In the spotlight

In the spotlight – Johnny & the Box

todayMarch 10, 2023 323 7

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In the spotlight – Johnny & the Box (UK) is the alias of singer/songwriter Jon Louth. Having sung in bands such as A Thousand Days and the Radiofaces, he now writes records and produces his own guitar based indie pop/rock music.

Can you talk about the vision for the project?

“Johnny & the Box really started as an, admittedly, narcissistic experiment in ‘home recording’. I have written songs and played in bands for years but I wanted to see if I could write, perform and record all the different parts myself – it saves a lot of arguing over musical differences. The project has really developed from there. I am now planning the release of my third album ‘Truth and Lies’ later this year. Although it has to be said that I do now have a number of fantastic collaborators who allow me to record their songs and/or embellish my recordings with their musical talents. Shout out to: Ian Gomersall, Mike Richmond, Callum Anderson and Gillian Boughey.”

What kind of sounds were playing around you as you were growing up?

“I seem to remember hearing quite a lot of the Beatles and ABBA when I was very young, but I really became interested in music in the 1980s, which seems a long time ago now! However, I am really glad to have lived through that period because of the eclectic nature of the music that was being produced. From the punk and reggae infused music of bands like The Police and Blondie to the post punk industrial sound of Joy Division and, later, the electronica of New Order, I loved it all.”

How did you get into music in the first place?

“I saw a battered old Les Paul copy in a second hand shop window when I was about 14 years old. I scraped together a few pounds and bought it, without actually knowing how to play it or whether it actually worked! After many hours of painful practice I developed into a basic, but reasonably accomplished, rhythm guitarist/singer. I joined a garage band, then a University band and the rest, as they say, is history!”

When was your very first recording and release? Has your sound changed since you wrote your first song?

“I have been recording in various formats for a long time but the first recording to be unleashed onto a worldwide audience was my 2020 album ‘Scapegoat’. The album was largely recorded during the first COVID lockdown in the UK. But it does actually include a track called ‘Smile’ that was written and recorded on an old Boss Micro BR 4 track recorder back in 2010. To say that I didn’t really know what I was doing would be an understatement! I have tried to incorporate new sounds and textures into my music with each new album. Initially I just wanted to write ‘jangly’ guitar based rock but I have gradually embellished my music with synthesised sounds and have even started to write one or two songs on the keyboard.”

What does your music say about you?

“I would like to think it says that I can play and sing a bit! I would also like to think that I have my own distinct view of the world and that I am ‘in tune’ with the human condition. That sounds fairly pretentious doesn’t it? The real answer is that I actually have no idea what my music says about me!!”

How would your best friend describe you?

“You had better ask them? At a guess they would just say ‘he’s just Johnny, quite funny, a bit grumpy and too much of a perfectionist’. They would also probably say that I need to loosen up a bit!”

Why did you choose Johnny & the Box as a name for the project? Is there a meaning to it or a secret?

“The name was originally a bit of a joke but it just kind of stuck! I liked the comfort of pretending that I was still in a band and the name alluded to that.”

“The original ‘Box’ was my old 4-track recording studio – a bit like ‘Echo’ from Echo and the Bunnymen. Some people on social media still think that Johnny & the Box is a band, and I quite like that, but don’t ask me why!?”

What song would you send to someone unfamiliar with your music?

“I would probably send them ‘Scapegoat’ simply because it is the song that has proved the most popular on streaming platforms up to now. However, I am also very proud of ‘Instant World’ and, also my latest single ‘The Truth’.”

What can you tell me about your latest release ‘The Truth’?‘

“It was written at a time when our politicians seem to be plumbing new depths in terms of integrity and honesty. It made me start to think about whether or not we would all be happier if everyone told the truth all the time? I knew that I wanted the song to be powerful but, rather than use heavier guitar, I decided to use a synthesised Horn section to make it a bit more unique.”

“Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it spawned a series of songs which have become the basis for my forthcoming album ‘Truth and Lies’.”

How important are lyrics to you?

“For me there is little point in writing a song unless you have something to say. So the lyrics are hugely important to me. I attempt to make the lyrics to my songs both thoughtful and meaningful, sometimes with more success than others. I once heard an interview with Smokey Robinson in which he said that lyrics should always tell a story even if the story is not fully resolved. That has stuck with me and I hope that my songs do follow this blueprint.”

Can you walk us through your songwriting process?

“Generally, the music will come first. Usually his takes the shape of a chord progression andrhythm on the guitar. I will then ad-lib a melody with some words, often just mumbo-jumbo, that seem to fit with the chords. Where I can, I will then look for a hook line/chorus based upon the chord changes. Once I have the hook line I will then start to formalise the lyrics and the structure of the song. I try and let the music tell me what the lyrics should say and how the melody should flow. I will then record a very basic ‘ghost’ version with just guitar and vocals sung/played ‘live’. That’s when the real fun begins! This usually starts with me programming a percussion track with all the fills etc. This is followed by the bass and rhythm guitars. Vocals and backing vocals are next, and then the lead guitar and keyboard parts.”

“More recently however, I have become a bit more experimental in terms of writing on the keyboard, and even starting with the lyrics first!”

Are there any songs you wish you’d written yourself?

“I could probably name hundreds! But ‘Love will tear us apart’ by Joy Division is one of my all-time favourites. It’s a song which never ages as far as I am concerned. If I had written that, I would never have needed to write another song in my life!”

What artists, would you say, have played a significant influence on you as a musician and songwriter?

“Again there are too many to mention here. But I think the biggest influences, apart from those already mentioned, have to be: Peter Gabriel, The Cure, The Waterboys, The Fat Lady Sings and Oasis amongst many, many others.”

What music are you currently listening to? Old heroes, new heroes, unknown heroes?

“These days I listen to a lot of indie music by artists that I have got to know on Twitter. There are so many great songwriters and performers out there. I will just mention Kate Stanton, Sophie Dorsten, Divinium, Si Farrier, The Converts, Distant images, Greedy Beat, The Vernons Future, Ade Wilding…and I really could go on!”

“However, I do also have tickets to see Sting and Pulp in the summer!”

What are you currently working on that you can share with us or want us to know about?

“My next single ‘Beauty and the Hopelessness’ is released on March 31st. The beautiful lyrics were written by Gillian Boughey who has kindly allowed me to set them to music and perform the song. I am very proud of the result and I just hope that people like it as much as Gill and I do.”

“I am then hoping to release another one or two singles before releasing the album ‘Truth and Lies’ in the summer. After that….who knows?”

What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?

“Unfair question! They are all great! But if you are going to push me on this, I have a soft spot for Joe Adhemar’s ‘When Our Lungs Are Empty’, because of the emotional depth ofthe song. I also really like the Skinny dippers ‘Wedding ring’ because it makes me think of California in the sunshine, at the same time as reminding me of a softer version of ’Teenage Fanclub’! And finally, I love the pure sincerity of ‘A Song About You’ by my old friends The Postindustrial Poets and Time To Act.

What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?

“My bonus track is ‘Sight Unseen’ by Distant Images. I love everything that they do. This track was only released on 3rd March and it is brilliant. Right up my street!”

Written by: leancool20

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