Ah, 2008 – we were in the grip of a global financial crisis, norovirus was sweeping the nation, Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London and Woolworths announced it would be closing its doors for the last time. Into this rather gloomy landscape came Birmingham indie rockers Johnny Foreigner, providing some much needed sunshine with the marvelous melodic, mathy guitar pop of their debut full-length album Waited Up Til It Was Light.
With the record receiving a well deserved reissue through the ever wonderful Alcopop! Records later this week, we caught up with frontman Alexei Berrow to look back at the original release and what has changed since and to share the band’s Now & Then Playlist.
How did the reissue come about?
Demand, hahaha. We’ve been historically quite contemptuous about rereleases/reunions/bands that should know when to quit. I should pedantically point out that it’s not a reissue, it never had a 12″ release, so this is 14 cumulative years of folks asking for it. But essentially, we do not know when to quit; this felt like a nice gesture we were in a position to fulfill, but it’s only happening as a happy byproduct of us writing even more songs. (sorry)
How did it feel revisiting the album and looking back at pictures, reviews and footage from that time?
Well we never looked at reviews or footage so that’s probably a blessing. But collating the photos and art was fun; we were so busy when all this was happening we never really had a chance to take all in. Lewes wasn’t playing with us yet but he did do all the artwork, and there’s a whole load of promo stuff that never got used but is way too rad to file and forget so it’s pretty satisfying to put that out into the ether too.
Looking back at the album’s original release in 2008, where do you think it fitted into the music scene of the time and what about it has meant it’s been able to stand the test of time well enough to warrant a reissue?
Eeesh I dunno. We toured with pretty much every major UK indie band and still didn’t make a successful career out of it so maybe we didn’t fit? Too indie to be rock and too rock to be indie, trololol. As for why, no idea lol. Flattered and bedazzled and honestly very grateful to be involved in a record that’ll actually make ££, but it’s one of them things I don’t want to think too hard about. Like, seeing how a trick works spoils the magic.
Were there any bands back then that were on a similar wavelength to you or that you felt a sort of kinship with?
Yeah for sure; Chow Chow, Sunset Cinema Club, Hot Club de Paris, Los Campesinos! Dana, Fight Like Apes, Sky Larkin, Tubelord, Copy Haho…it felt like we all had the same record collection, same ethics, we all started bands ‘cos we wanted to meet more folks like us.
Thinking of the musical landscape into which the album is being reissued, what has changed since its original release?
Jebus, mostly everything? Probably Idk, I’m 41 and so so thankful I don’t really have to pay attention to Industry Things anymore. I’m not sure that it’s even a smart idea for bands to make albums anymore, Brexit’s ruined touring, Tories have ruined venues, iTunes has ruined labels, etc, etc. I think it’s nigh on impossible to tour as extensively as we did without having rich parents or poor standards, neither of which generally make for intoxicating guitar pop bands. But also, there’s a wee bit more diversity, empathy, there’s not *quite* as much room/tolerance for a CIS white dude to sing about all the times he’s been drunk and/or friendzoned, and however much people like Waited Up, I’m sure we can all agree that’s a good thing.
Who are the current bands that you admire? Are there any in whom you can hear or feel a similar spirit to what you were trying to achieve with Waited Up Til It Was Light?
Ha, I think those two categories form an awkward Venn diagram these days, there’s only so much you can do with Guitars and Complaining About Girls And Buildings, and our metrics for goosebump inducing pop songs have changed too. But really, I have no idea what we were trying to do other than document our lives as loudly and dramatically as possible. I think Lauren Hibbard is fucking brilliant but I’m more likely to listen to The Pom Poms, it’s rare a guitar man band hits like it used to, and when it does it’s Other Half or Origami Angel, bands that do stuff we just couldn’t. Though 12 months ago I’d have said, it’s Lifter Puller or Latterman, so 2021 was truly rad for music.
What have you all got going on at the moment/coming up soon?
Music, magic. Somewhere between the two there’s a story, and a record. Some shows. Some festivals. A summer, if you will.
Check out Johnny Foreigner’s Now and Then Playlist of tunes from 2008 and the present day:
The 2008 Selection
Tubelord: I am Azzerad
Could have picked any Tubelord song from this era tbh, a million intermingled happy memories of screaming along to this in vans, green rooms and pushing our way to the front of the barriers at shows
Hot Club De Paris: I Wasn’t Being Heartless When I Said Your Favourite Song Lacked Heart
Same as above, Hot Club never released a less than brilliant song. This album dropped at the same time I had a big heartbreak, the whole thing is kinda cursed for me (it’s Jun’s pick) but it’s too pretty to be tied to one memory.
Los Campesinos!: We are beautiful, we are doomed
We had a prerelease cdr of this in the van and I remember the first time we heard it, driving home from Bristol and being simultaneously jaw dropped and jealous. Such a levelling up from their album and this song will never not be tattood across my heart (which I hope goes first)
Algernon Cadwallader: Some Kind of Cadwallader
All the best bits of Kinsella bands but wrapped up in sheer fucking joy. We later became friends, but the kind of friends that can never quite look them in the eyes on account of them all being an other-worldly level of legend.
Death Cab for Cutie: Bixby Canyon Bridge
Never not on anyone’s MP3/iPod mix. This is the year I met Ben backstage in Japan and he invited me to their dressing room for a beer, and I said “Idontdrinkbeer hahahahah” and he said “oh, a coffee then” and I said “idontdrinkcoffee either hahahahah” and he went “ok well bye” and I spend the rest of my days rehearsing what I would have said if I had more sleep or dignity. What a song tho.
The Notwist: Gloomy Planets
Actually the last cd I ever bought from HMV, with a record voucher I won from Kerrang, for writing to tell them how I used an album review picture as ID to get the ferry home after our passports got stolen in Amsterdam. I’m avoiding writing about this song cos it’s v sad (and possibly cursed) but in that warm fuzzy way only Notwist can quite manage.
The Current Selection
The Notwist: into love, stars
For a bit of consistency. Amazing how a band can pull the same heartstrings 13 years on and still sound so fresh
Nnamdi: Barely a Reason For A Smile
We collectively just can’t with Nnamdi, it’s pure not fair that someone can be so good at -everything-. His best songs either make you dance or cry and now he’s figured out how to both simultaneously everyone else may as well give up
Origami Angel: Self Destruct
Weird picking a concept album opener; this song compresses sections like Tubelord but it’s also Ridiculous, Pretty, Huge and instantly makes 90% of pop punk bands sound lumpen
Fresh: Girl Clout
Less than a year old! I had to check cos i feel I have loved this band for ages and this is like, my defining Fresh song rn. I would hella count them as being one of the bands that make JF irrelevant but hard to be mad with songs this fucking huge and righteous.
Self Esteem: I do this all the time
In which Rebecca (and Sophie) ascend from their previous okay cult indie bands to daytime radio destroying levels of transcendent pop genius. Single of the year for me, just pure goosebumps
Coach Party: everybody hates me
Idk personal reasons, I saw them and this soundtracked a moment I never wanna forget, but also: it’s a fucking banger. I’d like to think we’d be friends, they sound the closest to a band that would have dominated our van stereo circa 2008.
The expanded vinyl edition of Waited Up Til It Was Light is due for release on 14th January. Pre-order here via Alcopop! Records.
Find out more on Johnny Foreigner’s official website
Interview by Paul Maps
Photograph by Steve Gerrard