with OLLY MITCHELL of
There have been a lot of things happen to this band, since www.downtuned.co.uk reviewed their excellent "Insecta Evolution" EP in May 2001. Back then they were called Severance and were already getting noticed by the press, not least of all for the awesome quality of their songs. So, it seemed like a good time to catch up with Olly Mitchell - the lungs behind the band and ask him to get us right up-to-date.
Hi Olly, hows things?
Im good man yeah. We played a gig last night (10 Mar 02), it was cool.
So that was the bands first gig under the new name?
Yeah, it was good to be back up there and we got it on video. My cousin and her group are doing an arts/media degree in London and she has a really nice camera and stuff, so I am looking forward to seeing that. They will produce it on a CDR as well so I will send one up to you. You would never guess that I had a gig last night.
Err yes. You are just a little bit hoarse.
My voice is a bit brutal at the moment
Okay, lets start at the beginning. Could you tell us how the band got together?
Basically, I was the last member to join the band and it was called SNATCH, which is indeed one of the worse names in the world. It wasnt a band that was really going anywhere, it was more Stuart and James (bass and guitar) who are brothers, and they have being playing music together for a long time. They had a drummer here and a singer there, but nothing really seriously started. I met them at college and we got into music together, although I wasnt involved with their band, I hadnt even sung before or been in any band. All I remember is them saying that the singer that they had wasnt good enough. This evolved into me kind of suggesting ways that they could make this singer better, until it got to a point were they turned round and said - "why dont you come down and have a go". So I said fair enough, Id have a crack at it. I just put a few lyrics together, went down there and they were sort of impressed that I had come with a package and that I had written stuff. No one had done that in the past.
So they were impressed because you had done that little bit extra than anyone before you?
Well, yeah. I really went for it because it was something I really needed at the time, to push me a bit. I was sort of bored with everything really.
So how far back was this Olly?
This was getting on for nearly two and a half years ago. So, we just began to kick around. Although the band was called SNATCH, we really didnt class that as a proper name and we were only playing in a community centre at that time, which will indeed always remain our stomping ground!!!. So I sort of kicked everyone up the arse and said - "look we have got to get into a studio" - and from that point on, we decided to call the band Severance.
The reason that we called it Severance was because at the time of the band being formed, there was a lot more aggression and anger. The whole point of the band at that point was that we had been through a lot of separations with life experiences, with girlfriends and family and stuff, and the Severance theme was about us being split-up and torn apart. I imagine at that time it was a bit of a cliché thing because we also wanted a name that was sort of metal.
Well it was certainly that. Severance was also a high impact name dont you think?
It was, and at that period of time we were all listening to very different sorts of music to what we are listening to now. We actually had two guitarists in the band at this point. A guy called Russ was playing guitar and we started writing songs we had about three written and Russ started to drift a bit and started to get a bit slack with the whole thing. He decided that the songs were getting to heavy, he was a lot more sort of Guns N' Roses, more solos and melodic stuff
He is a lot more into mainstream and traditional styles of rock?
Yeah, he was far more of a trad metaller. So from there he ended up leaving the band which was a huge deal because he had been playing with Stuart and James since they started, and with Russ leaving it was a bit of a smack in the face. We decided that the best thing for us to do was to record something, because that was something we had done at that point. So we took the first four tracks that we had written, to a studio in Portsmouth and we recorded our first EP. It was called The Act Of Separation and I consider it quite embarrassing today. I suppose its like that with most bands, the first record they do is always awful but no matter what anyone says you always think its the best thing ever and that kind of brought us together.
So at this point, were you called Severance?
Yeah, this was sort of our first recording as Severance.
How long ago are we talking here Olly?
This was kind of early 2000. It was a bit weird because we had written everything with two guitars, so we just went into the studio and still laid down both tracks for the guitars. We recorded four songs for the EP; it only cost us about £100 or something.
