We’re All Aliens are a rock band from Merseyside, that north west area of England so prolific for producing musical talent. Singer/songwriter Jim Johnson and guitarist/songwriter Rik Loughran have a philosophy; to take the world by the scruff of the neck and show it what it could really be, to hug the potential back into the cluster of aliens clinging to this floating rock in the cold vacuum of space.
Jim is the driving force behind this project and it is born out of a desire to reach those who exist on the periphery and to capture that innocent thrill of the teenage rock band, you know, when noise and enthusiasm took precedence over the real-world politics and Machiavellian plotting of the music industry. It hearkens back to a less cynical age and this comes across in the sheer abandonment and celebratory sway of their first single “I’m An Alien”.
It’s pretty obvious this is widescreen rock with shades of prog and goth stirred into the pot, concocting an overdriven, skittering rock blaster that is lean and muscular. Jim‘s voice is earnest and powerful while Rik‘s guitar sounds twisted and gnarled.
An album is in the works and promises much. Recently, Jim was diagnosed with a growth on his thyroid resulting in a thyroidectomy. While the prognosis is good, this procedure could impact his voice, affecting his range and power, a concern for someone who’s voice is his primary weapon. However, optimism abounds and the hope is that Jim will emerge from this experience stronger and more determined, every bit the rock alchemist he was destined to be.
The journey these two men are on is an exciting one, it is full of promise and challenges, of personal fulfillment and shared adventures. Their friendship is at the heart of what they are doing, that and rock and roll running through their nervous systems.
We were honoured that Jim took some time out to have a chat and give us an insight into this new project, his influences, his writing process, his hopes for the future and much more:
TJR: What is your earliest musical memory?
JJ: I can certainly remember my dad singing US civil war anthems and Southern Rebel songs. He was a big fan of the Western so that stayed with me. Also Al Jolson. My dad was a huge Al Jolson fan so I can remember him singing “Climb up on my knee Sonny Boy”. I have one vivid memory of my dad watching a Judy Garland TV special, which was in black and white so it was in itself a repeat. He was so moved by her singing the Jolson classic “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”. That song slays me even now because it’s like a musical chain letter from Jolson to Judy to Dad and to me.
TJR: What did you grow up listening to?
JJ: My first record was The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl in about 1977. I graduated from that to The Beatles Blue Album, which was on the list of presents, I got the last Christmas before Dad died. From then, music was the most important thing in my life, total escapism. From The Beatles and related solo stuff, I discovered ELO because they sounded a bit Beatley, but the first artist I loved for myself was Adam Ant. When I saw him and his mixture of cowboys, Indians, pirates and highwaymen, I thought “this is the stuff.” And those drums, the Western movie influence again. It was also the first bit of rebellion in our house as up until that point I was only really allowed to like what my older brother told me to like, some of which I loved and still do to this day such as AC/DC, Rush and Led Zeppelin, but Adam Ant was the first real pop star to emerge out of the post punk and Bowie glam era that was doing something new and unique. Killer looks, killer hooks as they say. After Adam, I graduated to the acceptable ‘lads music’ of the era such as The Jam and The Cult etc, but I loved stuff in the charts too. Duran Duran remain one of my favourite bands, still making great records and defying gravity to this day. Through all that though, I still loved my Beatles and the Stones were the first band I ever saw live, at Wembley in 1982. That stuff will stay with you a lifetime.
TJR: Where do you draw your inspiration from, musically and non-musically?
JJ: My inspiration has always been drawn from people I know or admire and from a basic belief in the human race’s key challenge to do the right thing and just try and be excellent to each other. Bill S Preston and Ted Theodore Logan pretty much set up the recipe for the success of humanity in those movies through an appreciation of history and through a mutual love of rock music.
In all seriousness, the music I write and play comes from a less introspective place than it used to where, say twenty years ago I was certainly using song writing as a form of therapy for dealing with the emotional rawness of losing a parent at an early age and the knock on effects of that. These days I’m more interested in being the unreliable narrator and fashioning stories through observations. It’s an important moment in our existence to be making art as the world is a very crazy place, and that view is very much reflected in songs on the forthcoming album such as Where Do You Stand.
Musically, we’re adopting the Wild Stalyins approach of loud riffs with a willingness to go above the thirteenth fret wherever necessary. And in case of emergencies break glass and crack out a solo.
TJR: You currently record as We’re All Aliens, what is the sound and ethos behind this project?
JJ: We wanted to make a record that was the sound of the band that we wanted to be in when we were 16. And I think we’ve achieved that. So you can definitely hear U2, The Cult, Queen and The Who in there as well as bit of Soundgarden, Guns N Roses and Pearl Jam. The ethos is as simple as trying to find the universality of experience through a love of loud guitar music. Rock N Roll is our church and we ain’t turning anyone away. Come and join the congregation cos ‘We’re All Aliens’ at the end of the day. It music for outsiders.
