By Mark Glenister
One could hardly accuse John Newton of sitting on his laurels during the past few lockdowns, not only have he and his bandmate Johnny Healey recorded a new JOHN album (to be released later this year), and bought out various new merch – John himself has been busy writing not one but two solo albums under the guise of Total Wkts. The first album ‘Running Tracks’ was written and recorded at his parents’ house during Lockdown Part 1, it is an album full of distorted vocals, snatched pieces of conversation and a variety of influences ranging from haunting charm to industrial grit coursing through its veins. It felt as far removed from the hot sweaty noise that JOHN produce, yet at the same time felt very comfortable and somehow familiar.
As the first single ‘Odermatt’ from the new Total Wkts album ‘No Holiday’ is released, I sat down with John, albeit virtually to talk all things Total Wkts.
So, Total Wkts album number 2 is on the horizon, having listened to it, there is a marked difference between ‘No Holiday’ and ‘Running Tracks’. Was this down to the change in location for recording, or was down to your confidence in doing a solo project?
I was aware that it had changed location, and obviously the first one was me trying to digest being in the sealed off environment where I grew up in the countryside. I think like with any music I am trying to make, I am trying to create some form of visual in the audio and whether that’s signposting of lyrics to direct people’s thoughts, that’s kind of what you do when you write songs. So, I was aware that it was a change of location, and therefore the images kind of change. Now, whether you realise that is a different matter, although there are tangible audible changes, whereby I have sampled things from certain things, that might be a neighbour singing in a nearby building that I managed to record and resample as a backing vocal. And that was purely incidental, trying it out and realising that it fitted perfectly with the song.
Do you think some of that was because you had moved to Brighton for a while?
Some were certainly informed because of coming down here last summer. But it’s not really like a distinct location concept album, I didn’t want it to be like that, there is nice difference and also you just start playing with a song – the thing with Total Wkts its always supposed to have been that the song grows as I progress through it. So, you literally rather than writing a song and recording a song, it’s very much like making a song through the process of making a song. So I’ll start with something, and then I’ll maybe think Ok we’ll move from this part to this part, so it grows more in a sort of call and response to the things I already have. Rather than the JOHN stuff where I have written with Johnny in a room, and then we sort of progress it from there. So it does have a different process for sure, and I guess it’s like trying to follow different interests at the time. It is hard to say why the 2nd album sounds like it does, and why the 1st album sounded like it did. It could literally be down to certain moods or what I am listening to at the time.
Certainly to me it sounds quite industrial, it has a harsher edge to it perhaps than the first album
I think it does, there is louder stuff on it, and maybe that was me progressing. I had some loud moments on the first album, and a few more experimental dreamy tracks. The second album still pushes in that direction but there is definitely a more industrial feel to it, and maybe that is from being in the city, or perhaps its just a posthumous kind of reading – its too easy to say oh that’s more industrial because he is back in the city, maybe.
There are at least one or two tracks that wouldn’t look out of place on a JOHN album, what are your thoughts on that?
I think I am always going to like loud energetic music, it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision to kind of like ”oh he has made a quiet album, from his background in a loud band’ It was never my intention to deliberately cast off my interests and make an acoustic album.
Which a lot of artists tend to do, when they release a solo project it can be so far away from their normal sound
Exactly, I think I like what I like, and I wouldn’t want to stray from a sense of energy, again I want to make what excites me. I like high tempo music, I’m not sure why, but I do. The first one certainly wasn’t an attempt to make a quiet album, that’s not how I write, it was literally a case of this organic growth. So, coming up with a little line, responding to that, then that moves into a chorus, just enjoying that methodical adventure of a song. So, being really present inside a song, expanding that and enjoying that process. I think I mention it in the press release, you spend too long thinking about perfection, especially when you record how something should be, how it should fall in a finished context. But with this stuff, it’s my attempt to fuck that off really, and just be really in the moment with it, and just enjoy it and the residue of that process is the song. Obviously, I wouldn’t put something out that I’m not proud of, but I trust myself to get to a point where I am happy to put something out.
On to one of the tracks ‘Office Dream’, how did that come about? as its quite creepy and unsettling, has a feel of a Hitchcock movie to it, and it did slightly freak me out listening to it late at night !
