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- Posted on Aug 13th 2010 10:00AM by Johnny Dee
His recent album 'Been Listening,' recorded with his band the Sussex Wit in London and Seattle, marks a step forward and could see him follow the likes of Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling on to much, much bigger things.
Childhood does crop up quite a lot in your lyrics. What do you think it is that draws you to deal with that? Are you still wrestling with that period of your life?
Well, yes, probably. I had a very episodic childhood. When I was growing up my parents moved between quite different locations and I went to quite different schools. I was born in South Africa, so I had that world with family there and going back there, and then moved first to London and then to a sleepy, very idyllic rural cottage by a river in Hampshire. It was very rich countryside but a very poor village. As kids we were inventive with how we played with our environment -- making dens and smoking out ferrets and playing in nature. Then I won a music scholarship to a very well-to-do prep school and I was touring with the choir as a professional singer aged eight. Later my parents moved to West Wales to a really isolated fishing community and I had a spell working on boats. Each place affected me quite a lot.
Do you feel quite rootless because of that then?
No, I'm not trying to find something. When I was younger I was confused about where my identity lay -- what class I was.
What class are you? Are you posh?
I don't play any importance in it. I'm merely interested in it. I went to a school that was a feeder school to Winchester College and there were a lot of very well-to-do kids there. I always felt very much like the outsider because I'd won this scholarship. Within the choir there were other kids like me who were also displaced in this rich environment. I remember taking friends home at the weekend who couldn't go home because their parents lived in Dubai or wherever and they couldn't believe that our family rented our house or that we didn't eat gourmet food.
What changes do you think there are between 'A Larum' and the new album?
I tried to open it up musically, the major difference was I knew the musicians who I was writing the songs for this time. last time the band came together afterwards. We've got a new drummer who added a lot to it. He's introduced me to lots of Latin and African music.
There's one new song, 'Churlish Way,' that's almost reggae-folk.
That's quite distinct that song.
You've said before that a lot of your songs began life as poems. Is that still the case?
Mostly. I usually write the lyrics separately from the music, I might mishmash separate sets of words together. I quite like putting words together that weren't actually written together. Rather than having a literal flow between the two they might have the same emotional content in them. I find that more interesting, putting disparate things together.
Was 'The Water', the duet with Laura Marling on 'Been Listening' written with her in mind?
Not really. First of all I did it with a friend who's a classical soprano. I like those '60s Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood songs, this rough country twang and this pure voice. I thought it would be fun to reference that a little bit. But she's a proper operatic soprano and it didn't really work, so then I though well Laura's got a really pure tone. I like it when I hatch on to a visual idea of how a song might work, like a diagram or painting. I don't know if it really works but in my mind our voices ebb and flow like a river.
Did Wayne Rooney ever hear the song 'Wayne Rooney'?
No, but I did meet the girl who looked after David Beckham's MySpace page and she put me in his top friends. I thought that somehow might lead to Wayne's endorsement but he f---ing likes Stereophonics. Once I heard that I didn't care anymore.
In the period between your last album and 'Been Listening' there's been quite an explosion of folk music becoming mainstream -- Noah and the Whale, Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling. Why do you think that is?
These things just come and go, everything has it's own period of time. I don't think there's any big reason, people just yearn for a different sound.
You're an actor as well -- confusingly known as Joe Flynn, because there's another Johnny Flynn. Do you bring more to singing from the acting side of your life or more to acting from singing?
I felt when I started as a singer that I was in a lucky position in that I'd been taught how to be onstage but at the same time I always felt quite glad as an actor that I wasn't like the other actors who when they weren't working weren't near a stage. It went both ways. Most of the stage work I did I was always employed as an actor-musician.
Not in 'Holby City' surely?
Well yeah, I was. I played this burnt out Pete Doherty type that had a heart condition or something. It's always music or sport with TV stuff. I always got parts that involved running and I can't run to save my life.
'Been Listening' is out on Transgressive Records, with the new single 'Barnacled Warship' released on Monday, Aug. 16.