❉ Menswe@r’s Johnny Dean returns from the wilderness with Fxxk Explosion.
Best known as the frontman of Britpop dandies menswe@r, Johnny Dean returns from the wilderness with a new EP, ‘Fxxk Explosion – In The Beginning’, containing four tracks described by their creator as “Robot Rock”, “Transmechanical” and “Auraltistic”.
We quizzed Johnny about his formative influences and pop culture fave raves from The Book Tower and Back To The Future to Blade Runner and Bowie, what we can expect from Fxxk Explosion, mental health issues, the changing face of the music industry and general folderol. Read on for some fun, fascinating chit-chat.
“From the late ’90s onwards the music industry saw it would have to evolve across the board as the internet evolved and consumers evolved with it, or suffer the consequences. As soon as Apple made the iPod, and then the iPhone, that was the final nail for the “old days”. Everything changed. Right down to the way we listen to music. The supposed “vinyl revolution” will not change that. It was such a seismic shift. And it’s still shifting.”
What were you like at school?
I like to think I was invisible, under the radar, but if you were to ask old school mates they’d probably say “bit of a joker, good at drawing…” Probably.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was really young I considered both fireman and male stripper. I had no idea you could combine the two. I’ve never fulfilled these ambitions. I’m hardly Magic Mike. Then I saw Michael Jackson on TV, the Motown Awards, and that was that…
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
“Be extremely careful who you trust and and always be yourself, you’ll be meeting some real sharks and slippery snides throughout your life so don’t get railroaded or shafted. Not everyone shares your principles. I know that’s hard to believe. You’re an extremely attractive and cool guy but very naive and people will want a bit of what you have for themselves. Tell ’em to sling it.”
Something along those lines….
What are your best and worst qualities?
I always try to see the best in people, to trust them, accept them for who they are. I like to give people a chance. That’s the best thing. The worst thing is that as soon as someone crosses a line or betrays that trust they are dead to me. I’m a firecracker at times.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Most of them I think. But notable instances would be temporary manager/press agent for menswe@r one morning in Paris, 1995. And working in a post room for a big city company for about six months. Too much racism, sexism, homophobia and general all round ignorance. It was an eye opener.
Who were your heroes growing up? Who has inspired you over the years?
The previously mentioned Michael Jackson. As a boy he was pretty much my religion. He pretty much embodied what a pop star should be, an artist and an entertainer, with a healthy dose of weird. Surrounded by mythology. Then later on I upgraded to David Bowie, an artist and an entertainer, with a healthy dose of weird. Surrounded by mythology. There is a theme.
What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?
That’s hard. Very. I’m going to forget loads of stuff. And I’m not sure I can name one thing…
So… Dramarama when it was spooky. Tom Baker in The Book Tower. Sapphire and Steel. Miami Vice. Utopia. That thing where ITV (?) made everyone believe they were watching a live documentary about a haunted house and everyone shat themselves. [We think Johnny means Ghostwatch, which you can read about HERE.] Zammo shooting up on Grange Hill. And [Doctor Who episode] “Blink”, which is TEN YEARS OLD!!!!!
Monty Python: Is it funny?
It was. Not sure if it still is. Humour evolves like everything else, doesn’t it?
What was the last film that you watched?
All the way through? Arrival. I was a bit disappointed. I have dreams like Arrival all the time, because I’ve read too much Vonnegut. So it didn’t blow me away like some people.
What film could you watch every day?
Can’t narrow it down. Back to the Future in the morning. Blade Runner in the afternoon. And Apocalypse Now in the evening.
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Easily the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack. Absolutely amazing. When he recorded that there wasn’t MIDI technology. He is playing all the synthesizer parts individually onto tape. That’s unimaginable in today’s world of DAW sequencers. But regardless, it has been incredibly influential.
Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?
Cate Blanchett. Emma Stone. Tilda Swinton. Andrea Riseborough. In a docu-film about being my girlfriends, at the same time.
Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?
Arrival. That was easy.
Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?
It would change daily. Today it would be Gentlemen Prefer Polaroids by Japan.
Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?
Maybe Hunky Dory… Maybe.
Which book would you save if your house was on fire?
My Grandfather’s war diary.
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
Something or someone that inspires total unwavering loyalty in a group of people.
What are you reading at present?
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.
Your first release since 1998’s Hay Tiempo! is out on May 26 – In The Beginning by Fxxk Explosion – can you tell us a little about what prompted your return to writing and recording; how long have you been working on this material and is there more to come?
I never stopped making tunes. In my head at least. I played about with sequencers for a long time, and synths. Then I did a few little shows with a makeshift menswe@r a few years ago, purely for the gas, and it rekindled the joy I feel when I put myself in a musical headspace. And I mean creating music, rather than listening to it. Because I much prefer making it. It’s just good for me. Simple as that. Then, last year was just devastating in regards to musical heroes dying, and to top it off I ended it with getting a pretty nasty disease. That knocked the wind out of my sails, so I vowed to use the time I had left doing what I love. Time is running out for all of us… There will be more. I’ve got loads…
What aspect of producing this new EP has given you the most personal satisfaction; what’s been so rewarding about making new music so far – and why?
