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John & Jehn - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 20 / 4 / 2008

John & Jehn - Interview


John & Jehn are a French duo who are based in London and who have just released their debut album. With influences as diverse as Serge Gainsbourg, the Velvet Underground, the Gang of Four, Joy Division and Johnny Cash, John Clarkson speaks to them about their intense on and off stage love affair

John & Jehn are a French couple and musical duo who moved to London in the summer of 2006. They have just released their eponymous debut album on a new label Faculty Music, and upon which John plays guitar, Jehn bass and organ, and both provide vocals. The duo list their influences as including Serge Gainsbourg, the Velvet Underground, the Gang of Four, Joy Division and Johnny Cash, and the ten track album, which has a ‘John Side’ and a ‘Jehn Side’, runs through a wide array of sounds, including breezy pop songs, drone pieces, feedback-distorted numbers and country songs. They recently toured with British Sea Power, and are currently playing headline dates in small and medium-sized venues in London and the UK. Pennyblackmusic spoke to John & Jehn about the new album. PB : The new record has a John side and a Jehn side. It has been described as both two EPs and also an album. How do you interpret it? Do you see it as two simultaneous EPs or an album? John : Well we had all these songs to put together and we thought that we didn’t want a classic album format. So we have 2 cds with 5 tracks each. In a way it will be like listening to a vinyl album. You’ll have to get up off your sofa and switch to the other side. But we can imagine that most of the people will just listen to it on their ipod. Nothing wrong with that though. PB : With regard to the John side and the Jehn side, is this a classic John and Yoko thing with John writing all the songs on the John side and Jehn writing all the songs on the Jehn side and you helping each other out on each other’s songs ? Or alternatively did you write the songs in another way ? Jehn : We usually write our lyrics separately and then come to the other with a full idea for a song. The main rule is that if you come up with something shit it means that you didn’t work hard enough and you should work again on your own. PB : It says on the album sleeve that “This record was made in the year 2007. At this time John was 29 and Jehn 22, they loved each other very much.” Do you see this record as very much of a time and a place ? Jehn : Yes, very much indeed, our music has already been changing a lot since we’ve started and we won’t probably do the same music all the time. As an artist you want to see your work evolve and confront yourself to new things. In a few years, if we can look back at this album and say: “that’s how we were at the time, now we’ve changed” it would be a sign of a certain accomplishment. PB : ‘John & Jehn’ is a very diverse record and one which runs through a whole range of sounds, and moves from passages of calm and beauty to distortion. When you are writing is it always important to try something that you haven’t done before ? John : Of course it is obvious that we have to try things we have never done before. This is the essence of our job. PB : John, is it true that you encouraged Jehn to form the band with you to stop her being from an actress ? Why ? John : Well I didn’t really force her. Let’s say I proposed to her, a bit like a moral wedding. The church became the music. I’ve been through a lot of failures in my life and I didn’t want to fuck it up this time. And yeah, her being an actress and me a nobody musician, we all know the end. And I wanted her in my life so bad. I pushed everything beyond the limit not to disappoint her, and I will do it again and again. PB : Jehn, how do you feel about this now? Do you find that flattering or frightening ? Are you glad he stopped you from being an actress ? Jehn : At first I hated it because it was disturbing all my plans. I grew up with the idea that I would become an actress and suddenly I meet someone who showed me a different view about the world and myself. It was very disturbing. It was definitely a big turning poiny in my life. But I was also in a position where I wanted love to be disturbing and not just self-regarding anymore. Meeting John posed a new moral challenge that I’d been unaware of or never had to face concretely before. I was forced to assume certain attitudes that were good for me, that shocked me out of my moral lethargy. PB : Is it true that, while both of you had played ib bands before, neither of you had played the guitar or bass before forming John & Jehn ? John : Yes it is true. We’re still finding that magic. It was like being born again. All fresh. PB : Your first record, ‘L’Amour Ne Nous Diehera Pas (Love Will Not Tear Us Apart’), and EP, was released in France. Aside of the wordplay based around Ian Curtis, was that first record written in French or English ? John : This record was written in English. Ian Curtis has been one of the main reasons why I started to write. I was impressed by the way he expressed himself, but I’ve never been fascinated at all about that myth around his suicide. I don’t like when people turn him into a “suicide-hero”. I think the film ‘Control’ didn’t mention enough he was a genius writer, it only shows him depressed, in a crisis; with beautiful images though… PB : Why did you decide to move to London from France and write your songs entirely in English ? John : We always wrote our songs in English. At that time we really needed an escape plan from our shit hometowns in France. We had an opportunity to leave, so we took it. PB : A lot of the lyrics are highly personal and look lovingly, but honestly at your relationship. Do you see the band as a way of both dealing with your life and also being able to work out any problems you might have in your relationship in front of each other ? Jehn : No, we don’t solve our mutual problems with songs. But at first we were very conscious that making music together was going to change us. It was going to be disturbing, it was going to be us in a new world, which helped us to write and be more creative. And again we still have this effect on each other. We are both very demanding and we don’t like being disappointed, which gives us no choice really. No time for rest! PB : Your video for your forthcoming single, ‘20LO7’ was shot in a hotel room in Pigalle and shows the two of you getting up out of bed and getting dressed to go out. John’s face is in close up for most of it. As you leave the room, another figure, a naked girl, is seen lying in the bed and waking up. Is the idea behind that that she has been dreaming about John & Jehn and they’re just a part of her imagination ? John : That s a good description! That is not the first meaning, but we love that one! How come we didn’t think about that ? PB : ‘John & Jehn’ has been released as the first album on Faculty Music. Is that your own label? Jehn : No it is a label partly run by students from Westminster University and Katie Thiebaud. It is very good because we are the only project on the label so we can have a lot of attention and we fell very much understood. We work with a very good team of people who we get along with very well, and we are lucky at the moment. PB : Now that the album is out, where will you go from here ? What are you immediate plans for the future ? Is it just to play as many gigs as possible ? John & Jehn : Touring and writing new stuff again and again.

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John & Jehn - Interview

John & Jehn - Interview

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