Where do we start with the wonderful Johnno Casson?
He’s not just a solo artists who’s made music under the the monikers of Snippet, Old Tramp, and himself, he’s also a community hero, as well as a moderating colleague here at Fresh on the Net. He has just released his new album – Future Melancholy Pop Music, and here’s a Q&A he did with me for Alternative Friday, so read on to find out more about the album, as well as, er, fire manipulation, swimming certificates… and roast potatoes!
~ In the past your music has been described as ‘wonky pop’, but how would you best define it?
It’s pop music Jim, but not as we know it.
I don’t mind wonky pop, indie pop, SnipHop or how ever people want to describe it, categories and pigeon holing have never been my strong point but I totally understand how it helps people get an idea of what they are getting into. My music is informed by a long line of British songwriters (Davies, Bowie, Dury, Difford & Tilbrook, Dammers, Albarn, Skinner) with a generous splash of (mostly 70’s) American funk and soul. From the feedback I have had from supporters and writers my music tends to come in 2 shapes – bouncy music to make you feel better about life, or reflective music to make you think about life. I can live with that.
~ What were your influences and songwriting process for the album?
It comes in a variety of ways, sometimes I have a song title, an idea of what I want to say, or sometimes (actually mostly) I improvise it and it arrives like magic. I write mostly on acoustic guitar, get a little groove going musically or a chord sequence that i like and let it happen, switch the dictaphone on (ok mobile phone recorder) and go, the lyrics always come quick, sometimes that need lots of sculpting, sometimes they arrived almost fully formed. The best ideas almost exclusively are the first one’s that come so that red light needs to be flicking straight off. Rarely, when I recorded this song…
I had the music completed and just started to sing with no pre prepared lyrics, and that vocal take made it all the way to the album release.
If I have just watched a show about someone who I really rate a song will flow out of their inspiration, or if I have listened to a song or album where I love-the songs, melodies and lyrics just flow, BUT the biggest way a song comes is if I experience something in my life in really impacts me in real time – love, pain, and everything in between, be it personal or observational, if I feel it it will find its way into a song. The very best songs I have ever written always come to me the quickest. I have written my very best stuff in 15-20 minutes and a kind friend said to me, it’s because you have honed your craft for 30 years that you are able to deliver a cracking song in 15 minutes. That was a nice thing for someone to say but I’m still learning each and every day.
~ How long has it taken to write & record Future Melancholy Pop Music, and what has proved the biggest challenge?
It’s the longest I have ever taken over an album for a myriad of reasons, most notably the battles to not let M.E. win. It was probably written and recorded over 2 years, though a couple of the songs were written 3 years ago. I had the tracklist in place for 2 years and just had to turn my demos of songs into finished pieces. I love writing and recording and have really enjoyed making it, but this one feels like a childbirth that is way over term and busting to be birthed (*disclaimer – of course as a man I know nothing of the real trials and tribulations of childbirth, I slid down the wall and nearly fainted during the birth of my first child whilst my wife was doing all the hard work!).
Songwriting and recording are always a joy for me but the biggest challenge was in mastering the album and wanting to do justice to Wim Oudijk’s productions (he produced 8 songs and I produced the other 7). I’ve mastered before but not to this level with someone else mixes, and people kindly offered their mastering services which was great but I personally wanted to honour Wim if I could, and I hesitated getting someone else in because, to be frank my head was spinning with his passing, but as the air cleared I thought ‘could I do this?’. I never give up on something and always find a way of getting something to work, however much time I have to put in, and this one wasn’t just for me but for him. I listened to his voice in my head willing me on, borrowed his wings, strapped myself in for a fast ride and went for it. I worked my socks off and did the best job I could do, and I’m happy with it and hope he is looking down with a lovely grin and that people enjoy it.
~ As you’ve mentioned, your long-time producer Wim Oudijk sadly passed away during the recording of the album, but over the years what did he bring to your music, and what do you remember him for most fondly?
He brought the life out in my music, he gave it sparkle, he gave it clarity and he found a way of polishing me up good and proper. Wim taught me so much about music, about production, and tbh about life, he brought sunshine, humour and goodness with him every step of the way and he touched the lives of so many people. I worked with him for about 9 years and we never met, we simply exchange files on email/wetransfer, and chatted joyously all the time over the internet. I had planned to go to The Netherlands to visit him last summer but he became unwell and asked me to wait until he was better, as he wanted to be back to 100% to meet the main man :(.
