DATE OF INTERVIEW:
11th April 2017
METAL DISCOVERY: You’ve compared Craig to Animal from The Muppets, in terms of the energy he has behind the kit… does he have any of Animal’s personality traits, too?
JOHN: [Laughs] No! Craig is an extremely entertaining individual… the banter between me and him, it’s unspoken… it’s so quick, you know; it’s like I don’t even have time to think, sometimes. It’s kind of like intuitive between me and Craig. He doesn’t really throw sticks at anybody or set fire to people, or anything like that! He’s a pretty straight-ahead guy, really. But he does like building a shed, I’ll give him that. He’s obsessed with drums; he’s absolutely obsessed. You know, sometimes you hear about session drummers, and I’ve worker with a lot of session drummers, and some of ‘em seem, frankly, bored. But, Craig, he’s still fascinated by rhythm and counting and… you know, all of his drum kind of things. I’m fascinated by the fact that he can make something really simple sound really difficult. It kind of takes half of my job away from me. I can write the most simple piece of music and he plays drums on it and, all of a sudden, everybody thinks I’m genius! Well, they don’t think I’m a genius at all, but it’s like as almost as if I wrote that. He makes the stuff that I write sound unfathomable. And I love the energy he brings to it. It’s like having a rocket put up your arse; it’s fucking brilliant!
(John Mitchell on working with drummer, Craig Blundell)
"It’s like having a rocket put up your arse; it’s fucking brilliant!"
Lonely Robot - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2016 - Lee Blackmore
MD: To balance things out then, what Muppet would you liken yourself to?
JOHN: I don’t have to be one of the Muppets in the band; I could be any Muppet?
MD: Any Muppet, yeah.
JOHN: Can I be both Statler and Waldorf?
JOHN: Incredibly grumpy and critical!
MD: Is that you in forty years’ time?
JOHN: If there is a forty years’ time, my god, I’d hate to think what I’d be like then! I am the most grumpy, curmudgeony person you’ll ever meet! So, yeah, Statler and Waldorf!
MD: You sound quite cheerful, I have to say…
MD: Do you know what, I interviewed the great Rick Wakeman a few years ago now, and I said that to him. He was wearing some kind of grumpy t-shirt, and he has the grumpy reputation on the go and so forth… so I asked what the whole grumpy thing was about because he’s the most laidback, funny guy. And he said, “yeah, but grumpy is funny”.
JOHN: Yeah, grumpy can be just curmudgeony, but I like to think that I’m very sardonic. I think that’s a better word than grumpy. I have very high standards; I expect far too much of people!
MD: You’re quoted in press blurb as saying that you’re not one for working song titles; you like to have the titles firmed up from the off. So, in that sense, are you able to forge a much more sincere connection between the music and the themes, so that one reflects the other?
JOHN: Absolutely. I find it unfathomable when a band comes in the studio and the guy singing the songs is still writing the lyrics on the day of recording. That’s the most insane thing to me. The whole thing should be part and parcel. At the risk of sounding like an absolute, utter hippy, once you’ve got your song title, it’s like making a little cloud and all the lyrics are like rain, and everything comes. I wouldn’t want to start writing a song without a title in place. I like wordplay in titles; I like interesting titles.
I tell you what, I’ll give you a good example of this… I remember Funeral For A Friend came in the studio many, many years ago, when they first started out, and we were doing the demos for their second album; it was called ‘Hours’. They wrote a song and I remember him writing the lyrics, Matt, the singer, I remember him writing in the studio and remember thinking, “well, that’s a bit odd… you’ve left that to the last minute.” And I said, “what’s the song called?”, and he said, “I don’t know.” I said, “well, we need a title”, and he said, “oh, ‘Marlon Brando’.” So, he decided to call the song ‘Streetcar’, after ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. So, the only reason that song is called ‘Streetcar’ is because Marlon Brando had died, and it had nothing to do with the lyrics… I don’t even know what he was singing about.
MD: A hundred per cent random.
JOHN: It was so random, I thought… I mean, obviously, that worked for him and I don’t want to speak ill of other people, but it seemed so juxtaposed to the way I could imagine writing a song that I thought I never want to do that.
MD: It seems less sincere doing it that way.
JOHN: Well, if anybody asks him why it’s called that… I mean, the lyrics seem to be about a girl or something, and then he’s called it after ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’… you know, because Marlon Brando had died. You know, I thought, well, this is nonsense!
JOHN: I thought I’m never going to do that. I’m gonna to write a song, I’m going to know what the title is, I know what it’s gonna be about, and the title is gonna reflect what the song’s about. So, ‘In Floral Green’… and ‘Cartoon Graveyard’, which is something I wrote for It Bites, just sounds interesting. And ‘Cartoon Graveyard’, for me, is when you start becoming a parody of yourself and you start living up to your own stupid reputation. You know, everything’s got to mean something, but the more enigmatic sounding and weird sounding and esoteric sounding, the better, as far as I’m concerned.
MD: Would you describe Lonely Robot as your own “big dream” in any way, in terms of the creative autonomy it gives you?
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely. I’m not done with bands; I’m done with the process of… you know, I love the camaraderie. I just got back from tour with Frost*… I say tour, it was three days… who am I kidding?! A tourette!
MD: Is that a tour with lots of swearing?!
JOHN: That’s a tour with vast amounts of profanity! And I love being around people. You know, it’s a very strange dynamic in Frost*. Nathan’s like Fonzie - he’s really tall and laidback. Me and Craig have got our own stupid little… I mean, we kind of bicker with each other, like Hinge and Bracket. Jem’s like the chancellor of Frost*. It’s kind of very strange, but it works, and I enjoy being around those guys. But, when it comes to making music, I occasionally like writing with other people because I think it does make you a better musician.
I have a very strange, simple rule - when I write a song, I get up in the morning, I start writing it at 7 o’clock, I start recording it and, by the end of the day, come hell or high water, there will be a basic recording outline with the vocal and instrumentation done… I like to know that something exists by the end of that evening that didn’t exist that morning. Jem, he doesn’t work like that; he’ll spend a week doing something, or tinkering with the keyboard sound. The energy that you get from writing a song in a short period of time, you can’t recreate if you spend far too much time focussing on one thing. Capturing the energy, the initial idea, has to happen quickly. And then you can arse around, rolling it in glitter later.
That’s my rule, and Jem doesn’t work like that, so he’s found that quite invigorating. But, then again, he’s got his own set of ideas about… everybody’s has their own “go to” chord changes and sequences. Fortunately, Jem and I tend to think about them… you know, we both love John Barry and the kind of weird chord changes he has. So, we tend to absorb those kind of things but then he’ll go and have a spin on it that I haven’t thought of and vice versa. So, it is important to work with other people… but I do get absolutely fucking fed up waiting around for other people to get on with things.
MD: Lonely Robot’s the perfect vehicle for that, I guess.
JOHN: Yeah, it just means I can roll out of bed in the morning and get on with it. Certainly, in the bands I’ve worked with in the past, you know, like… well, fuck it, It Bites… you know, I love John Beck very dearly, but he’s on his own timeframe and it can be frustrating, waiting around for him. He’s a genius, but it comes with baggage!
JOHN: He’s a great person to write with but, from a temporal perspective, it’s quite frustrating.
MD: I gather it’s always been the plan to have a trilogy of albums for The Astronaut character, so have you had any ideas for the third and final setting?
JOHN: Not yet, no. Right now, I’m not thinking about making music. I’m thinking about going sailing and polishing the car!
JOHN: When the moment comes, we’ll know about it, but I tend to do it as and when required, you know.