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Review + Q&A: James Johnston & Steve Gullick- Everybody’s Sunset (2022, God Unknown Records)

In February 2021 We Travel Time by James Johnston and Steve Gullick was the perfect soundtrack to melting snow and hopes of a new day after a very long and depressing pandemic winter. I also had the pleasure to reach out to James and talk about this project and his time in Gallon Drunk, PJ Harvey, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He is a full time painter now though, and Steve Gullick an amazing pop photographer who shot many great artists. Everybody’s Sunset is a their sophomore effort as a duo, and once again it displays the symbiotic relationship the two men have with imagery and music.

Like his canvasses, James Johnston paints his music on the verge of abstract and figurative, sometimes writing songs, mostly writing soundscapes. Like in photography, Steve Gullick captures moments at exactly the right time, creating musical mental images that reflect song titles like A Greater Silence, Shimmer, A Fear Of Everything and such. The title track made think for a moment; isn’t every sunset everybody’s sunset? Or is the sunset you experience a unique experience for any individual?

There is plenty of time for musings of this kind on Everybody’s Sunset, as more often than before the music is void of lyrics, painting an image of stillness with sparse sound collage, a small dash of violin, a lonely guitar wail, a shimmer of percussion…music to reflect, to sort your thoughts to, perhaps to paint to? In any case, it’s another fine piece of avantgarde music for use to wonder about and cherish.

I was lucky enough to talk to James Johnston again, after our lovely chat last year. We caught up about the time in between, and also talked about the present and the future…

Hi James, good to talk to you again, can you tell me a little bit about how you spend your time since the release of We Travel Time in February 2021?

Well, it feels like a long time to us as we recorded the first album quite some time ago, and the situation was so different as to almost seem unreal now. Global lockdowns etc. Since then I’ve been in the studio painting 5 days a week, and Steve’s been back into photo and video work again. We’ve been working on the new album since March 2021, a very gradual process of building up a body of work, so the music has been a constant throughout.

I can imagine that the writing and recording sessions for Everybody’s Sunset were quite different from last time! Can you tell me about it?

It was more that the music was different. We basically went about it in the same way, although we were able to work together recording a bit more this time, especially when it came to the crucial part of mixing and making snap decisions to cut things down, take things apart. As ever, it’s loose and live, but the work after the initial recording is what we took a lot more time over. It’s a process we both love, and both work as instinctively as possible while doing it, trying not to get lost on details, but to go with feel about the overall atmosphere of the music. Get some surprises in there, turn things inside out. For example, we’d take a violin section I’d done, and then got totally bored of, and refeed it into the music through guitar pedals so that it becomes something totally new, then rethink the whole piece around that.

What do you think is the biggest difference between the two albums? 

The first one’s maybe a bit rawer, fragments of music that make up the whole, whereas this record has a very different and more immersive feel in general. It’s more out there.

Is there a link between your development as a painter and your music? It felt to me for instance like there is a similarity between the borders of abstraction in both your painting and your music, how do you see that?

It’s totally fed into it, as has Steve’s landscape photography for him. The mysterious edges of things, where the more conscious and planned ideas blend into something that feels more unknown.

Aside from your work with Steve, have you gotten any offers to work with other artists after covid, you have worked with a lot of big artists, will that continue in the future?

I’ll be working with Polly Harvey again next year, but until that happens I’ve decided to focus totally on the painting. Ive got a solo show in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been building up a lot of work for that.

Looking back at the pandemic, what changed mostly for you personally and professionally?

Thankfully family and those most close came through it ok, so as a result the experience was ok. I loved living in the empty version of London for a while, it had a real beauty to it.

Can you elaborate on the album title? It got me thinking; isn’t every sunset everybody’s sunset? And then again; does a specific way you experience a sunset make it unique to you? Am I close here…?

Well, it’s universal, a daily recurring sense of finality that’s paired with total beauty, something shared. Like a lot of the titles, it came from  a painting title. At the time I did the painting, it felt like it had a lot darker resonance to it as well. It hopefully reflects the ambiguity and embracing feel of the music.

What is the last book you read? Can you recommend any books you read recently?

The last book that I just finished was ‘Waterworld’ by Graham Swift. A real favourite is Madman’s Drum by Lynd Ward, a novel in woodcuts from the 1930s. A book my mother had that totally blew me away as a child, and still does.

What are you looking forward to most at this moment?

Getting into the studio.

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do after reading this interview?

Go outside.

Steve and James

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