The SiS Interview by Dany Sloan & Beth Mueller
Johnny Flynn's debut album A Larum borrows heavily from the Nick Drake school of folk -- gorgeous fingerpicking and distinctive thin, melancholy vocals. Not content at mere mimicry, Johnny adds varied instrumentation, lush arrangements, and surprising rhythmic flourishes to create a sound that's all his own. The man has finally brought his show to the States, along with compatriots Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. We tried to pin him down for months, but only recently did Johnny get back at us with answers to our burning questions.
Your music seems rooted in older, more American traditional musical forms like country stomps and bluegrass. At the same time, I view the storytelling aspects of your lyrics as a throwback to the traveling bards of yore. How did your sound come about? What are your influences?
I grew up listening to all sorts of stuff, a lot of it old American music like delta blues and bluegrass, but also alot of British and Irish traditional music. I've always been fairly interested in the cultural history of storytelling and bardism. It's something that, for me at least, seems to run through, like an olympic torch, from the oldest civilisations of humanity to present day art and music. It's just in the way it's perceived and in that moment of perception that it pops up in people's writing and creating. And it's ancient.
SIS:I know that you're also a pretty successful Shakespearian actor. Are you very interested in the past or is it just a coincidence that your music sounds like it comes from a completely different time?
JF: I have a healthy interest in the past, I'd say, but only in a sort of passionate way that puts me more in touch with now. It's quite an empowering thing to know where you come from.
SIS: I was lucky enough to catch one of your sets at SXSW and I saw that you jumped across multiple instruments -- a banjo, a violin, a mandolin, and an acoustic guitar. Do you really feel comfortable on all those instruments or have you just picked them up by necessity after recording? Which instrument do you write on?
JF: I write on all of them - I'm only just beginning on the mandolin and banjo but the others i've been playing for a while. The mandolin's similar to the violin though and the banjo's like an open-tuned guitar - it's the picking patterns that are the tricky bit.
SIS: Your debut album, A Larum, was just released in the States. How'd the record come about? Tell me a little bit about the writing and recording process.
JF: The songs on the album were written in the two years or so up to recording last autumn. The songs weren't really written as one body of work - just one by one as they came along. That said they all seem to be from one period; we recorded them all in one block in a studio outside Seattle with an amazing guy named Ryan Hadlock who helped us realise the songs in the time we were there. We all lived at the studio when we were doing it - it's a barn in the woods pretty much, and got immersed in the songs. It felt like a good thing to be taken away from the world and the context in which the songs come from - i.e away from London and friends, girlfriends etc, in which to concentrate our own relative perspective of them. I hope that makes sense.
SIS: What's the next step? Future plans?
JF: We just arrived in the States for a tour with Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons for about a month, then I'm going to South America for a short tour then touring more in Britain and Europe, which should see out the year. I've also just finished writing the second album which we'll need to record some time. I've got a few big projects for next year which'll be fun to work on...watch this space.
SIS: I know that you're friends with Emmy The Great and sometimes join her for performances. What other acts do you find inspiring?
JF: I really like Laura Marling, who we're on tour with at the moment. There's a few bands who we pay with regularly who i like a lot - Mumford and Sons, Slow Club, Peggy Sue & the Pirates, while the Americans that I like around at the moment are Langhorne Slim, Jeffrey Lewis and Diane Cluck, amongst others.