Interview done in 2007.
After being rather impressed with their latest, selftitled, album we decided it would be a good idea to ask Michael from Johnnytwentythree a couple of questions.
Could you, as a starter, introduce the band briefly, how long have you been around, previous albums, bandmembers stuff like that?
Alright we are:
Brian Tyree = drums
Joseph Maier = bass
Brianne Maier = violin
Stephen Imwalle = film
Myself (Michael Maier) = guitar
As the five we are now, I think we’ve been around for about 5 years? Stephen, Joe and myself have been playing together for probably over 10 years, just not as J23. We have one other record, which was a soundtrack to a documentary Stephen did called Thirty Pieces of Silver.
What inspired you, movies, music, books, before you started this band?
As a group, I can’t say that we have, like, a common basket of influences that we all share, so I can only speak for myself. Before the band?: Well, U2, as uncool as it may be (especially lately maybe), were the band that really made me want to pick up a guitar. They were making music that really made me feel really strong emotions, and doing it in a way that wasn’t lame. It was forceful, earnest, and sincere. At the time when I encountered them growing up, thats how they hit me, and they hit me pretty hard. That kind of sincerety, ever since, is really the big thing I look for in music, and what drew me to bands like Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, Lift to Experience, Radiohead, Envy…
Most recently: Menomen’s Friend or Foe is the best record I have heard in a long time.
My favorite book is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exury. The profoundness and emotion in that little ‘kid’s book’ has been unmatched, for me, by anything else.
Lately though, I have just been blown away by Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian and The Road in particular were really incredible, but all of his books are just damn powerful, the way he writes makes the stories seem really like you are reading some dark mythological stories from another time.
Um, also, I read a lot of comic books.
Ok, starting to feel like I’m filling out a myspace page, so I’ll quit there. Inspiring things are everywhere, and each of us is inspired by a million different things, thats just a little bit of mine, since you asked. Really though, most of the things which have inspired our music are events going on in life in general, be it the wars going on, or smaller things in our individual lives.
Johnny 23 is a name that’s been heard in different movies, poems and songs, from Ian Curtis, William S. Burroughs and the movie Con Air. What inspired you to chose that name?
It’s from William Burroughs, after the title of one of his short-stories. It’s an end of the world/apocalyptic short story, where humanity has been almost wiped out by some sort of alien infestation, and this scientist is trying to develop a cure, which he code-names Johnny23. The cure doesn’t work in the end, leaving the scientist as the only person left on the planet.
How does that relate to us? Well, probably like a lot of people who join/start bands, I started playing in one with that idea of thinking maybe we really can change the world. Some part of it can only be fixed by what we bring to the table. Ultimately, it’s not really a rational thing to think, but you do it anyway, in a crazy idealistic hope that you can beat the odds. Whether you do or not doesn’t matter. Having those thoughts and that lunatic hope is what sort of imbues the music with that spark of magic that makes me think maybe it can change the world, at least for the duration of the song anyways.
I’ve never heard your first album, how does it differ from your latest album?
It’s a very different sort of album compared to JXXIII, mostly due to it being for a soundtrack, and also due to recording/mixing and, ah, writing a lot of it, in 3 days. It does however have a song with vocals on it, and a song that is mostly piano. With a few exceptions, it’s just overall a more atmospheric sounding deal. It wasn’t really meant to be a Johnnytwentythree album, more like pieces of a possible album with some soundtrack music.
The JXXIII album is accompanied by several, in my opinion rather impressive, video’s made by Stephen Imwalle. Have you always been doing that with your music or did that grow naturally?
Yes, we’ve always done it. It has definitely grown, and gotten more complex as Stephen experiments and does new things, but it’s always been a part of the J23 deal. I mentioned how Stephen, Joe, and I were playing before Johnnytwentythree, and that is kind of where the seed started. Back then, Stephen became more and more interested in filmwork, and started injecting it into what we were doing, starting with just a lone super-8 projector, just to provide an interesting visual for the audience. Gradually he recognised it could be used a lot more effectively as a real weapon in our aresenal to really accentuate the emotional content of the music, as something really functional with the music. It’s become something integral and necessary, and it really is a 5th instrument that helps to make the whole thing complete.
Video for Red Bird
Are the movies based on the music or is the music based on the movies?
Both. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes film, or a piece of film, or a piece of music. Neither is ever really ‘finished’ before the other.
To me it seems that the text that is shown in the movies that accompany the songs are like the lyrics you don’t have, or am i wrong here?
Well, I’ve always kind of thought of the films themselves as the lyrics we don’t have, so no you’re not wrong at all, but I think too that the words are just another part of the overal visual presentation.
The movies also seem to be rather critical towards world leaders (ie. the American president) sending innocent civillians into war. How is your (or are your) vision(s) on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Unsurprisingly, I feel pretty let down. I think you always hope that the people who lead you are responsible, of sound principle, and sound mind. And we have been flatly let down on all fronts. And at such incredible cost. I think further discussion would probably become a pretty long-winded deal, so I’ll leave it at that. I’ll let the films/music speak the rest.
There is a bit of a contrast between the music and the movies. While the movies seem to be very dark and moody your music seems to have a bit of hope in it. How do you see that yourself?
Well, it’s that contrasting of the two that I think give the most accurate depiction of what we want to ‘say’ with what we do. I think you’d agree that the world at the moment is in a pretty dark place, where things seem to just be flying completely out of control, but hope is necessary to get through it, and we have to be able see that we can still grab the wheel. We can still correct the course.
Video for A Minute’s Warning
You recently did a tour, how did that go concerning turnouts and responses?
It went pretty well I think, considering it was our first time doing anything like it. We are an unknown band, so sometimes we played to 4 people, but that’s the nature of things, and why you do shows and tour, so that next time, hopefully, you play the same place and you are playing to 10 (more, hopefully) instead of 4, right? Reception was pretty positive, mostly, and we played with a lot of really great bands, and of course met a lot of good good people. We are really new at this, so we learned a hell of a lot about how to go about doing things like, and maybe also a lot about how not to go about things.
The album has 3 movies, but do you have movies in the background during your entire set?
Yeah we have them throughout. We would have loved to do films for the whole album, but budget constraints and the space on a CD made it impossible to do this time around.
What are your future plans, will there be a new album?
We’d love to go to Europe. If we can find a way to do it, we will. At the moment, we are sort of taking a break from playing shows, and focusing on writing. The songs on our album were songs we have been playing for years, so adding some new songs to the arsenal has become a real necessary thing to do.
That’s it from this side, feel free to add anything you like, and thanks again!
Thanks a lot Armand for asking us to do this. Doing things the way we are can sometimes feel pretty overwhelming, and, at times, impossible, so every bit of support and encouragement is something we are extremely grateful for.