We are buzzing to be bringing together two of our favorite Johns for this interview: John Carroll and John MOuse. John Carroll, who kindly agreed to come up with the following questions, is originally from the Republic of Ireland, but has been based in Hangzhou, China for many years. During this time his achievements include establishing a record label and helping acts perform in China, whilst also producing critically acclaimed music of his own. Carroll has toured this vast country either as part of a band or as a solo artist, one of the first foreigners to ever do so independently following China’s opening up – playing tiny venues through to huge festivals – and everywhere in between. He is also a skilled animator. John MOuse, hailing from Wales, has received rave reviews from numerous respected music publications including The Line of Best Fit, Drowned in Sound, and Louder Than War, blown away audiences at festivals such as Green Man, played alongside notable bands including Future of the Left and Half Man Half Biscuit and is something of a Celtic trailblazer himself, not only when considering the overall brilliance and uniqueness of his output but also, more specifically, his seeing through of brave and standout concepts, in particular The Fen Sessions. He has also collaborated with artists such as Sweet Baboo and Los Campesinos, and has seen his work given airplay by an impressively long list of BBC DJs.
JC: Hello John MOuse. To what extent is nostalgia important to you, not only in terms of writing, but also in your recording process?
JM: Hello. Nostalgia is one of the main drivers in the lyrical content of the songs. I read that pure memory is limited to motor skills and muscle memory and everything else has to have an element of nostalgia, where we apply our present emotions onto occurrences that happened in the past. We frame them how we want to, we reframe them depending on our circumstances, experiences and emotions. There is no nostalgic element to the recording process as I have no real early memories of recording and I have very little input into this process.
JC: What are your earliest memories of music in the home? How do you think that has influenced you?
JM: My very earliest are Eurovision songs and silly pop music like Black Lace or Boney M. It didn’t get much better after that – the bought music in my household was pretty limited to Queen and Chris De Burgh. I really grew into the popular music of the time, I was a big fan of Michael Jackson and I think Bad was one of the first records I owned. My mother though did have one Bryan Ferry greatest hits and I liked his singing style, it wasn’t until later on that I discovered Roxy Music, and the same could be said for The Beatles, Paul McCartney was the man who did the Frog Song and Mull of Kintyre. Pop music though definitely influences my love of melodies and big choruses that you can sing along to.
JC: The Fen Sessions was conceptually a ballsy move as regards the brevity of access to the recordings. It reminds me to an extent of a book called ‘The 17’ by Bill Drummond. Can you briefly explain the genesis of this idea? Did it reveal to you any dark or lighter truths about the way people find new music? With such a time restraint to push against what, if any, difficulties did the task put on your shoulders?
JM: I haven’t heard of The 17 but will check it out. The idea was spawned mainly from frustration. Frustration from the time and hard work that goes into the traditional process of recording and releasing an album and for very little reach for an independent underground artist. I also wanted to see how many people actually engaged with John MOuse on social media. The actual challenge of producing the material didn’t really concern me, it wasn’t a driver, I was comfortable that I would be able to achieve the outcomes. The response during the process statistically was in line with my expectations, just over a hundred people downloaded the album, this is in keeping with previous releases and crowdfunding campaigns. There were however some interesting and unexpected outcomes, for instance I did not expect or indicate that people should pay for the music, but down to Bandcamp’s facility to allow people to pay if they want for the music over half of the supporters did this, and so we ended up making some money on the back of the process. Also Henning Wehn (the German stand-up comedian) tweeted about it, which was really bizarre. There was lots of interaction after each song was posted up and it really helped the process knowing people were out there, listening and downloading the music, especially when we hit some creative and psychical walls. The hardest task was re-motivating ourselves for day two. Day one, we were fresh, keen, excited, we had lots of ideas and creativity. Day two we had been out the previous night for light celebrations, started later in the morning and it didn’t feel new and the element of the unknown had gone. It was interesting hearing people’s feedback on those songs, there were two in particular where the process was really difficult, but I conducted a post sessions questionnaire and the enjoyment for people for those songs hadn’t diminished.
JC: Would you like to continue releasing like this in the future, and do you think you would encourage other artists to seek similar ways of releasing their work?
JM: I don’t know. I am failing to see the point of making recorded music at all.
JC: When I hear your songs you mention names of people/personalities in your stories. Are they real or made up? Does juxtaposing characters allow you more freedom to tackle heavier subject matter rather than being entirely first person/subjective?
JM: I think most of the names come from famous personalities, I like the idea of faction. I like what Tarantino did when he blew up Hitler and Goebbels in a cinema. I like The Dammed United. I don’t see my subject matter as heavy. I mostly recall tales, I don’t intentionally put any weight on them, they just are stories. It’s like this is my fun, if I am honest in the emotion then I can play around with the characters or the settings.
JC: Music or lyrics first? When you decide to start working on a new song does it come from a clean slate, or do you have a specific process in place? Do you keep a treasure chest of ideas in place to pick from before getting stuck in?
JM: Lyrics – I’m really not that good a musician. I don’t have any time to really have a specific process, I just find opportunities to write when I can, so maybe that was what was nice about The Fen Sessions. All the lyrical content develops at different paces, sometimes there is a lot of pre-editing done without writing anything down, I’ll ruminate an idea or a story from the past and think about themes and how they can be twisted or what would make them interesting or sometimes I’ll just try and write as much as I can down about an incident and then carve it up from there.
JC: Ringo, Paul, John, George, or none of the above? And why?
JM: The Beatles. Hive thinking is best yeah? That’s how the Chinese sent 15 people to Mars. What is the point in picking one of them? Without each other they would never have made the songs they did.
JC: Are you in a relationship/do you have your own family? If so, how do you balance touring, gigging, etc with the day to day of family life? Do you have an isolated room you retreat to in order to work?
JM: I’m married, we have two children. I have never been offered or had the opportunity to tour so that’s easy to handle. We gig maybe once every month over a year, most of the members of the band I play with all have their own lives. It’s tough to get gigs when your market is predominantly middle aged men, promoters know this, so why would you get loads of support slots with young up and coming bands. I get to support the retrospective acts, but they don’t come around as often and there are other acts like me in the same position so I wouldn’t get them all. I don’t have an isolated room, I’ll work where I can find some space, though this will change and I am going to get more serious with my songwriting and try and produce better work – after all – Sternberg’s five components of creativity states that you need a safe creative environment to allow creativity to occur.
JC: What’s next for JM?
JM: John MOuse is dying. There was The Death of John MOuse, an album that was supposed to mark the end of this creative endeavour but then there was still something left to explore, so I resurrected the project for one more album and shows to promote it, but that album was out a year ago now. John MOuse started as a bedroom project for me to try and write music again after a three year break, since then I have collaborated with 28 people, worked with a songwriting partner and producer on and off throughout that period and for the last five years, worked consistently with a settled live band. The live shows are totally different to the recorded music and there is now an increasing disconnect between what we do live and the name and the concept of John MOuse.
Hear more of John MOuse’s music by visiting Bandcamp.
Visit John Carroll’s Bandcamp by clicking here.