It’s been a while. No, really it has, since there’s been anything as powerfully entrancing that’s made it over from across the seas. Something that enraptures and captivates with tactile instruments processing a barrage of sounds to deliver uniqueness. Honestly, it’s not just from across the Atlantic, but worldwide. That’s saying a lot about the duo JOHN (TIMESTWO), but fortunately, it’s what the band does. With immeasurable limitations!
The London band takes simplicity and applies it to its name because yes, there are two Johns within the group, but there’s nothing simplistic about the music the band delivers. Guitars & drums feed off one another, as the enormity in the intensity of the band’s sound continues to expand. This we’ve seen through the live performance videos the band has shared, but they also give listeners so much more. We had a chance to speak with the band before it’s set to release the new album, the masterpiece, Nocturnal Manuvoeurves (Pets Care/Brace Yourself Records) this Friday.
So tell us about the band, who are you two really?
Hello there, we’re two Johns based over that big slab of water in the UK – John Newton on Drums and Vocals and Johnny Healey on Guitar and Backing Vocals. We started ‘JOHN’ almost a decade ago, and have since, carved out three albums – the third Nocturnal Manoeuvres arriving on October 8th, 2021. On the face of it, we’re probably labeled as an energetic rock band, but we’ve always focussed on maintaining a creative outlook – the lyrics and themes trying their best to steer away from more trite and redundant ‘rock’ traditions.
You’re about to release your new album, Nocturnal Manuvoeuvres (Pets Care/Brace Yourself Records). It’s a clever album title, tell us about it and the meaning behind it.
Throughout the writing process (most of which took place in 2020), we were both discussing the demands of contemporary life, and how humans have become held in the vice of twenty-four-hour capitalism. Even sleep becomes commodified and infiltrated – there is, quite simply, no ‘off’ button anymore. A lot of the lyrics began to associate with these discussions, and Nocturnal Manoeuvres seemed a good way to encapsulate this in a succinct statement.
Now, the band is just the two of you, John (Newton) and John (Healy). Throughout the album, you create such a massive sound which I’m sure many would believe the band to have more members. Have the two of you ever felt limitations?
Nowadays, we understand our limitations pretty well, but we have still always continued to see how we can develop new approaches and angles within this setup as a duo. I actually think the limitations have been really helpful – they’ve informed decisions, and made sure we don’t get too bogged down trying to do things that aren’t possible in a live setting. We just follow our strengths whilst trying to push against the limits of our bodies.
In all honesty, I haven’t heard many bands from England come with a post-punk sound as distinctive as JOHN. What do you attribute that to?
Thank you, that’s a really lovely thing to hear, and it could also be attributed to these limitations. As a drumming vocalist, I can only sing in rhythm with my body’s movements, and this gives the vocals a certain pentameter that tends to lock into the groove of the song. Similarly, Johnny tends to lock into this structure too, and I guess this creates the syncopated dynamic energy that we’ve become known for. Thematically, we’re not too interested in tried-and-tested schemes of ‘Rock n roll’, so we try to look around ourselves for inspiration – on a more mundane local level.
You’re from London, how does where you’re from affect your energy, creative output, etc.?
Our second album ‘Out Here On The Fringes’ touched upon the constant expansion of the city, having operated within it for around a decade. The center of London has just become more and more impossible to exist in as a creative, with landlords and big business completely at fault for creating a homogenized and relatively sterile city. We both moved out South and began to enjoy the communities that exist on the edges of the city. The sense of community certainly helped us to feel more comfortable in our creative work – rehearsal rooms and venues helping build a network to operate within.
I understand the move needed to be made away from London, originally from NYC, and splitting some of my time in the southwest. It seems there’s a multitude of influences, I won’t ask for anything specific but do you pull from English or American or a combination of both?
We both surround ourselves with music pretty much all day every day, so it’s really not too important about the location of these influences. Obviously, the US and UK produce a heck of a lot of music so there’s plenty of stuff in there! One thing I can say is, it’s been really gratifying to see respected radio stations like BBC 6Music (UK) & KEXP (US) showing support for what we do, as these stations have been very influential whilst growing up.
You note BBC and KEXP on their influence, what are other influences you have outside of music?
Visual references are just as important as audible ones. We’ve always taken great influences from art, film, and literature, I am always thinking about how I can build an image through the puzzle-like structure of the song.
I know we’ve talked about JOHN setting up tour dates and possibly making plans to maneuver some dates in the States. I know the last couple of years have been pretty limiting, how important is playing live to the two of you?
Playing live is everything, so it’s certainly been an odd period of our lives – there’s something incomparable to the ping-pong of energy between the stage and the crowd. I hope that new listeners can get an essence of the live show through our recordings, especially as the music tends to make the most sense when volleyed at your head from our amps in a warm room. On that note, we were in talks to try to get across to the US just before things shut down in March 2020, but thankfully, these discussions are still ongoing – albeit with a bit of a wait to see how things can best play out. It’s certainly something in the pipeline.
What’s one thing JOHN would like listeners in the States to know about the band?
We just made a wonderful video for our new track ‘Šibensko Powerhouse’ with our good friend/contemporary artist Ryan Gander (represented in the US by the New York-based Lisson Gallery). It involves a mouse and a cockroach… but I won’t ruin it for you.
A new album, planned tours; what’s after all that for the band, or do you not try to plan that far ahead?
Taking into account the current state of the world, we’re just making every effort to take stay as present as possible. There’s been so many twists and turns that it’s just important to ground ourselves and try not to control things that aren’t in our grasp. We have, of course, had to shift lots of plans into 2022, but other than that, I would expect that we’ll continue working on the new material we have – to keep following our noses as per usual.