Wednesday, September 10, 2014

HYENA: A Look at Matt Johnson from The The

If the name Matt Johnson sounds familiar, that could be because you enjoyed his score for Gerard Johnson's first feature film, Tony. (If so, congrats. It's a great score.) It could also sound familiar because you are a fan of Matt Johnson's alter ego/band The The. Congratulations (again)! You have excellent taste in music. And yes, Matt and Gerard are brothers.

Although Matt Johnson started playing music when he was only 11 (!), he didn't actually release anything until he was in his teens (take that, teens of today), when he placed an ad in the NME looking for musicians and synth player Keith Laws answered it. The The, whose name was actually suggested by Laws, has been around in some form ever since, with various members over the years, but always including Matt Johnson.

Since then, the band has only released six official albums, but don't let that fool you into thinking Matt Johnson is lazy or anything. In fact, he's the opposite: his music is meticiously crafted, with insightful, frequently political, and sometimes controversial lyrics ("Armageddon Days (Are Here Again)" was supposed to be the single for 1988's Mind Bomb album but the lyrics raised too many eyebrows). Also, The The is just flat out amazing; Matt Johnson has one of the most enjoyable and distinctive vocal styles you'll ever hear.  It's too difficult to categorize a band like The The, so here's a selection of some of their songs.

1983's Soul Mining (along with many other The The releases) features cover art from Matt's brother Andrew under the name "Andy Dog"; he did much of the cover art for the band over the years. (This is one talented family!)

For 1986's Infected, Johnson created a full-length film to accompany the music, with segments being directed by Tim Pope and Throbbing Gristle's Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, among others.

"Slow Train To Dawn" features vocals from Neneh Cherry.

For 1988's Mind Bomb, Johnson assembled a band instead of session musicians, including The Smiths' Johnny Marr. "Kingdom of Rain" features Sinead O'Connor.

Johnson worked with the same band for the recording of 1992's Dusk. And once again, a full-length film (From Dusk Til Dawn) was created for this album, directed by Tim Pope and filmed in both New Orleans and New York, and featuring Annie Sprinkle, Quentin Crisp, Curtis Sliwa, and Rick Savage, among others.

For 1994's Hanky Panky, Johnson recorded an entire album of Hank Williams covers, and if that seems odd to you, then you have obviously never heard his version of "I Saw The Light."

The The's last official album was 2000's NakedSelf, and included several songs co-written with Eric Schermerhorn, who also played with Iggy Pop, and vocal contributions from Dorit Chrysler.

Since then, Matt Johnson has been focusing on his soundtrack work as well as his Radio Cineola broadcasts and book publishing under the moniker Fifty First State Press. Hyena features his latest score, so don't forget to check out the movie's final screening at the Festival.

For more on Matt Johnson and The The, including some of his fantastic, provocative essays, check out his website, and read this great interview with him from The Quietus.

HYENA final screening:
Fri., Sept. 12th, 12:00 PM, BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA

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