In advance of their show at the Volkshaus in Zurich on the 4 March 2017, I had the opportunity to talk to John Engelbert and Oskar Bonde from Johnossi. They told me about their new album «Blood Jungle» and their tour life. The concert review (in German) can be found here.
Indiespect: How are you?
Ossi: Now I’m good. I was sleeping all day almost. I went to bed a bit too late, yesterday. But luckily I can sleep during the day.
Indiespect: So, you haven’t been outside today?
Ossi: Well, if you saw the bus outside. I went the two meters from the bus in here.
Indiespect: Was it because of your show in Munich, yesterday?
Ossi: Yeah. We had a fantastic show. That was our third show so tonight will be our fourth. It takes a while to get into the groove if you know what I mean. So I guess you’re starting to find your daily patterns of what you should do and not. I think this evening will be a bit earlier.
Indiespect: For you it doesn’t matter if it’s weekend or not?
John: It doesn’t matter.
Ossi: The weekend doesn’t matter at all, actually. We have our own little universe of dates.
Indiespect: But do you see a difference within the audience?
Ossi: Yes, sometimes.
John: But not in general, I would say.
Ossi: But sometimes it takes a bit more effort to get them going.
John: At least especially on Sunday and Monday. After the show it’s completely empty. Everybody left right away.
Ossi: It’s hard to motivate on a Sunday. I guess you’re happy when you’re there but you always have in mind that you need to go to bed.
John: But if you have a concert that you’re really looking forward to on a Friday then you can start building to it on Wednesday. On Friday we’re gonna have dinner there, we gonna drink and after the show we gonna do this. You’re in a bit of a different mindset.
Ossi: But for us, there is no difference. We expect exactly the same from a Sunday audience that we do for a Friday audience. That’s a good thing. We always try to get the audience in the right mood.
Indiespect: During a concert in Zurich your friends from Shout Out Louds once said that in Sweden nobody would show up on a Monday.
Ossi: Yeah, well. Maybe, that’s a bit harsh…
John: Perhaps not to see Shout Out Louds. But for Johnossi they sure would come.
– Ossi laughs big time –
Ossi: He’s probably right, yes. When we tour in Sweden it’s most of the time from Thursday to Sunday. And Wednesday maybe. We hardly ever play Mondays.
John: But we’re gonna play on Monday in Stockholm on this tour. It’s because the venue that we wanna play is only available on Mondays. Because it’s like a big theatre and they have musicals every weekend. Now it’s the whole year …The Phantom Of The Opera» on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So if you wanna have a concert there you can only be there on Monday.
Indiespect: «Blood Jungle» your current album is…
John: …very good, thank you!
Indiespect: Yes! It’s again a step forward.
Ossi: Yeah. We also think so.
Indiespect: It’s the first album you released worldwide. Is that true?
John: Uhm… I think so, yes. But just to release something in a country nowadays, it means nothing. Because we live in a connected world where nothing is separated anymore. At least not when it comes to culture and art. Everything is on the internet. But what it means to release something worldwide is that you have people working in every single country for your band. That’s the thing with making a proper release. I don’t think we have people working for Johnossi in every country of the world. But the bar is set even higher this time also from the record company. For us it’s always on max no matter what we do. We conquer the world every night. That’s our aim. So for us it’s no difference.
Ossi: But we will probably play some new countries with this album.
Indiespect: You don’t know which countries, yet?
John: We gonna try to spend more time in the UK and America. The two most important markets.
Ossi: We will probably tour this album for three years. So we don’t have all the dates, yet. We don’t even have all the exact dates for this summer.
Indiespect: Your new album comes with horns, choirs and much more. When in the writing process do you decide which song needs which instruments?
John: It totally depends. The best idea always wins. When we wrote the songs for this record we were really keen on having a wide open mind and not limiting ourselves. Almost every instrument could go in there if it made the song better. We tried a bunch of ideas. Some of them stuck and then we just held on to it. Sometimes it is from the beginning of the songwriting process and sometimes it’s something that happens at the end of the production of a song. It’s very different from song to song.
Indiespect: For example «Air Is Free»?
John: «Air Is Free» was pretty early with the horns.
Ossi: We decided not to spend almost any time in the rehearsal space. Usually we just sit by our instruments, play and arrange. This time we pretty much sat in our home studios and sent each other files. Most of the songs were written on logic. That’s totally different from what we usually do.
Indiespect: But how was it after that process to rehearse the songs for the shows?
Ossi: (laughs) That’s a good question. We were quite nervous. We played the songs almost for the first time. Of course we played them in the studio, everything was live recorded. But we hadn’t played a full proper song with all the elements and all the exact arrangements until we started rehearsing for this tour. We were like. Okay: 1, 2, 3, 4… But it turned out really well, I think. We maybe were worried for no reason. We tend to adapt our songs into the live version. We like to take out some elements from the album version to get the soul of the song. Then it becomes something a bit different when it’s live, you know. We give it our live energy. It’s the same song but with a different kind of vibe.
Indiespect: You don’t have horns with you on tour, have you?
John: No, we don’t. We thought about adding actual musicians. But we realised we didn’t like the idea to have three people coming out and playing maybe two songs. The way we do it now, that each horn is on a keyboard sounds better and it’s better for us.
