Johnno Casson is a rare breed – a singer-songwriter that writes lyrically perfect pop. As well as releasing records under his own name, he is also known as Snippet and Old Tramp allowing him total musical freedom with no constraints.
He also writes for Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net blog and is the most featured artist on BBC6’s Introducing. When the chance came for Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates to have a chat he did, and it was quite a long one!
Louder Than War: Do I call you Johnno, Snippet or Old Tramp?
Johnno: You call me Sir or Master or how about King, yeah King could be good ha. Mind you, King was what a lot of people used to call their dog so maybe not King, they call them things like Dave or Pixiebelle nowadays don’t they?
Nah, call me what you want. People call me different things, close family call me Johnny, or Dad, a great deal of people John, my brother calls me Johnno of the yard fame – as a former band mate had christened me when I kept asking too many questions, like I was from Scotland Yard. The Johnno part stuck, James Levelle (UNKLE, Mo’ Wax) added an extra ‘n’ to the Johnno on a record sleeve so that stuck too. Some people like to call me ‘J’ or ‘JC’, Snippet is popular too and people did have a lot of fun to begin with by opening emails to me with ‘hello you old tramp’ – oh the gift of wit – but that tailed off somewhat when I’d reply saying I was an actual old tramp and would be coming over to their house as they were so friendly.
As I am way too polite I never correct people so its pretty much your choice, except if you call me Jonathan – if you call me that I will kill you and your kith and kin obviously.
How’s your World at the moment?
Its reet champion, it’s full of beer, football, old but stylish trainers, loud shouty dance music, edgy indie music, cheap old keyboards that sound wonderfully wonky and crisps and beards, but mostly crisps.
I’m also shooting lots of video footage, which I hope to turn into an Old Tramp video of some kind very soon.
And you know what? I’m excited! Excited about the forthcoming release, about a new project really taking shape, about being on a great little boutique record label out of the U.S (Three Sixty Records), about seeing what the world thinks about my new thing and crisps, yep I’m excited about crisps, oh how they taunt me with their crinkly ends.
As Snippet, you’re the most played artist on BBC6’s Introducing. How does that feel?
All tingly inside. (smiles)
It was an honour to know my music had featured so often and was so well received.
To be honest, I’m chuffed that I can do the thing I love everyday – making music, and there is nothing better than hearing your own music on a radio show, that lovely warm and toasty feeling you get never leaves you.
To be fair though, I was named as the most played artist on the BBC 6 Introducing show Fresh On The Net and in the last year or so I have stepped aside to give some new blood a chance, its only fair we give the new ‘uns a chance after all. (winks)
Do you think they might eventually put a blue plaque on my old house in Dalston?
I feel very lucky to have had Tom Robinson be such a massive supporter of the music I make as Snippet for quite a few years now. Basically he has played so much Snippet music on his radio shows since originally featuring Grow a Moustache from my debut EP in 2008.
He has really championed what I do and I am extremely grateful & thankful.
It was Tom who actively encouraged me to develop and release The Imposter, he even made a video for it – what a guy!
It was the music I make as Snippet and my championing of new music artists that Tom said made him invite me to be a member of his Fresh On The Net music blog a couple of years ago. So as well as making my own music I can also be found writing about and moderating on new music for the blog and I am proud to be part of it.
Thanks Tom for everything. (kisses)
You have recently been part of the Ralph’s Life cd for mental health awareness. How keen were you to participate?
I was very keen to be involved, Mike Lindley (aka Ralph’s Life head honcho, ably assisted by Lynn Gerrard) is a lovely guy and most importantly mental health is something that has impacted on the lives of so many people so raising awareness and talking about things like this are extremely important as there are still so many who won’t talk about these things. Mental health has thrown its dark cloud over some of my own family and friends and I was more than happy to offer the Snippet track Celebration for the Ralph’s Life CD. It was also great to be involved in the live launch day where I opened a day of music at Proud Camden recently-Met some lovely dedicated people too.
Big up to Ralphs Life, The Fine Line Project and Rethink For Mental Illness.
Twitter or Facebook?
Lately I would say Twitter shades it but they both can be great.
From a personal perspective Facebook wins because I can keep in touch with family who I don’t see regularly and they can display more data about their lives, which is nice. From an artist perspective Twitter is the one that really helps connect the dots and people can keep in touch with what you are up to, plus if I am completely drunk I only need a few words or a dodgy photo to make my point. An interesting thing happened last week, Facebook was completely down for 3 days for me and all of a sudden I seemed to have loads of time in my life – I could go outside, see the sun shining, birds flying, neighbours washing their cars etc – it was a beautiful novelty rather than spending hours fikking about on Facebook, of course as soon as it came back online I stopped going outside, oh fick.
There are also lots of new social network platforms popping up all the time that music artists should keep in touch with, they probably have names like Twaddle, Pantsinterchange and Me, Me & Me, probably.
I have 2 sheds already – shock, horror, probe!!! Yep, we are a 2 shed family – I know how the other half live eh!
