JOHN is the deceptively innocuous title of the raucous alt-rock pairing John Newton (drums, vocals) and Johnny Healey (guitar). The duo united in 2013, catching attention with their raw sound and uncompromising attitude as heard on their abrasive records as God Speed in the National Limit (2017), Out Here on the Fringes (2019) and Nocturnal Manoeuvres (2021).
Now, the boys prepare to drop a brand-new LP A Life Diagrammatic. Including the singles “Trauma Mosaic” and “Service Stationed”, the eagerly awaited album also features guest appearances from actor and long-term fan Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Spaced) and Magazine bassist Barry Adamson. A Life Diagrammatic is released on September 22nd 2023 via Brace Yourself Records.
JOHN promote their latest offering with a 15-date tour across the U.S. and Canada before returning home to play headline dates into the new year. Tickets are currently on sale with Gigantic – CLICK HERE to grab yours right now!
We spoke to John Newton ahead of their new album release to discover the inspiration behind their music and the excitement surrounding their forthcoming shows taking them across two continents.
There appear to be nods towards Fucked Up! and Mclusky in your music. Who would you say were your main influences?
Of course, there’s plenty of sonic influences throughout the decade we’ve been playing, but visual and literary references are just as key. I’m probably just as influenced by a BS Johnson novel, or a Michael Haneke film as I am a musical reference point. I guess the main point is - I’m always filtering through the everyday and trying to twist it through our songs, I like the challenge of evoking imagery in a listener without the ability to use images.
It’s incredible how much you can accomplish with just vocals, a single guitar, and drums. But do you ever wish there was another band member to broaden the sound or give you more options?
It’s a pretty common question that we get asked… Quite simply ‘No’. The limitations are key to how we sound and being a duo defines the dynamic. I feel that changing this would mean that we move away from the very strength of the project.
In a world where everything seems to be based on social media and streaming searches – do you ever regret the choice of band name?
There was a conscious decision to steer clear of the sensationalism of ‘rock’ music by using a name that didn’t colour the music in any way. It’s certainly meant that we’ve had to tread a different path to many acts, but it reminds us that this is for ourselves and we’ve been able to grow at our own steady rate without falling victim to the many repetitive pitfalls of an ‘industry’.
I’ve caught you playing in so many sweaty clubs and appearances at quite a few festival stages. What’s your preferred setting for a JOHN show?
I don’t think there’s a preference, anywhere with a responsive and energetic crowd is appreciated. Having the ability to scale from small clubs to large festival stages is something that we both enjoy. There’s different demands but it’s satisfying to know that we’re comfortable with both - whether that’s a packed 5000-cap tent at Green Man, or a 50-cap Restaurant/Cafe in Le Mans.
There’s huge excitement about the upcoming album A Life Diagrammatic. Where did inspiration for the title come from?
Our songwriting always gains a lot of inspiration from close-to-hand sources, making nods to the everyday experiences routine that we both encounter. It seemed apt to relate the title to the structures that we hem ourselves into as humans - in both positive and negative ways. I’ve always loved the French OULIPO literary movement who wrote in diagrammatic / structured forms in a similarly quotidian way, so that was an important additional reference point too.
Where was it recorded and was it an easy process?
We jumped into the studio to test some songs as demos back in 2022 with producer Tom Hill, and the label were so pleased with the sound that we mutually agreed to simply dig into the process for an album, working further into these tracks and adding more with subsequent sessions. It was helpful to split the process as it gave us time to digest and build the album through these different recording chapters. The album was recorded ‘live’, which means a bit more attention had to be placed on capturing the performances in that moment. The decision to roll with Tom opened up the new process of adding in a mixing engineer, and it was a dream to work with Seth Manchester in the States - who has produced/mixed some records that are really dear to us.
“Service Stationed” has a taut post-punk sound whilst “Trauma Mosaic” has a loose, experimental edge and explosive track “The Common Cold” wouldn’t sound amiss on a Death Grips LP. What else can we expect from A Life Diagrammatic?
We wanted an album that pushed and pulled in different directions but with a cinematic edge running throughout. We’ve gradually expanded the feeling of space throughout our back catalogue so it felt good to push even further - and our production decisions really aided this with Tom’s ability to capture space at his studio (The Bookhouse, South London). We’ve certainly become more confident with spanning a greater dynamic range, and I think this record displays this pretty accurately - perhaps justified the observations in the question.
The new record includes a spoken word contribution from none other than comedic actor and screenwriter Simon Pegg. How did he get involved?
Simon has been a fan from the early days in 2014, and having exchanged some words over numerous years, I had an idea to write a monologue for the album that would help build the world that the songs lived in. Simultaneously, I wanted to ask Simon to perform the words as I felt the piece’s concept benefited from having a semi-familiar voice. Thankfully, he was more than up for it and it’s great to have him appear in a more concrete part of the history of this band.
October sees you head over to the US and Canada to promote the new record. What’s been the reaction like by fans over the Atlantic?
There’s obviously a lot of nerves jumping into a new territory - especially with the level of investment required these days, but it’s been great to bide our time to feel like we’re ready for the demands of such a journey. We’ve never really wanted / felt excited about following the showcase route of many bands, and it’s great to see a palpable excitement despite being newer to the countries. It’s going to be a pretty eye-opening experience I’m sure, and we’re very excited to meet many longtime fans who’ve never had the chance to see the show in the flesh.
And then you return home to play headline dates around the U.K. in December. What can we expect from your winter tour?
We’re got a lengthy UK tour that begins in November/December 2023, and continues in February 2024. It’ll be great to be mixing up a pretty established set with more new material from the album (despite it being more difficult with four albums). We tend to set a pretty high bar of energy for every show, and we’ll expect to be pretty ‘match-fit’ after the solid 15-date run through the states. You might be forgiven for thinking that the mundane name offers a pedestrian show, but it’s never the case. I guess you’ll have to come and judge for yourselves.
📆 Tour Dates: