Revolution through Art
You might remember them as PEEPSHOW, a band that stepped into the spotlight during the peak of the new wave of glam and sleaze rock. Unlike a lot of their peers however, the boys from PEEPSHOW stood out as worthy songwriters, not just pretty boys with overcharged libidos. A fact no one can dispute as some of the best tracks on Crashdïet’s amazing ‘Generation Wild’ album are written by none other than Johnny Gunn.
The band recently changed their name to STATES OF PANIC (yes, capitalized) and released a new album titled ‘No World Order’. These stylish, slick and talented musicians hail from one of my favourite places in the world, Scotland, and awe with a mighty mix of technicality and powerful lyrics that stem from their authentic passions and beliefs. In a world of watered down belligerently loud pop rock which often fails to actually say anything of substance, STATES OF PANIC shine in the light of the neo-Renaissance (a phrase I’ve coined).
As you can probably tell I’m a STATES OF PANIC fan. It was a great pleasure to sit down and talk with vocalist Johnny, bassist Hex and drummer Mick, after the show in London this July. We even had a surprise guest appearance from guitarist Dagan. Here’s what we talked about!
Andy (HMA): It’s my great pleasure to be with States of Panic today. Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to Heavy Music Artwork.
Johnny: It’s a pleasure, man. Thanks for having us.
Andy (HMA): From Peepshow to States of Panic. Do some people still think of you as Peepshow?
Hex: Honestly, I still think of us as Peepshow. If you ask me what our band name is I go ‘Peep—States of Panic!’
Andy (HMA): When you decided to change the name you also changed the style of music. How did fans react?
Johnny: I think as a band we were sort of maturing and we wanted to develop a new sound. The name Peepshow didn’t really reflect the kind of music we were starting to write. Peepshow is very much connected to the whole hair metal thing. When you say the name people immediately think of girls, strippers and those kinds of things. That was the kind of stuff we really enjoyed when we were younger but as we’ve matured a little bit the subject matter has also matured. It just started to feel like Peepshow didn’t reflect who we were as a band anymore. I guess the fans that have always stuck with us have always understood the evolution that we’ve taken as a band. Of course you’ll always get some fans who will be like ‘No, I prefer Peepshow!’
Hex: When we released the new single ‘Gun to My Head’ there were people saying stuff like ‘Oh they’re trying to follow a trend’ when it was just our taste in music changing. The funny thing is when we released the album those same people got back on board. We haven’t strayed that far from what we were originally doing, we’ve just got better songs
Johnny: I think as a band we’re big believers in re-inventing yourself with each album otherwise you run the risk of becoming a one-trick pony. That’s definitely something we don’t want to do. We’re creative guys, we’re artistic and we want to try new things. By in large the fans get that.
Andy (HMA): Are you happier now?
Johnny: Oh yeah.
Andy (HMA): Johnny, you’ve discussed the Orwellian origins behind the name Peepshow. Tell me about the name States of Panic. Where does it come from?
Johnny: I think with the whole Peepshow thing and trying to attach that to the Orwellian Big Brother thing was a big push because we knew that Peepshow was more in tune with the idea of hair metal and strippers so it was really difficult to try and merge that sort of concept –
[Dagan walks into the room.]
Dagan: Is this some sort of intervention or something?
Johnny: We’re doing an interview, man.
[Everyone bursts out laughing.]
Dagan: Oh sorry.
[Dagan walks out.]
Johnny: So, States of Panic is definitely more in tune with that Orwellian tradition. We have the idea of panic and of states, of countries and the anxiety of the people living in them, especially with the current situation, with the way the world is. States of Panic definitely fits more with the subject matter of our music now.
Andy (HMA): What’s better? A society like Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’?
Johnny: Well I think we’ve got a combination of both. It’s happening right before our eyes. This sort of tiptoe towards a subtle totalitarian regime…. You just have to look at the news and read about the NSA, about mass surveillance, there’s a new law that’s being passed very quickly without even consulting with the people of the UK. Another invasion of privacy! I think a lot of people don’t want to believe that the world could be like that and it’s quite frightening. Of course, there’s the other side: people who are really switched on, who can see the other side. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were good friends and they were political insiders, a lot of people say their work was prophetic, that they knew what was paved out for humanity. Some people say that I don’t know if it’s true but I find that to be an interesting idea.
