“Dropping Stones: The Johnstones Grow Up”
By Jessica Hilo
February 10, 2009
“We were down in Hollywood to play some shows,” recalls Johnstones’ trombonist Julian Warmè, “We went to the House of Blues where they had a Karaoke night going. We did a Barenaked Ladies’ song and were a bit drunk- more obnoxious than usual. And then we were asked to leave. All of a sudden some security guards and cops come up, angrily, saying ‘Tell us what you did!?!’…After two or three hours, sitting in handcuffs, in the cold, they said ‘don’t bother coming back’ this was about 4am. And that’s how we were banned from Disneyland.” It certainly isn’t the first time a band in the music industry has had a run-in with the law, but the Johnstones’ desire for high energy havoc- drunk tanks, jail time, hospital visits- place them amongst the best, worst, and most interesting of rock’s notorious.
The Johnstones get their name from ex-band member Kevin Johnstone: “From what I gather, Kevin decided to go do mountain biking for serious…we’ve only seen him two or three times since high school [but] we still get along great. He’s in BC. I think he’s married now.” Such is the light hearted nature of this self ascribed non-Ska but Ska-influenced, “upbeat [punk] rock band with horns,” from Ontario comprised of early twenty year olds, Ryan Long, drums, Jarek Hardy, guitar, Brent Marks, bass, Julian Warmè, trombone, and Rene Gillezeau, trumpet. “We’re not your standard cookie cutter Ska band, there’s a bit more depth to us,” explains Warmè, “we take a little bit from all of the music we listen to. We try to get our influences from many different genres,” which include acts like Dr. Dre, Rancid, Barenaked Ladies, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To try to peg down this unpredictable band on the run would be a mistake, as local law enforcement knows I’m sure: “our music goes wherever we want it to. We don’t really feel as if we’re tied down to one specific sound. Bottom line is: we’re a live band that is high energy and a lot of fun. We don’t have any downer songs. We have solid rock songs.” Solid hits include “songs about girls, of course…[and] about bouncers and how much we hate them and how they think they’re tough shit.” What can you expect of a band who’s former album titles include rap witticism Word is Bond (2006) and 2008 release Sex (Warmè: “because sex sells- we thought it’d be funny”)? Still, bands as melodically, lyrically, and socially unhinged as the Johnstones do not tend to enjoy as much success without reigning in and exploring talent. Despite the image, the Johnstones’ focus on recent work is proof enough that they’re growing up.
The Stones’ latest endeavors surround the release of another full length album from 20-22 demo songs produced by Flashlight Brown’s Fil Bucchino and Matt Hughes. The band intends to tour for a month, post new music on their website, and shoot two music videos in New York by the end of February. Though the new album lacks a title, “we’ve been bouncing around a few names that I don’t want to say because they’re extremely obnoxious,” it promises to drive the Stones in a new direction: “back when I joined the band, we started taking the music seriously…as you grow older and make more music, your sound matures…I’m sure it’s cool to make four of the same albums; [but] if you look at bands like the Chili Peppers you can’t say that [the albums don’t] differ.” Their album, in this vein, will feature more compositional cohesion, melodic exploration, and experiential focus on their use of horns- though still no talk of going full Skadomy with the assumption of a sax player: “The five of us are a good fit for each other…a sax just wouldn’t fit in.”
The Johnstones may never be the serious, focused, law abiding musicians we hope of them, but their fun-loving creed and unstoppable drive is one to take into consideration: “basically our attitude is: ‘You’re here once, you might as well have a good time and there’s no better way to have a good time than with your friends.’”