Birmingham’s Johnny Foreigner have been back on the road following the release of their adrenaline pumping fourth album You Can Do Better. We caught up with them backstage at The Flapper in their hometown to discuss touring, line up additions and what is keeping them strong.
How are you guys finding the tour so far? How are crowds reacting to the new album?
Kelly Southern (Bass/Vocals): Really good. Yeah. People are already singing the words. Which is really good.
Alexei Berrow (Vocals/Guitar): It’s such an effort for an album to come out and to learn the words within two weeks.
KS: We didn’t give them too much time, so yeah dead impressed.
What is it like having two extra members?
AB: Busy. It means we have to move about less. We now have delegated the dancing to other people.
Junior Laidley (Drums) – Well now we have double guitar.
AB: Having Lewes super helps because certain songs we stopped playing more for pratical reasons like it didn’t sound as good as the record and now we have Lewes we can now mimic that double guitary thing.
KS: But now we have a different issue. We have songs that don’t have two guitar parts. I want to play ‘Yes! You Talk Too Fast’ but there’s no way that the two of them are going [mimics guitar part].
AB: He could do it and I could just stand.
JL : Ben’s been with us on previous tours. Come on stage with us twice: we toured South Africa with him. Seems to come with us on the really nice tours. If we could have visuals all the time we would but unfortunately Ben lives in South Africa and so it’s not always possible.
In the past you’ve toured Japan, are there any plans to go back?
AB: Hopefully. The records doing so damn well. Talking to Japanese people is on another level. I think its more like Western bands are normally bigger in Japan. Its one of the few territories left where people still buy CDs. For labels and industry interest it still matters out there in a way that it doesn’t now in Europe or America. But also Japanese people are just crazy; everyone’s happy about everything and super in your face which is good but I don’t think its particularly us its just because we’re a…
KS: …British band. British bands go over there and get treated like the Beatles for whatever reason. The people are just so nice, so lovely. Love it.
Are there plans for going back to America?
AB: The logistics are that even at pushing it, the most amount of money we can raise we still barely scrape the surface of it. We’re pretty good at doing the East coast now. The West coast though is like a different country. The big cities there are lot more spread out so you’d have to ask for more money than you reasonably deserve to ship yourselves out there. We’ve never done Seattle. Chicago have been awesome to us. We outsold Gallows in Chicago. Phillie I think has overtaken Chicago as the great music scene but those cities are so further ahead than any city in the world it’s embarrassing.
You have an European tour coming up, how are you feeling about that?
JL: It’s nicely routed.
AB: It’s always a bit of a crapshoot. We don’t really have a label there. We have distribution there now but we still don’t have anyone over there pushing us so you never if you’re gonna show up to loads of people because of some crazy promoter whose been shoving your ‘internets’ into everyone’s faces. Or it’s gonna be like that place we played in Germany and it was this beautiful converted arena and the doors open and it was empty.
KS: Oh my God, wasn’t it like an airplane hangar.
AB: I think it was a waiting room for a train station.
KS: It was humongous.
AB: So beautiful. But only six people. There were all these spotlights shining down from the stage and there was enough crowd that they could fit into one beam of light.
KS: It was the most insane experience. Like the sound guy was like seven foot and looked like Jaws. He had metal teeth. We shat ourselves.
Ben Raush (Visualist): We were lost for ages trying to find it. It was in the middle of a huge construction site. We were like ‘what the hell’ and this dude on a bicycle rode up with metal teeth.
KS: And in dungarees. He was giant. Like who is this guy.
AB: And in the crowd was like two construction workers. Like it definitely wasn’t a big indie rock town. But you can treated so nicely by promoters that it works out kinda like a holiday. Everyone wants to buy you a drink and make their little town feel the best.
With such an extensive back catalogue, how do you guys decide on setlists?
JL: The setlist app on iPhone.
JL: It’s always new songs. Then closest to new songs. And then really old songs.
KS: We kinda mix up the old songs so we don’t play the same old songs all the time.
AB: There must be some kind of mathematical formula but we ain’t found it yet. The problem is we kinda at the point, and its a super flattering problem to have, where everybody wants to hear a different song so there’s no way we can please everybody. We kinda just have to hope for the best.
What are your favourite old songs to play live?
KS: It’s usually whatever’s newest that we like to play. Old songs? [to Alexei] what do you still like playing?
AB: I still enjoy playing anything. It’s more about the audience enjoyment. If the audience wants to hear that song you wrote 5 years ago and you know you think you’ve written eighty million better songs than that and they’ve a bunch of idiots for not recognising that, it’s still an immensely flattering situation to be in. It’s not like Radiohead moaning about ‘Creep’. Like I’m sorry so many people bought your record that must be really hard for you.
I noticed that ‘Riff Glitchard’ featured a lyric that has been previously been used on a t-shirt design.
AB: Yeah, the song is pretty old. A version of the song is on the EP we put out before the album campaign started. We always do this with merch. We get super excited about one thing and make merch and forgot that you can make a t-shirt and be selling it to people in 48 hours but the record has to go and get pressed and come back and everything. So we always seem to be a couple of months ahead of our actual songs.
Why do you think you’ve stuck together when other bands on a similar level haven’t?
AB: I think for a lot of people its about the money and we were kinda lucky enough to get ourselves into a situation where we could be 100% self reliant. We didn’t have to have a label to beg money for tour support, we didn’t have to do x or y. I’m not saying that bands split because they can’t get the money they think but the whole point of being in a band is and the whole industry is set up that on your first album everyone is going “this is great, you guys are going to be amazing in a year’s time, you’re gonna be making a living from this” and a lot of people put stock in that and it doesn’t happen and they’re like “well fuck I’ve just wasted three years of my life, I have no skills to do anything else”. Whereas the trick for us has been trying to be as DIY about it for a while. Learn to do it for a while and build it back up with people we trust.
KS: And not to do it for the money and bitches. Do it for the music.
AB: Any profits that we make get funnelled into the next stupid adventure.
KS: Next AMAZING adventure.
AB: This isn’t something we’re trying to replace our sources of income with, I think that would kill us. I’d have to kill everything else or be a different band.
What are the band’s plans for the near future?
JL: There’s Truck festival where we’re playing the Barn stage on the Thursday. We’ve got 2000 Trees. Just sorting out touring South Africa in October.