cooler than hanging out with some clapped-out, coked up over the hill rock star via his online tour diary on http://www.drownedinsound.com. Every month he describes the amazing yet sometimes bizarre situations he gets up to while on tour, which usually involves spending the night at stranger’s houses, sleeping in converted sex dungeons and sometimes selling enough t-shirts to pay for a room in a Travel Lodge.
“Don’t tell people about that!” laughs Alexei. “I want everyone to buy into the mystique of being in a rock band. When I was first asked to do the blog I really didn’t think anyone would be interested in my stories, but it’s actually gone down quite well due to me not having any shame. Anyway-it’s all part of my devious plan to become a journalist if the band goes tits up. It can’t be that hard, right?”
Speak for yourself, Alexei. This weekend Johnny Foreigner plays Belfast for first time as part of the JD Set, which is also filmed for Channel Four. It’ll be the first time the masses in TV-land will get a chance to watch them in action and it’s sure to be one of the most talked about gigs in Ulster by the end of the year. Remember where you read about them first, folks.
“I didn’t know the show was getting filmed,” says Alexei, who is now mildly concerned at the thought. “God, we’ll have to make sure we look our best then. We always look great for the first three songs actually, then after that we end up a sweaty mess. We can’t wait to play in Belfast though. I’ve heard a lot of good things and we’re actually getting flown over so we’ll feel like proper rock stars for a change.”
Johnny Foreigner plays the Spring and Airbrake in Belfast this Sunday as part of the JD Set. Admission is £9 and tickets are available from all Ticketmaster outlets. For more information click on www.thejdset.co.uk