Alexei is busy. Johnny Foreigner are getting ready for a new release. Yr Poetry have just put out their first EP. And he passes the time by playing acoustic shows as Yr Friends. We were lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with him about all of the projects, and film a couple of Yr Friends sessions in the very dimly-lit JoFo practice space.
Scroll down for those, but before that, read our chat about the woes of being from the second city, where the shows are few and far between. How can you reconcile that with wanting to busy yourself with as many musical projects as you can possibly take on?
What do you make of the Birmingham scene?
Marge Simpson said “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all” [laughs]. There are a few, I don’t wanna start naming names and shit, but there are people doing cool stuff. But they are diamond shining out of a black sky. It’s the second city so it should be full of stars. That’s the worst analogy ever [laughter]. It has its moments, but considering the size of the city and how much better off smaller cities are, it seems sad now when people ask us for promoters to hit up in Birmingham… And you just end up saying “don’t, go to Nottingham, go to Derby.” It’s not that there aren’t people who care in Birmingham, but there isn’t that kinda mindset where they can carry on putting on shows and sustain that without getting skint and completely disillusioned with it.
Was it the same when Johnny Foreigner started?
Yeah. Very much so. I think we’ve seen it get a little better, and then a little worse. It’s definitely cyclical. But from when we started, I think there’s one promoter still going; This is Tmrw. Everyone else has got bored of it, and gone on to do better things or given up on bands completely.
Was there much support when you started out? Did many people come out to local shows?
No. Not in Birmingham. We seemed to do great when we went north, and London gigs are always super fun. But with Birmingham, especially when you’re in a band that is constantly playing, you don’t really have a social life. There’s only so many times your friends are willing to pay like £7 to talk to you for half an hour before you get all sweaty and disgusting. A taxi driver said “you can never be a hero in your hometown.” Wisest taxi driver ever.
Is it much different doing the acoustic thing compared to the full band?
Yeah. It’s way scarier. I didn’t think it would be because obviously I play by myself more than I do with the band, but you can’t blame anyone if anything goes wrong [laughs]. I can’t give Kelly a dirty look or put a pedal on to cover it up. It’s way more terrifying, but even though I’ve been doing Yr Friends for a while, my hands will shake during the first songs. I have to be really careful with the setlist so I don’t have any awkward bits in the first songs, whereas with the band, I still get scared but it’s more mechanical things. Like if a lead is gonna break or something. But if it’s not scary it’s not worth it, is what I tell myself.
How come you decided to start Yr Friends?
Partially because I knew it was something that scared me and it would be a challenge to do it. Partially because there’s only so much you can do with a band. We’ve toured for so long and constantly. It’s nice to do something different so you appreciate that when you come back to it more. I always hate the idea that the older bands get, the softer they get. So many of my favourite bands, on their third album they get the string section in. Never want that to happen with my band, so it’s nice to have a vent for all the stuff that comes out when you get older and you wanna do the quiet sad songs. I wanna keep that anger for Johnny Foreigner.
What’s going on with Johnny Foreigner at the moment?
Kelly just got married. She’s been in Japan, finding places that have us on their karaokes and taking pictures [laughter]. We’re kinda half-way through album five. We have like three songs recorded, three that are ready to be recorded and another three we’re working on. But there’s no adults or anything telling us what to do, and we don’t really have a timescale for it. The last record worked so much better because we could spend time deconstructing the songs. There are songs that don’t really sound like Johnny Foreigner songs and that’s exciting. I always used to get annoyed with people when I was younger and I used to read interviews with people like Peter Buck and he’d say “we threw out this song because it sounded too much like R.E.M.” and I’d be like “but I love R.E.M.!” Now here I am saying exactly the same thing. But there’s only so many times you can use the same thing before it gets stale. So yeah. It’s gonna surprise people. In a good way, I hope.
Is it harder writing now that you’re all busy with other things too?
Kinda. Although, I think when none of us have anything to do and we’re all just down here all the time we don’t really make much more progress. Because there’s no barrier on it. It’s almost like going back into hourly rehearsal rooms again, so we work on our own bits and bring them all in to make good use of our time. Whereas before we’d have a bit of a play with that, smoke a joint, talk about comics for two hours then rehearse a song… So… Yes [laughs].
What are you listening to at the moment?
I stayed up all night listening to The Spills. Not really a new favourite band, but there album is getting some hype so I’m excited for them. Same suspects really. We live in such a cliquey bubble. Really like the new Doe songs. That’s about it for English bands. I’m still really excited about the Hop Along record. Anything from Philadelphia is great.