Wow, that’s great, that’s a really nice response! You know my interest in creating something a bit more cinematic, and to have achieved some kind of effect in music is some sort of goal.
The truth of it is, because I had 2 dream tracks on the first album, I wanted to have some sort of continuity with the second. I has had this dream one night of an office or studio that I used to work in, and next morning I thought it would be good to record what I could remember of that dream. So, I had literally just woken up, the dream was still fresh so I just said it as it was, you can hear the mistakes in it still. Having then worked on the music, and listened to the song, the main thing being that the song matched the retelling, so its as long as the retelling is. I was listening to the words and I always say ‘ur’ a lot in these type of interviews and I get really self-conscious of it. So, the idea was just to put a single piano note or key note on every ‘ur’, that’s why the song is subtitled 13 urs. It becomes then a diagrammatic style of writing, my intention was that you are dictated by that mistake.
Also, with the way the story is told, that must dictate the music around it, you couldnt have that track as a jolly happy pop song
(Laughing) I probably just don’t write chord patterns that are jolly, maybe I’ve indoctrinated myself into misery. Its interesting the historic association of certain chord patterns, as in why do some sound happy and some sound sad. I guess I was thinking of making something that felt a certain way, so there are certain choices with the chords.
Going to back to solo projects, this is far from vanity project, this feels like something you are very proud of – would that be correct?
In some ways I was really surprised at this coming out (first album) and becoming something, because that was never the intention. I got a random email from a guy called Graham who runs record label in Cumbria, its quite a diverse roster and a popular small label. He approached me to do something that whilst talking we realised with the confines of lockdown, we wouldn’t be able to do. However, whilst talking, I said I had a track I wanted him to listen to – His initial response to it was encouraging, and he actually took it onto Soho Radio as he was doing a guest slot at the time. The fact I got some confidence from this, some form of validation made me realise well this is good enough to live out in the world. So once I had the album ready I did the same thing, this time through a distributor of the JOHN stuff, and he really liked the whole thing and agreed to help me out. It was all very organic, but I have loved it and its great that people have wanted to invest in it. In terms of a vanity project, I don’t think it can be one if you don’t expect it to go out into the world.
Has Johnny Heard it?
I have sent him a link to it, and he has heard some of the tracks – its on our own label Pets Care, so as a co-owner I ran it past him before looking to release it. I think he is in to it, I wouldn’t want to presume but he is very supportive.
That would be a cheap tour, Total Wkts supporting JOHN, you’d be exhausted though!
God knows how I would set that up, I have had people who are far more technically proficient than me offering to help programme it. But, I am just happy to focus on it, it being something that I have made and released. We have enough JOHN plans to fill the time.
I think people who like JOHN will love this and get behind it, as I said to you the other day, I think this album will blow people away, it is such a step up from the first one.
Thank you, that’s so kind. It’s a funny one because I just carried on making these songs after the first release. I think I had about the bare bones of two tracks when the first album was being released on vinyl. So, I just carried on and ended up with 8 songs, similar process I sent them to people and they really liked it – I was surprised at myself for making another 8 songs that people enjoyed. So now it was key that it came out before any other JOHN plans, we’ve already dropped the hint that there is new JOHN stuff coming this year. So, it was key to get this out before all of that. I think people have still been locked away, so its nice to release something when people are looking for something to listen to and I think it provides a service for those people.
And with that our conversation turns to JOHN, and well, we will save that chat for another time.
In the meantime, John Newton has produced another slice of joy, and should spark the interest of people beyond the initial JOHN fanbase. In the weeks where we have had Mogwai go to No1 for a similar slice of cinematic noise, the new Total Wkts album stands next to that and is just as valid and important for these times.
The first single ‘Odermatt’ is out now, and the album ‘No Holiday’ is available on pre order now, with a April 2nd physical release date. Further details can be found at:
John Newton is also an Ambassador for Mental Health Charity My Black Dog – Further details can be found here: www.myblackdog.co
What We've Been Listening To This Week...Yammerer, The Howlers, Blume, Cowboy Flying Saucer, Hooverii, FACS, Kestrel Palace
By Jon Milton
This week has been awash with new beginnings and new directions. Several gigs (remember them?) rescheduled and actually likely to happen, festivals announced, and on the music front, some exciting new releases!
