“Four arms, four legs, two heads, wood, metal and plastic. A band of two Johns from Crystal Palace, London.” This is their own description, and it’s fucking perfect! JOHN is without any kind of doubt one of the most exciting acts in the world right now, their sound is different, refreshing and they do it with a flow and relentlessness that will keep listeners totally engaged. Nocturnal Manoeuvres uniqueness is the absolute proof of that. We talked to JOHN about their brilliant new album, the great Michael Haneke and much more… If you’re new to JOHN, go listen to Nocturnal Manoeuvres, get ready to get agitated and shed some rage.
First of all, how would you describe yourselves to someone who is not familiar with your sound?
I think the first note is to remind people we pride ourselves on being a live band. It’s an energetic project and it makes most sense echoing off the walls and bodies of a room. I think most would agree that we’re a rock band, but with emphasis on rethinking some of the more repeatable expectancies of such a genre.
Who are JOHN and where did you meet?
John Newton (Drums/Vox) & Johnny Healey (Guitars/Vox). We met whilst living in the same University accommodation after years of musical discussions at numerous pubs and parties. We finally got together in a rehearsal room on completion of our studies and never really looked back – most of the city attached to these memories has been demolished or redeveloped!
What’s the biggest difference between JOHN five years ago versus now? How do you think you’ve changed musically as an artist between now and then?
Rather naturally (and thankfully), we are just better musicians and better creatives. The years of practice make you equipped in making decisions when working through a project. There is, however, a satisfaction in seeing how the project has blossomed over the years (from our first album in 2017, to our third in 2021). The band has grown with our own lives and interests – we haven’t just emerged in a sterile fully-formed manner. You can certainly see a journey through the three albums and we are still hungry to push on from last year’s release – which is reassuring after almost a decade of work.
What does the title of the album (Nocturnal Manuvoeuvres) mean?
Through 2020, we were forced to think about the constant demands of the labour of work, and we discussed a lot about individuals who end up working against their own circadian rhythm in order to make a living. Nocturnal Manoeuvres managed to capture the essence of these thoughts in a short statement – whilst leaving things open-ended. We’re not interested in making direct statements, so we’re liked that the title can be read in a multitude of ways.
I’m completely addicted to the song “Power Out to the Kingdom”, for me this song is perfect. I love the way you guys throw out the conventional song structure and you keep adding new layers and different levels of intensity. It’s fucking brilliant! What’s the story behind it?
Thank you, we both feel like this is a song that deliberately pushed us structurally – especially as a two piece with a limited amount of limbs. There’s a pretty haunting dreamlike quality thanks to a less riff-based approach. Johnny has such a talent for these types of guitar lines and it’s something that we’ve realised that we should make use of more often. Lyrically, it touches upon the labour of work once more, and how the pressures creep through the smallest elements and images of our lives.
Because it looks quite obvious, is the track “Haneke’d” some sort of reference or influenced by the almighty Michael Haneke?
It is, of course, a pretty obvious signpost to his work within film. The title’s intention was to turn his name into an ‘effect’. He’s obviously a master of activating a passive audience – albeit in wonderfully poetic and sometimes terrifying ways. I started my knowledge of his work with his debut ‘Seventh Continent’. It’s so meticulously put together, and is a really successful critique of the perceived perfection of the accelerating consumerism of the late 80’s/90’s – a period that we have both of us have lived through as people.
With the new album, has your recording process changed at all?
Having released all but our last record completely independently (via our own label Pets Care) it was nice to afford a little more time in the studio this time round. This meant we could focus more attention on achieving the greater sense of space that the songs deserved. We switched up instruments more often – one example being the choice of snare drum for different characters/moods. Post-recording was also slightly different, we brought in mastering engineer Sarah Register (Protomartyr / Future Islands / Chastity Belt) who just gave the album another incredibly spatial lift.
Does your creative process lean more on the methodical side or is it spontaneous?
I feel that it’s a good combination of the two. We really rely on the spontaneity of our bodily responses inside the writing room. We then tend to sculpturally chip away at each idea to refine structure. So, it really is the push and pull of chaos and control – and it’s important not to lose that when the ideas get brought into the rehearsal room.
What was it like to work again with the always great Wayne Adams on the producer duties?
Wayne has grown with us from our debut God Speed In The National Limit in 2017 so it’s been great to build ambition and scale with each release – taking notes on past successes and pushing them further on the next release. He’s also very well versed in suggesting and adding small textures which really make the difference across an album’s span.
Are there any tough influences to detect which have defined John’s sound? Things that go beyond the boundaries of your sound?
I think we’re always picking up on certain sounds and dynamic shifts regardless of genre or category. As mentioned earlier, Johnny writes some wonderfully ambient-feeling guitar lines, and we’ve both always enjoyed the mechanical repetition of more industrial sounds. I feel they are noticeable in the music but maybe not so immediate.
How about your non-musical influences?
We’re always active in discussing external thoughts and details that fold into our music. I come from a visual arts background (as opposed to music) so I’ve always taken a lot of lyrical inspiration from artists, filmmakers or writers whom I admire. Most of these figures are individuals who capture the fallout of everyday life, taking small debris rearranging it into new forms.
“Non-essential Hymn” really rounds things out. Impressive! Nothing to ask here, if you want to add anything about the album closer be my guest…
It’s certainly one of our live favourites with the repetitive layers that rise and fall. We felt that simply increasing volume throughout the end section would be a little too simple, so we opted for a elongated section with subtle changes – mostly influenced by krautrock bands if I recall. There was something satisfying mechanical about it, which links appropriately back to the influences I mentioned earlier.
What does the future hold for JOHN?
We’re in the thick of mulling over brand new ideas whilst having a bunch of shows and festivals through Spring/Summer.