Interview: Ellis Johnson
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?I was naturally into music from a really young age, my dad was/is a music lover and introduced me to Led Zep, Bowie, The Who etc.... My mam said i'd listen to the cd's and sing harmonies to the vocals, not knowing what I was doing. But it was drums that started me off as a musician. At the age of 10 or 11, I lived my dad's childhood dream and became a drummer. From then i've swam in the depths of music and i'm yet to come up for air. I can't begin to imagine what i'd be doing if I hadn't got into music, it's concrete for me.
What do you like to do when you're not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?I write music, almost every day, I like to sketch also. But music is the only real thing that sparks creativity in me, without a sense of it feeling like dedicated 'work' I also, find Gin & Whiskey are fantastic catalysts in the pursuit of creativity, even if some of the ideas are shit! Drinking is cool, we all know it.
How long has your band been around?I've been performing as a solo artist for a long time, hard to put a length of time on it.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?I'm from Manchester Uk. A lot of my early musical influences came from outside of Manchester, it took me a while to fall for home grown music, because Joy Division, The Smiths and even Oasis weren't noisy enough for me. I wanted to tear drum skins playing like Bonham and bleed from the fingernails playing grunge guitar riffs. I've since developed a passionate affair with Manchester music, and the culture it belongs to. It's efforvescent in the blood of the city. Some amazing and historic venues continue to offer a paved pathway for Manchester music and it's musicians, myself included.
In terms of influencing my on music, Manchester is present throughout it all, because it's home; if I ever write about the struggle for comfortability, it's Manchester that conjures images in my mind. I'm a big Manchester United fan and we have a banner at old trafford, that says Manchester Is My Heaven. We don't have pearly gates, but we know how to make a stranger feel like a friend and battle our demons over a pint of lager.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you.Ellis Johnson. It's my sir name and my mother's maiden name, put together. A sort of tribute to both of the families I came from.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.I've done a few support slots with well known acts, that's been fun. Most recently, with Max George from 'The Wanted' which was great. The audience loved my shit, and I had people queing to chat and have pictures taken with me, which was surreal for a local lad, trying to be heard. I also played at the O2 Arena in London as part of a song writing contest, that was an experience!
Worst shows! Where to start with that! One gig comes to mind that still makes me laugh today. I was performing on a ship, off the coast of California, on a glorious sunny day. The crowd were great, the drinks were flowing, I was buzzing. Then I could I see this fella walking toward me from the back of the crowd, he looked to be smiling but his strut had intent. He waited till i'd finished a song, then approached me. In a strong, Southern American accent, he said in my ear "Must it be so loooooud!? I'm trying to read a book!" I laughed in his face, then I played louder. Because I'm a dick.
I also got in a live debate on stage one night. I was performing my arrangement of Carole King's - Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which was how I introduced my playing of the song. Once I had finished the song, a gobby chap in the crowd decided to shout out "That song was by the fuckin Shirelles!" I had to slam him. I said "You're absolutely right, they did record a version of it, however it was written by Carole King and if we're being pedantic, Gerry Goffin also" The geeza in the audience was stunned i'd even responded to him and he then proceded to continue his argument by telling me his age, he said "I am older than you, your father and maybe even your father's father!!" as if I was disrespecting him with 'knowledge!' I could have left it, but I said "That may be the case, but that doesn't change who wrote the fuckin song!"
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already.That's a tough one, there's a venue in Manchester called 'Alberts Schloss' and the crowd is always bouncing in there. But I guess my favourite venue to play at would have to be Manchester Academy 3, it's intimate but it sounds great and I've had a lot of good times on that stage.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?I'd love to play with Gang of Youths, Foo Fighters, Phoebe Bridgers and the late Mac Miller. Quite a mix.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?Keep playing, even when the heads don't turn. Don't give it up for a bull shit job that you don't care about. Keep going if you really want it. You'll have shit loads of shit gigs, but then that one amazing gig, reassures you every now and then. Broken glass can hide in the soft sand, you'll get cut here and there, but it's worth the walk.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?I don't think I would. What ever advice I could give myself would ultimately lead me to a different decision with it's own unpredictable consequenses. Thats the deep answer! The possibility is that I would go back and never listen to Lost Prophets.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I'm probably most proud of a song called 'Thank You' it's one of the first songs I ever wrote. But I guess the one that means the most to me is one called 'Black & White & Read All Over' - I started writing the song after seeing headline after headline in news papers and on social media, about someones losses, pains and struggles, and it unsettled me knowing that people make a living out of it, and worse still, people buy it and believe it. During the writing of the song, a hero of mine, Robin Williams had died. Some of the media handling of it, just hit me in the chest. Here was a man, that made people laugh and inspired throughout his whole career, to a hugely succesful level, and yet the headlines weren't 'Comedy Legend Passes Away' or 'Hollywood Hero Dies'. The stories I saw, were focussing on his depression, suicide and some even accused him of being broke. Anyway, I finshed the song in a fitting fashion.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I love playing all my songs, the most requested at the moment is probably 'Ghosts'. My favourite cover song to play is probably 'Walking In Memphis' it's just never gotten old for me.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I'm not really sure I have a process. Sometimes i have woken up in the middle of the night and a melody or lyric is circling my mind, and i have to get up and record it. Other times, I can be inspired by something I see or hear. Other times I can just start smashing away at the guitar and shit just happens!
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I'm not afraid to achknowledge my struggles with Anxiety and Depression, and sometimes when I write, I can't help but involve some dark shades of these struggles, but I think that's really important. I deal with my battles on a daily basis, which is what the song 'Waves' is about. It's ok to struggle and it's ok to talk.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
I calmy remind myself that I have made a solid argument to myself and if myself can't handle it, then maybe myself can fuck myself.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming
I plan on writing, recording and performing as much as possible, and one day, hopefully in the near future, have my music heard by the masses. I'd like to drive a shit car into a shit swimming pool and throw an ipad out of a bungalow window. Apart from that, I have a new single coming out called 'Something Criminal' it's out on 18th September on all major platforms. I can't wait!