If you’re after a bit of edgy, energetic new punk in your life, then let us introduce you to the brilliantly named Who Killed Nancy Johnson?. The Reading-based band have honed a punky sound that they describe to us as “intense, energetic and spiky.”
Addressing the elephant in the room, so to speak, the quartet of Stefan Bell (vocals), Pete Moulton (guitar and vocals), Julien Bruinaud (bass and vocals), Mark Wren (drums and vocals) tell us that the unusual band name was born out of an ex-band member going to a photography exhibition. One of the photos showed a woman’s dressing table covered with prescription medicines, all made out to Nancy Johnson, which he then remembered upon starting a band.
Stefan Ball joined the band in 2015, at which point they’d been out of action for a year. He tells us: “I’m very different to the old singer and the sound of the band changed when I joined – it got darker, more aggressive, less pop. We felt we needed a new name to reflect that but liked the idea of keeping a link to the band’s past, and I came up with the name Who Killed Nancy Johnson? The joke being, the band Nancy Johnson was killed by Who Killed Nancy Johnson? – so the question is the answer. Deep!”
The band’s sound is largely influenced by 70s art punk, like Wire and Gang of Four, and the likes of Fugazi and Black Flag, along with touches of hardcore, metal, goth and, for Stefan in particular, Iggy Pop. But the punk influences are very much the strongest, as proven by latest EP Flat Earth Theory, which was released in February.
The enjoyable Alien opens up with a jumpy guitar riff that leads into a cool opening verse of almost disjointed vocals “So I got this new idea, took root inside my ear, And settled down – made itself at home, It coloured all I saw – black and white and red and more, It gripped my mouth – hardened out my bones” over palm-muted guitars. That then jumps into a more upbeat, faster chorus of “Living inside me, growing inside me, Blood bud button in my brain forcing out a flower of pain, Living inside me, growing inside me,
Ready to tear, ready to burst, Something human, something cursed” over more lively guitars.
It’s followed by the excellent Mouth And Trousers, which features the great chorus vocals “All mouth and trousers, Keep on talking ’til your face turns blue, All mouth and trousers, Why should anybody listen to you?” And the EP concludes with the more intense, almost Fu Manchu levels of energy vocal-led Dark Horse, which opens up with a cool riff that drops into a palm-muted riff under big punky vocals that explode into a big singalong chorus.
On the EP, Stefan says: “We’ve been really pleased by the response. We picked up a load of radio plays, including a few punk stations. It’s always nice hearing your stuff being played alongside material that you respect and like. Old bandmates from previous projects have been in touch too, and there have been lots of complimentary things said.
“It’s way more in-your-face than our first one. We made a conscious decision to turn the guitar up and make the recording sound more like our live shows, a sort of wall-of-sound approach. There are four tracks, one short very punky song, and three slightly longer numbers.”
And when it comes to their musical creation process, Stefan explains: “Most of our songs are written in the rehearsal room. A song usually starts with a guitar riff, a chord progression and we build on it, play with it until we have all the bits more or less decided. At that point I build a structure and write some words, then it goes back to rehearsal and is changed again. Pete changes the guitar, Mark finds a different drum pattern and so on. It’s very collaborative and gradual.
“When it comes to the words I tend to write them – I think you have to own the words when you’re the singer, not least because people assume you are more or less in line with what you sing. I like to find a topic that fits the sound of the song. Most of my lyrics tend to be pretty bleak, sometimes angry – some are political, some are more about the human condition, the way we are. I’m not an optimist about people – I find it very hard to write love songs and upbeat stuff. I know a lyric is going to work when a phrase leaps out – sometimes it takes four, five attempts before the words fit.”
The band will be playing live as much as possible for the rest of the year, including a quick tour of Julien’s homeland France. More info on all their upcoming gigs is here. They also have three songs written for their first full-length album, which they’ll be recording towards the end of the year.