One shed is to put unimportant stuff in and the other to film the Snippet World videos in, and put more unimportant stuff in out of season – there’s a lot of unimportant stuff around here you know.
I now call the Snippet shed – the leaning tower of shed as it is wonky in the extreme but that’s part of its charm. Sometimes the shed gets more attention than me, people from across the world contact me asking if I have any new photos of my shed! Like – come on – vaguely good looking beardy man here – hello! People – pah. (winks)
I am very much a D.I.Y artist but the stories of me living in the shed are a myth I’ll tell thee. I write, record & produce all the music for Old Tramp, no massive studio’s here – a dirty synth under my arm, dirty beat in my heart & a twinkle in my boulevard!
I love the creative process, I don’t take myself too seriously but I am very proud of my music and I do mean business when you get passed the dry humour. I do it because I love it and I enjoy nothing more than writing new songs of which I do a hell of a lot.
There’s a real sense of community nowadays with Indie artists, do you feel a growing feeling of collectiveness?
I always say I am part of a musical community rather than a musical industry. One is about sharing ideas, collaborating & helping people get on, the other is about money.
I have found that for years the music community is a great place to be and collectiveness is a constant though in all seriousness its worth noting that the music markets are so incredibly over saturated that I can see a dog eat dog mentality slipping in with some folk. I guess that’s inevitable but my mantra is take people with you when you grow, ie – share your knowledge, your mistakes made etc, and build strong relationships over time and they will hold for the future.
As my brother said to me a number of years ago – just be creative and things will happen, don’t worry about competing, about success, about money which is easier said than done of course – just be creative – it’s worked so well for me has that.
Your children appeared on the Snippet D.I.Y. album several times – are they budding musicians?
They were just children I bought online for a fairly decent fee. Well the P & P was a bit steep to be honest but hey, kids ain’t as cheap as they used to be, so I couldn’t possibly comment.
Hackney or Colchester?
Oh both have my heart, it would be liking choosing one of your children over the other – ok – I’ll go for the good looking one. (winks)
Who are your musical influences?
So many things have influenced me musically and I have listened to a hell of a lot of music in my time. Everything from kids TV to movies, from music in clubs to noises in pubs, from snatches of life on the street to mash up’s with a pirate radio beat. I definitely think my upbringing in Hackney, London jumps out of this record, it’s very English, very old school urban but with a pop shaped top coat. I think Old Tramp resonates with the sounds I grew up with in an array of British Pop music, reggae, dance and funk with a tasty dash of the best the USA threw at me.
In terms of artists who influenced the Old Tramp sound then I would say Eels, The Smiths, Merz, Dennis Bovell, The Woodentops, Gorillaz, Gary Numan, The Clash, Augustus Pablo, Bobby Womack, Depeche Mode, Grandaddy, The Meters, T Rex, Ra Ra Riot.
What music of today excites you?
Blimey, have you a spare week for me to tell you about it ha?
There is a crazy amount of wonderful music out there for people to choose from, for me 90% of the very best & most interesting work is purely independent and very often its D.I.Y in that artists are making/funding/releasing it themselves or amongst a small group of friends.
The best stuff hangs out in the margins, in the undergrowth, independent and proud.
Use Soundcloud, read blogs in the genre of your choice, go to gigs, get involved, support music and musicians, dance a lot, make noise, be young and foolish always.
What The Clash said in Hitsville UK still stands now, albeit with more software rather than hardware, it’s all the same.
Well, Old Tramp is one man – J Casson esq.
Old Tramp make Tramp Pop, what’s Tramp Pop you say? Well its music with dirty beats, crunchy synths and songs choc full of lyrical character – that is what Tramp Pop is. Its also dare I say it, a very unique electronic sound with a gritty mischievous British under carriage. All made by one man (my bad self) from conception to production with another man (a very nice chap called Wim Oudijk) being trusted with the mastering – think about it – would you trust an old tramp to master your tracks?
Its also one of the loveliest projects I have been involved in for donkeys years, it’s that good that every Old Tramp day is so well lived it feels like 10 in the real world.
I have a debut EP called This is Tramp Pop released on 15th April on Three Sixty Records, give it a try and surprise your friends by telling them you have fallen for an Old Tramp.
An Old Tramp album is planned too so keep it tramp pop lovely people.
Ever thought of having a triple headline tour – Johnno Casson, Snippet and Old Tramp?
Now that would be something special. (smiles)
I didn’t start off with the idea of lots of different styled musical projects under different names, it just came from suggestions from supporters of my music and a nagging feeling that each project was different enough from each other.
I’ve been making wonky indie pop as Snippet for about 8 years or so, working alone on the writing and the recording of the songs and then sending the tracks off to be produced by my long time collaborator and friend Wim Oudijk, with the exception of the recent Snippet album D.I.Y which I produced myself, although Wim did a great job in mastering it. Oh and by the way, its testament to the power of internet collaborations that I have worked with Wim for 6 years and we have yet to meet in person!
Anyway, about 4 years ago I got really ill and had to give up work. I was pretty much bed ridden for a year not knowing what was wrong with me. Gradually I have been getting better and music, along with a massively supportive family has been my saving grace.