Ever since The Howlers released their excellent first single ‘La Dolce Vita’ they’ve drawn comparison with other reverb/tremolo heavy guitar bands like The Blinders and The Wytches. Their new single ‘I don’t love you all the time’ feels like sound of a band really forging their own identity however, and its an identity that suits them rather well. ‘I don’t…’ is a wonderfully written, radio friendly song with a massive, super catchy chorus that bodes well for the host of new material that the band have planned for this year. The band describe the song as an 'ode to the trials and tribulations of love and loss in modern times', drawing inspiration from the west coast psych rock and afrobeat. Will 2021 be a big year for the band? Well, they’re an ambitious, hard-working bunch and on the evidence of this single it certainly could be. When it eventually happens, their gig at the Lexington should be a stormer.
Yammerer were one of the few bands I got a chance of seeing play live last year, and a fine performance it was too. Having sat within the shouty post punk crowd on their previous material, their new single takes a different path, with a vocal line that sounds more like Ian McCulloch than Mark E Smith, emerging from hazy, narcotic tones, slowly building into a feedback laden crescendo where post punk sensibilities and krautrock experimentation blissfully collide. At that gig last year, the band opened and closed with a couple of wonderful long, expansive tunes, and you kind of feel that if they continue to pursue musical experimentation with the more mature vocal delivery shown here, they’re going to be on to something special.
Talking about experimentation, Blume’s debut album is a bit of a doozy. The music project of Arthur Bennell, ‘Synthetic Sounds For The Modern Soul’ provides a great platform to properly zone out and chill, and what a pleasurable experience it is too. There are seven beautiful songs to enjoy here across the album, including the 13 minute closer ‘Oh Lord’ and hazy psychedelia is the order of the day. Its lush - just sit back and enjoy.
What happens when a band that only create in their own company have to find an alternative way of making sound together? IsoMusik, the new album from Cowboy Flying Saucer gives you some indication. It’s quite a departure from their last album Travel Lodge, less song based and more idea led as you would expect, but no less enjoyable. Recorded in bedrooms, gardens and cupboards, the band describe IsoMusik as ‘a collection of the dark, fragmented, introspective, obscure, dissonant, ridiculous and humourous results’. There’s several experimental tracks/interludes amongst the more typically CFS tunes like Iso Disco and Mini SD which makes for quite a diverse listen but its well worth the investment. There’s even a wonderful bit of history chronicled on ‘Sunrise’ which recants the story of the original Sunrise raves, in the days when mobile phones were the exclusive domain of rich bankers. Then, you had to listen to pirate radio to find out which petrol station to drive to on the night of the rave, drive to said station and receive verbal instructions on where to go, or just simply follow the convoy. It was properly exciting and they were truly wonderful nights.
Also out this week and concluding our round up are new singles from Hooverii, FACS and Kestrel Palace. Hooverai’s ‘Cindy’ is the second single to be taken from their forthcoming album ‘Water For the Frogs’ which is out on April 9th, and it’s a quality bit of psych rock. ‘Strawberry Cough’ the latest single from Chicago’s FACS melds electronica with indie rock to great effect and is taken from their new album ‘Present Tense’ which comes out on May 21st. ‘Get Up’ is the debut single from Manchester’s Kestrel Palace, a song ‘about trying to make the most of your life; about making the best of a bad situation’. Its certainly a promising debut from the 18 year old whose vocals sound uncannily like a certain Liam Gallagher, but don’t let that put you off.
By Jon Milton
This week bought not one, but two excellent psych rock albums in the form of ‘Centre’ by Mt Mountain, and the self-titled first album by Diagonal, on Fuzz Club and Little Cloud Records respectively.
Mt Mountain’s fourth album begins majestically with ‘Tassels’, seven minutes of sparkling krautrock, and it concludes with the sublime, laid back ‘Deluge’. In between are seven hypnotic tracks that glisten and beguile with their undoubted elegance. It’s a wonderful album that is made for zoning out to.