TJR: Tell us about your previous incarnations, specifically Fortuna and Jimmy’s Big Tears. You are also working with Rik Loughran again, how did this come about?
JJ: After school and college bands I wrote and produced dance music and had a couple of deals with tracks that got syndicated internationally and you can still find the evidence on youtube and discogs but Fortuna was the great band that I feel just missed the boat for the late 90’s Britpop/rock thing as tastes were moving away from straight down guitar bands to something a little more eclectic.
I think we suffered a little bit of not being indie or scouse enough to be Cast and not panoramic enough to be Mansun, a local band we all loved and were having great success with their brilliant debut LP Attack Of The Grey Lantern which was produced by Ronnie Stone who subsequently became a friend and was a bit of a legend in that scene, all the bands wanted the ‘Ronnie Stone mix.’
Plus we were from the Wirral, not Chester or Liverpool, so never belonged to a scene as such, yet we played knock out shows in both cities and we were very good at self promotion, like the time we discovered Steve Lamacq was going to be in the away end at Chester City match so we stalked him and handed him our latest single which he still never played!
We also recorded what would have been our third single at Parr St with Ken Nelson who’d just won the Mercury Award with Gomez’s first album and would subsequently go on to win Grammy’s with a band called Coldplay. It just wasn’t our time un(fortuna)tely.
I was able to use the Ken’s sessions to launch myself as a solo singer songwriter as they were my songs and my voice and played the Music Publishers Association Showcase at Tony Wilson’s ‘In The City’ at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club. We were billed as the ‘five leading unsigned singer songwriting talents in the country’ which was a nice accolade. I never tire of digging that tagline up! Carina Round was on the same bill and she’s done pretty well, if for no other reason than her beautiful cover of “Come Undone” by Duran Duran, is one of my very favourite songs.
Anyway that exposure helped propel me to what became Jimmy’s Big Tears and I played on some great bills with bands like The Levellers and The Temperance Movement, as well as playing with some really good, well drilled local players who stuck with me over the years. People like Adi Billinge, who can play anything with great feel and sings like a bird, he came out and did cahon and bv’s at the recent acoustic launch gig for the new band, Dave Speakman who plays with a range of great artists and Lauren Baruqc who’s a cool dude Parisian, toured all over the place including a position playing bass in Japanese thrash metal band. Those guys are natural ‘Aliens.’
Getting back with Rik after fifteen years of almost no contact was like stepping into a room with your best friend and no time had lapsed. I was tired of being a solo turn and wanted to share the responsibility with someone, but the truth was it was never as much fun or as easy as it is with Rik. We’re on precisely the same wavelength, have broadly the same taste in music and our skill-sets complement each other perfectly. I’m better with moulding arrangements, keys, lyrics and melodies, while orchestration and initial ideas tend to come from Rik. Plus we share a similar sense of humour so laughter is never far away.
It’s a great team, when you know, you just know, and he remains, the best guitar player I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I pinch myself sometimes. I can’t believe I’m the singer in HIS band. And weirdly, he has almost no ego about his ability. It’s almost like he’d be happy for the act of being in a band not to require the adoration of millions. In fact I think he sees at as an occupational hazard.
TJR: When is your favourite time of the day or night to write/record?
JJ: I used to write religiously in the wee small hours as that seemed to be where ideas came best. These days I’m more organised so will ensure I capture any lyric or melody ideas as they land using the old iphone. Recording is best done in the evening as the voice is at it’s warmest. Hats off to Tony Hadley going first on the Band Aid record at 10.30am. You need to chops to pull that off.
TJR: Describe your music in three words.
JJ: Rock and Roll.
TJR: Do you compose quickly or do you spend hours tweaking and finessing your tunes?
JJ: When I used to write solely on my own, I could knock a decent song out in fifteen minutes, but the truth is, we do spend ages tweaking these days. Rik is a perfectionist and he knows what he wants so who am I to argue? I purposefully try not to spend too long on vocal takes and use the Bowie approach of this is what you get. “Life On Mars” is riddled with sharps and flats but it’s Bowie singing “Life On Mars” and I think the approach is justified.
TJR: What are you listening to at the moment/who should we be checking out??
JJ: My favourite band right now are a Californian Rock band called Rival Sons. I first discovered them through the recommendation of one of the staff of HMV in Chester, and was attracted to the imagery and look of the band on their 2014 album Great Western Valkyrie. The lead tracks “Electric Man” and “Open My Eyes” sealed the deal. I’ve seen them four times, most recently the other night when they were touring their new album Feral Roots which is their first for Atlantic Records after moving from Earache Records in Nottingham, the home of Napalm Death amongst others. Very riffy and the singer, Jay Buchanan, has an extraordinary set of pipes. Think Robert Plant meets Paul Rodgers.
TJR: What are you currently reading?