A couple of years ago I was preparing for a Snippet project when out of the blue I started writing songs which were in the main about the health breakdown I had suffered a couple of years earlier. It was reflective and often personal material that had very much an acoustic sound at its heart. These songs were quite a departure from the playful, bouncy and some might say – electronic hearted Snippet sound that had been presented up until that point so it just didn’t feel like a Snippet project, it felt markedly different. After being unsure what guise to put this material out under, I listened to friends, supporters and my own heart and put it out under my own name Johnno Casson, via the fine imprint that is Folkwit Records. The album was called Window Shopping.
Though there are those that thankfully like everything I put out it has been interesting to have supporters who might only follow the Snippet material or the Johnno or Old Tramp material.
So where does Old Tramp come into it, well Old Tramp started almost by accident with the writing of one song Kiss My Arse and no expectation at all.
The song was a playful two fingers up to someone who told me I couldn’t just do what I wanted with the music I make and there had to be rules that needed to be followed so I put it out under the newly invented pseudonym just to prove a point, to get a reaction – sure but really to test whether anyone would treat it differently if they didn’t think it was Snippet song. I did it all without telling anybody – all incognito like. Within a week of producing it Old Tramp had been played by BBC Introducing, BBC 6 Music and Amazing Radio and had been invited to play, with his 5 piece indie dance backing band??, at the opening of a couple of new nightclubs in London and Hertfordshire.
With one song written and from getting such a great response for it I felt truly liberated to be able to make music with no ties to anything else I had done, no fears of difficult second album syndrome, it just felt like I could experiment with sound, with voices/lyrics – the whole nine years and it felt bloody brilliant.
What started as one song which was probably destined to be a Snippet song to be honest became this new exciting and mystery project and gave me a massive bout of inspiration for writing more music with no constraints. I proceeded to write an album’s worth of Old Tramp material over the following month during which I was well and truly outed by Tom Robinson live on BBC 6 Music – bless him, he did ask me first – who can say no to Tom Robinson?
The following period up until the debut EP This is Tramp Pop release has been taken up by fine tuning the best way forward in discussions with record labels. I am very proud to have signed Old Tramp to Three Sixty Records, a wonderful boutique label based in California, USA.
So, that was a very long winded way to answer the question but I felt the answer needed to have a little more meat put on its bones. (smiles) I do not have multiple personality disorder I just have a wide range of musical loves. Someone said to me recently that what I was doing was similar to how Damon Albarn works at any one time on a number of different titled projects.
Ultimately all of these projects have me as the common thread running through them so to answer tour original question – I think it would be a wonderfully interesting tour to bring all my projects together. Just keep shouting people to make it happen and you never know.
I’m coming for tea, what are you cooking?
So you tell your wife you are going to tea with an old tramp, what would she expect you to be fed?
Well I wouldn’t want to disappoint you or her so how about two cheese triangles that I’ve been keeping in my pocket for just the right occasion, 1 and ¼ cracker(s) of an unknown make, some sweet sherry of suspicious origins, an onion, three M & M’s – one for you, two for me – hey I’m making this meal Godammit! Half a carefully washed hamburger and seven crisps. Smokey bacon – sorry.
Your songs are obviously from the heart, some dark, some humorous. What drives you on?
Many are from my heart its true, though plenty are about people I meet or situations/characters I observe on my travels.
What drives me on is an innate need to be creative, in my case with music and to get better at doing it. Life in all its rich tapestry pushes me forward too.
I have been making music since I was 15 and I am just starting to hit my stride, it took me a while to get where I am, to know who I am I guess. I plan to be here for the long haul, I want to one day be that really old man you stumble upon who makes wonderfully vibrant music whilst looking as weathered as hell.
I was listening to the words of Ron Sexsmith’s Late Bloomer today and they really resonated with me.
My songs ARE my saviours, its a bit like an internal clearing system, once a song comes to me or I start a project I am locked into it and I have a real, joyful sense of ensuring it gets done, like it’s my legacy and what I’ll leave behind good or bad.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
To remain a force of nature ha.
To get the Old Tramp album sorted and continue to write and record the next Snippet and Johnno albums. I’ve taken the tack now that when the songs come I record them, I don’t question where they come from, just follow the inspiration that arrives with the song from the ether and when they are ready, they are ready.
I am a prolific writer of songs but that is tempered with the fact that I am my own master and do not have to answer to the music industry machine. I’ve had my share of bigger mainstream record deals and that always comes at a price kids, people who often know little about songwriting suddenly want to shape your songs and have you writing on demand for a specific brief that may or may not actually exist, no thanks – happier with how I operate now.
To do lots of interesting live dates. Where’s that triple header tour? Sort it out guys!
To run my new Sunday afternoon club The Warm And Toasty Club with my mate Ben Howard on a monthly basis soon.
To be happy & healthy.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog. Paul is working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, the BBCs longest running alternative music programme. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow hiapop Blog on Twitter, @hiapop.