Musician, actor and poet Johnny Flynn has designed his own t-shirts, written songs about Wayne Rooney and witnessed cow tipping - and now he's releasing his second album with band, The Sussex Wit.
Q catches up with the South African-born, Hampshire-reared folkster to find out about going to school with Luke from The Kooks, and why he doesn't want to adorn anyone's walls.
Q: Hi Johnny, how are you?
Johnny Flynn: I'm in a dilapidated kitchen in The Lexington Pub (London). I'm just going to shut the door, it's a bit noisy out there.
Q: You start your own UK shows this month after supporting Mumford & Sons on tour, what can people expect from you live?
JF: The shows are fairly dynamic in that there are loud to quiet moments and there'll be a lot of instrument swapping, from banjos to trumpets and cellos. There's not too much crazy movement on stage but the crowd always seem to get really into it.
Q: And you'll be playing with your band, The Sussex Wit, who is that made up of?
JF: Normally one is my little sister (Lillie Flynn), she's got an amazing voice but she can't make this tour as she's just got an acting job. I met Joe (Zeitlin) the cellist when I was 15, we used to get stoned and jam together. Adam (Beach) the bassist, I met when I was playing in Emmy The Great's band, Dave (Beauchamp) is the drummer for The Jeffrey Lewis Band, which growing up was one of my favourite bands, and James (Mathe), the keyboardist, is a really old friend.
Q: And you're now part of this London musical collective alongside the Mumford boys and Laura Marling who you duet with on your new album. How much is that just a case of being drinking buddies rather than a movement?
JF: I think it's more just that we are mates, but that also involves musical interaction. I'm excited when a friend does something creative and I'm usually really into it. I see it as a casual incidental thing that all these people have come up at the same time, so it's just inevitable that we know each other.
Q: So you're not the "Poster boy of nu-folk" as so many have dubbed you?
JF: Poster boy? God no! There was an article in the Times that had that as the subheading and everything else that was written about me afterwards referenced that. I think it's really dumb. I'm not interested in being that.
Q: Your new album is called Been Listening, what have you been listening to recently?
JF: A lot of South American music. There's this type of music from Peru in the seventies called Chicha which is really good folk, psychedelic rhythmic stuff. And also a friend of mine called Anna Calvi, she's a really amazing guitar player, she's just released her album and recorded a track on mine.
Q: You recorded the album in Seattle, was there a particular reason for that?
JF: We'd met this American producer called Ryan Hadlock (The Gossip, Ed Harcourt) and he had this amazing studio outside of Seattle called Bear Creek which he built with his dad. He's just got loads of really amazing stuff there, cool vintage gear and old microphones. We really wanted to tap into that.
Q: The track names on Been Listening look fairly plausible, but on your 2008 debut release, A Larum, there was a song called Wayne Rooney. Why was that?
JF: I just wanted to see if he'd ever hear it, I had this weird kind of bet with myself. Basically I wrote the words on the back of a picture of Wayne Rooney that I'd taken out of the newspaper. Then I realised the lines had some close connection with how I felt about him at the time as there was some really important football tournament happening. It's about a man living up to the role of a man, and how it's ultimately flawed. I've not heard from him though, I hear he's a fan of the Stereophonics.
Q: Kentucky Pill has been released as a teaser for the album and opens with the line a "A Kentucky pill and a cow tipping expedition." Can you claim to have tipped a cow?
JF: I knew people that did it, I've seen it happen, but I've never tipped a cow. We used to play a game where we walked into a field at night and play sleeping lions with the cows. Basically if they woke up and started running around then you'd lost.
Q: In the video for the song you are followed around by several people kissing each other - who are they?
JF: They're just friends, they're not couples but maybe some of them hit it off after that. A few of the guys are gay so it was just funny for them to be snogging girls. But they're from my girlfriend's theatre company so they are used to acting.
Q: You were a bit of a country boy in your youth, you used to smoke out ferrets and go poaching. Are your plaid shirts a homage to those days?
JF: I keep being given them. Once people know you like them they just come at you from all directions, which is nice because I'm not really into clothes and shopping. I don't know why I've settled on plaid shirts, they're kind of warm and very functional. I've got a caravan in Wiltshire where I go and hang out. The idea of being in a thick shirt and walking boots and going out for long walks, to me is like heaven. So it's really comforting to be able to keep them on in London.
Q: And you also have t-shirts available on your website every few months with limited edition slogans and drawings on?
JF: Yeah we found this company that makes t-shirts to order, which prompted us to do loads of different ones. Quite a few people have been coming to gigs in them. I like drawing as well so it's a nice way of using them, and my girlfriend is an artist so some of the designs are mine, and some are hers. It kind of keeps it homemade.
Q: You went to school with Lily Allen and Luke Pritchard from the Kooks. Can you remember them?
JF: Yeah, they were both younger than me. I remember I was directing a production of Kes, I cast Luke as the boy when he was about 13 but he got suspended for drinking and throwing up. If you were caught drinking you had to stay in on a weekend but if you threw up it was a different level, so he got suspended and somebody else had to play the part.
Q: As a poetic songwriter, you usually write the lyrics before the music, can you let Q in on any recent ramblings in your notebook?
JF: Yeah, hold on, I'll just get it, (pause). I went to do a careers talk at a school yesterday which is surreal because I remember a weather girl coming my school and I was really impressed because she was on TV. So here is my advice I've got written down: Find out what you're interested in, don't have absolute goals, change is the only constant, do everything, blag your way into things, work for free, enjoy everything, support each other, and finally, the best friends you'll have are the ones you have when you are young, and they will become the most dependable when you're older.
Q: Perhaps you've got a new t-shirt design there?
JF: You think? With 'enjoy everything' in capital letters and underlined, yeah, why not?
Johnny Flynn's album, Been Listening, is released on June 7th. Go to his MySpace page to get a free download of track, Kentucky Pill.
Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit tour dates:
Sun 16 May Birmingham Glee Club
Mon 17 May Leeds Cockpit
Wed 19 May Manchester Academy 3
Thu 20 May Glasgow Oran Mor
Sat 22 May Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Sun 23 May Bristol Thekla
Tue 25 May Brighton Komedia
Wed 26 May London Electric Ballroom
Johnny Flynn Highlands Tour (Solo shows):
Fri 28 May Ullapool The Ceilidh Place
Sat 29 May Stornoway Era
Mon 31 May Inverness Hootanannys
Tue 1 June Aberdeen Caf Drummond
Wed 2 June Dundee Dukes Corner
Tickets are available from our sister website Aloud.com.
Words: Kaitlin Sullivan
Kaitlin keeps her own personal music blog here.
3:27 PM | 17/05/2010
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