Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Johnny Foreigner: Jo-Fo No Slow-Mos.

As the old adage goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But try telling that to today’s tykes of indie rock. So quickly have bands like Foals and Black Kids been projected into the upper-echelons of critical and commercial success, it’s difficult to imagine such immediate medal-grabbing resulting in anything other than long-term oblivion. After all, you’ve got to learn how to pace yourself.

With this in mind, it would be easy to cast Johnny Foreigner alongside this new breed of overnight sensations. Having shot from the blocks like a speed-freaking Ben Johnson with last year’s - praised in all quarters - mini-album Arcs Across The City, the Birmingham born trio’s debut LP Waited Up Til’ It Was Light is one of the indie blogosphere's most eagerly anticipated debuts of the year. So in the run-up to their maiden full-length release, I caught up with bassist Kelly to uncover whether the sprightly young group of frantic punk-poppers have the stamina to run the distance.

Pondering the superlatives being thrown in JoFo's direction thus far, the bubbly Brummie takes it all in her stride. “It was just amazing and totally flattering but it’s kind of put a bit of pressure on for the new record,” she confesses. “We were pretty proud of the record, but we didn’t think people would love it enough to give it that much. I mean how do you beat scores like ten out of ten? We’re thinking about bribing music magazines to give us eleven next time.”

Formed just over two years ago when college chums Alexei (guitars/vocals) and Junior (drums) coerced Kelly into enlisting in their pursuit of creating break-neck indie rock, Johnny Foreigner’s trajectory toward the top of the indie rag-pile has been meteoric. However, despite amassing plaudits from critics and bloggers alike in such a short space of time, Kelly struggles to pin down a point where success seemed inevitable.

“I don’t think there really was a moment when we thought: ‘Right that’s it, we can actually make a living out of this’ – it was more of a gradual progression,” she says coyly. “I suppose when we signed to Best Before [small London based label, also home to The Pistolas] it was maybe the time when we started thinking we could make something of it. They wanted us to be touring loads and we’ve always liked to do lots of gigs so it’s worked out well.”

With a blizzard of hype surrounding Waited Up Til It Was Light’s arrival, it would be forgivable if a few primadonna moments had crept into the band’s carefree attitude but Kelly believes change has come only in the form of tour-van spawned professionalism: “I think we’ve been so busy that we don’t have time to put emphasis on what people say,” she explains. “The only difference is that when we first started out we were pretty shambolic and all our gear was falling apart. Now we like to think about ourselves as a professional band; all our equipment works and we get to change our strings now and then.”

With the eyes of the mainstream gazing down on the band, does Kelly believe they'll ever curtail their misdemeanant ways and vitriolic snarl to play ball in the cash-rich courtyard of populism? “God, I dunno. We could turn into REM and sell to the masses before living in big hillside mansions,” she says mischievously before quickly retreading her steps: “Nah, nah. Honestly, we’ll be in wheelchairs playing the same old music before we do that. If not, it would be the end of Johnny Foreigner.”

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