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11th April 2017
METAL DISCOVERY: You have an album launch show coming up at the end of the month, in Reading… are you planning to play ‘The Big Dream’ in its entirety? Or a mix of both albums?
JOHN: I think we’ll be playing it, during the course of the evening, over the PA, but then we’ll do a mix and match setlist. I think we’ll do three tracks off the new one and a bunch of stuff off the first one. It’s not conceptual, so there’s no great reason to do it in its entirety.
(John Mitchell with his A&R head on)
"Once a month, we have what we call “demo day” and, I have to say, I’m like a satanic Simon Cowell, going, “NEXT… NEXT…”!"
Lonely Robot - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2016 - Lee Blackmore
John Mitchell Website:
Thanks to Freddy Palmer for arranging the interview
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MD: I guess so.
JOHN: I think that’s what bands do when they’re trying to relive their golden years, like The Wonder Stuff doing ‘Hup’ in its entirety, or whatever. But, I don’t think I’ve got to that point yet!
MD: I saw the Levellers in December doing all of ‘Levelling the Land’ for its twenty fifth anniversary. And I saw them when they did the entire album for its twentieth anniversary. If they’re still around, I’m sure they’ll be out there for thirty years of the album!
JOHN: Topping up their pension fund… although, it’s the Levellers, I imagine they don’t have a pension fund. Topping up the… I don’t know…
MD: The beer fund!
JOHN: The scrumpy fund, yeah!
MD: That’ll be the one. So, for the handful of live shows you’re doing for Lonely Robot, will The Astronaut character feature in the show at all… some geezer in an astronaut costume?
JOHN: Some geezer comes out in an astronaut costume and bothers people… you know, if you’re not careful, it’ll be naff, and I make a point of not wanting to do shows that are shitty. I want it to reflect the enormity of the music and I don’t want to overdo it, really. I do enjoy playing live, but not that much.
MD: Have you ever had any audience members turn up to previous Lonely Robot shows, attired in full astronaut garb?
JOHN: No, that hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully… yeah, we get some of that stuff with Frost*; everybody used to turn up with bananas. I don’t know why. One of the songs, we made a joke about it sounding like we were singing “big bananas”, so everybody turned up with bananas!
MD: I guess that’s your version of Iron Maiden fans turning up with Sooty puppets and throwing them at Nicko McBrain.
JOHN: There you go, yes, exactly.
MD: For the live lineup of Lonely Robot, you have Steve Vantsis on bass and Liam Holmes on keys… are you fairly prescriptive in how you want them to play songs’ recorded parts, or do you allow them a little freedom to add their own little flourishes here and there?
JOHN: Well, they can do whatever they like. I play the bass and everything on the album because, like I said, it’s nice to just get things done as and when you’re there and not have to rely on other people. I like being self-contained, you know, and I’m a bit of a hermit, anyway. But, these guys are fantastic musicians and they can interpret these songs as they like, and probably do a much better job of it than me. I mean, my keyboard playing’s pretty rudimentary, I have to say. And my bass playing, it’s okay, but Steve’s a bass player so he can do his own spin. I really don’t have any rules… they can do whatever they like.
MD: For people seeing the live shows, they’re gonna hear a different take on the music, kind of thing?
JOHN: They’re probably gonna hear a jazz explosion or something!
MD: I gather there was another outing for Twats in Hats recently, at the Frost* shows?
JOHN: Yeah.
MD: How are the Twats doing these days?
JOHN: The Twats are okay. I mean, they’re a rubbish support band, really, but they warm the punters up! A funny thing happened, I should tell you this… obviously, there’s no great mystery, it’s me and Jem playing a load of stuff that we really can’t play in Frost* and some Kino stuff and It Bites stuff and whatever, and we deconstruct ‘em. Mainly, we did it, because we don’t like support bands so we thought, if we support ourselves, we wouldn’t have to get angry at ourselves for unplugging channels and moving stuff around on stage. It’s just a bit of fun and we’ve slowly started turning into a bit of a comedy routine. But, it was quite funny the day before yesterday, in St Helens - this guy turned up and he’d got a ticket for the circle and was a bit disenchanted with that because he wanted to be downstairs and he didn’t like the seat he was put in. And we come on, and he sees me and Jem, with our silly little hats on, and says: “Who the fuck are these people? I don’t even know who these are. Fuck this, I’m going home!”
JOHN: He didn’t realise that Twats in Hats was me and Jem, arsing around. He thought it was a crap acoustic duo! And he got so affected by the fact he’d been given a seat he didn’t like, that he actually went home!
MD: So we can’t expect Twats in Hats’ debut album out on White Star Records at any point soon, then?
JOHN: Nah, it’s just a bit of fluff, to kill a bit of time.
MD: How’s it going with White Star Records?
JOHN: It’s going very well indeed. We’ve got some good releases this year. We’ve got Voices From The Fuselage, the next album from those guys. We’ve got Kim Seviour’s album coming out soon. And we’re gonna be doing the next Kepler Ten album. We just want to keep it kind of small and give our full attention to the things we do have. It’s like a hobby label but I like to think it’s a good hobby label.
MD: Do you get a lot of satisfaction by signing new bands and artists, and being able to give them a helping hand in this way?
JOHN: Well, like I said, I’ve got extremely high standards. Once a month, we have what we call “demo day” and, I have to say, I’m like a satanic Simon Cowell, going, “NEXT… NEXT…”! It’s great when you do hear something that resonates with you, like in seconds, and that was certainly the case with Kepler Ten. I love that band. And Voices, as well. Yeah, it’s a nice other string to the bow, you know.
MD: But you’ve got to sift through the shit to get to the gems...
JOHN: Well, you can tell whether something’s going to be good within a few seconds, normally. And there’s been a lot of really good stuff but, you know, we’re not in a position to sign everything, so we have to pick and choose a bit.
MD: The final thing, then, to bring it back to the album, I guess… what’s the last, most surreal dream… or nightmare… you can remember having?
JOHN: The most surreal nightmare… well, I’m trying to remember… yeah, I had a nightmare the other day, just after the St Helens gig, actually. Somebody travelled quite a distance to come and see the band, and that always unnerves me. I have a go at English people because they don’t like to travel to gigs. They don’t like to travel anywhere, if it’s not on their doorstep. The other thing about English people is they always say, “oh, come and play in Skegness Social Hall” because they can’t be arsed to travel twenty miles to the nearest big town. I always go, “well, I can’t be bothered to go to Skegness Social Hall, so fine!” But, when people travel a really long way, like getting a flight over from Germany or Switzerland or wherever, I find that a bit… not unnerving, but I always think, well, that’s slightly obsessive, so I had a dream of being stabbed to death by a fan. So, yeah, I had a bit of a nutter/stalker nightmare!
MD: If you wanted to read it that way. If you looked at the meaning behind the dream, it could’ve been something totally innocuous!
JOHN: Yeah, I’m just wary of people!
MD: Right, thank you so much for your time, it’s been very interesting.
JOHN: No worries, and thank you for taking time out to speak to me.