Emerging out of Saddleworth way back in 2007, Twisted Wheel are fronted by Jonny Brown, having had some admirable success over the years from being signed to record label giants Columbia, to some of the biggest and the best support slots including Liam Gallagher, Oasis and Paul Weller. However, it’s not all been smooth sailing since their exit from the public eye back in 2014, with various new lines ups and battles with addiction the following years saw Twisted Wheel fraught with problems. However, the most important thing for the band and probably what saved Jonny was his love of music, his refusal to quit and hunger to put Twisted Wheel back up where they rightfully deserve to be. Jonny’s Phoenix likeability to rise from the ashes is one I cannot help but admire. Despite having no record label or major radio play the band also reached number one in the UK physical charts with the Jonny Guitar EP which was their last release.
TODAY, they released new album ‘Satisfying The Ritual’ which is currently at number five in the iTunes chart.
I chatted to Jonny more about where his passion and love for punk rock stemmed from, the new album and where he saw Twisted Wheel heading in the future…
Let’s start at the beginning and get a bit of the history behind the band. I’m always interested to find out, how people first got into music. Jonny, where did it start for you?
Well, my dad had a guitar for years that he’d pulled out of a skip in Failsworth, and there are really early pictures of me naked playing about with that when I was about 3. We had a Led Zeppelin video as well which I was obsessed with – I used to get my mum to make my flares. Everyone used to think I was weird as a kid because they all wanted to be Batman and I’d come as Neil off the Young Ones or something.
Did you learn yourself guitar then? Was it a musical home?
I got a few guitar lessons in school but they kicked me out because whenever she went out the room I’d teach all the other kids ‘Smoke on the Water’ so all they wanted to do was (sings the riff) instead of listening to what she was teaching. She was teaching classical and everyone was like ‘fuck that!’ I had the red and blue Beatles albums on vinyl’s, and I was growing up around the time that Oasis were coming through, so I’ve just been brought up on good music. By the time I went to secondary school I had an electric guitar and all I wanted was to find some mates to start a band. And I did. It was a shambles of a school band, where we did a load of covers really badly, but we still won the talent competition!
As school went on, I got into dance music cos everyone was into it and taking ecstasy. It wasn’t like the acid house days though; it all got a bit hardcore by then. But I got into that through following the trend. When I left school, I remember my dad at the very end of the summer holidays asking me “so what are you doing when you go back?” And I had nothing sorted, no apprenticeship or anything, so we were both a bit like “Fucking hell, we’ve left it a bit late haven’t we.” I said, “I can play the guitar?” He said, “It’s in the fucking loft so you better go and get it.”
So, I started twanging away, and I was just about good enough to get on a course at Ashton College. I went down to the audition and he was like “You’re the best we’ve had all week mate, you’re on the course!” and I went in and no one could play a fucking note! So, all the lads in the year above saw something in me. They used to call me ‘Johnny the Boy’ because I was a boy version of them – I’d get all their hand me downs.
Where did the idea to form a band come from?
I got in a band through the lads at college. It was with a lad who wasn’t there initially, he came about three weeks late for the course. But all anyone ever talked about was this Ben. “When Ben gets here it’s all gonna go off.” So eventually Ben turns up with a big bag of magic mushrooms. He’d been there half an hour and we were all tripping our nuts off in class. This metalhead lost the plot, he ran out and never came again. I hope he’s okay…
The teacher pulled me, and I told her the whole story about the magic mushrooms and how I felt in touch with nature. Everyone started calling me Nature Boy after that. I went from ‘Johnny the Boy’ to ‘Nature Boy’. Ben took me into his band after that. They needed a bassist, so we used to nick the college bass when the teacher went, practice and then take it back in the morning. So then we started gigging and after a year or so we’d played about 50 gigs. We had copious amounts of drugs and all-nighters, so I was broken in quite quickly. I learnt how it all works with gigs and money with promoters.
That band carried on but as you know, people get jealous – I was writing my own songs and the singer wanted to do his own so it got all confusing. I ended up jamming with the bassist at an open mic night and then the drummer in a bedroom, where we actually did “She’s a Weapon” but I was singing the lyric “D’you Reckon?” As in asking “D’you reckon it’s any good?” I was about 19 then.