The fact I’ve done it all myself, apart from the mastering. And that these ideas I’ve had going backwards and forwards in my head for two decades are finally being realised. I’m someone who needs to express himself. If I don’t I suffer mentally. If I trap stuff in my head it builds and builds until there’s an epic release, a literal explosion of fuck. Making stuff is a pressure valve. My expression valve.
In a 2013 interview with The Quietus, you said of your experiences on the music scene with menswe@r: “The music industry attracts the worst type of people and I just didn’t want to be around them. I still don’t.”
The music industry is much more fragmented than it was in the ’90s, and the digital world has seen a punk-like return to the DIY ethos. Has this influenced your return to making music, inasmuch as you can now make music on your own terms, and bypass the more nefarious aspects of the industry?
I think from the late ’90s onwards the music industry saw it would have to evolve across the board as the internet evolved and consumers evolved with it, or suffer the consequences. Like HMV. And others. As soon as Apple made the iPod, and then the iPhone, that was it. That was the final nail for the “old days”. Everything changed. Right down to the way we listen to music. The supposed “vinyl revolution” will not change that. It was such a seismic shift. And it’s still shifting. But that’s just how things are. Head implants are not far away. Honest. Straight to the brain in the name of convenience.
But I think the internet will prove to be the most technologically important invention of all time. I think people are catching on to that now. It’s shaping EVERYTHING. Whether it has been damaging or beneficial is a matter of perspective. I think both. But that’s a whole other discussion. But yes, of course it has great benefits in regards to putting out music independently and not having to deal with “suits”. And for me personally, having to deal with other people as little as possible is fantastic. Although, if you want to reach the stellar heights of top tier artists you’re still going to need plenty of cash and influence, which big labels can provide. And also a strong work ethic and ideas. Ideas are the thing.
“It is remarkable that everything you see around you, all the things we achieve, build, make, all of those things derive from the brain and yet we value that organ very little when it comes down to its health. Somewhere along the line we’ve fucked up here, and we need to address it.”
In the same Quietus piece, you spoke candidly about your mental health and that you’ve lived with depression from about the age of eight, and more recently your diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (“It was like someone had turned the light on for me. It was like finding a home, finding out who I actually am… like finding the exit out of a really dark nasty maze.”).
Why is it so hard to speak out about the non-neurotypical conditions many of us live with, from depression and anxiety to autism, and do you feel there is more openness and awareness of such issues?
I don’t think it’s hard for everyone, to speak about it, but I agree that for the greater population on a whole it is. Which is just down to societal values and stigma. Plain and simple. It is remarkable that everything you see around you, all the things we achieve, build, make, all of those things derive from the brain and yet we value that organ very little when it comes down to its health. Somewhere along the line we’ve fucked up here, and we need to address it. And the only way that’ll happen is if prominent people who have a platform come out and talk about it. That can force the hand of the powers that be in regards to research and funding. And it can make people re-evaluate how they view these things. So whether you like them or not, whatever you think of the monarchy (and I am not a fan of them as it stands) what Princes Harry and William are doing is very important. Because mental health issues don’t care whether your spoons are plastic or silver. It can happen to anyone, and it can destroy lives. I think the only reason I’m personally open about these things is I couldn’t care less what anybody thinks. I’m a grown man. Not a twelve year old trying to fit in. Peer pressure doesn’t appeal to me, I’ve dabbled but it’s overrated. Your brain is an organ, like your heart or your liver, the difference being that your brain contains everything that you are as a person and you can’t have a transplant. It deserves care.
In 2o13, you performed a set of David Bowie songs at Buffalo Bar in Islington as part of a fund-raising event to increase awareness of autism and in particular Asperger’s, and you have campaigned on behalf of the National Autistic Society. What was the significance of choosing the songs of Bowie?
It was 2013, and Bowie had just announced he was releasing new music after a lengthy hiatus as well as the opening of the excellent V&A exhibition, which is still touring the world I think? It felt like the year of Bowie. It felt like things were on the up. Little did we know… Time takes a cigarette…
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
Probably “shut up”. Which I probably didn’t take.
Who has had the biggest influence on your life or career, and how has that person changed your life?
David Bowie. He changed my life for the better.
Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?
Nah. You definitely should. But you should steer well clear of your fans. They never say that do they? True, though.
What would you like to be your epitaph?
OMG! WTF? LOL!
We are at a bar, what are you drinking?
Spiced rum and coke. Or spiced rum and lemonade. Depending.
What are your three favourite cities?
Rome. New York. Edinburgh. That’s pretty varied isn’t it?
What do you do to chill out?
Stim (it’s an autistic thing). Make music. Game. Hang out with my dog. Sometimes all at once.
Do you have any other upcoming projects? Can we expect more from Fxxk Explosion?
Fxxk Explosion will be an ongoing thing. I may deviate from time to time. To be honest I want to do lots of things but I’m a terminal procrastinator. I often need a kick up the arse. But definitely more music. I’d like to start a collective, just people chucking ideas about and trying to make them happen, but it would probably just turn into a sex cult.
How can our readers find out more about you or Fxxk Explosion?
❉ The first EP release from Fxxk Explosion, ‘In The Beginning’ will be ready to download or stream from the 26th May 2017 at all major digital music providers. https://www.fxxkexplosion.com/