Johnny Sly are one of the bands we (M20) have seen emerge and develop over the last two years – and not to sound biased, but we’re very fond of them! We worked with them in their earlier days when M20 were doing regular Solomon Grundy events and local gigs, and they just keep moving onwards, upwards and side ways (quite literally as they get bigger and bigger as an outfit)! It was great to catch up with them on their movements of the last year or so and the Sly journey, thus far.
Tell everyone a bit about yourselves, the story till now…
Jonny: I think the band grew like a plant in that it started with one seed and each new element was a natural progression but also an evolution, so it was organic and no-one feels responsible.
Jack: Jonny started playing and writing music in Brighton when he was lil, and then when he came up here he started playing open mics on his own. Me and Aeve joined three years ago – we used to practice in this little basement room in some upmarket uni halls we sneaked into. It was really echoey and we’d go there at night and get weird. We were a funny lil’ threesome, not quite sure what we were doing, but we managed to get some gigs like Antwerp mansion and open mics.
Aeve: We recorded a video for Mosaic Sessions on this really nice sunny, autumn weekend on Salford Quays. These guys on pit bikes kept appearing on the horizon every time we’d start a take and steadily get closer and louder until all you could hear was engine revs, and we’d have to start all over again. We all look really sad in the video because we were trying to look like serious musicians. But we loved it! Some people in a high rise flat clapped out of their window at the end.
Johnny: Although there are nine of us now it doesn’t feel like an ensemble – it still feels like a family – and that’s because we’ve never really sought out new members, they just seem to come along and it fits.
You performed on BBC Radio 4, how was that?
Aeve: It was great because they gave us breakfast and I got to play a Steinway. We all got really pissed afterwards in the BBC bar and Jack was flirting with Joan Bakewell for ages. And we gave Jennifer Saunders a CD as a christmas present! It was all very surreal and giddy.
Jack: And we met duke from Tracy Beaker! He was a very flamboyant man, I never knew. I remember we watched back some footage that our friend Arthur had video’d from the sound booth and having this realisation that we sounded so much better than we’d heard ourselves before, recorded really clearly, and together and live. That was where the idea for our new EP came from.
What’s been your favourite gig to date, anywhere?
Jonny: We loved Berlin this summer because we were introduced to lots of interesting, creative people who showed us an inside view of the city. We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful apartment and played a really nice set to an audience of mostly horizontal people. There’s a sense of freedom in Berlin which is inspiring musically. You can drink beer in the street and then put your bottles by the side of the road and people looking for pennies pick them up and recycle them for you. It’s better than some uniformed bruiser tipping your bottle down the drain just because you’re too poor to go to a pub. We saw a rainbow there in the sky with no clouds around it and it looked like the sky was smiling. I have no idea how it did that.
Jack: Also Amsterdam – we felt like we’d dropped into the coolest place to be with these great people that were all creative and cool and way more organised than us. It was inspiring. And sunny. It seems a long way away right now…..
Aeve: Special mention needs to go to Mischief Festival, who booked us way back when we were a three. It was a very strange vibe, really small and everyone looked like gangsters or pirates. At one point we played Deja Vu and the bass from the main stage was bouncing perfectly in time with us. It was a little adventure.
What about in Manchester?
Aeve: We’ve had some really special gigs in the last year or so, it’s so hard to pick a favourite! But one that really stands out is the gig we did at the Roadhouse [R.I.P] before it closed down last January. We put a lot of energy into promoting it, and had two of our favourite Manchester bands supporting us: Kolo Tamam and Oh Man, The Mountain. Loads of people came down and there was a really great vibe, and we all wore wacky hats on stage which is always a winner! We were all on a massive high after that gig, it was loads of fun.
Tell us about the New EP then
Jack: The EP we released last year, Lost Thoughts, was all recorded in my bedroom, with all the parts laid down one by one. It was a cool process, and one I’m really proud of in retrospect, but at the time it felt frustrating. Sometimes the parts just didn’t move together and mixing it all felt like tricks. That’s why we wanted to do this new one live. For me it’s a mystical thing – I just think you can feel the magic of it all being played together, in the pauses and the lifts. And this way we didn’t spend hours getting each take perfect, we had the weekend, and at the end of that weekend the product (and then Andrew Glassford spent two months mixing it… Thanks Andrew!)
(Artwork for the Lost Thoughts EP released Nov.2014)
Jonny: We recorded videos of the live tracks, which we’re releasing one by one. They were stressful at the time but there was a real sense of focus and emotional energy, and although we were all worrying about the little details, I think we took for granted that we were playing a set that had been honed over many months of consistent gigging in Manchester. Our bodies knew what they were doing and the pressure just added to the ‘pizazz’….
Do you have a favourite Johnny Sly tune?
Aeve: I am really in love with White Light, White Lies from the new EP. It’s just got such a lovely groove and makes me go ‘mmmmm’ inside. I’ve always been drawn to chilled music though so I think the feeling of this one just connects with me more than some of the others.
Phil: Totally agree with Aeve. Also really digging our latest song ‘Tryer’ but it’s not yet on record, so you’ll have to join us for a gig to hear that.
Oli: My fav is probably Remember, from the new EP, cuz it’s f****** epic and ends with a bang and I like bangs because I’m a drummer!
How do you guys write your music?
Aeve: Jonny has always been the songwriter, because of the way the band has grown from his solo project. Essentially, he writes his guitar parts and vocals, and then we all mainly write our own parts. But there is always lots of collaboration and discussion: someone will have an idea for how I could play a part on the keyboard, or one of us will find a harmony for someone else, or Jonny will already have an idea of what he wants someone to do in a certain part of a song. So it starts with Jonny’s parts, then is just a process of trying out different things and sharing ideas for the rest of us!
Who are the biggest influences of the band?
Rosalie: Each other! We all have such varied influences and we share them all.
Any local inspirations, bands killing it in the scene (or off the scene)?
Jack: We’ve already mentioned our band brothers / sisters Kolo Tamam and Oh Man, The Mountain, they are both great in different ways. Pareidolia – they’re a bit like us if we were cooler and less weird. John Ainsworth and Rosalie 23 are honestly two of the best and most original musicians I’ve ever seen. And honey feet. I saw Honey Feet play after us at The Hotspur Press once and they were amazing, upbeat fun, with a mama-jama, diva of a front woman with an insane voice. Further afield Cousin Kula are releasing some insane live videos of their new material at the moment – its Snarky Puppy meet Syd Arthur meets Riot Jazz. And The Mouse Outfit, they have some freshhhhh hip hop sounds that I can’t quite believe are from where I’m from. Gigging and attending gigs can be exhausting and sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have seen and heard musicians like these guys. And Arctic Turn, our bassist Phil’s solo project. I feature on a track of his called Bait and he’s got it on the Tom Robinson playlist on 6 music. Great work Phil. We’re going to record a music video where we throw gross stuff at him in slo-mo and he plays the song. I’ve got a cameo in it but I don’t know what to wear… (video now released see below).
If you could describe Johnny sly as an animal what would you say?
Phil: Some kind of flying iguana mongoose. Next question.
See and hear more of Johnny sly on any of these below links
BUY their new EP here: https://johnnysly.bandcamp.com/