By Poppy Tohill
Some of you may be familiar with the punk rock band The King Blueswho for ten years challenged the politicians and war-monger's of theUnited Kingdom with their original punk rock, ska, protest music. Well almost three years on from their break up, vocalist Jonny Fox, is back on the airwaves, more commonly known and referred to as ‘Itch' these days which is his stage name for his now, solo musical career.
Recently releasing his first solo debut record, The Deep End, soon after his debut single, ‘Another Man'received great success throughout Australia and the US in particularly, Fox found himself rehearsing at theRed Bull Studios in Auckland for five days, where I had the privilege to go along and be the first person in New Zealand to interview him and have a chat about all things, ‘Itch.'
First things first upon meeting Fox, his accent and fashion sense are amazing. So after pointing this out, and having some great pre-interview banter, we soon sat down on the gigantic leather couches and the Red Bull Studios for a chat, where first off, Fox told me about his decision to separate from The King Blues and begin his own solo career as Itch.
"I did the band thing for over ten years, and during that time I think we pretty much achieved what we wanted to," Fox explained. "We set out to be this super political protest band, and by the end of album number four it had gotten to a point where I just wanted to do new things," he continued. "I think it kind of sucks when bands change so drastically that their original message becomes something else, and I really wanted to start writing about other things. I wanted to look at the world a little differently and learn more, as well as learn I actually knew less than I thought I did," he admits, "so I just wanted to try out something new and it all happened really naturally to be honest," he exclaimed. "I was recording the last King Blues album with the same producer that I did my solo record with, because by this stage I was writing for both projects at the same time, so we'd just have a bit of fun and jam together at the end of the day. But becoming a solo artist was really just all about wanting to have a change and doing something different," Fox concluded.
"No I never fancied it to be honest!" Fox declared, when asked if he'd ever imagined or wanted to be, a solo artist. "I've definitely come from band backgrounds, and I've never actually really fancied being a solo artist before, but then I just seemed to get to a point where I knew I was ready," he confessed. "I grew up on the road, playing shows in tiny places and touring for months and months at a time, so being in the King Blues beforehand definitely helped me prepare myself, and gave me a great grounding for becoming a solo artist, teaching me things about what to do and what not to do, you know," he added.
With this, Fox then went on to tell me about the not so big differences from being a member of a band to a solo artist. "I'm still just travelling around with my friends," he confessed. "So I'm not literally on my own. I don't know how different it is really, because I still like to go out and party, and it never really feels like I'm actually alone," he laughed.
In terms of the music though, Fox filled me in on the numerous differences that do exist between The Kings Blues sound and Itch's sound. "It's totally different," he remarked. "Before, I had to write music that was for a six piece band, so I had to make sure everyone had their own little bit and sometimes it was quite limited," he admits. "I mean, it's sometimes good working within the confines of a limited structure, but at the same time, this time round I can do anything," he exclaimed, "so that was really nice. Creatively it can be just a piano, or just a beat and you can throw anything in there, so it's been nice like that."
"I don't actually know myself," Fox laughed, when asked how he'd best describe his new sound. "It's quite eclectic, but essentially it's hip-hop, and what I like to do is try bring in a do-wop flavour to it," he explained. "I come from a punk rock background, so I always have that in mind and try to attack it in that way," he added. "But to me, punk rock and hip hop are really the same thing- they're both street music from underprivileged people. To me hip hop is black punk and punk is white hip-hop," he remarked. "That's kind of the background I come from anyway, and it's bringing those mixture of different styles into hip-hop that's my thing," he proclaimed.
This then led on to us chatting about where his interest in these different genres and styles originally came from. "I grew up as a punk rock kid," Fox began. "From the age of 13 I was heavily into it, and started living with a group of punk rockers that took me, and they gave me a complete musical education," he declared. "They were playing me bands that were around before I was born but spoke to me way more than what was happening back then. So, it wasn't just music for me, it was the whole culture that I grew up in," he exclaimed. "Music is the only thing I've ever wanted to, and I just knew it. It's the only job I've ever had too," he added. "I was never the best at it, because I knew a lot of people that were way better and progressed a lot quicker than I did, but I just had this really ignorant self belief that it's what I would do, and I stuck with it," he honestly admits.
Deciding we'd soon covered enough of the past and lead up to his solo career, Fox went on to fill me in on his debut solo album, The DeepEnd. "I recorded it with John Feldmann in his studio in Los Angeles and it was really nice because we both come from the same background," he began. "We both came from a punk rock background and wanted to do something entirely new and different, so we totally ignored any kind of trend that was going on, because we didn't want to follow any fashions or care about what was hot at the time," Fox continued. "Our whole purpose when we sat down each day was that we wanted to invent our own fashions and trends. The idea was to create something original that hopefully doesn't sound like anything else. I wanted the lyrics to not be throw away," he exclaimed. "The reason it's called the deep end is because I wanted it to have depth and I wanted it to be something you could listen to and enjoy for what it is, on one level, but then if you go back for repeat listens there's a depth there," he explained.
"I slept in the studio for about three or four months, just working on the album, it was amazing," he remarked. "Every single day we just worked super hard and by the end of it we had about 100 songs to pick down and wittle through because we had both pushed each other to work so hard."
"Overall it took a long time, probably about a year," he continued. "Not solidly, but back and forth working on it, it was really long. Most artists don't have that privilege now a days. They may have a week or two weeks to knock it out, so it really was a privilege for me to be able to sit back and get it right and just fuck around and play around with things, because I was still finding my feet, you know," he stated. "I was finding my new sound, experimenting and trying out different things, so it was nice," he acknowledged once more.