Then the first song we wrote after that EP was a marked difference in our sound. As soon as Russ had left the band the heaviness started to come through, purely because our influences started to show. He was kind of holding everyone back a bit, but not in a bad way, each to his own, if youre not into the heavier stuff thats cool, it just wasnt working
I mean, he actually co-wrote Infamy the first track on the second EP (Insecta Evolution). But it was around this time that things started to happen for us. I actually left and went to live in America for four months and at this point the band had a huge break from each other, which most people would think is the worst thing, but it was the best thing that ever happened to us. When I was in the States, I met a lot of the big runners in the underground scene out there, and I got to taste a lot more of the music that I am into now. This was when I was introduced to bands such as Dillinger, Botch and Zao and bands along those lines. So when I came back I was really fresh and full of this new music that none of the others had heard, which I shared with the rest of the guys. And immediately from that we wrote Subtracting The Apex which was our next track. We decided that it was time to do an EP and we went balls out and did the Insecta Evolution EP.
There has been some news that is only just starting to surface about the band, and that is the name change. You were, up until the end of Feb 2002 called Severance, but thats all changed. Whats happened and why?
Well simply, there has been and are other bands called Severance.
Thats true, we said it was an impact name but its not an uncommon one either, is it?
No, this is something that obviously comes with maturity in music I think. I mean with regards to the name, when we were Severance it was a good name for us but when things started to get a bit more popular and people stared liking the band more, we wanted to be as unique as we can with the name. Then we found out that there was another band putting a release out. Our first reactions were that this is almost a good thing for us, because now we are with Undergroove and we are releasing a record, this would be a fresh start and the name really was an issue. Trying to think of a band name, that is such a hard thing, it took a good month and a half and everyones ideas were completely clashing. So, when we found something that we all agreed on, straight away we knew that it was the right name for us.
You can loosely draw a parallel to this with naming a child. The band is your child and youve got to find a name for it and its not something you do lightly, is it?
No it isnt, we have coined that phase when weve been thinking of the band name and especially in the end with Johnny Truant, because it kind of sounds like a son. Our bastard son!!!
The way the name Johnny Truant came about was from a book our drummer brought a long time ago called The House Of Leaves, which is a hugely inspiring book. He is an artist and well into graphics and things along those lines and he had been shouting at me about this book for a long time. So, I went out and bought the book, which is superb. The book is written in pieces and stages and is a fantastic piece of literature and the band name is in respect of that as well in a way.
The way the book is written is back-to-front and sideways. Sometime you have to put the book in a mirror to read it, some of the pages have only got like one letter on and you have to flick like to the fifty-ninth page to get the next. But the main character from the book is called Johnny Truant and he is a sex obsessed drug addict. Basically, he moves into this house that is completely un-dimensional on the inside and it has lots of secrets. I wont go too much into the book because it would ruin it if you wanted to read it, which I advise that you do, because it is the most amazing thing I have ever read. So, Johnny Truant is basically a character from this book.
The first thing we really wanted with the name was something that sounded really slick, that really stood out and when you heard it you were just going to remember it. That was one of the most important things to us. Secondly, we wanted something that wasnt going to be too descriptive. We are the sort of band that, now we are moving on, we dont want people to hear our name and go "ah well, thats a metal band". We want people to be able to pick up our CD, look at the name and say "what the hell is that going to be".
Were also a band, especially myself, that lives for the shock factor and thats one of the reasons why I like to do the heavier music. When someone doesnt know its heavy and they first hear it, its just so much more shocking. It has much more of an impact to it. The other reason we went with Johnny Truant was because I dont think necessarily that we are going to be a heavy band forever, especially with wearing our influences on our sleeves. We are all very much into Cave-In and they are a band that really inspire us, not that you can hear the Cave-In in our music, but more their ethics especially the way that they have gone from one style to the next. Without a doubt they are one of the most forward moving bands around at the moment. I think most bands could take something from Cave-In.
Yeah, they have really evolved havent they?
Exactly, the way they have really done what they have wanted to do. The way they have gone from doing really heavy music, to doing the superb melodic music that they do now and thats the sort of switch that we would like to aspire to do one day. And the new name wasnt something we wanted to be hanging over our heads as something crazily metal that wouldn't allow us to do that. Johnny Truant is something that we can take to whatever levels we what it to be, most of all I think its honest.
That displays forward thinking on your part, which is a good sign and shows some intention to be around for a while.