Ossi: It’s more our way to do it. We added Mattias (Franzén) on the live stage. He’s the piano player. For us that has been so much fun. We can actually add the small elements that we missed having on stage. Sometimes, me and John play alone still. But this horn thing, this is why we brought him in. That we also don’t need to bring in a string quartet when we wanted to have strings.
Indiespect: So, he’s the whole orchestra.
Ossi: Basically. He’s super talented and has a really good taste in what to bring into the song and what not. It’s a very good balance. Still it’s me and John in the front. If we bring the energy he brings the beautifulness, I would say.
Indiespect: Ossi, I saw you on the Instagram account of Shout Out Louds recently. They are working on a new album as well. Will you appear there, too?
Ossi: No, I’m not. It would be fun but I just came by their rehearsal space because I needed to borrow a cymbal stand. I went in to say hi and then Adam (the singer of Shout Out Louds) was like «oh we don’t have a drummer today». That’s way I played some songs with them.
Indiespect: In April, the Record Store Day celebrates its 10th anniversary. Does this day mean anything to you?
John: Well, it doesn’t really mean anything to me and Ossi but it’s a thing in Stockholm as well.
Indiespect: You haven’t planned to release anything special for this occasion?
John: No, not for that specific date. We could and we would. It’s a nice thing but we don’t really have any connection to it. Neither me or Ossi are collectors of music. And we don’t necessarily buy vinyl. Even tough we like it.
Indiespect: So you are more the streaming type?
John: Yes, I think so.
Indiespect: That’s quite special for musicians like you.
John: I’m not a music nerd. But I really love music, it’s a big part of my life.
Ossi: I guess I would like to get into that. It would be a nice hobby. But I don’t even have a CD player or a vinyl player at home.
Indiespect: To be honest. I think most of the people buy the vinyl just to have it and listen to the songs in a digital format anyway.
John: And that’s totally fine. Nowadays it’s totally cool to buy the vinyl and just read the lyrics. It’s a nice piece of art. If you like a band it could be interesting to see how they want to present themselves in that way.
Indiespect: I once read that you record all you melody ideas on your mobile phone. And you said that you sometimes create melodies which you don’t want to use for Johnossi. Have you ever written for other artists?
John: Yes, I have. Most of the melodies that I record ends up nowhere because they are not good enough. If I think something is interesting some of it could go for Johnossi. If it’s not I think it would be a waste to just throw this away because it’s not Johnossi. More and more lately, like the last couple years, I’ve been opening up to write songs for others. But I haven’t really done it full-hearted yet. Because if you wanna get into that you have to be just as serious as you would with your own thing. I’ve done couple of things here and there but nothing really big. Minor things.
Indiespect: Ossi, you play your drums quite hard during the shows. How many sticks do you need during a whole tour?
Ossi: It all depends. Two pairs definitely go for each concert. If I see that they are out to break then I switch. It’s not that I play until they break in half and think «shit I don’t have anything in my hands». You can actually feel when the drum stick is starting to go. It’s responding in a different way.
John: It’s a bit lighter perhaps, isn’t it?
Ossi: No, but you can feel if there is a crack in it. So, I just drop it or throw it away and I pick up another one. It doesn’t really happen that often that I break it in half. Because that’s the most strange thing to experience. When you’re playing and you don’t realise that the stick is about to break and it snaps in half. That’s like you were playing and boom the neck of the guitar fells of. It’s a pretty humiliating situation. You just have to be quick, you know.
John: That’s different with guitar strings. You can never tell that it’s about to happen. It’s just boom from out of nowhere.
Ossi: It’s always a shock. But it happens to me very seldom. But yes, I would say I go through two or three pairs a show. But I don’t need every stick to be perfectly new when I start playing a song. I kind of like when they’re a bit used.
Indiespect: When I last saw you at the Quellrock Openair in Bad Ragaz you played «The Show Tonight», a very old song. Do you still have the oldest of your songs in the set?
Ossi: We play songs from every album.
Indiespect: How do they feel to you? Because you developed that much over the last few years.
John: They feel good. It’s still fun. We choose the songs that we still enjoy playing.
Ossi: Also, for us to play the old songs in the rehearsal space is not that special anymore but to play them in front of an audience that really enjoys hearing them that’s something different. You can’t give them one hundred percent what they want to hear…
John: Because then you had to play for five hours.
Ossi: Haha, yeah. We would have to play the first album all way through and the second album as well. But for us it’s really important to find a good balance in the setlist. So we can mix up the different albums, we can mix up the energy, we can mix up the build-ups and stuff like that. It’s not only «okay, we wanna play this, this and this song». We try to find the right way to the big picture.
John: We tried once during a tour in Germany a few years ago not to play «Man Must Dance». We were so tired of this song. But I remember people actually got really angry. They were like: «This is not okay that you don’t play ‚Man Must Dance’». So we said, well… Of course, if you wanna hear «Man Must Dance» we gonna fucking play it. I think it was after a Cologne gig where people were actually angry afterwards. And we just thought, it’s not worth it.
Ossi: Then you realise also that you have to have respect for your audience. There will always be a song that somebody in the audience is missing. But there are some particular songs that we want to play because the audience wants to hear them. And once we realised that we wanted to play it again. We have so much fun on stage that there isn’t that feeling like «oh no, not that song again». We had that when we were touring a bit too much. That’s when you start thinking in the wrong terms.
Indiespect: Thank you for the interview! Enjoy your concert tonight.
Ossi: Thanks a lot. We hope you will like it!