How did the songwriting side of things come about? Did that come naturally or did you read up on poetry or anything?
No, it wasn’t natural at all. I got into poetry but not at a sophisticated level. I was in the lowest set in English, but the teacher that I got in year 10, called Miss Carter, encouraged me to look at songwriting. She had me write a poem which got published in a book at school, so that sort of gave me a boost. I left school with a bit of wisdom and confidence that I could actually write a song. Miss Carter helped a lot of kids out who came from a tough background – she was just how a teacher should be and I’ll be forever grateful.
She sounds a legend. So what bands would you say have influenced your songwriting and sound over the years?
Well, I grew up with Oasis, then The Libertines & The Strokes came out, then you just had this run of great music with The White Stripes and Kasabian. This was around the time I was going to clubs in Oldham & Manchester and dancing to these tunes – it was the time of my life.
I look at early cuts of Doherty and he’s a much higher level intellectually than I could ever quite grasp. But when I came across The Clash & Joe Strummer and that punk thing, it was poetry in its purest form, just raw and not in an arty-farty way. I don’t mean that Doherty is pretentious, he’s very well educated and it’s just the way that he is. But Strummer really set me off. Even though we’re classed as an indie band I’d say we’re more swayed towards The Clash, when I hear the word indie, I think Jesus & Mary Chain and Primal Scream.
From forming Twisted Wheel, how did the escalation from just being a few guys to getting signed by Columbia? Was it quick?
Yeah, it was really quick. This is what I’m trying to do now, but it doesn’t seem to be working as quickly. But things don’t always happen the same way, do they? We had ‘She’s a Weapon’, ‘Strife’ and a few other tunes and we earned a bit of money from gigs to do a demo. Even then when I was 19, we did our demo for about £400 then we bought a cd duplicator and duplicated about 2000 demos, and I’d go and wait outside gigs in Manchester and just give them to crowds as they were coming out. In the cd would be a flyer for our next gig and then our gigs would be full. As soon as that happened the phone started ringing and we met Universal, Heavenly and Columbia in London in one week. After a few months, we had 5 record deals offered to us, and solicitors helped us to decide on. At that moment in time, the best one for us was Columbia.
People will know Jeff Barrett who used to work for Factory Records and runs Heavenly Records – he personally wanted to sign us; it wasn’t just his A&R guys. You don’t get characters like that anymore. Jeff Barrett used to take us for nights out and would give us albums and tell us about bands saying, ‘you can be like this’. Nowadays you just get some smarmy fuck that’s putting money into you and you get told what to do, told how to be commercial, and it’s very robotic. You work out how to make money online, and that’s how it is, no risk-taking.
How do you feel about it all now?
Looking back at it now, it would’ve been nice to have someone close to us – even though I had my dad who’s quite savvy – someone in the industry to give you a bit of guidance. You didn’t know who to believe. You were getting told that these are the people to go with then you’d get other people telling you not to go with them cos they fuck you over. Columbia are a very good label but it was all very confusing for us, we came out of it the other side pretty good though. We had Ignition, who was Oasis’ management, we had Columbia as a label and 13 Artists booking agent who looked after Arctic Monkeys. So we were set for big things. But then the press, like they fucking do, they all turn on you. You go from being this best upcoming band to getting shot down. That’s what the British press does to bands.
What does a major label want from an upcoming band to sign you?
I’m not sure how it works these days because we’re not getting that sort of interest, things are mad these days, I know bands who get thousands of listeners a month and we get between 30/40k per month and that’s natural, no one’s put us on some hot new indie bands playlist, that’s just people listening to our band. Some get thousands of plays a month yet they can’t sell 20 tickets for a gig.
When we had it as a band, it’s not just the labels that are interested. Word spreads through the industry and all the top agents and managers are meeting us in town. For about 6 months we’d be out meeting up with different people trying to work out who could do what for us. At the time it was really fucking cool, but a bit scary.
Coming into the present day, you’ve got the new album coming on the 20th of March. What’s the meaning behind the album title “Satisfying the Ritual?”