Equally polished and wondrous is the debut album from Chicago’s Diagonal. The two singles ‘Anticipation’ and ‘Negatives’ kick off the album and are followed by the sixties garage sounding 'Hemingway' and 'Monotony', the Motorik wig-out 'Runes', masterful psych of 'Waves' and 'Serotonin' interspersed with a couple of quieter moments in ‘In the Tall Grass’ and ‘Snail’. As with Mt Mountain’s ‘Centre’ the album draws you in so that you feel as though it has breezed by in a flash, which should give you some indication of its immersive splendour.
Blume continue this week’s spacy, tripped out theme with ‘In Heaven’, the second single from their new album due out next week. In Heaven celebrates Velvet Underground / Spiritualised, following on from their dreamy ‘Do the Same’ single, also released this month.
Having released his Green and Blue EP’s last year Toby Hayes of Laundromat returned this week with a new single ‘Flat Planet’, taken from his forthcoming, you guessed it ‘Red’ EP. Its another fine tune that blends shuffling hip hop beats with indie sensibilities rather nicely.
Elsewhere this week we came across the new single by Eades and new EP by Gardenback. Eades are apparently a collective made up of songwriters, producers, sound engineers and session musicians who describe themselves as ‘David Byrne and Lou Reed’s dyslexic child playing out of a Motorola Pebl’, whatever that means. ‘Former Warnings Cluster is a great tune though, full of quirks and clever touches, very much in the Home Counties/Public Body mould.
Similarly upbeat is Gardenback’s excellent new ‘Word of Mouth’ EP. The title and track and ‘Do No Evil’ bustle with confident sixties riffs, 'Cynical Guy' is moody and reverb-driven, and ‘Go Native’ treads the same early eighties territory that Pottery do so well on ‘Welcome to Bobby’s Motel’. All in all its rather good.
You can listen to all of the singles listed above and more on our updated monthly playlist.
It’s been a cracking start to the year on the album front. Shame set the bar high last month with Drunk Tank Pink, and each of the new albums released in the last couple of weeks from TV Priest, Black Country New Road and Mush respectively have been an absolute joy to hear.
TV Priest’s debut album ‘Uppers’ is a promising debut from a band that we’ve been impressed by since their first single ‘House of York’ dropped last year. Uppers begins with the question ‘where do you sit on the big curve?’ and the band’s erudite musings continue throughout the album, taking in a range of themes covering areas such as the post Brexit world, the press and the internet and algorithms. Musically ‘Uppers’ straddles post punk and Krautrock experimentation, Joy Division/Warsaw, Gang of Four, early U2, the Fall and Bunnymen mixed in with Neu and Faust. It’s not perfect (too much Motorik in places for my liking) but it is a fine debut nonetheless. The band have already suggested that a follow up may be on its way later this year and it would be great to see the glimpses of experimentation featured on Uppers developed further.
We knew what we were getting with Black Country New Road’s debut ‘For the First Time’ before Ninja Tune released it, with four of its six tracks already released as singles. The two remaining tracks ‘Instrumental’ and ‘Opus’ open and close the album, the former a Balkan romp and the latter a similarly Eastern European sounding whirling Dervish. Reich, Jazz, manic indie rock and more all combine in between, and the album as a whole is an excellent journey in sound from a band that you feel still have a lot more to give.
Mush’s second album 'Lines Redacted' was released a week or so ago, and almost exactly a year on from the band’s debut '3D Routine'. Their sound has evolved over that time, more lo-fi throughout on this record - imagine if Captain Beefheart produced and tinkered with the Velvet Underground’s third album and you should get the picture. There's a lot to admire in this record, but as was the case with their debut it’s the longest track that stands out, this time on album closer 'Lines Discountinued' which also sees vocalist Dan Hyndman deviate from his trademark hopped up Dylan/Lou Reed-esque drawl to sing in more measured, almost hushed tones.
White Flowers also have an album on the way which they announced this week, alongside its title track ‘Daylight’. The band have consistently produced sublime music ever since they surfaced early in 2020, clearly heavily influenced by the Cocteau Twins, albeit imbued with their own unique style. Daylight continues in this rich vein and we look forward to hearing the full album when its released in May.