I mean the music is heavy, but its not just about being heavy. Its just about doing what we want to do and if next week we want to be a pop band then we will. I just think that is the direction we want to go in, just to do what we want to do. For example, our riffs are getting a lot more melodic but with the harsher style of vocals, that's really because the songs are a lot more emotive now, the songs arent so angry. I think thats something that has come through time.
I think you can only explore the extremely heavy route so far and then after a while you are in danger of repeating yourself. The only way you can move forward is by introducing other feeling, styles and influences into the music and realising that shows a nice and refreshing attitude on the bands part.
Yeah cheers. We have had a lot of stick already about the name. I mean we have had far more negative comments about it, but thats just the kind of thing that will drive us to like it more.
What sort of comments have you had?
Well, no-one has turned around and said thats shit, but people have asked why have we gone for a name like that when we used to be called Severance and it sounded heavy. And a lot of people seem to attach Johnny Truant with a punk stigma, as it has got that sort of punky ring to it. That in its self is one of the reasons why we chose it, because we really feel that with a band name you make the name what it is. If we are really heavy and play with that name, then the next band that has a name similar to ours will automatically be in the metal niche; do you see what I am saying? We are just up for making it different and we just want to stand out and anyone who is gonna challenge the name is in our opinion a good thing. Its going to get people talking about it Having said all that the album is untitled, but we have quite a few ideas kicking around at the moment and the album title is going to be fucking brutal.
But I can understand that, because that is the style of music youre producing at the moment which is cool.
Exactly, so when you see the band name sitting next to its title you will know it got something brutal on it.
Can I just mention that one of the first things that ran through my mind when I heard the new band name, was of a comic book hero or something
I agree with you it brings so many different things to mind, it really does.
One thing I have noticed, Earthtone9 have a song called The House OF Leaves on their new EP, so I know they must of read that book.
Have you heard their new EP (Omega)?
I havent, but I am desperate to hear it. Im hoping that it will be mailed down to me soon, I keep pestering them. I mean the track they did on the Rock Sounds CD - Amnesia - I think that is one of the best Earthtone9 songs they have written. I just think the songs where they lose the harshness are so much more dynamic, cool and moving. I think Earthtone9 are a really special band, they will always have a place in the UK scene, all of their albums have been devastating.
You have mentioned that you intend to vary the style of Johnny Truant sound, using your influences and mixing heaviness with light. To me bands like Mahumodo that mix the intense heavy stuff with gentle passages make that technique work so well. What do you think?
I mean, with out any shadow of doubt they are my tip for the top at the moment. I think they are the most forward moving band on the scene. I think the whole scene is just massively flourishing, there are a lot of bands doing awesome things at the moment. The thing with Mahumodo is, we played with them on our first ever London gig, they were the first band on and they really blew us away and we really got on really well. They were really taken in by us and we were really taken in by them and I talk to Mehdi a lot. Hes a legend and a bloody perfectionist and I love their EP. I just think the EP completely expelled the chug, chug, roar prophecy that so many bands have and thats so important in music at the moment.
I also think Sikth are a fantastic band and I think what they are doing is really intelligent. They are bringing what they really like into the extreme hardcore scene for kids, so they are going to find it far more accessible by the way they are presenting it. Especially with their vocal style, I think thats really great. And I mean, Matter are just the most savage thing in the world, I really cant say any more, therere great.
But for me Mahumodo are the best band on the scene at the moment, they are a bloody force to be reckoned with. They are very hard to criticise, the instrumental on their EP is superb, we all love it, and its a record we all listen to a lot. We have a lot of time for Mahumodo, I think therere a fantastic band. There has been talk of me a Mehdi doing something together at some point. But actually its going to be something very ambient, with loads of sampling and stuff, very Aphex Twin, kind of atmospheric stuff that I am into and he is very into doing some stuff. And one day hopefully we will get something together, which will be really cool.
So, with the name change is that with the same line-up? Could you introduce the band and explain what everyone does?
The line-up is still exactly the same, it is Paul Jackson on drums, James Hunter on Bass, Stuart Hunter on Guitar and myself Olly Mitchell on Vocals.
At the moment, the sound of Johnny Truant is essentially the same as Severance. Its purely a name change this isnt it?
