Live at CMJ, Day 4: Johnny Foreigner

photos by Doron Gild
interview by Jim Beckmann

Despite the misleading name, Johnny Foreigner is actually a trio of co-eds hailing from Birmingham, England. Alexei Berrow (guitar, vocals), Kelly Southern (bass), and Junior Elvis (drums) first started their blend of noisy vocals and energetic, spastic songwriting in 2005. In 2006, they released their first single, “Sometimes, in the Bullring,” which received airplay from BBC Radio, London Live, and XFM. By 2007, Johnny Foreigner had garnered enough attention to sign with Best Before Records. After recording an EP in London, the group traveled to New York later that year to record their full-length with Machine, a producer who typically works with hard rock acts like Clutch and Lamb of God. The 7″ single “Our Bipolar Friends” was issued in early 2008 to herald the release of the new album.

Jim: I heard that you guys are big fans of Broken Social Scene.

Alexei: Massive. Best gig we’ve been too.

Junior: Best gig I’ve ever watched in my life, it was a religious experience. They played everything I wanted to hear.

Jim: How long ago was that?

Junior: Two years ago. It was amazing

Jim (to Kelly): You concur?

Kelly: Yes, I agree. I’m just the mic holder.

Jim: You all seem to know a lot about them. You must follow them pretty closely.

Junior: We’re just geeks.

Jim: Somewhere you had written down who your dream bill would be, and you have them on there, right?

Junior: Yes, absolutely.

Alexei: You know the people you can just live inside that are just amazing? They’re just geniuses.

Kelly: They’re classic

Jim: Does it translate at all into your own music? Do you think about it?

Alexei: Sort of, yeah.

Jim: Not sonically though.

Alexei: They work so differently. They have all these instruments and we’re kinda limited with the amount of stuff we can do, but it hasn’t escaped us. I would love to do all that. It’s been hard spending months and months in the studio playing more and more guitars.

Jim: It’s interesting that you came to America to record the new album, but you recorded it with Machine, who is a bit sonically different than, ah, Broken Social Scene. What drew you to him? Or him to you?

Alexei: He makes guitars loud.

Kelly: We like loud guitars.

Alexei: And our songs were essentially pop songs, and we just wanted them to be loud pop songs.

Jim: Did you ask him or did he ask you?

Kelly: We got to know him through a friend of a friend, so it was a nice little mutual thing. He came over to London and watched us play, so we talked about it. It was amazing, He’s kinda like Willy Wonka as a producer.

Junior: Genius.

Jim: And how long were you here recording the album?

Alexei: Three weeks.

Jim: I heard you had some issues with your fingers as you were playing.

Kelly: His finger ripped open.

Alexei: I think it was just me being stupid. I opened a door when I was drunk, and chopped my finger. It wasn’t even a rock and roll thing, but I cut my top finger open and I couldn’t play. I was thinking, “Should we do the guitars in a couple of days?” Machine said, “No, no, we’ll just glue it back together.”

Kelly: He just glued it back together. I’m sure that’s not right.

Alexei: I figure my finger will fall off in a year’s time.

Jim: You’ll have to come up with a backup plan

Alexei: I met this guy on the Internet, and he’s an old blues player in Texas. He just uses lady’s fake fingers.

Jim: Like plastic finger caps?

Alexei: Yeah.

Jim: So how many shows have you played in the United States? Have you played a bit?

Kelly: Actually, our first show in America was at the Bowery Ballroom. It was a really good first show. It was really cool. And we played SXSW.

Alexei: We just played one show and spent the rest of the time drinking and watching bands.

Kelly: We were like kids in a sweet shop.

Jim: Are you friendly with Los Campesinos?

All: Yeah!

Jim: They’re very energetic and fun. I can definitely see you guys playing with them. Who would guys record with next? Would you do another hard rocking album?

Alexei: It one of those things, you come to New York and meet all sorts of bands, but we haven’t come to any kind of decision.

Jim: Who have you met here?

Alexei: We don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Jim: Not to work with, but that you have found interesting?

Alexei: Everyone in New York is a character. We were waiting for a taxi the other day, and we were in a mad hurry when the concierge stops us and takes out his wallet, and it’s a picture of him and Whoppi Goldberg, as if to say, “See, I know good people.” It’s excellent, man. Everyone’s got a story to tell.

Jim: Who does your artwork by the way?

Alexei: A guy called Lewes Herriot. It started out when he did a gig poster for us. He was taking the songs and putting them into pictures. For the album, I showed him a really rough sketch and ten minutes later he said, “Like that?” And I said, “Alright, you do our artwork from now on.”

Kelly: He’s ridiculously talented.

Jim: Where else are you guys playing at CMJ?

Alexei: Fontanas on Friday night.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 31, 2008 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    haha spastic song writing!

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