John Joseph Brill wasted no time impressing crowds and critics last year with his debut EP Pieces and performances at Reading & Leeds festivals. Now he’s just released his second EP, False Names, and will be hitting festival stages all year.
This new release continues its iconic blend of extremely personal and relatable songs that quickly require loudly singing along to. We wanted to find out more about how Brill’s past and present came together to form False Names.
How did the move from being in a band in London to solo in Liverpool affect the music you wanted to make?
It was an enormous transition but I think having an entirely new environment, a new world to explore, really aided what was effectively quite a serious stylistic shift. Being in a new space with the opportunity to be more introspective and in turn discover my true identity as an artist.
You take on a range of subjects with your songs, with a few being quite dark and personal. There’s no denying though that the richness of your voice adds a warmth that uplifts those songs. How conscious of that are you when writing?
I try to be as brutally honest in the writing as my self-consciousness will allow! So I don’t really consider the performance in the writing because ultimately if the songs are a realistic representation of my identity then the way I end up delivering them should be the way they are supposed to be delivered.
The thing that really grabbed me with your EP was the lyrics, a really interesting mix of playful and powerful language. Do they come first, with instruments added to support them or is the process more holistic than that?
It varies but more often than not the lyrics come first. I have books full of drivel and try my best to cut through it to find the good stuff. But sometimes I’ll start with a musical idea and realise that I have lyrical ideas kicking about that would really augment the instrumental parts I’ve already written.
We Won’t Cry felt like a defiant sequel to Muscle and Bone. If you don’t mind me asking, does We Won’t Cry reflect where your head’s at currently with regards to your health? Are these songs a means of catharsis for you?
Fucking right they are! All the songs provide some sort of catharsis. It’s been a really turbulent few years and I find that writing about everything is the best way for me on a personal level to make sense of everything. My health is good, I’m very lucky. I’m still drawing on a lot of what I felt when I was very ill but it’s not as relevant to where I am at the moment. We Won’t Cry is about drawing bravery from someone else, though I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I believe that crying is unhealthy or unmanly. I think as young men we can do our mental health a great deal of good by talking about what we feel and expressing that in whichever way feel’s right. Ironically I’ve burst into tears while playing that song live.
Did you have an objective in mind with this latest release? Is there anything you want listeners to take away from the record?
My objective is always to paint an honest portrait of things. I guess with the False Names EP I wanted as I touched on before to be honest about what it is to be a modern, young man. I have no intention of influencing the way anyone reacts to what I do, being an audience member or a fan is a deeply personal thing but I hope I’m at least encouraging the idea that emotional honesty is a positive and powerful thing.
You’ve got a few festivals this year, are you content to rest the mind a bit and enjoy performing, or are you already thinking up new song ideas?
I think I would fold like a cheap card table if I let myself rest my mind. I’m always writing, I love performing and when I am it’s all I think about but once I’m off stage and I suppose out of character I return to being a writer almost instantly.
Is there anyone you’re particularly looking forward to performing with in the future?
Yeah absolutely, we’re doing a festival with The Flaming Lips and I fucking love them. They were actually the support at the first show I ever went to.
Lastly, if you could only pick one treat to keep you sane when travelling between gigs or waiting to perform, what would it be?
If we could time every tour so that the test match was on the radio during every drive I’d be a happy man. Not sure my band would be so happy through.
Listen to the False Names EP on Spotify here.