London, Soho – it’s renowned for being the centre of the capital’s sex industry, prostitution and street corner drug dealing. So, seeing as I am not one to dabble in the consumption of an A-Class substance, nor am I THAT interested in purchasing vibrating, nipple clamps – what exactly am I doing here? Well, today, I have the pleasure of interviewing former Tribes, frontman, Johnny Lloyd – and considering his musical re-birth as a solo artist is about to see him release the follow-up to the Blaine Harrison-produced, ‘Pilgrims’ and announce a UK tour, there is quite a bit to speak about.
Louder Than War: Now I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but sadly Tribes split up last September, and as a fan myself, I still don’t feel as if we truly know the reason behind that decision – is there any chance you would be able to shed some light on that?
Johnny: Well, it was just a great and fucking brilliant time in our lives ya’ know – and it was a killer four years. We’re all still best mates, but I felt creatively and personally, that maybe it was time for a change and I think a few of us did actually. We had such a good laugh, but we felt that our time had come with the label and all that and we were off of the contract. It just felt like it was a new era.
Were you only on a two album deal then with Island, or did they let you go?
Johnny: Yeah, we were on a two album kind of thing and I don’t know, we could have carried on I think but we were just suffering on the business side of things. It was a really tough decision though and probably the hardest decision that we have ever had to make, because we love that band and we always knew that the fans always loved it. There were just days where there was an immense amount of stress at that point in time and I felt that, as the writer, I wasn’t going to produce anything for that third record that I would have been happy to put out.
Okay then, so you part ways with Tribes – but what made you decide to try your hand at being a solo artist as opposed to forming a new band?
Johnny: Well, I did think about it – and I took six months off because I was just a bit burnt out after those four years of touring, pressure and the speed of which we had to make the music. But I just felt like, this is what I do and I didn’t want to do another band because I didn’t want to try to repeat what we had in Tribes – for me we will never be able to repeat that. That was just a great run and a good ride and I didn’t think it would be fair if I started a new band – I just want to do my own thing now and do it at my own pace, which to me is the essential thing.
I’ve yet to have see you perform as a soloist. So, what can we expect from a Johnny Lloyd solo show? Have you been playing entirely new material or have you also been throwing in a few songs from your previous projects?
Johnny: So far it’s been entirely new material. Maybe I will, but I don’t think so. Like, I’ve just done an acoustic tour with The Kooks and obviously there are a lot of people shouting for Tribes songs, but I don’t see why I should play any Tribes songs, when I’m not playing with Tribes.
Have you ever experimented with being a solo artist before – prior to being in any band?
Johnny: No, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do it before, but now it’s just like I want to write the songs that I want to write without the pressures of what other people expect of you. I’ve put a live band together, which just goes under my name and I now just want to go my own way. I don’t want to do another collective because I have done that.
Okay, so your first show back as a soloist – what was that like walking out on stage on your own? Do you feel a bit more of an added pressure? Because to me, there always felt like there was a tremendous sense of unity when you’d see Tribes live – so is it slightly daunting that you’re now going out there alone without that sense of unity?
Johnny: It was weird at first, but I actually found it completely freeing and relieving. It was daunting for the first show or two, but after a while it was fine. I just want to write songs and put albums out so I don’t really feel any pressures when I’m either playing live by myself or with a band – it’s the same.
What is different then, in regards to how you prepare for a gig as a solo artist compared to how you used to prepare for a show when you were in a band?
Johnny: Well, there is a shit load more rehearsal because there is no one else really to back you up, but I won’t be playing acoustic very often anyway. I’ve really enjoyed playing acoustic though – it was great to be back touring around Europe again and playing rooms that big and just getting used to it again.
How did it feel to be playing to such a large audience again, after having not really gigged since last September?
