Thursday, October 26, 2017

LICHFIELD INTERROGATES: Johnny Dean

Johnny Dean is the former frontman of 1990s indie-poppers Menswe@r, who famously appeared on the cover of the Melody Maker prior to releasing a note of music. The band scored five UK Top 30 hits and released two albums before splitting in 1998. He is now making music as Fxxk Explosion, a glam-tinged electro-pop project that released its first EP, In the Beginning, in summer 2017. He has taken part in numerous autism awareness campaigns since his diagnosis with Pervasive Development Disorder in 2009. I caught up with Johnny to talk about Britpop, the 90s music press, raising autism awareness, the reality of the music industry and his current music project. 




Did you have any pre-conceived ideas about what life in a successful chart band would be like? If so, how did they compare with the reality?

I didn’t really expect Menswe@r to be successful. It was a whirlwind. Everything happened very quickly. From the point of deciding to form a band to being signed to being cover stars to having hit singles. I didn’t expect all that to happen. But it did. So I guess it was nothing like I thought it would be like, because it happened far too easily. But that came at a cost. It wasn’t all plain sailing. This seemingly effortless rise put a fair few noses out of joint. And that caused us plenty of problems once the dust had settled. 

What goes up has gotta come down. And we crashed in spectacular fashion, which is what people remember. The British love to see people fail, I think. At the same time they seem to love the underdog bite back. It’s OK to do well after you’ve had a good kicking first. We are a confused and often cruel people.

I guess it was exciting. Which was the intention, I think. We were just kids really. I think people forget that.

What were your thoughts on other so-called Britpop bands? Whose music has aged the most gracefully? Is there anything that sounds particular woeful today? 

Ah. The “B” word. I don’t think an awful lot about those bands at all. Not anymore. And indeed, not very much at the time. I guess it all depends what your definition of the “B” word is? Because everybody seems to have their own. 

I think Suede still sound good. That’s all I can really say about it. A great deal of it leaves me cold. Now, as well as then.

I’m not going to start slagging other bands off. That isn’t a position I want to take. It’s undignified and ugly. It’s not my job. I’ll let critics do that. They get paid for it. Well…they used to.

What stopped Hay Tiempo! getting a UK release? 

No record deal. That simple. We left London Records. We weren’t dropped. We spent ridiculous amounts of money making that record and they hated it. Their position was that we could put it out with them, but they wouldn’t promote it. So, we left and took the record with us, which was a bit silly really. Nobody wanted to sign us by that point. Especially with that record. That whole episode was a bit…ill-advised. It’s a regret of mine now that I didn’t call it a day after Being Brave made top ten. And try something else. Because everything pretty much turned into shit from then on. But at that point the fucks I could give were very much in low numbers. Practically barren.

How did you feel about the music press’ treatment of Menswe@r? Did you make any specific journalist enemies? Are there any feuds that continue to this day?  

Well the whole thing was pretty much down to them. The press. They hyped us to the heavens and then criticised us for being hyped. It’s a frustrating position to find yourself in. A lot of it seemed to be down to feuding journalists and feuding publications. A lot of that kind of thing was happening at the time. It was very political. And of course, just about everybody involved was on drugs.  

There were a couple of journalists I thought were cast iron dickheads. But the feeling was mutual. You can’t be friends with everyone, unless you’re being dishonest. I bear no person ill will particularly. Nobody in the press in any case. It would be pointless.


                                                     
  Menswe@r, Stardust

You have often expressed a great deal of affection for mainstream 80s pop and rock, much of which was mocked relentlessly by the music media and certain Mancunian songwriters during the 90s. However, acts like Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush and Tears for Fears are revered in indie circles now. Were you surprised to see such acts being reappraised? Why would you say they received such sneering treatment in the first place? 

I just think the 80s were the decade where pop music peaked. The earlier half was so incredibly varied and rich with three-minute, bona fide bangers. The British indie movement of the 90s (or Britpop if you like) was so hung up on trying to appear cool. Its collective head was jammed right up its arse. 

