The Johnstones Mix Business And Pleasure

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

As any stand-up comedian can tell you, it takes a lot of work to be funny. Social commentary and criticism – no matter how superficial – require a precarious balance of obviously out-sized imagery and prescient truth in order to get over with audiences because the delivery will lose audience members if one is too heavy on one side or the other of the truth/mockery line. Is the act too serious? That's not funny and one risks the possibility of coming off as a bully. Is it too silly? Audiences will recognize that it's overdone right away and will immediately lose interest because the act will be looked upon as a two-dimensional cartoon with no meat to it. These are all aspects of a routine that comedians need to look at during the writing process and, even if they get it right, it still might not catch on because the material might hit a little too close to home for audiences (not funny) or it may simply not catch because the brand of humor presented doesn't line up with what would work for audiences.

Rolling those creative dice over and over again can be exhausting work for a performer and crushing when the results are met with no response (nobody likes to have a singular wit) but, when it does work, the elation of knowing you've got something which tickles a large group but also makes them think beyond the comedy is something of a golden moment for any performer. The Johnstones know it to be true. Since forming in Ajax, Ontario in 2002, the band has always taken great joy in injecting a better-than-healthy dose of satire into their blend of punk and ska and that ethic has served them well; their 2006 debut, Word Is Bond [Stomp Records, 2006], crept onto modern rock and college radio waves with songs like “Dun Wan' Lo,” “Action” and “Livin' In The Gutter” and kudos came in from other media outlets including Muchmusic, the band has built an impressive following as a good-bet live band and their onstage hijinx are beginning to become legendary now (the bandmembers recently earned a life-time ban from Disney World), but The Johnstones are also beginning to discover that such a reputation can cut both ways; it can be incredibly difficult to be taken seriously. Such is the obstacle that the band sought to overcome and with the glowing reception that The Johnstones' sophomore effort for Stomp, Can't Be Trusted, has garnered, singer/guitarist Jarek Hardy is finally comfortable enough to heave a sigh of relief because, while they haven't changed, the band is starting to earn a little more respect. “There's a lot of satire in our music because comedy is a big thing to us, but there are a lot of personal experiences on it too,” says Hardy while on a brief repast from the road. “We get into a lot of trouble everywhere we go – it sort of follows us around – but I hope our new record will help people understand why we get into so much trouble [chuckling].

“The catch to getting into trouble and cracking jokes about it is, as soon as a band says that there's a comic element to them, it becomes very hard to be taken seriously and that fun is viewed as some kind of gimmick,” continues the guitarist, pensively. “We take it very seriously though and I think people are starting to recognize what we're doing and that we're more than what they've perceived us to be. We're definitely a comedic band and we love it – we live for it – but it's not like we just tossed it off [laughing], we work really hard to present ourselves the way we do. I know there are lots of people that see us as a comedy band, but we take it very seriously and I think that comes through a little better in the songs on Can't Be Trusted than it did with Word Is Bond.”

As Can't Be Trusted continues to scale both charts and radio playlists a month after its release, it's safe to assume that The Johnstones' target audience has indeed received the message. This time out, the band pulls exactly no punches (or double meanings) as they mix together all the different sides of their stage personae evenly; such that it's impossible to tell where the humor ends and the confessions begin. Songs like “Right To Say,” “These Sort Of Things” and the title track best exemplify the band's confident stride as they back obvious gag lines with more (possibly) heart-on-its sleeve matter, back it with a tighter, stronger blend of punk, ska and even a little hip hop for good measure and plough through to the pleasure centre of every listener's brain with a defiant, cocksure smile. It's actually a very intoxicating brew because of the fact that the songs are so difficult to decode; each time, while listeners are trying to decide which moments in a given song are genuine and which are just for grins, the band is already setting up the next puzzle to make them work through; it's a fast-paced tempo that keeps both the band and listeners on their toes, but it never stops being fun. “The reception that Can't Be Trusted has gotten so far has been really gratifying,” glows the guitarist when asked about the album and the process under which it was made. “We really wanted to present a strong album this time that sort of captured every side of us; we got Fil Bucchino and Matt Hughes from Flashlight Brown to produce the album and we ended up sitting down with them for weeks on end doing pre-production and writing songs, then scrapping and starting over. We finally came up with a batch of songs that we liked  and then, even while we were in the studio, we were still cleaning them up even more and doing more pre-production. We really had to work at it to keep ourselves from polishing the songs too much, I think, but Fil and Matt were right on board with us to come up with an album that was the strongest we could make it.

“It was a really collaborative effort in that way,” continues Hardy. “Like, Ryan and I wrote most of the songs, but everyone added their elements and that side of it was very much equal share. Ryan [drummer/emcee Ryan Long –ed] and I both tend to write pretty much non-stop. We probably have a few albums-worth of songs that we have written but not recorded or that we have recorded but haven't released.”

With such a strong work ethic observed, Hardy says that work on new material has continued even now, just less than six weeks since Can't Be Trusted was released, because The Johnstones plan on offering their growing fan base another document to decode as soon as they're able. According to Hardy, the band has continued to write new material feverishly in preparation for a follow-up to Can't Be Trusted when the green light comes on and they're given the go ahead to walk back into the studio. Although no hard plans have been set yet, the guitarist says that the hope is to have another new album complete by the end of 2010 and The Johnstones want to be ready for when those wheels begin turning.
“Right now, the plan is to tour Can't Be Trusted until we feel like it has hit its run, and then we'll figure out what we want to do about another album,” says the guitarist flatly, confidently. “As I say, we have a tonne of songs on the back burner and, when we feel like it's the right time to release another album, we'll just get straight to it.

"There's definitely another release on the horizon, it's only a matter of when.”



The Johnstones' video for 'Can't Be Trusted' on Youtube.


The Johnstones – "Right To Say" – Can't Be Trusted


Can't Be Trusted
is out now and is available as a Canadian import here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.