Johnny: It was scary – I was playing 2000 people a night on the tour with The Kooks. But I did a few warm-up shows in England before hand – I did a little Cornwall tour – but it doesn’t take that long to get used to it again. I always find actually that playing to a bigger crowd is less scary than playing to 10 people. I always thought that some of our first pub gigs in Hull were scarier than playing Reading – purely because you can’t really see anyone when a crowd is that big.
You supported The Kooks with Tribes as well – so how did your experience this time as a solo artist differ from the experience you had the first time with Tribes?
Johnny: I think this time there was a lot more focus because I was working on stuff as we were going. I had like a cycle of 20 songs that I was rolling in and out of the set to see which ones worked. So this time it was more of a test thing than a commercial thing and it was great.
Any interesting stories from that tour?
Johnny: Haha! I’m not saying anything without Luke’s permission.
Haha, okay then so you recently released your first solo E.P, ‘Pilgrims’, and I understand Blaine Harrison, from the Mystery Jets, helped to produce it. How long did it take to write and record those four songs and were any of them old songs that you were thinking of using with Tribes or were they brand new songs?
Johnny: Yeah, they were entirely new songs and ya’know, when you write a good tune it usually takes about 20 minutes and the bad ones take about 3 days. So, it took about a week to get the E.P together and record it at home on an 8-track and then Blaine put the bass to it at his studio and polished them up a bit – so yeah the whole process took about a week.
So do you prefer that rawer, not entirely perfect sound then? Because obviously, you’ve gone from recording at Sound City in L.A for the second Tribes album, to recording on an 8-track.
Johnny: Well, first all I didn’t have £10,000 a week this time to spend at Sound City haha. But yeah I really like that lo-fi sound and I think it’s great. I prefer the rougher the better – I feel like you see and hear more of the song that way and it has a lot more soul to it. Blaine is also going to produce the first proper single actually, which we are going to do next weekend.
Can we know what that single is called?
Johnny: I haven’t completely decided yet, but I think it’s going to be a song called, ‘Joyride’ or a song called, ‘Running Wild’.
Your new single, ‘Happy Humans’, has just come out, accompanied with a brand new music video – and it’s also the title track of your next E.P. What can we expect from that – similar to the first E.P? Are you going to entirely continue down that mellower road now?
Johnny: Well, yes and no. The first two E.P’s are the more chilled ones and there is no band on them – just a drum machine’s. But now when I go full band, there are some heavier songs. I want to kind of let the live show grow a bit first though before we record.
I personally don’t feel like I know much about you, pre-Operahouse/Tribes – how and when did you first get into music and pick up a guitar?
Johnny: I was 17 when I started a band at school and we just kind of started playing around. I’ve always loved music and I started playing guitar when I was six, but I started writing quite late – I wrote a few songs in my teens but I probably didn’t start properly writing until I was about 23, so I was quite a late starter. I’d say I’ve probably been writing and playing in bands for about ten years.
So what sort of music were you listening to growing up and what inspired you?
Johnny: Oh, I was just a massive Led Zeppelin fan – it was just the thing when I was growing up but also Velvet Underground and lots of Motown. Having lots of musical friends as well – I grew up with The Horrors and The Vaccines and all that lot and we were just always in and out of each other’s bands – it was fucking weird haha. We had lots of groups around in the Midlands, around Birmingham and Coventry and it was just constantly interchanging. So a lot of the inspiration came from friends spurring each other on.
So you kind of all influenced each other in that respect?
Johnny: Yeah, yeah absolutely and we were pushing each other as well. Like, we’d all say we should go London and do something down there.
Where did you live prior to London?
Johnny: I was born in Newcastle, grew up in the Midlands and sort of moved around a bit. I then came to London when I was about 19 and I just started working down here, in Camden.
So did you move down to London to pursue a career in music?
Johnny: I came to London to do a degree at Goldsmiths University – but I left after a week because I thought, ‘fuck, they are giving me all of this money, why am I here?’ Haha. So I then moved to Camden and got on with it really. But I didn’t feel happy musically really until Tribes started.
