Johnny5thWheel&thecowards

Johnny5thWheel&thecowards... Who are those masked men?

Interview: Johnny5thWheel&thecowards

Published on November 4th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams

Johnny5thWheel&thecowards recently released their marvellous second album Music To Shake’n’Shuffle To on the equally marvellous, Southampton-based label Sotones, so Rocksucker fired some questions over to front man Richard Lomax in order to find out a little bit about the background of the super-catchy and splendidly eccentric pop music he presides over. Oh, and his taste in music is very similar to ours, so we asked him about that too.

First, though, have yourselves a simultaneous earful of and butcher’s at their Halloween cover of “Mad Monster Party”, from the 1967 film of the same name…

How did you spend Halloween?

The night before was spent editing together the video and the music for our cover of “Mad Monster Party”… we recorded it all the day before – a short deadline always makes for a lot of fun. The seat of your pants is the only way to fly!

I spent the night playing Klezmer versions of Kinks songs with some friends but I did have a bag of sweets by the door ready for any potential trick-or-treaters. Not many takers round here though – maybe they were put off by the sounds of a bazouki and cymbalom blaring out “Dead End Street”…

Who designed/where did you get the muppet from the “Mad Monster Party” video?

‘Victor’, our fuppet (faux muppet to avoid any legal issues – hoho) was entirely conceived, designed and constructed by our drummer/accordionist Andy out of a block of foamy matter he found in an old college laboratory. We do enjoy the shoddy Blue Peter approach in this band (here’s me building some tentacles and a giant mask out of an old bookcase – http://followthewheel.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/whats-he-building-in-there.html).

Victor has also starred in our video for “In My Laboratory” from our new album and was very busy on the weekend before Halloween attending various spooky social functions. He took Andy along as his ‘plus 1’… had to really… he’s a bit lifeless without him.

Congratulations on a superb new album. Are you pleased with people’s reaction to it? Any particularly poignant or amusing critiques from friends and family?

Thank you very much! It’s reassuring when people like or ‘get’ this album as we’ve spent two years putting it together. It definitely divides opinion. Some folks seem to really love it whilst others actively dislike it. I suppose we should take some comfort from that… means we’re not so bland maybe.

It is strange when radio stations say they won’t be supporting it because it’s not mainstream though… it sounds mainstream to me. The album is mainly made up of what I would consider to be pop songs. The words ‘eccentric’ and ‘quirky’ get thrown about as does the old ‘T’ word (‘theatrical’) but really it’s just what is inside my brain and I don’t see it as too different from Barret-era Floyd, The Beta Band, Super Furry Animals, The Kinks or any of the other intelligent and fun pop music I grew up exploring.

Are you familiar with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s early work? If not then I insist you check out the album Bwyd Time or a compilation titled 20, for they are kindred spirits of yours in my opinion.

Insistence taken! I have been aware of them but never heard them. I have been told they sound a little SFA but that’s probably just a sweeping generalisation of that lush psych-pop that the Welsh seem to be so good at. For a long time I used to actively avoid any music that people would compare us to but that’s a habit I’ve managed to grow out of now. Consider Bwyd Time my next purchase.

Are B movies an influence? If so, any favourites?

B movies are an influence, maybe more so for their music even than their visuals… Andy and I both love Ed Wood films and the like. The soundtracks of theremins and tremeloes are so evocative – a lot of fun to mess around with.

What would you deem to be your Finest Hour? And your least Finest Hour?

Such a leading question… haha. That song [“My Finest Hour”] is deliberately vague. We actually had a lot of musicians and artists come in and whisper their least Finest Hours onto the recording and then I mixed it whilst trying to keep those secrets hidden in the mix. So I’ve not even heard them! It took a lot of trust on the part of everyone who did it – telling those secrets to the beehive and then releasing them to the world.

When you refer to “a gentleman’s mess”, are you talking about…*ahem*?

