May Mansour delves into the Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle of UK Punk band front-woman Puss Johnson, and discovers the secrets of the success of Pussycat & the Dirty Johnsons...
Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons, a killer, dirty Rock 'n’ Roll trio from Basingstoke, UK, power through with a flawlessly radical approach to the genre, visually and audibly distinctive from anything I’ve seen or heard in the Punk scene lately, or perhaps ever. A DIY band with Puss Johnson on vocals/guitar, Jake Johnson on guitar/backvox and Filfy Antz on drums, the band has no bassist, but who cares when their sound is well maintained as it is. Sober, hardworking, front-lady terroriser, guitar player, cat-woman and designer at her eponymous label, Puss Johnson opens up about her career.
You've mentioned before that you come from a variety of backgrounds. Tell us more.
I was born in the UK but my mum is from Zanzibar with Middle Eastern roots. She and her three sisters fled to the UK because of the revolution in 1963. My dad is a war orphan from London. They met in Brighton at a YMCA dance.
How long has Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons been playing?
We've been going since early 2010.
What changed for you, as a musician, and as a band since?
I've been playing my own music for about 18 years; I started out as most people do playing songs at open mics… I was quite quiet and shy. Then in 2002, I was asked to audition for an earlier band I was in with Dirty Jake called The Johnsons which really brought me out of myself and helped me grow as a singer and as a songwriter. We really found our definitive sound when FilFy Antz joined the band and in 2010 we became Pussycat And The Dirty Johnsons. Things have been going from strength to strength since then.
What's the situation with your drummer Filfy Antz? You have other people stepping in on the drums from time to time, so is he a definite part of the permanent line up?
Poor Antz! He has been very much missing drumming! The doctors thought he had a serious neck injury, which was very worrying indeed and left a bit of a cloud over things… but they then discovered recently that he has carpal tunnel syndrome in both his wrists, which was causing the numbness/weakness in his hands and shooting pains down his arms. He's had surgery for that now, fingers crossed he should be back with us next year. My fella Olly 'Olvis' Harrison of 1977 punk band Satan's Rats (and also of The Photos) has stepped in as our main sticks man in whilst Antz is recovering. We've been very lucky to have some great stand ins - including Kate ‘KillaK’ from The Ramonas - but we're very much looking forward to having our Filfy Antz back and recording album no. 3!
You guys manage and market yourself. Tell us about the challenges of being a DIY band.
We aren't signed to STP anymore; they are changing from a label to distribution only. So we'll probably release our next album ourselves as we have done the previous two, unless we get any appealing offers. To be honest being DIY ensures that no one can step in and start screwing around with what you're trying to do, which is preferable! It's just hard work, the love of that we do, and determination that have got us this far, we're very lucky that we get on very well together and all have a part to play in the running of the band as well as playing in it. It is very rewarding, and exhausting!
You've produced a great music video for 'Trouble with the Devil' - any more videos coming our way soon?
Thanks! The aforementioned Olvis directed that video! He's an excellent filmmaker and very kindly helped us out, he managed to pull in lots of favours and really stretched our meagre budget to make a video which looked like we'd spent six times more on it! Trouble With The Devil is affectionately called our 'pop song', as it's probably the most 'hooky' and accessible from the first album. For our first video it just seemed like the one to go for, it's had over 43,000 views so far so I guess it was a good decision! It still seems to be a firm favourite with people when we play it live. We would love to make another video but it's difficult to find the funds when you consider touring and putting out a new album but you never know… watch this space!
What appeals to you and what puts you off in today's world Puss?
I don't like pretentious or phoney people/music/art… There's a lot of it around these days… To be honest I just wrote a massive list of things I don't like about the world today and deleted it as I realised I was struggling to balance it with what I do like! But I guess what appeals to me is that although 'alternative' music doesn't get a lot of coverage on the radio or TV anymore, people are still at it, working hard and doing it the way they want to, and not trying to conform to what the industry wants, which shows that they must really love it. Some of my favourite bands on the scene that have this ethos are Bloodshot Bill, Atomic Suplex, DragSTER and 100% Beefcock and the Titsburster.
So who's music do you listen to and go "aaaaaah yes!"?
Jon Spencer always makes me go "aaaaah yes!" I love his bands… I love the raw commanding energy he has on stage. I have to dance about and jump up and down. Not many things have this affect on me. I have to go watch The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Heavy Trash whenever they come over here to play, it ruins my year if I don't! It's like a fix of pure Rock 'n' Roll energy. He's also a really nice chap, which is a bonus. People say "never meet your idols," but don't listen, they're not all up their own arses, just don't think of them as idols… they're just human beings who can do something amazing. We got to play with JSBX last year, that's one off the bucket list! I would love to see Grinderman live, Nick Cave is a great frontman and lyricist.. I prefer the louder stuff, I've never seen him live except for on television. Oh and, obviously, Iggy Pop! Still at it! I can only hope to be that energetic at 67!
Is there a specific diet that you follow as a musician?
I think I eat pretty healthily but I can't do 'health food', you know - quinoa, flaxseed, and other bits of shrapnel disguised as food. I tried coconut milk and almond milk as I heard dairy milk creates mucus which interferes with your vocal chords. I have since found out this is bollocks so I went back to dairy as it’s less expensive! I sometimes lose my voice mostly due with lack of sleep (I'm not very good at that) and trying to talk to people over loud music at gigs, it’s a real pain. And I don't drink or smoke; I used to do lots of drinking and other things but I never really got into smoking cigarettes… Well apart from at school when I tried to appeal myself to the cool kids by sneaking my Dads Barclays Blues… but they just chased me down and nicked them, so that didn't work. I gave up all the boozing and that about four years ago because a good friend told me it was probably a good idea, I think he was probably right… I don't miss it to be honest and I'm a lot more focused now… and less mental (off stage)!
You got your own clothing line, Puss Johnson Apparel. How's that coming along so far?
Yeah it's doing ok, need to find ways to get more exposure though, widen my audience. I plan to do some canvasses; I just don't have much room to work with (yes I am still living with my mum and dad like the song says). I did a Bill Murray artwork for Trioxin Cherry so I'm hoping to get some more commissions like that. I'd like to do other pieces of clothing too but at the moment T-shirts are the only thing I can afford to do. I might do some custom painted denim jackets at some point
How else do you spend your time when you're not doing band or apparel stuff?
I don't go out much unfortunately, don't have the cash! When I do go out it's usually to see bands. I'm mostly at home creating, or vacantly staring into space.
What are you most looking forward to with Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons in the future?
I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming Halloween Fifteen Tour, feels like ages since the last one. Playing a few festivals before that which should be fun. Also can't wait to bang out some new tunes with the band! I think I already have an albums-worth ready to go, so looking forward to getting back in the studio too.
Some useful links to check out:
Main Photo Courtesy of Roland G Ings
Live Photo credits: Wildblanket Photography & Jez Keefe (RIP) Photography
Photoshoot credits: Debbie Attwell