When did you realise music would play a huge part in your life?
There was never a sudden realisation, it always has been from about as far back as I can remember. I wanted to be in a band from around the age of 8 when I was obsessed with Kiss. I got a bass guitar when I was 13 and taught myself by playing along to records and eventually I became more interested in playing six string guitar and switched to that.

Did you find it hard to establish yourself within the British music scene?
Even though I've had two records out here I couldn't honestly say I feel like I'm established in the British music scene. I was in the U.K. for about 4 years before I met anyone I could seriously make music with, so that took a while. Once I knuckled down and started to really concentrate on my own songwriting around 1998 the band then came together quite quickly. Things were going well right at the beginning and then suddenly there was too much attention too soon but without any real pay-off. I made a few wrong turns and it all got out of control. The whole history of the band has been a real battle and in retrospect it seems miraculous to me that either of those albums were ever made - particularly the second one.

How did McGee and Poptones enter your life?
It was a chain of events that started with a demo I did in the summer of 1999. It made it to the A & R guys at Creation who were into it but nothing ever came of it initially. Around the time Creation was shut down, at the end of '99, one of those guys - Marc Brown - brought along Ian Johnsen (who had worked in production at Creation) to see us play and soon after he began working at Poptones. Being a fan of the band he passed the demo on to McGee who also liked it, so he came down to a few of our rehearsals in the spring of 2000. He offered to sign us up so we jumped at it. I was dying to make the first album and at the time it was exciting to be a part of his new venture.

What were the weirdest,worst and most enjoyable gigs you've performed?
The weirdest and most enjoyable would have to be one and the same, and those are the shows we played in Japan at the end of 2001. It was weird because it seemed so unlikely that we should be playing there, it was organised quite quickly and even up to the moment we left at the airport we weren't quite sure we were actually going. The full-on, sensory overload aspect of arriving in Tokyo also added to the weirdness, and that combined with horrendous jetlag and not being able to sleep from excitement gave the week an altogether surreal nature.
What made it so enjoyable was that all the Japanese people who were looking after us - the band we toured with, their crew and generally everyone we met - were just so friendly, polite and helpful. It's nothing like doing gigs in the U.K., not on the smaller venue circuit anyway. We had great equipment, amazing sound and the crowds were really receptive.
The worst? Too many to chose from. I don't like to complain about it, because to be lucky enough to be given the opportunity to get up and play is a great thing, but in our case it just went wrong so often. Playing in the canteen area of the university in the middle of Dublin and being stopped after 4 songs because the support bands over-ran and after having driven all day to get there was fairly upsetting. We laughed about it later on though and it became known as the 'Live from the Buttery' gig.

Did you send Yoko Ono a copy of Motion Sickness? Why cover the song 'Have you seen a horizon lately'.Are you worried about the amount of cover music in the modern era? Where have all the songwriters gone?
I haven't sent her a copy yet, but I've been meaning to.That was a song that I really loved that my wife Ana had put on a compilation tape she made me ages ago. The original version has quite a different arrangement and feel but if you strip it down it's so simple, as you can hear on my version, and as with any cover version that I've done or would do, the lyrics resonate in some way.
I wouldn't say I'm worried about the amount of cover versions around, there're definitely too many bad covers out there and I think people totally miss the point by doing straight versions, but if it's a good song to begin with and someone can take it and make it their own somehow and really do it justice then I think that's a great thing. There's really no better way to honour a good songwriter.
There're plenty of songwriters out there, more than people can cope with probably; it seems you have to look harder to find the truly great ones these days.

After the second album you disbanded January but came back with a completely different line-up. How difficult was this in almost starting afresh?
I never made a conscious decision to disband the group, it collapsed in on itself over the course of several months during 2002. There were all sorts of problems, massive amounts of frustration and ultimately it didn't seem to be fun for anyone involved any more, which should always be the main reason for making music.
For almost a year I hardly had anything to do with it apart from slowly getting the release of Motion Sickness organised with Must Destroy. It got to the point where eventually I had the urge to get together with some other people and play again, and my friends Giles, Karl and Alison came on board one by one until we were rehearsing regularly with a view to playing a few shows around the release of the second album in early 2004. Other than that there was no plan and it was really enjoyable, very relaxed and everyone seemed so enthusiastic. So to answer the question, it wasn't difficult at all starting afresh, it happened very naturally.

Since your relocation to Scotland, has this brought about a change for the next album?
It has in two ways. Firstly, from a practical point of view it's made me need to get more motivated to get anything happening, what with the distance involved for organising things. Second, from a creative point of view, living in the country and having more space has generally made me more relaxed, which I find has been a benefit for writing. Towards the end of my time living in London I was so uptight I had almost shut down creatively. I've been playing and recording at home more up here, although lyrically I feel I have even less to say if that's possible! The landscape where I live is so vast and beautiful you can start to feel completley insignificant, the opposite to being in the city where theres so many people in your face every day that it can make you very insular and self-centred, which can be good or bad for art I suppose depending on how you look at it, but it definitely wasn't good for me. So on the next album I'll try to say more by saying less,if that's not completely ridiculous.

The whole band live in different parts of the country. Is it hard to rehearse,record,gig,etc..?
There's been a bit of long distance demo-ing tapes being sent back and forth which is fine, but rehearsing and gigs are difficult and haven't happened yet. It's not impossible though.

Is there a methodology in your songwriting?
Not really. I try not to labour over a song too much, I know I'm not the first to say that the ones that happen spontaneously are usually the best, and if you're having to work at them too much it's a sign that it's not great. I apply tough quality control to what I come up with and throw out a high percentage.

You go out of your way to be low key, yet your last album had some strong reviews in well established music journals. Is this intentional or would you actually like more adulation?
I haven't deliberately gone out of my way to be low key, I'm just not that good at pushing myself or my music in people's faces. It seems that without lots of luck you have to be a certain type of person to make any headway, or have strong management (which i don't have).
To get the music over to a bigger audience and possibly to make some kind of living out of doing the thing I love would be amazing, who wouldn't want that? But I wouldn't have moved to the west coast of Scotland if it was adulation I was after; that's not really the word.

What's currently being played on the McLean turntable?
Townes Van Zandt, Elliot Smith, Bruce Springsteen, lots of country blues, lots of Bob, and mostly the new live album by Magnolia Electric Co, the latest incarnation of Jason Molina, definitely a truly great songwriter!

Interview with Julian Johnson, February 2005.

 

 

 

Above left: Album cover for Motion Sickness, Must Destroy Music. Above right: album cover for I heard myself in you, Poptones Ltd, 2001.