It's easy to envy Johnny Jewel. He's the King Midas of the electronic underground. Not only did he invent the amazing Chromatics, he then melted our faces with the sick genius that is Glass Candy and now, “greed is good”, he has another! Johnny's co-pilot this time is dreamy poet princess Megan-Louise and when they met...it was murder! Well, they're called Desire actually and together with drummer Beats Natty (crazy name, crazy guy) they've made one of the beautiful, mucho romantico and magical albums of the year (at least), II. But enough of my jibba-jabba and frankly unprofessional drooling...boys and girls, the thing they call Desire!
Bonjour Johnny and Megan, welcome to the Matcave, mi casa es tu casa. Firstly, can you tell us about the origins of Desire – How the two of you met and what drove you to ultimately make the album, II?
JJ : I was in Montreal with Glass Candy in November to throw a party. I had been looking for a city where I didn’t know anyone, and couldn’t speak the language. I needed a few months alone to write the new Glass Candy album and work on a project that was slowly becoming Desire. Touring Europe four times last year between Chromatics and Glass Candy gave me lots of ideas. I almost ended up in Paris, but when I was in Montreal… I knew I had to move there. Some days you wake up, and just know what you have to do. I grew up my whole life in Houston, Texas. Until one day I woke up and knew I had to move to Portland. It’s an impossible feeling to explain. I didn’t know anybody there, but I knew I had to go. Two weeks later, I met Ida fom Glass Candy, and the rest is history.
I woke up in Portland in December, and had that feeling again. I wanted to get away from everyone I knew for New Year's. It’s the only holiday that has any meaning for me. I flew to Montreal alone, and visited a bar where Ida and I had played the first time we were in Montreal over three years ago. That night, Megan was on stage singing with her group Quatro. Her voice hit me like a ton of bricks. They were amazing. The next day, I got a loft in the heart of the city for a year. I knew I wanted Megan to sing for Desire, but I didn’t want to rush it. I spent the next two months building a studio, watching the snow fall, getting a root canal, and making beats. I played her the instrumentals, and she said “Yes”.
This is clearly a very personal project for you both, Johnny said releasing the album was like 'sharing a diary' – I think it will be an album people will carry with them for some time, it's got that warm analogue 'guardian angel on a rainy day' vibe. What sort of reaction are you hoping for and whose albums should they file II between on their shelves?
ML : I hope Desire makes people feel good, like they have something to relate to, something honest and real. You can listen to it with a broken heart or while thinking of your new crush.
JJ : File between Christopher Cross & Mr.Fingers.
Desire recently made their UK live debut at a hotly anticipated Italians Do It Better showcase at KOKO. It was quite a high profile beginning for any band - What do you most remember about the show?
ML : A floor and mezzanine filled with beautiful people, time going by too fast, camera flashes, people singing to If I Can't Hold You, signing my first autographs…
Thanks for mine by the way (swoons). What particular childhood experiences led you both to want to pursue a career in music rather than anything else?
ML : Christmas parties where my grandfather played the accordion and my aunt playing the piano to traditional Quebecois songs. Singing with my cousins to a Playschool tape recorder.
JJ : My older brother was in a rock band in the early '80s. I got to fuck around with his Roland and their drummer had electronic octagon shaped drums. My mind was blown…but my dreams consisted of figuring out how to meet Michael Jackson and playing football with Pele. Producing music didn’t really hit me until I quit painting in the early '90s. I never decided to make a career out of music. But when you tour as much as we do, you can’t keep a job. So as the bands became more popular, the need for touring slowly eclipsed the need to stack piles of cabbage at the local super market.
My favourite track on II is Under Your Spell, during which there's an inspired but totally heartbreaking mid-track exchange between what I call 'Pessimist Megan' and 'Optimist Megan' (“I was wondering...”) – which are you both like in real life? The eternal dreamer or the bruised doubter?
ML : Depends on the day…No I think I like to think of myself as an Optimist Megan, an eternal dreamer because I believe in true love, romance, fairy tales and good endings. Its not always easy and sometimes you have to be able to hold on to a dream to get by hard life experiences.
JJ : I am both a fatalistic, and an optimistic Gemini. Nothing matters / Everything matters.
Megan, the lyrics are very questioning of love and full of aching hearts and dreams. It sometimes reminds me of Shangri-Las and classic torchsong 'Chanteuse' - what inspired the lyrics & themes on II?
ML : Real life experiences, making up, breaking up, day dreaming, love, the past, life challenges, real friends, fake people, cold nights walking in the Montreal snow, God…
Miroir Miroir has got massive crossover hit potential – does the idea of getting a 'hit radio' track interest Desire and will there be any singles or remixes released from the record?
