The John-Pauls | Interview | “didn’t i??”
Exclusive video premiere of ‘didn’t i??’ by Austin, TX band The John-Pauls, taken from their latest album, ‘Bon Mots,’ out via Aagoo Records.
It’s a love song from the perspective of an undependable flake. Like a pet, you can’t blame them when they get into the people food on the table or hide behind the curtains. Phillip John-Paul edited the music video using footage of pets filmed by some of the band’s friends.
Like the 90s Sonic Youth, The John-Pauls use three guitars, and no bass. The bottom is owned by the insistent kick of drummer Elizabeth John-Paul. Loping stone-skips of keyboards by Mikila John-Paul. The singing is shared by Mikila and Phillip John-Paul. Mark and Matt interplay lead guitars. The songs by Phillip John-Paul are filled with turns of phrase. Lyrics bounce specific visual episodes with shards of cobbled wisdom and doomed self- awareness. He and Mikila sing of depression, grace, NBA basketball, the history of humanity, flaking out, love, Cardi B, swimming, philosophy, and more.
You’re based in Austin, Texas, a city famous for its music scene. How do you see it today? Did it change in the last couple of years?
Phillip: The city has changed so much people talk about it with their therapists. People have therapists—that’s a change. The old Austin was a lazy, easy place, but did not offer much in the way of opportunity for people outside of working for UT or the Texas state government. New Austin is faster paced, and requires constant hustle. The art scene here is in a golden era. It’s exciting and feels like the 90s but with art instead of music.
Mikila: One thing that hasn’t changed is the house just off campus where Phillip lived when we met and were in our first band. It’s a wood-framed, screen-porched relic, increasingly rare since start of the great condo wars. They’re doing art shows in the detached garage there now, and Phillip curated a really cool one this past Fall and the guy who lives in the house now let us come in and see the place again. He was super nice and put up with us hanging out and telling him what happened in all of the rooms.
What’s the story behind today’s premiering video for ‘didn’t I’?
Phillip: It’s a compilation of videos of pets acting shiftless. ‘didn’t I’ is about a flakey, unreliable person doing their very best. Kind of like how a dog tries to be good but ultimately they will eat whatever they can get their snouts into. You can’t blame them.
“I need a great deal of time to write the songs”
The track was part of your latest album, ‘Bon Mots,’ which was issued by Aagoo Records. How much preparation went into writing, recording and producing the album?
Phillip: We are fast in the studio. Most of the songs are tracked live. Matt is an excellent producer and engineer. But we are busy, and there’s often a long time between when we can get into the studio and work on stuff. Bon Mots took a total of about two weeks to record and mix, spread out over three years.
I need a great deal of time to write the songs and finesse the lyrics. Some songs take months. Other songs come at once in a bolt of emotion.
The atmosphere of the album is laid back and the whole album…. would you like to share what your creative process is like? Do you get together and just jam or is there a certain way you are making those songs?
Phillip: The band learns the songs quickly, almost intuitively. We’ve played together for decades and we have a chemistry, an affinity for each other. We like the performances to have an off-the-cuff, relaxed energy. Sometimes Mark and Matt change their guitar parts for songs from show to show, practice to practice. The eight minute jam at the end of ‘No Names’ is improvised live.
Mikila: I live in Dallas, which really helps to keep our pace nice and slow as a band. For a lot of the songs I sing, Phillip and I would work on them when I’d come to Austin to play a show. He’d have a new song and would play it for me and teach me the lyrics, and I’d start singing it that way – I think with ‘Kindness’ we may have played it the next day at a show?
Do you feel that your sound is based around the distinctive way of using three guitars and no bass? How did you decide to work that way?
Phillip: Everybody in the John-Pauls gets to play whatever instrument they want.
The John-Pauls are Mikila and my third group together, none of them had a bass player. When Beth and her play drums together it gives them lots of room at the low end for their interlocking beats. Mikila will sometimes fill in the lows with the keyboard. Mark and I both tune our guitars low and crank the bass knob on our amps.
Tell us about all the effects, gear and pedals you’re using?
Phillip: I play a Memphis MG-300 directly into a 70s silverface Fender Twin. No pedals.
Matt played a Telecaster on the record. He sometimes brings a big pedal board but the only pedal I have seen him use is a volume pedal. He’s now really into his J Mascis edition Squier Jazzmaster
Mark has a Fender Jaguar with humbuckers. It’s a wonderful guitar. He uses a delay and a fuzz pedal.
Do you often play live? Any plans for a tour?
Phillip: We are playing about once a month in Austin this Spring. We are thinking of playing some shows in NYC and maybe some in Europe if they will take us.
Quite some time has passed since the release of the 2017 album, ‘Forget To Remember To Forget’. How would you compare it to your latest release?
Phillip: We were a four piece on that first album. Beth just joined on drums so Mikila could sing and play keyboards. Mikila is drumming on a couple of the ‘Forget To Remember To Forget’ songs. She plays electronic drums on a couple of the ‘Bon Mots’ songs, but not the full kit anymore.
Matt joined as a full-time member of the group for Bon Mots, and his guitar playing makes us a little more country at times.
Do you feel you matured as musicians?
Phillip: Most definitely! Mikila, Beth, Mark and I have been playing in various bands together since the 90s. We’re happy to finally have a grip on that sound in time for the 90s revival.
Mikila: I still feel very immature.
Then there’s a 2015 EP. Can you share some further words about it and how the band originally formed.
Phillip: The EP was the trio John-Pauls: Mark and I on guitar and Mikila on drums. I am doing most of the singing. The band started when Mark and I started jamming. Mikila had just moved back to Austin from NYC and joined our second practice.
We recorded the EP and a couple of the songs for ‘Forget to Remember’ in 2014 at Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi. He traded me studio time for graphic design work. That’s where we met Matt, who was Jim’s engineer at the time.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favorite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Phillip: For rock and roll, The Velvet Underground is the greatest band of all time. The Fall influenced me a ton; they show inspiration and determination is all you need to make cool music. Talent is optional. Mikila and I bonded over our love for Unrest and for Jonathon Fire*Eater. I love Pavement, Mazzy Star/Opal, and Jesus & Mary Chain. Electrelane is a favorite, as is Love as Laughter and Kicking Giant. Kim Deal is a songwriting genius and hero to me. I love rap, especially East Coast 90s/00s stuff like Wu Tang and Jay-Z. Big Drag is a San Antonio band from the 90s whose only album just started streaming on Spotify. Recommended! My cousin Johnny John-Paul has a band called San Saba County who we love.
Lately I have been listening to Jaded Juice Riders, Melenas, Annie Hart, and the De La Soul album ‘Stakes is High’.
We are all music nuts in this group. Beth is a jazz-head who mostly listens to hard bop and post-bop.
Mikila: I got into Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ only about a year ago, and then this summer I had a lot of fun listening to Bryan Ferry. I also heard the Sibylle Baier album ‘Color Green’ for the first time this year and love it. So the new things for me right now are pretty old. Some of my favorite albums are ‘Bee Thousand’ by Guided by Voices, ‘Tender Buttons’ by Broadcast, ‘1990’ by Daniel Johnston, and ‘In Rainbows’ by Radiohead. Also have to give a shout out to Phillip’s cousin Johnny John-Paul’s band San Saba County – they are so good. It’s kind of crazy that they are cousins and both such prolific, amazing songwriters.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Phillip: Thank you for the interest and nice questions. We appreciate it.
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