Whether it applies to this project or not I’m don’t know, but during your time in Tribes you once said that you wanted to put an album out every year. Does that mean, we can expect to see a full solo album released before the year’s out? Seeing as last year you released Wish To Scream and the year prior of course you released Baby.
Johnny: You’ll definitely see me release a full album but probably not by the end of this year because the business side of things won’t let me get it out by the end of the year but definitely next year – I reckon probably around summer time. Writing the songs for me is the interesting and exciting part – I’m never more up when I’ve finished something new and I am happy with it and I feel like I’ve got more songs now than I have had in a long time, I’ve written about 60-70 new tunes and some of them are feeling great so I want to get them out within the next year.
So are you bothered about securing a new record deal, to help you release this new material or would you not mind if you had to release an album off of your own back?
Johnny: It depends really because I feel a lot of it is really overblown when it comes to the major labels. People think that you sign those deals and that’s it, but it depends who is working for you.
Do you think there was a lot of pressure on you then when you were signed to Island?
Johnny: I really, really liked being on Island Records – I think it was a great label and they were good people, but the problem with the majors is that the staff working there change all the time so I felt like we were constantly being moved around the office the whole time and that isn’t necessarily the best thing for your career. So this time, I’d like to be on a small, independent label definitely.
It was reported a little while back that you and Jamie T were working together on something, and obviously Blaine Harrison helped to produce your solo E.P and that you’re quite good friends with Luke Pritchard – can we therefore expect any of these names to perhaps pop up with a collaboration credit, when you record and release the album?
Johnny: Yeah definitely, I’m sure Luke or Blaine will play on it, but I don’t know if we will be actually collaborating on anything that goes on the record. And funny enough, when I did an interview with Topman, they took that quote about me working with Blaine and put Jamie T’s name instead of Blaine’s – me and Blaine had been working on a side thing for ages but obviously they felt that mentioned Jamie T was a better story. It ended up being everywhere for like a week.
Have you ever met Jamie T then and if so when/where was it that you first became acquainted?
Johnny: Yeah, we are friends. We met about two years ago because he got hold of some of my demos and liked the sound of them so we started hanging out and have been doing so ever since really. His new stuff is really good – he came round to play me his album the other day and it’s brilliant. It’s killer, it’s a great set of songs and it’s nice to have him back.
Do you reckon that some of the tracks from the Pilgrims E.P will feature on your solo album or do you think that those tracks were more of a chance for you to test the water as a soloist and to experiment with a new and slightly mellower sound?
Johnny: Pilgrims might, definitely. I’m just trying to get a darker based sound it all at the moment but yeah, Pilgrims – I’m not too sure about the others.
When I saw you play at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2012, I believe, you spoke of how amazing you were at the fact that just a year earlier you were playing in pubs and then a year on you were playing a nearly sold out Shepherd’s Bush – I even think your Nan was there. So as a solo artist then, where do you want to be a year from now?
Johnny: Yeah, my Nan comes to all the shows haha – but I’ve got different aspirations now as a solo artist ya’know. Back then we wanted to do that because we hadn’t done it before, but now I don’t have the same ideas and I’m not as strict in my mind about where I want to go. I just want to make decent music, I’m not thinking ‘fuck, I’ve got to play Electric Ballroom next week and I need to play The Roundhouse again’. I just want to do, what I want to do and I always want to just make the best music I possibly can and wherever that takes it great. If that means I only play 500 capacity room’s, then that is fine and if they are bigger than I am fine with that too.
You recently said in an interview I read that you feel like people should write songs they feel like they want to write and what comes naturally to them, and they shouldn’t just write songs to get on the radio. Do you think this is predominantly a reason why all of your music projects sounds very different – because at that specific point in your life and career, you are purely producing the type of music that feel naturals to you?