JJ : It’s funny, because everyone has a different idea about what song the single is. My personal favorites on the LP are Colorless Sky, Don’t Call, and Under Your Spell. Natty loves Dans Mes Reves and If I Can’t Hold You. And Megan still hasn’t even listened to the full album. We usually don’t do remixes at Italians Do It Better, but if something really appropriate comes along, we are open to the possibility. We are working on videos for Don’t Call and Under Your Spell. There is a 12” version of If I Can’t Hold You that is more like a proto-house track and less like a pop song. It has absolutely nothing to do with the version on the LP.
In terms of “hits” or radio…we always hope as many people can get turned onto us as possible. We are definitely not anti-mainstream in philosophy, but the more obscure nature of the music combined with our strict ethics will almost always prevent us from being embraced by the music machine.
During the KOKO show I noticed you have some serious electronic kit and hi-tech wizardry – For any of our readers inspired to form their own bands what kit would you recommend? Also any worldly wise tips for any young bands or artists reading this?
JJ : The set up I had at KOKO was a mix of electronics between the mid '70s and today. Nothing too fancy. Megan and I both play mono analog synthesizers live. They have their problems, but the tones just blend better live than most of the newer synths.
For new bands, don’t read the manuals. Don’t read the music press. Make your own world. Start your own record company. Good music is all about ideas and feelings, not equipment and aesthetics. You can make hot music with any equipment. Work with what speaks to you. If you are making music to get laid, you will definitely get laid. If you are making music to get paid, you will definitely get paid. Ask yourself what you truly want. You can’t have two things on the top of your list. Figure out your priorities and don’t divide your focus. In the end, all that matters to us is soul.
Johnny, you've said you're interested in the whole package, the design, the details. As well as the record package, you very much look like a popstar in the classic line of Bolan, Prince or Bowie, the Thin White Duke. Would you kindly tell our readers about the sharp Johnny Jewel look and its inspirations?
JJ : That’s funny…”The Johnny Jewel Look”…I definitely can’t underestimate the influence dark glam acts had on me as a child. I think it’s a mixture of classic gangster movies, glam rock, and theater. The truth is, I don’t particularly enjoy stepping onto a stage. My true love is at the piano, or with a notebook and a drum machine. The stage is necessary for pop music. The make-up is more like warpaint for the public, or a kind of shield. I usually don’t got to the café and order my espresso with tears on.
I’m into rituals, and even though I don’t crave the spotlight…I respect my role as an entertainer, and the make-up helps me get into the mood. That, and large amounts of alcohol. I do it because I really love the singers I work with, and I want boys and girls all over the world to hear these amazing women and what they have to say.
What music, books or films are you both currently loving?
ML : I was reading on this tour Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho, a love story between a Brazilian prostitute and a French Swiss painter. They discover pure love by not drawing any limits to their romance and letting themselves be free birds. As for music Lionel Richie’s All Night Long has been a theme song for this first European tour! Francoise Hardy always makes me smile and T-Pain, Lil Wayne and Kid Cudi put me in a party mood before shows! As for movies, Marley & Me was the last movie I watched that made me cry because it was real life.
JJ : We just watched Man On Wire, the French documentary about the guy who tightroped across the twin towers on the day I was born. As a metaphor, it is so inspiring, and then you are like…”Wait, this isn’t a movie…this guy really did this!” It’s an intense look into how pursuing your dream can separate you form the ones you love, “I work so hard and for what?”
Being well travelled musicians – If our readers wanted to have the night of their life anywhere in the world, where should they go and what should they do?
ML : This is a hard one, being on tour we don’t get to see that much of one city, mostly the inside of a hotel room and a club or venue! I would have to say Montreal because I know the city so well (having lived there all my life!) So here goes : we start our night drinking Gin Tonics at Else’s, then we take a cab to Zoobizarre and dance all night in one of Montreal's craziest bars. We finish our night eating a poutine at a 24h diner and talk about how great life is!
What do you miss most when you're away from home touring or recording?
JJ : On tour…I miss silence and working in the studio. In the studio… I miss the night air.
ML : I miss drinking gin and tonics with my bestfriend Shelbie and movie nights at home with my dog Yvonne and my cat Mushi Mushi.
If you could hijack Marty McFly's Delorean what period in history would you fly back to and why?
ML : I would go back to the '50s to see my parents as kids, dress up and go dancing at a Buddy Holly concert just because it sounds like fun and I always had a crush on Buddy Holly!
Finally, what are Desire's plans for the future? Hopefully another trip to the UK?
ML : Writing and recording new songs for the new Italians Do It Better compilation. More touring and in that case, we have to come back to the UK! It was wonderful!
God bless you Johnny and Megan. So is it OK if I come back to the States with you guys? I'm really tidy, (almost) house trained and I make a classic cup of tea. No? Final answer?? OK it was worth a try.
Desire's II is out now. Do the right thing.
Desire on MySpace