To commemorate the release of ‘Crash 14’ by Menswe@r Gigslutz caught up with head honcho Johnny Dean who discusses the chaos and mayhem of their arrival on the scene, the antipathy and envy it generated, the fall-outs, the vagaries of the music press, Britpop revisionism, autism and more. Settle down and absorb, Daydreamers.
1. As one of the (in my opinion) unfairly maligned bands of the scene that came to be known as ‘Britpop’, you were victim to the classic ‘build them up’ tactic and judged by virtue of NOT being Blur or Oasis. Where do you see yourself as fitting in now? Would you want to?
It’s strange, because I absolutely believe we were in no way the worst of the bunch. But we were more successful. Which made us targets. In ’95 we were being hyped to the heavens by press, radio, television. It was pretty unbelievable. We were being touted as the next Blur, the next Oasis, the new Suede. Friends of Pulp, Elastica, at the centre of everything hip. In that sense we were set up to fall, no one could live up to that. Not in the UK. And what people fail to remember, or even at the time acknowledge, was that we were just kids. Gentry was 17 when we signed. We had enormous pressure to put material out as quickly as possible, which meant we couldn’t develop. The formation of the band, the race to sign us, our socialising was all reported in the press. From inception to burn out. I’m not sure that had happened before? Not at that level. It was quite a thing to deal with, there was no reference other than perhaps The Sex Pistols. Which didn’t end well either. It also generated a lot of negativity, from our contemporaries as well as certain corners of the music press. And a lot of that ill feeling has stuck. It’s been passed on to another generation. Which is something of an achievement. I’m not sure the degree of vilification is really justified. We were just kids who wanted to be in a band and make music. We didn’t kill anybody. The only people who got hurt were ourselves. The first album is generally well received by people who bother to listen to it with a bit of perspective, and at the time it actually got good reviews. I’m pretty sure Q gave it a glowing reception. So any bitterness directed towards us by the press is baffling. You know, the first thing I learned was that it isn’t really just about the music. Seriously. It’s about who you know and what you’re willing to do, who you’re willing to “grease”… It can be very political. Of course, it didn’t help that we were good looking. But what’s a guy to do? I’m not going to apologise because I like making records, performing, or having the balls to actually do it. People have the choice not to listen to it, or come to shows. If they want to moan and gripe and snipe and be a prick about it, that’s their choice too. I couldn’t give a shit, quite frankly. As long as I’m enjoying it. And if someone begrudges me for doing something I enjoy, they need to have a word with themselves. Or they could let me have a word with them? Set them straight? £45 an hour…
Where do I fit in? I’m an outsider. Always have been. An underdog. A weirdo. Probably always will be. And glad for it. Proud of it. Push me to the edges, the margins. Exclude me from your little circle jerks. I’m cool with that. I don’t want to be the frat boys at the party. I’m the fucker spiking the punch. I am what I am. I’m not pretending to be anything else other than who I am. Again, no apologies.
2. What’s your take on the revisionist tales of Britpop doing the rounds?
Laughable. Perplexing. In equal parts. I’m proud to have been a part of it. To have been in the eye of the hurricane, and get sucked into the madness of those times. And I embrace it. Some of it was good times. But a lot of the stuff I read during the recent 20 year anniversary jolly up was tragic. Much of it written by people far too young to have had a first-hand experience of the whole thing. A lot of it just seemed very “copy and paste”. Total crap. A certain publication, back in ‘95, described menswe@r as “the media event of the year”. That has been conveniently forgotten. Many bands of the time who were selling a lot of records have been relegated to minor status, whereas bands who were very much lower league are now being sung of as if they were chart toppers wholly on the subsequent successes of former members. The picture being painted now isn’t the one I was looking at back then. If Britpop attracts derision it’s nothing compared to the “LOLZ” I was having reading some of those articles. Many were very negative, and that negativity is always squarely aimed at the bands rather than the now respected older journalists and editors who created the whole thing in the first place to sell papers. Funny old world the muzak business. If you want my personal take on Britpop it’s very simple, it was all about shifting product. That’s what scenes are. Brightly coloured boxes in supermarkets for people who think eating that product makes them a better human being than other human beings. Marketing is ALL. The music is secondary. This is the world you live in. It’s quite evil. It isn’t real. But someone somewhere is getting rich.