The sound is changing and we are already starting to put new stuff down even though we have already written the album, no vocals but especially with the guitar. Stuart is the main songwriter and we already have a good three or four songs that are sounding strong. But they are going in a lot more of a different direction. I mean some of them are a lot more savage, but some are more atmospheric, a lot moodier and more dynamic than the ones that we have already done. I think the name is also quite inspiring to explore the route where by, you know, it doesnt have to be heavy to be cool, which is this stigma that is attached to so many bands, where as you dont have to be heavy all the time. By being quiet some times, you are going to make yourselves sound so much heavier.
You have already said that Dillenger Escape Plan is one of your biggest influences, and I can see other bands like Botch, Zao, Grade and others, that U.S. noisecore path. However, there seems more than an echo of Death metal in there too?
Especially in the new stuff, the stuff you havent heard. The influences in the band are so vast; we are all from very different backgrounds. Our drummer for example, he is very much into these bands that youve mentioned, but I mean at the same time Paul is very much into Jazz, The Dave Matthews Band, Aphex Twin and God Speed you Black Emporer. Then there is James who is very much into Maiden, Metallica and Death, more into the trad metal, but at the same time into Zao and Poison The Well and things like that. James is really the guy that brings the death metal edge to the band. Stuart is into the US noise thing, hes so into Old Man Gloom and Cave-In, theyre probably his favourites.
I am very much into all that, but Im very much into emo and that has a huge influence on my lyrics and where my lyrics come from. I am also into Dave Matthews, Ryan Adams and Whisky Town and stuff like that. So we really do come from different places and our influences are so vast, and because they are so vast thats were the sound becomes formed and that is why I think the band is so hard to pin down. We have got so many different influences coming in from so many different directions, everyone brings their slant to the band which is how we get the sound of Johnny Truant.
You mentioned emo there, so youre quite into that side of things then?
Emo has been a huge influence on me. Stu has been getting into it recently and it has started to come through a lot in the guitar bits, mixing it up with the heaviness. I suppose it just brings out another side to the band, a more emotive side. Recently, I actually listen to more of the emo stuff than I do to the heavier stuff. For me to listen to something really heavy its got to be something really good. I mean there are so many run-of-the-mill heavy bands around, they all sort of tend to blend into the same sort of shit in the end. Its something, especially with our band that has come with maturity. When we started out, it was a case of your not allowed to be in this band if you dont like metal and you are only allowed to like metal. I think everyone who is in a band goes through that stage and we have all sort of grown up. Now if someone wants to listen to Basement Jax or whatever, thats fine. And with having such a wide set of influence, it just opens up so many more doors for our sound.
How did you guys come to be playing this style (with coming from Brighton, more associated with Dance music)?
The scene in Brighton is extremely stagnant. I would go so far to say that it probably one of the worse scenes around for heavy music. It is very dance orientated, but really we really havent been influenced by that ilk at all, so that has never really been an issue. The only way that the Brighton music scene has influenced us is that it has just made us want to play our music more. The turnouts at shows are really bad. But at the same time it built up a lot of friendships with other bands and the bands in Brighton are very tight because the scene is so small. So, you have bands like Matter and us that met playing together and we made a point of playing together because we felt that we were probably the two most extreme bands in Brighton at the time. Youve got bands like Hiding With Girls (who used to be called Imprint), Landmine Spring and bands like that. We are really sort of tight knit down here and everyone knows each other because its bad playing in Brighton, purely because the shows are so poorly attended.
I suppose if the norm is Dance, then there is always a want to do something different and maybe you have developed as a reaction to that?
Very much so, I am not opposed to any forms of music at all. Music is music and its a fantastic thing, I just think the reason that we have decided to do this music is just because its the music that we love to do. If it means that we are only playing in front of one person then we are quite willing to do that. The number of time we have played to a small audience here! It made going to play in London for the first time so refreshing, to have kids there that were interested.
There cant be anything more demoralising than having nobody turn up?
It is demoralising, but at the end of the day we love doing it so much we really dont mind whether we are playing in front of one or one hundred people, we love being on stage playing our music. Just being on stage is the biggest buzz in the world and we will grab it at every opportunity.