The amount of shade I would catch for openly liking Japan and Duran Duran was idiotic. This was before being uncool was perceived as cool. It was all very affected. People gabbing on like they were born wearing a Smiths t-shirt and quoting Leonard Cohen. It was bullshit. Like those fucking album lists people post on Facebook. It’s a bit infantile, isn’t it? That you would consider yourself somehow superior because of your musical predilections? I’ll take a gated snare over that claptrap any day of the week. 

But yes. It’s more acceptable now. I was ahead of my time. Haha! I’m not at all surprised that the 80s have been reappraised. Good songs are good songs.

Some people have suggested that the death of Princess Diana, with a bit of help from Be Here Now, killed Britpop – is this something that you would agree with? Would you say there were other specific factors involved in the decline of British indie-rock in the late nineties? 

I don’t think Diana dying had anything to do with it. At all. I don’t see a connection that wouldn’t be extremely tenuous. Or Be Here Now, quite frankly. The scene was dead before both of those things happened as far as I was concerned. I would say around 96, just about the time everything peaked, that was it. 

As soon as something takes hold in the public consciousness it’s over. The scene setters have moved on or died or are in rehab. Popularity killed Britpop. Success. But…if anything could be blamed, or indeed congratulated, for killing it then as someone who was in the thick of it, I would have to point my trusty index at cocaine and heroin.

How were the Menswe@r reunion shows? Are further dates definitely ruled out? Do you ever listen back to your old material?

Not really a reunion. As I was the only original member. More of a fuckabout. The whole idea, for me personally, was to mark twenty years. And have fun. Nothing was really organised. Shows were added if people wanted to see it. There was no grandiose scheme. It was a laugh. The only ulterior motive was to ease me back into music. There will not be any more dates. I don’t see the point or foresee a demand. I think revisionism has well and truly done for Menswe@r.

I don’t listen to old Menswe@r stuff at all. I did, as a refresher for those shows, but otherwise never. 

Can you tell us about the work you have done for the National Autistic Society

Just little things. Like awareness. The odd talk. Handing a petition into number ten. Advice. Nothing major. I’m stepping back a little from it all because there’s a lot of noise coming from certain areas that I don’t really deem helpful or healthy. It seems to be turning into a who can shout the loudest thing. That’s not my bag. The internet has enough arguments. 

I think the best way for me to communicate any ideas I have about my autism (mine because everybody’s is different) is through my music. The In the Beginning EP tackles it, in places.

What was the inspiration for Fxxk Explosion? Are you working towards an album? 

The inspiration? I’m not sure I was inspired. Motivated maybe? Definitely compelled. Mainly by death, disease, the End of Times, you know? The little things. I had a back log of stuff building up for roughly sixteen years. In my head. Constipated with melodies. Fxxk Explosion is a creative enema as well as my way of dealing with my impending demise.

I’m not sure about an album. I heard the album was dead. I’m only releasing digitally. An album would be fair enough if I was putting out physical product. But I’m not, as yet. I think four or five songs at a time is nice. There’s more chance of people listening to them all.



                                                             Fxxk Explosion, In the Beginning EP

What are you listening to in 2017? Does any of it involve contemporary British guitar music? 

I pretty much stopped listening to contemporary guitar music in 2006. Mainly because I felt it had reached its limit. It had got to the point where it wasn’t just eating itself anymore. It was eating its own shit as well, ad infinitum. I don’t have the time. I guess I got bored of it. As well as many of the people who make it.

I basically listen to Absolute 80s and a bit of EDM. They fulfil my requirements. I don’t feel the need to be informed on new guitar music anymore. It’s not so much an age thing as a comfort thing. I know what I like. I don’t write about music so there’s no need. I make it. For me there’s a difference. It would still come out of me even if I never heard another note of someone else’s music. It just…is.

Thanks, Johnny!

You can follow Johnny on Twitter here


Click here to visit the Fxxk Explosion website.  



MORE LICHFIELD INTERROGATES: 

Simon Reynolds, arguably the world's finest music writer

Author, writer and musician Sean Bw Parker

Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs

Hacienda legend, DJ and writer Dave Haslam


Repeater Books' author and writer Carl Neville

Shadow Fire Minister Chris Williamson MP

Cult BBC Tees broadcaster Bob Fischer



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