With the album now being the topic of conversation, we of course went on to talk about his debut single, ‘Another Man,' which has received great critical acclaim, particularly throughout Australia, where the single has recently been recognised as one of the top 5 songs added to Australian radio, the 8th most Shazam-med song in the country, the 88th most streamed song on Spotify in the country and he 8th overall single and #5 song on the Australian iTunes pop charts.
When asked if he expected this reaction from the single, Jonny laughed and honestly responded, "No not at all! Literally not at all," he repeated. "I still don't really believe it, it's really weird," he continued. "It's completely taken me by shock and it's very humbling. I'm very appreciative to the people who have supported it and brought it. I did not expect it at all," he truthfully expressed.
"I'm actually heading to Australia tomorrow," he quickly added. "We grew up in England with a lot of Australian programs on the telly, because they were in english and were cheaper to buy than the american ones," he laughed, "so I'm very excited to go over there and just experience the whole culture," he admits.
Back on the topic of ‘Another Man' Fox went on to explain the inspiration behind the song. "Do you know what, it was just kind of a fun one, that," he revealed. "There was an artist called BC Jean who recorded the song originally and Feldmann was mixing it in the studio when I was there and I heard it and just had to give it a shot, because I knew I could do something with the verses," he explained. "So we had a talk and spoke to BC Jean about it, and she was down, so the whole thing was done in about an hour. it was super quick, from hearing it, to writing and recording it, and it was just such a fun one to do," Fox remarked. "Some songs take a bit of TLC and take a bit of time and coming back to, but sometimes some of the best ones are the ones that just come out," he added.
"We were looking for different people to sing it, because the girl who originally sung it ended up singing another track on my album called, Not My Revolution," Fox replied when asked how working with Megan Joyon the track, came about. "I wanted to have a lot of different people on the album, and Feldmann had previously worked with Megan, so there was some connection there and he played me her stuff and I thought it was absolutely dope, so she came in and smashed it out, which was really cool."
With the mention of the track, ‘Not My Revolution,' Fox also informed me that, "that song would have to be my favourite track from the album. It's a real personal song and it's the most vulnerable I think I've ever made myself."
As I mentioned earlier, one of the first things you notice about Jonny ‘Itch' Fox when meeting him or even just by watching his music videos, is that he has a very unique and flamboyant sense of fashion. Dressed in a dark mustard coloured suit, checkered with black and brown squares on the day of this interview, I couldn't help but bring up the topic of fashion and the importance of this element to Fox's career and life.
"I think it's something to enjoy, but it's not necessarily important," Fox responded. "If you're an artist I think you should live it, no matter what you're doing. Even if you're the dumbest or lowest common denominator, whatever it is that you're doing, I think you should live it and really be that person," he truthfully expressed. " I'm not really the kind of person who can fake it, and although I don't think fashion is necessarily an important aspect to my career, I think it should be important to everyone because it's part of our whole package, and who we are," he continued. "Fashion helps define one another and it's just another way of expression. For me though, it's just a bit of fun, because I like standing out a bit," he laughed. "Many people have called me the most flamboyant straight man in the world," he chuckled once more.
Considering his time in The King Blues before now, and his new adventure as a solo artist, Fox has been in the music industry a long time. Brining this up in conversation, Fox went on to tell me about his proudest achievement in terms of his career, and the one thing he still strives to achieve. "I think just always doing what I've wanted to do and never following trends," he responded when asked about his proudest achievement. "I think there was a time when we were first going to war with Iraq and we were the only band in the UK putting out anti war messages. Because its always been more than just the music for me, and I guess that's what I'm most proud of," he truthfully confessed. "In terms of something I still want to achieve, well to me, I think- if you're an artist and you're not trying to change the world then what's the point. Literally there is no point. Because there's a lot easier ways to make money and get girls, you know what I mean, so unless you're really trying to change the world, what's the point, because that's how I feel."
Slowly beginning to wrap the interview up Fox then went on to tell me about his dream collaborations, and who he'd love to work with, either dead or alive. "Dead, I'd have to say Joe Strummer, because I just think that The Clash are the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Alive, I would go with Chuck D, because I think Public Enemy are the most important hip-hop people around."
Finishing off with testing his knowledge on New Zealand artists and bands, Fox humorously admit, "My knowledge on any artists in general is quite minimal, as I'm quite self obsessed," he laughed. "But from New Zealand, who do I know.." he asked himself. "The Living End.. are they from New Zealand? They're a pretty cool rock-a-billy band." - Just to confirm if you're unsure yourself, The Living End are actually from Australia, but I didn't have the heart to tell Jonny this at the time, because he'd tried so hard.
As we concluded the interview, Fox assured me we can definitely expect to see ‘Itch' back on New Zealand shores to tour the country at some stage, also filling me in on what we can expect from his live shows when he does return. "I like to be a kind of rapper who does a punk rock live show and so I like it to be aggressive, in your face and exciting," he explained. "To me, a lot of rock bands are great live but not that great on record, and a lot of hip-hop artists are great on record and not that great live, so I try to come from a punk rock place, live and do hip hop."
In terms of the future and the chance of a second album, Fox quickly added, "I'm definitely thinking about what I'm going to do for a second album, I'm planning it all in my head right now, so it's definitely coming at some point," he laughed.
THE DEEP END is out now and available on iTunes!