Johnny: Yeah, and I think your best music does. ‘Baby’ for example, came out of just a natural thing, but then as soon as you get the pressures of labels and stuff you try to recreate something. Like, I get a lot of young musicians say to me that they just want to write a song like Jake Bugg – it’s then that you just know that they aren’t going to do what they want to do because they are trying to fit into an ideal.
When you do get played on the radio then, do you feel as if it is more of an achievement because you’ve just done a song how you want, yet it is still good enough to get played?
Johnny: Yeah, definitely. I mean, Pilgrims getting played on Radio 1 the other day for example is ridiculous really because it was made on an 8-track recorded in my kitchen. So it shows you that if you write a decent tune and you believe in it then it’s going to happen. I just really don’t want to have any doubt in my mind about what music I’m making. I don’t want to think, ‘I’m writing this song and putting it out because I want Fearne Cotton to play it ‘ya know. So yeah, going back to what you said earlier, if the songs are good then they will get heavier and if it doesn’t work that way then they will be remain more acoustic.
You recently released your first novel, entitled A Journey Through The Heart Of a Pig’ – is this something you’d like to do more of? Is it something you have always done?
Johnny: Well, it’s weird actually, because about two week’s ago I just got put into ‘Shakespeare and Company’, which is like a Parisian book shop where all the old writers, like Hemingway, used to hang out – so I’m actually going over to do a talk on it in November. So, that has actually made me think that maybe I should do another book. I would like to but it is just so fucking time-consuming haha – the first one took me four years to do because I was on tour the whole time, so I just had to do it during the day. It took a long time man, but I’m really happy that it’s out. I’d like to spend my time when I’m a old bloke doing that.
I know that you are quite a big fan of Dinosaur Pile Up – but are there any up and coming bands or artists that you are quite excited about and think we should be listening to?
Johnny: Yeah, there is a band called Bones. They are two girls who have just started in Camden – one of them is from L.A and the other is from Camden. They are shit hot man.
When I listen to a vast majority of the songs you have written, I personally feel that lyrically there always seems to be either an anti-religious or nostalgic aspect about them. Is this a conscious decision on your part when you are writing lyrics? Or if not, what is a your particular process when it comes to writing lyrics and songs?
Johnny: Yeah, I guess there is a lot of nostalgia to it – I like nostalgia music myself. I do sometimes try to move away from that and obviously the first Tribes album is heavily nostalgic, but I felt like those references worked – maybe I’m just a nostalgic person. It’s quite hard for me because it has always been like a train of thought that I can’t quite break.
So, is the writing process different then, when you are on your as opposed to when you are in a band?
Johnny: Well, I’d say yeah it is because I’d always be worried about whether the band would like a song when I’d first show them it, so yeah it’s so different definitely. I’m really fixated on music and I always have been.
Do you find it easier to write songs now because at the moment, you are the only person who can truly judge it?
Johnny: Slightly – but it’s always still bizarre when your song finally gets released and you see what people think and say about it.
Were you nervous then when you first released a piece of music with just your name to it?
Johnny: Yeah, big time man. I actually almost didn’t do the whole thing anyway and was just going to fuck it off.
What would you have done if you decided not to release music as a solo artist?
Johnny: Erm,…dunno – I just dunno haha. Hopefully something else.
This question is quite difficult – out of every song you have written, which one would you say is your favourite?
Johnny: Ever? I like ‘Wrapped Up In A Carpet’ – I love that tune. It was an old demo that we did for ‘Wish To Scream’. We had this guy come down and play sax on it and I just loved making that track – it was great. That is my favourite Tribes tune, but I think the favourite track I have done so far for this solo project is probably Pilgrims.
Being such a creative person, do you ever take reviews of your music personally? Do you ever take it to heart for example when a music publication, who we shall refrain from naming, are one minute giving you loads of support and give your debut album a 9/10 – but then the next minute they’re giving your second album a mere 4/10?
