INDUSTRY INTERVIEW: Josh Johnstone
With a 20-year music career, spanning over a number of bands and countless collaborations, Josh Johnstone is finally ready to release his debut EP ‘Half A World Away’. WAM’s Claire Borrello spoke to the once Melbourne based artist to get his advice on how to make it as a full time musician and what the future holds for his music.
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What was the inspiration for your debut EP? And how did you go about putting together an EP of songs that you had written over the past four years?
This is EP is a very small snapshot of the many songs that I wrote over the past 6 years which didn’t really suit any of the harder rock band I was playing in at the time (Melbourne band The Happy Endings, and Perth band Vida Cain). They mainly just started as demos and were built in the studio over time to become proper songs. I guess I wanted to put something out to let people know I am officially embarking on a solo career, as well of course as continuing to rock out with my dear friends Vida Cain.
The first single Reckless was recorded In Italy, how did that come about?
Indirectly you could say Gumtree haha. A guy named Fabio Tumini who was in a popular band in Italy came to Australia for a holiday after his band broke up and answered an ad my brother put on gumtree for a fill in guitarist for his cover band. We got to know him well, he’s an awesome guy, and he told me that any time I wanted to visit Italy I was welcome to come and write and record a song in his studio… which is what I did. It was a truly an amasing experience.
You previously released solo material under the name Joppy as well as being a part of a bunch of bands, what sparked the idea to release music as a solo artist and why no more Joppy?
Joppy is my nickname, for reasons you can ask me over a number of beers sometime.. It wasn’t really meant to be anything more than just putting out a few demos and stuff. I really wanted a fresh start, and to use my name, rather than a name that refers to the time that… never mind.
You returned to Perth a couple of years ago after being based in Melbourne for 10 years – why the move back? And how do you think the WA music scene compared to over east’s when you left, and then when you returned home/now?
My move home was pretty simple; 1. family, 2. weather, 3. beach, 4. traffic. Perth wins at all of these over Melbourne. The music scene in Perth really boomed while I was away in the sense that there has been so many massive acts come out of here in the last 10 years. Overall though, yes the bands that come out of Perth are still great, but (and I think this is everywhere in the world) there are a lot less punters going to check out original bands as a regular activity so the scene is suffering a little, however as I said, thats everywhere at the moment. Have faith in Rock’n’Roll though, it will all pick up again!
You’ve toured a number of times to the USA, UK, Europe and Asia. Not being a massive name yourself, how have you gone about securing these tours and festival shows internationally?
We had management over there, and radio play. Being an Aussie band in a lot of those places was a huge selling point for getting on to festivals… and we weren’t really a shit band either which helped haha.
You also play a number of regional shows, including playing at a few mine sites. For those apprehensive of playing regional shows what would you say.
The crowds in regional towns are often more receptive and appreciative than city crowds. They compliment you, buy your merch and tell their friends to come check you out the next time you are in town. Of course you will get your annoying bogans who just want to hear Jesse’s Girl and the entire Cold Chisel best of CD played live to sound exactly like the CD, but you get that everywhere, its just a higher density in the country. But yeah, I recommend it. Its also good for the morale of your band, anyone who has toured before knows how much a tour can bring a band together, not only in performance level, but with a bunch of stupid in jokes that only you and your fellow band mates can understand.
Being a full-time musician, what would be some advice you can give to aspiring acts who are hoping to be in the same position as you one day? Any advice you wish someone had of told you?
The best advice I can give is become self sufficient and organised. Don’t wait around for someone to do things for you, get off your ass and make it happen. And if you fail, try much harder the next time.
‘Covers’ is often considered a dirty word in the industry, but how have you used playing covers to help sustain your original music career?
I think the attitude that ‘covers is a dirty’ word is not only a ridiculous load of wank but also an attitude that is quickly changing. Im not sure when it started, but if you look at our history, bands like AC/DC started out doing covers, as did INXS, they all mixed in their originals with covers so they could make their music accessible to everyone. Somewhere in the 90’s some (I’m guessing non-musician) industry person decided they would rather see a musician scrubbing dishes or waiting tables at a cafe and suffering for their art, rather than playing music full time. My opinion on this (and this is only my opinion) is that this is whole segregation thing is stupid. The only thing stupider than it are the musicians who agree with it and would rather work 9-5 in an totally unrelated field to music than play songs to people that make them happy. But by all means, each to their own! I usually keep my cover bands and original bands totally separate, so its just a matter of finding a balance between the two that keeps you paid well enough to put money into your original music whenever you need to. I have managed to pay for all my albums, world tours, guitars, house, you name it, from playing music, so its doable if anyone else is thinking of giving it a shot!
You’ve played a number of festivals both nationally and internationally as well as supporting some incredible acts like Gotye, The Waifs and John Butler Trio. What have been some of your highlights?
I think aside from silly things like stealing Mika’s drinks rider and running on to the stage to an enormous roar by pretending to be Pete Doherty when they were cheering for him (and various other shenanigans like that), the thing I love the most about overseas touring are the european festivals. They are really designed for people to enjoy themselves. Lots of space, places to swim, free activities, reasonably priced drinks etc… unlike most Australian festivals where I feel like we are all just jammed into a small space and are having our wallets emptied as quickly as possible.
What does the future hold for your various musical endeavours?
I guess just keeping on what I’m doing. Im writing my debut solo album at the moment, very very excited about that. I will no doubt tour that overseas next year. Vida Cain have some new songs too which we are all proud of too. Yeah lots coming up I guess!