(Pic: Johnny Panics Rob Solly)
Johnny Panic

Taking their name from the Sylvia Plath's "Johnny Panic And The Bible Of Dreams", Johnny Panic are a band who clearly come from the Manic Street Preachers school of thought. Bizarrely enough the foundations for the band were set when an early incarnation of the band were managed by the same manager as Busted. They made a conscious decision to break away from the pop route the manager clearly saw them fitting into and recently toured the country as part of Kerrang's New British Rock Tour. With two singles behind them, "Burn Your Youth" and "Chemical Girlfriend", 2005 looks set to be the year that the debut album "The Violent Dazzling" blows away all the competition. Designer Magazine caught up with the band in Manchester to find out more.

Q: You're still a relatively new band so apologies for this, but we're going to have to ask the boring question first - how did the Panic boys get together?
Rob: It actually goes back 10 years ago. Can you believe it? That's Oil Of Ulay for yer. I recognized Jonny from school, but we didn't know each other, and I saw him on a bus one time from Woolwich to Orpington and he was wearing a Depeche Mode T-Shirt. He had an older brother and I had a older sister and they'd both taken us to see Depeche Mode at Wembley Arena, the same gig but we didn't know each other. So in my famously high pitched voice I said...

Jonny: ...(adopts high pitched voice) Hi, do you like Depeche Mode? I like them too

Rob: And basically we started chatting about music and we forged very much a friendship over music. None of us could play an instrument at this time. He had the better record collection and had all these indie top 20's. Quite simply still in this frame of mind Jonny brought Nash to the table. At the time he looked like Tim Armstrong

Nash: (laughs)  I was in a punk band, thought I looked like Tim Armstrong and checked out Johnny Panic and realized I didn't.

Jonny: He did used to look like Steve Marriot. You know from the Small Faces and he had all the suits like Weller in his early days.

Rob: And finally after watching all these dreadful bands at Sixth Form college (that either sounded like New Model Army, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix) we thought we better start a band cos these people had no taste in music and otherwise there's no hope for the future. And to do that we had to have a member that could play. Jonny knew Matt from a pub in Sidcup and luckily he could play.

Matt: The very first rehearsal it was like lets get together and see how it works. And I thought it went really well. Then I'm following Jonny home and managed to go smack right into the back of his car and smash up the back of his car and the front of mine. I think at that point we thought we've got something here.

Rob: And to end on an important note I think the thing that makes us different from a lot of other bands is there's a lot of virtuoso going in those other bands. In this band we worship the song, that's our god, because that's what we used to listen to and that's what we like. We have very strong ideals for a band because we're fans. Jon was the first person I knew who had a car so I used to make him drive me to see gigs and follow bands.

Matt: We're very much a band like Rage Against The Machine in the way that they're four equals, but when you put them together their value is greater than any one individual.

Q: How is coming into these times where by bands have to have a gimmick, whether that's The Darkness, Scissor Sisters or Hurricane Party?
Rob: Hurricane Party - did you say the word gimmick? (laughs) I don't think we've got a gimmick. We've got ideals because I honestly think, and this may be a cliché, what we're doing with "Chemical Girlfriend" and the RAPT thing, there is something that unfortunately has been part of our past and the people that have been around us and the thing's we've seen. I honestly think it's our duty if we can make some sort of small difference rather than to ignore it and drink a bottle of Jack Daniels cos that's what rock'n'roll is to most people. Perhaps some people may see that as a gimmick, but we went to Wandsworth Prison to see the RAPT program in action and it was quite a humbling experience.

I'm a big fan of the Darkness and I saw them in Manchester at In The City a few years back. After seeing them play in London to 30 people we drove up here cos they're a great band. But it always felt a bit gimmicky like they'd got an angle. I don't know how much they believe or how for real that angle that is, but it works. I'd like to think our angle is full on and is part of our make up even if you took the music away.

(Pic: Johnny Panics Matt James)

Q: So like the Manic's previously you are 4 Real?
Rob: Yeah, except i'm not into carving. The only carving I do is with roast beef. The Manic's are a big big influence and there's no denying that. We used to follow them and I mean follow them. James Dean Bradfield called me an annoying wanker in the past

Jonny: That's a direct quote as well cos I was the one driving him there

Rob: I told him he should get back to running the four minute mile and lose some weight. He was like "F**k off, you're becoming an annoying wanker". The point was they are a band for me who were so close to greatness and I'm not to sure whether they're destroying their own legacy. Of a band that were so aware of legacies they seem to have contradicted themselves. That "Know Your Enemy" album was piss poor and "Lifeblood" has got a couple of good songs on, but it's ain't really my cup of tea. I think the best song on there is "To Repel Ghosts", which is quite a good lyric as well, and I think that's the other weakness - Nicky Wire's lyrics. He's run out of things to say lyrically.

Q: I think the thing with Johnny Panic is you have to see you live to make sense of it. I heard the "Burn Your Youth" single a while back and just didn't get it, then saw you on the Kerrang New British Band tour and was blown away
Rob: I think the thing with that single is it was quite poppy. We wanna sell a lot of records, we aren't scared of it and it's something we actively wanna do. Like I said, we worship the song, and we grew up listening to the radio so you hear the majority of pop songs. Nash really likes the Beach Boys, I really like Phil Spector, John really likes Chas and Dave and i'd even go as far as Avril Lavigne. I'm not really endearing ourselves to you by saying that, but i'm telling the truth and i'm saying there is this quality to the band - that we write big choruses. The "Burn Your Youth" thing was funny. I thought it was a song that would really capture a lot more people's imaginations that it did.

Q: One of the things I keep reading about Johnny Panic is you're best mates with Busted. Manic's, Busted - the scenarios getting even more bizarre.
Rob: That's an absolute myth. Let's get this straight cos this is my fault and i'm not particularly endearing myself to talking about it. In the early days of this band, before Matt joined, I used to have the same manager that became their (Busted's) manager. They had a place and rented it out and I used to stay there. When the band first started they used to stay there and hang out, but we made a conscious decision as everything came to be with Busted we realized we didn't want to be associated with that and go down that route. Whether you like that band or not and we go back to the question of integrity, I think that shows an integrity because we could have gone down that pop route and got a lot further. The truth is I still know Matt, how well I know him is debatable.

Q: Was this flat on the famous Room On The 3rd floor or whatever it's called?
Rob: I think you'll find that's McFly, but I shouldn't really say that I know that. Nah, this was miles before that, in a place in North London.

(Pic: Johnny Panics Matt James)

Q: Who would you class as your contemporaries?
Rob: Rock'n'roll is a very broad church. I actually got on very well with Hurricane Party, but I had a couple of blues with their fans. They had this idea that rock music was this thing, I was like f**k off - do you really think rock music started in 56 and just evolved to this one point?

Q: What's the plan for next year in 2005?
Matt: The next single's likely to be out February called "The Minority Of One" which we've just finished recording. Nash has just got a bit of time over Xmas to get the artwork done, because he does all of it.

Rob: The album should be out in March called "The Violent Dazzling". Next year is going to be all about the album. I honestly believe that it will be the best debut album next year. I've heard a few bands coming out that have got pretty good albums, but none of them will match the calibre of these songs. We may not be the coolest out there or the NME favourite, but it will be the best debut album!!!

Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Lead Photo by Karen McBride (All others by Alex McCann)

"Chemical Girlfriend" is out now
The band tour with The Reputation and The Buzzcocks over the next few months
For more info

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