Johnny: It was a bit of a shock to be fair when that happened. It was extremely, extremely difficult. I could say that we didn’t give a shit, but we really did. It wasn’t the reason Tribes split up, but it didn’t help. I was really shocked because we know those journalists personally. You can review a record however you want because you’re a journalistic publication and you should be able to say what you want. But, essentially you are damaging people’s careers and the music industry is so fucking small anyway that if you do back a band, I think you should try and give them a break.
Admittedly, music is a taste thing at the end of the day but I felt that, that review was kind of harsh because I love some of the tracks off that record and I loved making that record. In the end, it was like they tried to bury us as oppose to review our record – you can’t be on a major label and get reviews like that.
When you have initially got that support from a music publication then, do you ever for a moment think to yourself that they are definitely going to give you a good review?
Johnny: Well, that review for example, was just hilarious because I just remember reading it and feeling as if we weren’t given a fair chance and I was just really shocked by that. You just think like, how has this fucking happened? Unfortunately, a lot of blogs and stuff like that then cut and paste those quotes, because it is a good story – so then suddenly it goes a bit viral and everyone starts to slam the record and then you are in the shit.
I know you said that the bad review wasn’t the reason that Tribes broke up – but do you think that Tribes might not have split up if that album had been given a decent amount of good reviews?
Johnny: I don’t know. I just feel like it was…I just don’t know – it’s difficult to imagine it any other way now because it was such a tense summer. It was so difficult to get through all of that, but I don’t know – maybe, maybe not.
Okay, so you strike me as a very grounded musician and person – you don’t seem to be someone who would get caught up in the so-called ‘glamorous’ and sometimes dangerous side of being in a band or a musician – and every time that I saw you perform, you constantly seemed overwhelmed by the how far you had come. So how do you feel then when sometimes it wrote about you in a publication or on a website that isn’t to do with your music? It might be all speculation, but for example, when you were photographed leaving the NME Awards in 2012 with Caroline Flack, and it was briefly suggested that you two were an item – what was that like for you? Are things like that, something you just laugh off or do you once again take things to heart when you believe them to be made up?
Johnny: Haha well, I just think there was a load of shit at that time. Like, I just think it was because we were constantly on tour, the album had just come out, Dan with the Scarlet Johansson thing and we live in London. It was all bollocks man, we were just in the right place and I think people started to recognise us. I think you make a choice in London – you either want to be apart of that crowd or you don’t. Some of my best friends are doing really well within their creative industries, but you choose if you want somebody to take your photograph, but I just don’t see why you would want to be in the fucking Metro looking like shit haha.
So is that quite weird then and bizarre when a year or so prior you don’t have that kind of attention, but then all of a sudden you are in those circles and you’re being photographed etc?
Johnny: I think because there was just so much touring going on, it was almost difficult to try and think about it and I think because we were always away, it didn’t really happen too much. When you are with your mates anyway, I think that you stay grounded and none of our friends would allow us to become complete pricks. You’re not in it to be a pop star, so if I wanted to be that I couldn’t do that anyway – you’re in it to make some decent music. We had a lot of good mentoring as well at the start – especially with Blaine, who kind of showed us how to deal with that shit and how to behave.
Did you know Blaine before you supported the Mystery Jets?
Johnny: No, he just invited us on the tour, but we have become really good friends since. He just heard We Were Children and then they covered it on the radio -they gave us our break really. But I remember when we saw them perform to a big crowd and that – we took their lead on how to handle the fans, otherwise it might have been quite wild. Tribes was quite wild anyway, but we never had any moments of being a bit ‘wanky‘ or anything like that. We weren’t big enough to be like that and even the bands that are, like Kasabian, who we toured with, weren’t like that and there aren’t many people who are to be honest.
Okay, so finally – when can we expect to see you back on the road?
Johnny: I should start playing live again by the end of October – dates are being booked as we speak!
Johnny Lloyd’s debut E.P, ‘Pilgrims’ is available for free download now, along with his newest single, ‘Happy Humans’.
Interview by George Henry King.