He was like another brother to me and also like the father I no longer have, his loss hit me as hard as it would a family member, he was such a special man. People might think, how can you feel so over a person you have never met in person? Well, a person like Wim comes around only once in your life and when it does, when you get to know the person, the man, you will know that friendship and love do not always need to within touching distance to be real, people can reach you through copper wires and change your life in an amazingly positive way through sheer brilliance of personality and being. If the evil of terrorism can impact our lives so negativity through the internet then so can the blessing of goodness and wonderful human beings, he was one of the very best humans x
~ You run The Warm & Toasty Club, but what is it?
The Warm and Toasty Club in a not-for-profit community, music, arts, and history organisation.
We started out as a sunday afternoon live variety show at Colchester Arts Centre, like a youth club for all ages – part chat show, part radio show, part gig, part film show, and full of lovely content from the people in our community whilst showcasing amazing artists.
Over the last 3 years we have expanded by going out and working in the community and coming back to Colchester Arts Centre to do public shows as often as we can. We work with new music artists and align it to what has become the biggest element of our community work-with people living in retirement establishments in Essex.
We are currently undertaking a project called Coast to Coast in seaside towns in Essex which see’s us touring retirement establishments. We hold regular Memory Afternoons where we reminisce with residents on their memories of what life was like for them when they were younger – lots of positive reminiscence of people centred history, but also more poignant stories of how the world was a different place for them in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond (actually sometimes the 1920’s even get a mention) and how the second world war impacted people’s lives in a myriad of ways.
It’s all about positive face to face engagement and having a great time whilst capturing stories of days gone by. You can listen to our podcasts here.
We work with professional artists to bring art and music into the sessions/shows, and the response has been wonderful. We have had songwriters writing songs based on participants shared memories, beautiful young singers, barbershop quartets, and dancers entertaining the residents, and artists making memento cards for the participants, and all sorts going on. It is proving to be as much a real tonic for the soul for me as it is our participants – it’s a pleasure and honour to spend time with these people.
We have a live public show to celebrate the Coast to Coast project on the afternoon of Sunday 28th May at Colchester Arts Centre. It has a range of content to charm all ages (not just our older generation – we actively like to show off as many aspects of our communities as we can) with an array of musical talent on show, song and video premieres, sweet engaging chat, biscuit of the month, and free hot buttery toast. You can find out more here…
~ If you were invited to curate a festival stage, what five bands/artists would you invite to perform?
Good question, well, like the fine work you do in championing new music Jim, I would probably fill it with wonderful new music artists, the mainstream is not where it’s at imo, the borders and margins hold all the ace cards but taking your guide of using currently active and relatively well known artists, I’m going to go for onstage join up’s/mash up’s and stage filling shenanigans…
Gruff Rhys featuring Sweet Baboo
Massive Attack featuring Holly Cook
Nick Hakim vs Mirror Signal
Lambchop vs Bill Callahan
The Blockheads featuring Mike Skinner
All doing warm and toasty club style short sets – leave them wanting more.
~ Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?
I never had heroes, those accolades were saved for family and friends, but I did admire Ian Dury, Terry Hall, Paul Weller, Kate Bush, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Freddie Phillips, and Mr Benn.
~ What do you have planned for the next few months now the album is out?
Rest after the birth of the album ha (sorry, another reference I have no actual official knowledge to be able to make).
Live dates, I launch the album in Colchester on the afternoon of 9th April in the tea rooms of The Minories art gallery (the never ending story of Britishness and cups of tea is a firm winner), add in some sweet live music and its the gift your Sunday afternoon always wanted.
~ Aside from music, do you have any other creative skills? (or obscure talents!)
I filmed and edited the Bad Man video (above) myself, and I designed and made the album sleeve (big up the DIY artists). I am not bad at chatting to people and showing off without a safety net, my culinary skills are said to be strong/border line amazing with reviews of my roast potatoes still ringing in my ears (legendary, allegedly) and recently I have found that I can eat most of the contents of my cupboard and fridge for England. I have a swimming certificate but not the one where you dive to the bottom of the pool in your pyjamas to retrieve a brick.
~ What would you tell your teenage self?
Do it again (twice).
~ If you could have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
If I could have the power to heal then I’d go for that, as that is what the world needs now. Or failing that I’d go with Fire Manipulation so I could cook up a wicked mediterranean bar-b-q with my own hot hands (I think I like food too much).