Canadian Prankster Punks The Johnstones

by Trevor Morelli

The Johnstones are a high-energy punk/ska band from Ajax, Ontario, the same city that produced Canadian pop-punk powerhouse Sum 41 in the late '90s. What differentiates The Johnstones from their peers is their rebellious streak - their reluctance to let "The Man" affect their music or lifestyle. They're here to start the party and they don't apologize if stuff gets busted along the way.

The Johstones' record of having fun and unleashing havoc on their legions of fans is undeniable. After bursting onto the punk scene with 2006's Word is Bond, the band enjoyed early success thanks to the video for their song "Gone For A Long Time." The clip went in heavy rotation on MuchMusic and stayed on the station's charts for 8 weeks.

Getting in trouble is also something The Johnstones are known for. They're no longer welcome at Disney World after a bout of belligerent behavior at the park. Their antics are captured on a fun, self-produced show called Crown the Town with lead singer Ryan Long, which you can see on Rogers TV in Toronto.

In 2012, The Johnstones released their most anticipated album SUCK. From the feel-good, reggae vibes of "Bad, Bad Dream" to the spirited, smart-mouthed lyrics of "Mic in My Hand," SUCK stands up as an energetic and robust contribution to the ska/punk genre.

Vocalist/guitarist Jarek Hardy was kind enough to chat with us about the album, the band's history of having unapologetic fun, and their vision for pushing their carefree, DIY lifestyle to the next level in 2013.
Trevor Morelli (Songfacts): You guys released a new album last fall, and it's called SUCK. I was just wondering how people reacted so far to this album.

Jarek Hardy: Everyone that didn't even know about us, it's a really good introduction to us.

Songfacts: So along those lines, if people aren't that familiar with The Johnstones, what songs on this album would you get them to listen to right off the bat to get an idea of what you sound like?

Jarek: Well, the opening track, the first song ("Bad, Bad Dream"), that's The Johnstones in a bubble right there. But also "Million Dollars" would be a good indication of what The Johnstones are about.

Songfacts: You've got a song on there called "Jennifer's Jacket."

Jarek: That's our first single.

Songfacts: Can you tell me a little bit about who Jennifer is and what that song's about?

Jarek: All right, it was like two years ago before the song was even named or even really written, we had a competition for our biggest fan, basically we'd write a song about the fan. We wrote a song, and it was a rock version, like a skeleton version of "Jennifer's Jacket." And two years later we just turned it into a real song and threw it on our album. "Jennifer's Jacket," though, is actually the name of a Presidents of the United States of America song that we just love. So we just took the title from the Presidents of the United States of America. It's really bizarre.

Songfacts: So it's about the title character losing her heart in San Diego even though she's never been there?

Jarek: In California, yeah.

Songfacts: Can you talk about that a bit?

Jarek: Well, basically, the story was written about one of our fans saying that she lost her heart in a different city. So the story of the song is representative of one of our fans two years ago. It's written for a fan, and we just brought all the lyrics that we had into the chorus. We brought them over and then changed the name of the song and changed the chorus to basically a new chorus.

Songfacts: That's cool. Moving on to a different song, in "Mic In Hand," you're singing about coming into the world with your mic in your hand and leaving with a mic in your hand. I'm guessing that's representative of the way you feel about music. I mean, could you ever picture yourself doing anything else for a living?

Jarek: Yeah. "Mic In Hand" is kind of a stand against everyone, it's kind of like a fuck you to everyone who doesn't get it. That's pretty much what it is. People who don't play music often don't get it. They don't get that it's a passion, that it's your life, and they try and steer you in another direction.

"Mic In Hand" is almost like a high school inspirational song to the youth out there just saying, We get it.

Songfacts: I'm guessing then that you face a lot of criticism for what you do and people around you maybe doubting you.

Jarek: In the lyrics of that song, it's not so much criticism from outside people, it's more so criticisms from closer people. The song talks about mom and dad going to the office, the principal and everyone saying, You should be a lawyer, you should be a doctor. Like everyone putting all these stigmas on you, when really all you want to do is play music. It's like, Hey, this is what we do. You don't get it, but this is what we do.

Songfacts: That's cool. So everyone in the band feels the same way, you guys are a pretty tight unit now?

Jarek: Yeah. We're super, super tight. We grew up and went to high school together. So we've been together for a while and we're just super tight friends.

Songfacts: That's awesome. So near the end of the album you guys decided to cover the 1962 hit "The Loco-Motion." Why did you decide to cover that song and how have people reacted to that one specifically?

Jarek: It's just a fun song. You can't go wrong with "Loco Motion." We always thought it would be funny to do a song that has a dance. We tried it on one of our previous albums. We made up a dance. But we've really thought it would be funny to bring back an older song. We were just dicking around in the studio. It was more of just us in the studio screwing around and just being like, hey, what sounds awesome? And we kind of threw it on there last minute. And so far the reaction's actually been awesome. Every show we play everyone's always asking us to play it.

Songfacts: Yeah, I really like that song.

Jarek: We just have to learn how to play it live. [Laughing] So that's the main problem.

