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.
you find it hard to establish yourself within the British music
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
whole band live in different parts of the country. Is it hard to
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.
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.
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
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
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
Julian Johnson, February 2005.