What do you think..? Actually I first came up with the phrase when folks bumped into me and told me I’d put on weight. I hadn’t actually (so self conscious…) but my propensity for braces and shirts and ties had bunched up underneath my cardigan and gave the impression of a paunch. I used to embarrassedly explain that it was my ‘gentleman’s mess’… it has taken on a different meaning in the song though… probably the meaning you’ve *ahem-ed* to. It’s a single entendre.

Have you started thinking about the next album yet, or is it way too early to be asking that?

Never too soon to start thinking about the next project. I have a few albums written, context is the issue. There is an album of psych-pop songs which is a natural progression from the last two but I also have a solo album of quite personal songs which I am sure everyone would love to hear and wouldn’t think was too self indulgent at all(!).

The one that really gets me excited is quite a gargantuan task… we’ve been talking recently about an imaginary soundtrack to the series of books The Dark Tower by Stephen King. It’s a long tale so we’d have to tackle it in installments but it could be very interesting to do… as long as Spencer McGarry doesn’t do it first.

What would you say sets Sotones apart from other labels? How did you come to be involved with them in the first place?

It’s different from most labels in that it is 100% run by the artists on the label. We came to know each other through me putting on a gig for the magnificent Haunted Stereo up North and them doing the same for us down South. It made sense to push each other from opposites end of the country. Also they sent a Sotones supergroup up to play a tribute to 69 Love Songs night I put on in Manchester where we had a bunch of bands performing the whole Magnetic Fields album in order (the night was called 69 Live Songs). Theirs was the best cover: “Long Forgotten Fairytale”.

Which instruments would you like to be able to play that you currently cannot?

Piano is my main regret. I am self-taught and can bluff around on it but to be able to sit down, cock an eyebrow and launch into some bar room jazz or even some crazy classical is so impressive, so much more than picking up an acoustic guitar… I’ll set my mind to it once I’ve passed my driving test.

What do you think of Love at the Bottom of the Sea, The Magnetic Fields’ album from this year? In fact, other than your own, what would you nominate as Album of 2012?

It’s great, they are always great. The main problem is that 69 Love Songs was just perfection. How can they top it?

There have been some wonderful albums this year… the Colorama album Good Music is great. Loving the Hey Sholay album at the moment too. Thomas Truax continues to eke out his wonderful music a song a month. Denis Jones, Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six and Bo Ningen are all honourable mentions too. Was the Spencer McGarry seasons this year?

Which are your favourite songs and/or albums by the following:

Super Furry Animals
Favourite album – Guerrilla – the first one I bought. Not their song-iest album but I love how bold the pop numbers are and how you can let that middle section of the album make you float away into Super Furry world. Mwng is on equal footing because I sometime get too caught up in lyrics so having an entire album sung in a language I don’t understand means I am wholly listening to the sounds clashing against each other and the music that makes.

Pavement

I am the uncoolest Pavement fan ever! I’m one of those blasphemers who prefers the last couple of albums to their earlier stuff. To me Brighten The Corners and especially Terror Twilight are phenomenal. I think Malkmus just got better and better and his first album with the Jicks was as good as anything Pavement did for me.

The Flaming Lips

Again, The Soft Bulletin. I’m picking such obvious choices here… I must look like a huge dilettante to all those dyed-in-the-wool Flaming Lips fans who say this album is all “Disney” (I have had many a drunken argument listening to people saying this – it’s good fun!). I got into them through seeing them live at the time this album was released and it remains my favourite live show to this day. Wayne Coyne had a dancing nun glove puppet on his hand, he pulled a cord and the balloons fall onto the audience… tosses some glitter into the crowd and launches into the most beautiful version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. People were crying! I think I ended up hugging this 7ft chav with tears streaming down his face. They create such a powerful sound.

Richard Lomax, thank you.

Johnny5thWheel&thecowards - Music To Shake'n'Shuffle To

Johnny5thWheel&thecowardsMusic To Shake’n’Shuffle To is out now on Sotones, while the band will play The Oakwood in Glossop on 24th November (click here to RSVP). For more information, please visit www.followthewheel.co.uk

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.