Liam sat me down on the last night of the tour, he gave me a Guinness and asked me what the album title “Satisfying the Ritual” meant. And as truthfully as I could be I said “Well, I’m satisfying my ritual right now by sitting here with you on this tour, smashing these gigs and working hard for it.” and that’s what it is right now at this moment in time. Maybe years ago, satisfying my ritual was taking loads of drugs, and maybe in the future hopefully satisfying my ritual will be buying loads of sports cars or something. It’s to do with an addictive personality, but it’s just about satisfying your needs so that you feel content. How it came about was – we’d just recorded ‘DNA’ and we were all excited about it. And I came out and jumped on the piano (I can’t play the piano) so Dean went “what are you doing?” And just talking shit I said, “I’m just satisfying my ritual.” And he pulled me for it, saying “That’s really cool that.” So, if he hadn’t have said it, I’d have never thought of it.
The album is quite biographical, with songs about your mum, and songs about what you’ve been through. Which is the standout track that you feel sums up where you’ve come from to where you are now?
‘Show Me’ by a million miles. That song brought me out my fucking pit. It’s quite an honest song. It’s not a song that’s gonna be the most listened to, but it’s the most natural, it’s the simplest. No disrespect to the rest of the band cos they don’t play on it. It’s just me and my next-door neighbour who I What’s App’d the song to cos I could hear him playing the piano through the walls, saying “Put some piano over this instead of playing fucking Coldplay!”. A couple of hours later he sent me the song back with piano on it and I was like, mint. Next thing you know he’s playing all of my songs through the wall on piano and I’m like ‘There we go, I can sleep now.’
You’ve released three tracks off the album, Nomad Hat. D.N.A and Black & Blue. Tell me about the next single “Ghost Man” …
It’s the first track we wrote as a unit and is a symbol of what we can do between us. It’s not just about me being the band, we’ve all had our own input and we’ve come out with a song like that. It’s not a number one single but it’s a very interesting track. It’s got depth, it’s got stories, it’s got everything you need for a good song – but it was never meant to be a number one single. It just shows what we’re capable of.
You’ve played quite a few of the tracks off of the album, what tracks would you tell a fresh Twisted Wheel listener to try to get an idea of the band?
I’ll pick four songs… Starting with Black & Blue off ‘Satisfying The Ritual’. This was written by Harry and is about the mental health crisis the youth are currently going through. The added touches of slide guitar and distant backing vocals really give that sense of melancholy, which we wanted to achieve with this track.
Oh, What Have You Done? – I think that sums up my personality at the time around 2009/2010, it was all glorious rock n roll but on the borderline of tragedy.
Ride – Off the second album, it goes into my more sensitive side. It could’ve been sung better, it could’ve been produced better, it could’ve been a really great pop song, but I was absolutely smacked off my tits when I recorded it. But because it’s such a good song I think it still shines through. I would never re-release an old track though.
DNA – Off the new album. Only because it’s not our normal type of song, but it’s in its own place. I’ve never had a song that within a week of playing it live and it getting on YouTube, people were singing it at gigs, and by the time the guitar solo kicked in it went from a bit emotional to like I am the Resurrection bouncing. It’s a really good song to have halfway through the set.
Nomad Hat, Satisfying The Ritual. I wrote this as a call for freedom against the digital hysteria which now dominates every corner of our lives. There is nothing purer than the simplicities of breathing in the fresh air, taking in the landscape and feeling alive with the world at your feet. It has a northern grit and sharp poetic aura that trickles throughout this stylish, widescreen, new wave sound which we worked very hard to craft in the studio.
What does the future hold for Twisted Wheel?
It’s positive. We’re gonna put this new album out, cement a new fanbase with the younger generation. It’s gonna put me on the runway to make the best album I’m ever gonna make. Not to say that this album isn’t absolutely beautiful, cos it is. I’m not being selfish, but the next album is gonna be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done. I think we’ll get played on major radio eventually.
Satisfying The Ritual is released today, 20th of March, read our track by track review here: http://northern-exposure.co/twisted-wheel-satisfying-the-ritual-track-by-track-review/
Order at https://twistedwheel.tmstor.es/