JJ: I’m proud to say I’m currently reading ‘Dr Who – Scratchman’ by none other than the fourth Doctor himself and all round national treasure, Tom Baker. It’s the only Dr Who novel I can recall ever being told in the first person and is the culmination of forty years work after Tom failed to get the story turned into a film script which was supposed to put the Doctor on the big screen against non other than Vincent Price as the villain. I think it’s fair to say I’m a massive Whovian.
TJR: What’s your favourite sound?
JJ: That question stopped me in my tracks, but I think the most comforting and satisfying sound in the world to me is the sound as the needle first hits the vinyl and the faint crackle of surface noise. It’s my happy place…
TJR: Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
JJ: My mix leads the first single off the album “I am an alien” followed by a history of stuff from my record collection that have contributed in some way to the band I’m now in. It’s an all vinyl mix too, no downloads or cd’s. It’s basically chronological from the earliest points in my musical appreciation through significant moments that are probably standing on the shoulders of other artists. So whereas there’s no Fab Four or U2 or Costello, there is the Carnage Mix of “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood which was massive culturally as well as commercially. The Neston Legion disco every other Monday one hot summer in 1984 was dominated by this track and I still think it’s massive.
It also pays tribute to the musical area, both geographically and emotionally I’m from thanks to “Ready Or Not” by Manbreak, a Liverpool nu metal band from the late 90’s that I got to know quite well. I used to hand out with Swindeli the singer, who’d previously been in The 25th of May and Stu the drummer thanks to my friendship with their sound engineer Mike Doyle, who produced Fortuna’s second single. Stu still plays in the Takotsubo Men with some of the personnel that formed the Liverpool rock band Cecil who like, Manbreak, were pretty important to that 90’s Britrock scene. Sadly Snaykee, Manbreak’s original guitarist died last year, but I urge anyone who loves guitar music to check out Manbreak’s Come and See album, the guitar playing alone is extraordinary and a fitting tribute to the man.
There’s other funkier stuff like the Troublefunk intro which was like my introduction to funk and a gig that seemed to go on all night in the Manchester International 2 which meant we missed the train home. Then there’s the Ellis Beggs & Howard track which I’d still like to sample on an Aliens track one day. Neither of those are on any streaming sites I know of other than youtube.
Then you’ve got the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy track, which was my first proper foray into the world of hip hop. I can be something of a late developer with musical tastes but when I latch on, I’m loyal and will stick with something and it’s been that way with rap. NWA, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, they’re all among my favourite records now but much after the fact in a lot of cases.
The later songs are a bit of a tribute to three absolute heroes, all much later of their material. Chris Cornell has one of THE great rock voices, Bowie’s “Lazarus” is among his best ever songs right at the end of a career only he could bring down the curtain on, and of course Prince, still brilliant right up to the end in a way that lesser mortals can only dream of. Still can’t believe Prince is dead to be honest…
TJR: Tell, us about your recent diagnosis and your blog/vlog.
JJ: Soooo, at the beginning of January 2019, I was told I was going to need to have a partial thyroidectomy to remove a tumour and that the procedure could have a significant affect on my ability to sing. This had an arresting impact on me personally because although whatever diagnosis could be treated, the impact on my voice could render me literally speechless.
This led me to looking for support and guidance, little of which there is out there, so I began to think it would be both therapeutic and potentially informative to document any recovery I undertake as well as making contact with people from all walks of life that have had been faced with potentially life changing voice issues. Hence www.soundofmyvoice.co.uk was born and it is my full intention that I ensure it doesn’t fall victim of blog fade and apathy. It’s still in the very early stages of development but I’m actively looking for guests that are willing to come on and share their experience and not just singers, but broadcasters, teachers, actors, speech therapists, medics, anyone. If this sounds like you get in touch at email@example.com
TJR: What’s next for We’re All Aliens?
JJ: Well, the prognosis for the voice has been good, so that’s great news. I’m not out of the woods just yet, but my consultant has ninja like skills and I have every faith in both him and the NHS. Rik is currently doing guitars for “News Feed” the follow up single to “I am an alien” so expect that soon, most likely with the album following shortly after, just shy of festival season. I think the first intention is to do some more acoustic shows just to road test the songs in a relaxed atmosphere, get to know what works and what doesn’t. When a tune isn’t wearing it’s feather boa you get to know if it’s mutton or lamb pretty quickly. Or insert your own less deliberate Spinal Tap-esque analogy. Then go full electric once the album is released and there’s enough interest to entertain the endeavour.
Then crack on with recording the second album which is almost all written, but will inevitably change in the course of time.
TJR: If you could make music history, how would you do it?
JJ: It’d probably involve a time travelling phone box, and some significant record company executives. Either way, there has to be a moment back in the day when someone took a vacation enabling a resourceful time traveller to convince the general public that paying for musical content was an intrinsic value and that without paying for it, great civilisations will crumble and DeNomulus will reign supreme, or something…