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INTERVIEW: Johns

By: Morgan Y. Evans
July 29, 2015

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One of the year's best sleepers that should be more on everyone's rock n roll radar is the new one from Johns. Grift Marks is a great record that could thrill fans of everything from Gang Of Four to early Beastmilk. Fun but disconcerting and edgy punk that’s not afraid to get weird and chase the light at the end of the insomnia tunnel. It sounds like the band have been up all night haunting themselves and their immediate environs, and the performances are all spot on.

 


Spacelab: Tell us, how much do you think of the band as a refining of your influences

versus your own baby?


John Toohill: Isn't it kinda the same? I guess cut the baby in half and Dr. Frankenstein the thing to everything I admire and/or despise but cant get enough of. It's real lame to lie to yourself and everyone by saying you are pioneering some totally original sound. Come off it. Babies are gross and nobody wants to see yours.  So how much? uh, enough? Ha


Ryan McMullen: I think the fascinating thing about writing music with a band is that it's almost always a melting pot. And everyone involved is already bringing their own personal internal melting pots to start with so it's all one big messy combination - there is really nothing new under the sun. That being said, once a band has established their own unique formula, that becomes a guiding force too. We never set out to do this or that kind of band or even really talked influences or style at all (which is funny because we all are into pretty drastically different stuff), so I guess in that way it is our own baby. And once the baby was grew up a little bit we started to be able to say things like "this doesn't sound like us" or whatever. But at the same time, it's real more of John's baby because he's the principle songwriter - it's not exactly 100% democratic, which is something I actually really value in terms of the band finding a unique voice.


Spacelab: How long have you been a band and was their a purpose to forming, rather...a mission? Or was it sort of accumulated musical inertia/energy eventually leading up to this record?


John: Oh yes, the mission. We figured we are all best friends in regular life so why not try to ruin that with creative egos, life goal conflicts, conjoined money troubles, and smothering each other with our overbearing personality traits while usually drunk in a small, hot space. That all accumulated over the past 8ish? years with us in various projects and then 2+ years all together as JOHNS to release this record. I love a good suicide mission.


Spacelab: How'd you end up involved with Peterwalkee Records for this release and what drew you to the label?


John: Before i knew Matto he read as kinda a stern, heartless warmonger who loathed me for being a skinny "more-than-one-necklace" kinda guy. So i was afraid and my weak ego really just begged for him to please, please like me. Which is maybe a tiny bit true. He's a great, hardworking human from our same local scene. We all share friends and our bands play together. It just makes sense to work with (motivated) people you know. They "get" what you are going for and want you to succeed. Plus he does a sick Danzig impersonation.


Ryan: Matto, who runs Peterwalkee, has come to wear many hats in the Buffalo music scene and so we inevitably crossed paths. We all also share a personal connection to Sugar City - a local arts collective which I think helped provide a lot of opportunity for us to get involved in some of their goings ons. Johns doesn't fit neatly into any established punk scene subset and Peterwalkee has put out records by some of the best Buffalo bands in a really wide eclectic mix of genres so in addition to having the honor of being in that good company, we figured we'd fit in on the roster.


Spacelab: Your press release says ,"If sentience is necessary for the being to perceive, GRIFT MARKS is a minimalistic way of defining consciousness." Is that another way of telling people to listen to Wire?


John: HA! You'll have to ask Boss Matto. He wrote that one. Describing your own sound is rough. I feel dirty after. And not a good - fooled around with a yoga instructor in a booze-mud bath - kinda dirty.

 

Spacelab: The record title reminds me of hustling in life, via music, odd jobs or otherwise. What was the vibe you were going for? Kinda seedy or working class or what? Also, do you remember the Grifters? Loved that band. "Mysterious

Friends", totally fucking underrated song.


John: Alright, i feel you. We all work/worked lots of service industry/bar jobs, odd jobs, painting houses ect... We hustle to make it work. The title "Grift Marks" is a play on a classic con. Grift/Grifter is the swindle and the mark is the victim. Ryan made up "Grift Marks", i guess, because it sounded like a scar left after doing something "seedy". The LP is rooted on a lot of cyclic behavior and being wise enough to know better. Then still either acting out or allowing whatever "questionable activity" to continue. If i may leave it kinda vague and "mysterious" for you, my friends.



Ryan: I think you're definitely on the right track there. I think the best record titles are suggestive but open ended enough to be interpreted in many different ways, which is what I like about Grift Marks. We were getting at a sort of double meaning with the word mark. On one level it's speaking about the relationship between a conman and a sucker—the grifter and his mark—and on another it's suggesting the damage done by con. The mark could refer to the loser in an deceitful exchange or a wound or a scar caused by this behavior. I think it summed up a lot of themes in John's lyrics (self sabotage, denial, and destructive patterns etc) in a succinct way with just enough mystery that would leave people with a lot to chew on. And it's funny, I just got into the Grifters very recently after they were recommended to me by a record shop owner while we were talking about the band Polvo. I believe he referred to them as a "beer drinking, Southern Pavement". I actually was playing the record One Sock Missing for the guys in the van on our last trip out of town. Very cool band.


Spacelab: What have been some of the highlights for the band to date?


John: Anytime we get to hang with out of town bands/buds. Playing music sets you up to meet all the fucking weirdest/best people. Tour time with them is like multiplied by 20.  You can connect and have a tight friend in one night. If you lived in the same city you KNOW you would be hanging all the time.... Oh and that time Ryan ate 16 tacos one weekender. And Sean's band drinking game that would clearly kill anyone who played.


Spacelab: What was the process like making this record? Do you think it's a good time for bands with their own vision to rise again or rather a more daunting time? I love the wooooos in "Nails and Walls" by the way.


John: Thanks man! We tracked all the instruments and my main vocal live in the room, picked the best takes and then layered back up vocals, tambourines, shakers, and shit into the mix after. I know Joseph Orlando at Mammoth Recording Studio did his crazy engineering voodoo to it after which covered up a few flubs and make it sound legit awesome.  As for the other bit man, i don't know. It's always time for good bands to make a move. Come play our shitty basement show. I'll probably be into it. You wont make any REAL money but if that's why you are doing it then you are most likely garbage anyway. If you are good, have your own vision, and are dumb enough to go all out on tour for year after year, you'll rise up and "make it" in some respect.... right, guys! Right? .... right?


Ryan: In general, right now I think there's more bullshit than ever before polluting everyone's consciousness thanks to the internet and so it's WAY harder to get anyone to care about your band that they've never heard of. As frustrating as that can be, in our own little bubble of Buffalo, there's been this amazing rise in acceptance and unity in the punk and underground music scenes over the past couple of years. There's a lot more blurring of lines and a lot more tolerance for weirdo shit that's off the beaten path than ever before in all the years I've been doing bands so hopefully that spills over so we can keep fighting the good fight out there in the world at large.


Spacelab: Anything coming up you're stoked on for Summer?


John: We're super good at pools. Please invite us over to your pool. Will show references upon request.

 

 

 
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