Staying with shoegaze and psychedelia, just round the corner is the self-titled new album by six-piece from Chicago, Diagonal. The album is out on the 26th on Little Cloud Records, and judging by the two singles released so far, Anticipation and Negatives it should be pretty special.
Mixing psychedelia and baggy are Manchester’s Suave Martyrs who have just released a storming new single ‘Cascades of Gold’. Sitting somewhere between the Sandkings, early Ocean Colour Scene and Paris Angels, Cascades of Gold is brimming with energy, and for those of us that can remember Madchester and all that, brings back many fond memories!
Sheffield based band Workfriends perked up our ears with their debut single ‘Man on the Run’ last year and have finally released its follow up in ‘Sick and Tired’. Its another top tune too, smartly written and sounding like they had a lot of fun recording it. Hopefully they won’t leave it another year to release their next track – they’re definitely a band to watch out for.
The Lounge Society also made a splash last year with their debut single ‘Generation Game’, which was one of our top three tunes of 2020. Having their single released on Speedy Wunderground has naturally meant that they’ve already garnered a lot of media attention and they seem to be picking up momentum with a new single ‘Cain’s Heresy’ out this week and a debut EP scheduled for release later this year. Cain’s Heresy is a blinding tune as well, just under 4 minutes of pure quality. Given their tender age there can only be more to come from this lot too. Superb.
Manchester’s Loose Articles describe themselves as ‘feminine and threatening, working and class’ so it’s of no great surprise that their new single ‘Buses’ is rather in your face, in a good way of course. Produced by Theo Verney, Buses is uncompromising and splendid.
If you fancy a bit of swaggering post punk, look no further than Hallan’s new single ‘Hands Up’. It’s a confident little devil that stomps along with a riff that sparkles. The band seem to be improving with every new single too.
Concluding our round up this week is Gazebo the debut EP by Personal Trainer. There are five tracks on the EP in total, the excellent ‘Fiddlefunk’ kicking off proceedings alongside new tracks ‘Crops’ and ‘The Loozer’ and two previously released singles ‘Politics’ and ‘Muscle Memory’. We like.
By Jon Milton
As we thankfully left 2020 behind, we did so in the knowledge that there were already at least three new albums to look forward to in January and February of this year, from Shame, TV Priest and Mush. This was pretty much the main reason why we’ve interviewed so many artists over the course of this month to find out their plans too, to try and keep focussed on the positives in what is a challenging time for everyone.
TV Priest’s album ‘Uppers’ was initially pencilled in for release last November but was put back to early February due to Sub Pop signing them. The band first caught our attention with their excellent debut single House of York in April last year which was swiftly followed in May by the similarly impressive ‘Runner Up’. They won us over completely with lead single from ‘Uppers’ ‘This Island’ out last August, and subsequent singles ‘Slideshow’, ‘Decoration’ and ‘Press Gang’ have simply reinforced that opinion.
Following on from our first interview with the band in June last year I asked them for their thoughts on how they found the rest of 2020 and their plans for 2021:
What were your highlight(s) of 2020?
We were very proud to start releasing our music last year despite not being able to play gigs off the back of it. And of course, it's been a really tough year for everyone, but being able to share our work in this way and know that it's connecting with people is extremely rewarding. George and Tristan at Hand In Hive were an integral part of this and somehow set us on a course to be offered a record deal with Sub Pop. Last but by no means least, working with Joe Wheatley on two of our videos was an absolute pleasure. He's an amazing guy and never ceases to amaze with his work, we look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
When can we expect to hear new music from you in 2021, in digital and physical formats?
Our debut album 'Uppers' will be out in February which will be available both digitally and physically. Beyond that we hope to be releasing new music later in the year.
Pandemic permitting, what gigs have you got lined up?
Due to the current lockdown, our album release show has been pushed back to April. We also have other gigs planned in London, Cardiff, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton and Southampton.
Any festival appearances planned?
Dark Arts in Leeds, Are You Listening? In Reading, Gold Sounds in Leeds, Get Together in Sheffield and Stag and Dagger in Glasgow.
What are your hopes for the band in 2021?
With any luck, we will be playing all the gigs mentioned above. Hopefully we'll have recorded our second album and will be looking to put it out before the end of the year.