Songfacts: Switching to some of the videos that you guys do. Right now on your site there's a video for the song "Live Forever." It's got a guy in a Speedo lip synching to the lyrics. I was wondering what that's all about and how you came up with the idea for that video.

Jarek: That's Julian from our band, the trombone player. We always thought it would be funny to make someone else in our band sing the whole song, even though he doesn't actually sing the lyrics. If you've seen the "Slide" video, Julian's a really funny guy to watch, because he's always pretty much half naked and has a big gut and running around stage with a punk rock tattoo on his stomach. We wanted to feature Julian in the music video for no reason at all, just for the fact that we thought it'd be funny.

And then our director buddy hopped on and we had this idea of just throwing as much food as we could possibly throw in one session. It took three or four hours to set up, and it was all done in one shot, so we only had one shot at doing it.

Songfacts: You guys have your own sort of TV show called Crown the Town. Why did you decide to do this show and has it helped to attract people to your music?

Jarek: Yeah. It has actually, I'll answer why first. Ryan [Long], and I have been making videos together for a while on our own time, and it was just a natural progression. Why not make a TV show?

We had a Web series that we were doing for a while. We had a live kind of TV show on the Internet that we did where we had guests like Mean Tangerine, and we've been doing this stuff for a long time, just being on camera. So then we had this opportunity to make a TV show. It was really Ryan's idea, so Ryan's the center point of the show and I'm like the on screen producer of the show. So it's him and I and Gary, who is our lackey merch man. And then a few other people, like Max Off from Mean Tangerine.

Anyway, it's like a quest to find the best of the best in trial, but it's insane. It veers off a lot. There's a lot sketch comedy, there are a lot of music videos, there's a lot of in your face kind of antics. Like one of the things we do is we try to find the best garbage in the city. And in order to find the best garbage, we made Gary, our merch man, get garbage dumped all over him, and the ones that taste the best, that's how we decide. So it's really dumb. But we've had really good reviews from it so far.

We actually had Steve O on the show, from Jackass. So Steve O's in one of the episodes. We shot a music video with him for one of the episodes where he smeared a really dumb song and he just sang the chorus with us a little bit and this was in the video.

Songfacts: Sounds wicked. One of the other videos I wanted to ask you about, you made a parody of the the Lonely Islands' "I'm On A Boat." And it's "I'm On A Couch." There are so many Lonely Islands videos out there, why did you pick that one and who came up with the couch idea to parody it?

Jarek: Actually, that was just random. We just thought it would be hilarious, because Gary, our merch guy, is pretty much homeless. And we just thought it would be stupid and funny to try this out. So we did it. That's kind of how all the stuff works with us. We think it's funny and we just do it.

Songfacts: Does SUCK solidify your stance in the ska-punk scene, or are there songs with some different musical elements that you think will attract new people?

Jarek: Well, "Bad, Bad Dream" right off the bat is a ska song. So that's what we were trying to do, implant into people's brains that first and foremost we are a ska band. That's why we put that first song on the album, it just made sense.

The album does vary a little bit. We'll go as far as "Loco Motion," for instance. But slow it down to a little bit of a reggae vibe, it goes to punk, it has some kind of Beastie Boys rapping, and then there's maybe two poppier songs, like pop-rockish songs, almost, even though I don't like saying that. But they're the popiest songs on the album.

So it's not like we were trying to pigeonhole ourselves as a ska-punk band, but we want people to know that we're a ska-punk band.

Songfacts: The last song on the album, I guess it's a skit, really. It's called "The Menu." And it just sounds like you've called up a Wendy's and tried to see how long before they hung up on you. Is that what happened?

Jarek: Yeah. That's exactly what happened. It wasn't Wendy's, though. Ryan and I just got this program and we were just dicking around with it for like six hours. We have this program on our computer where we can crank call people and record it. So we were in hysterics for like six hours just recording phone calls. And then one of them, we're just like, you know what, let's go for as long as we can with just asking, asking, asking. That's exactly what it was. Just asking, asking questions, see how long it would go.

Right at the end we're like on the ground laughing.

Songfacts: It was like four minutes long.

Jarek: Couldn't believe it, I know. It's one of those things that starts out, it's a little bit funny, it gets funnier. Then it stops being funny because it's just too long. You're like, is this still going on? And then it gets funny again because it's so long.

Songfacts: So what's next for the Johnstones in 2013?

Jarek: For 2013? Well, we've got a mini tour coming up in a week and a half, but we're going to start putting together some dates and touring the album. And we're going to try to hop on a cross-Canada tour and we're going to try to go down to the US as well. We're filming all new episodes of the TV show coming up in the end of the spring. Six more episodes. And we're going to do new music ASAP. We still have a shitload of songs that we've got to record. So we're going to be touring our asses off for SUCK. When we have some free time from touring, we plan to record more TV shows. And then right after that we're going to make a new album, I assume. We're not wasting any time on this one. We took two and a half years to make a new album, which is fucking retarded. So we're not waiting any longer.

February 12, 2013
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