3. Would you, if invited, have gone to ‘The Axis of Weasel’ at Downing Street in 1997? If so, why? If no, the same.
I think, unless you are very political and vocal about it, it seems a little weird to be parading around number ten like a John Lennon of the nineties (he actually was fairly political at times). It just came across as a wholly narcissistic exercise from where I was sitting. LOOK AT US! THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! WE’RE CHANGING THE WORLD! Errr, no, you are not….
So, no, I wouldn’t have gone. And I wasn’t “cool” enough to be hob-nobbing with the establishment. Know what I mean..?
4. Who do you still see (if any) from those times?
Nobody. I am the outsider. The black sheep. The one people whisper about. The one who kicked over the apple cart.
Actually, I’ve spoken to Rick Witter a couple of times recently, and we’ll both be playing the Victorious Festival in August. I owe him a pint. But I don’t have Jarvis Cocker’s phone number. Or do I…?
The last time the original line up of menswe@r met up was about four or five years ago. A discussion about reforming. They were hot for it. I was not convinced. It didn’t happen.
5. What influences you nowadays be it literature, music, film, pottery?
I stopped listening to contemporary music in the mid noughties because it started to depress me quite a lot. Some of it filters through, I’m quite fond of Ladytron, YYY’s, The Horrors (all of whom have been around for a bit), but I’m not overly influenced by it. I tend to dip into the past musically. Pre nineties. There’s still much to discover, and I find it richer than what is presently being touted on the radio. I’ve been listening to a lot of Krautrock, but whether or not it’s influencing me I couldn’t say…
Sure, books, art, film, as well as TV can make an impression, but most of my ideas just happen. Just pop up. I don’t go digging for stuff, because that can frustrate me. I take a very natural approach, just let things happen when they happen.
6. Any developments on ‘your’ book?
I spoke to someone casually about this, someone in publishing, and they said I’d have to change all the names… which wouldn’t work. I have a title for it! So if any publishers reading this, with good lawyers, want a rip-roaring salacious tell all of the mid-nineties…
7. My favourite of yours is ‘Gentleman Jim’. Is it about?
a) Jim Corbett
b) Jim Reeves
c) Jim Broadbent
None of those Jim’s.
8. What’s the ‘new’ single about? Unfinished business?
Exactly that. I was always bothered that “Crash” didn’t get the treatment it deserved. I thought it was the best thing that menswe@r did. We released it, the demo, buried away on one of the various CD versions of “We Love You”, which I hate. It’s fairly well known what I think of “We Love You”. So I thought, as a bridge, this current band I have could do the job properly. So we did. As menswe@r. Or the band menswe@r should have been. I’m very pleased with it. It’s had great feedback from people who like listening to music. Not so much from the more established, mainstream, careerists. They’re too scared to say anything that might affect their standing in the office. Hahaha! That’ll get me in trouble. Good. But Crash, It’s bugged me for a long time. So it finally feels completed. I have a story about it all actually. “The Curse of Crash”. A chapter for the book, eh?
9. How has working with The National Autistic Society helped in your understanding of the condition? Has it helped with the creative process?
Ummm. Working with them hasn’t improved my understanding. Diagnosis, followed by counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy helped. As well as researching the condition. Talking to other people on the spectrum as well… The work I do with the NAS is purely to do with raising awareness of autistic conditions. As well as making money for them. They’re a great charity, autism is so misunderstood, and they’re doing good work to try and change that. I’m always up for helping them. Whatever I can do in the time I have.
10. Is it possible for the new Star Wars films to be as poor as the last three?
It is entirely possible. Although J.J.Abrams should hopefully do a good job, as long as he can keep the cast alive. It does have all the ingredients to be a car wreck though. I think I’ll just stick to the original three.
11. What years did you live in/at/on RAF Bruggen and what school did you go to, was it Douglas Bader or Barnes Wallis?
An RAF brat? I was there in the early 70s. Too young for those schools. I think my brothers went to Barnes Wallis though.
I loved living in Germany. I was very distraught when we returned to the UK. I thought it was filthy. Heh.
12. What’s up next?
I have absolutely no idea.
Or do I..?
Probably something ill advised. Fuck it.