Andy (HMA): Do you have any political, philosophical or ideological allegiances that drive your art?
Johnny: Not really, man. It would be difficult to sit down and try and come up with this utopian solution. I think people see that there are problems in the current paradigms. The current system doesn’t work for the majority.
Mick: I’m new to the band and I have a bit of a unique perspective on the music because I came in as a fan first. The message that I always took was to question everything.
Hex: Yeah ‘believe what you want’ is our general philosophy. Just question everything. Never have we been about what’s right or telling people what to believe.
Johnny: I think if we ever try to write an album where we’re very forceful about our ideologies we then become the fascists we despise.
Andy (HMA): You came in on that wave of bands who wanted to copy Crashdïet and Hardcore Superstar’s popularity and success but to me what made you really stand out were your lyrics. Tell me about your inspiration and your method when writing.
Johnny: I’m a big reader. Lots of the ideas in our songs are inspired by that. I would say that when the guys write music I try to feel, to see what picture it paints in my mind. I know straight from the get-go what kind of lyrics I want to write. It’s the music that sort of points the way. It’s quite difficult to explain because it’s so abstract; I don’t want to sound wanky.
Hex: It’s more complicated than when I write the music because with the music it’s ‘I’m angry! I’ll write an angry song!’
Johnny: Yeah if the feeling of the song is angry, I’ll try to write lyrics that express an angry song. There still may be a political sentiment but it might be softer with a bit more heart to it.
Mick: Also I think Hex and Johnny are partners in crime. If Hex brings something to the table it works because it brings something out in Johnny
Andy (HMA): Do you read a lot of poetry?
Johnny: Yeah, a bit of William Blake…. I just think that reading is important especially for younger people. You have to read as much as you can.
Andy (HMA): What is like working with a band like Crashdïet?
Johnny: It was incredible. Dave died when I was singing for the very first incarnation of Peepshow. Many months had passed and then the guys in Crashdïet decided they wanted to carry on. Very brave decision. They advertised they were looking for a singer and I thought I’d try. I’d even written to Dave before Crashdïet was signed to tell him I really respected the kind of music they were making and that my band and I were also trying to make similar music. Dave replied and he said ‘We’ve got to stick together to combat this neo-metal bullshit’. I never met the guy but that’s the kind of attitude that he had. That’s why he’s remembered. He was a true rocker. Anyway, I sent them a message; never thinking they’d reply and Martin sent me an email ‘Come over to Sweden’. I went over and it was like brothers from Swedish mothers, we got on straight away and the audition went great, I really thought I was going to be the new singer but you know what happened, Olli came along and destroyed the whole thing. [Laughs] No, the thing is Olli at the time was a much better fit because he had that similar look to Dave. Regardless of that, we stayed friends. Martin and I talk all the time. We’re speaking now about meeting up and doing more writing. I think Martin’s definitely a kindred spirit; we work together very well.
Andy (HMA): Well you wrote some of the best tracks on ‘Generation Wild’ in my opinion.
Johnny: Thanks, man. It means a lot hearing that.
Hex: I can’t say that without sounding biased because Johnny’s my best mate but it’s true. I’m furious he didn’t save ‘Chemical’ for us. [Laughs]
Johnny: That chorus was just a magical moment. Martin and I were just sitting in his living room taking a breather and he just started playing some chords. Honestly, I kid you not, it was just a magical moment. It came together in just ten minutes.
Andy (HMA): ‘No World Order’. What does that mean to you exactly?
Johnny: I think most people are familiar with the whole conspiracy theory of the New World Order which ties into the Orwellian totalitarian tiptoe. The title speaks for itself I guess. We don’t want a new world order; where the West rules at the top of the pyramid. The rich families like –
Hex: Simon Cowell.
Johnny: [Laughs] Yeah, Simon Cowell, the Trilateral Commission and the royal family…
Andy (HMA): Tell me about composing and recording this album.
Hex: It was over the space of a year. We’d finished ‘Brand New Breed’ but we were already writing ‘No World Order’. I just write constantly. If I’ve got a new idea I need to get it out, it’s what excites me. So over the space of a year I’d write something, send it Johnny, he’d put lyrics to it and we’d bounce it back and forth. ‘Digital Enemy’ for example Johnny and I just sat in the same room and we went for it together.
Johnny: Yeah sometimes it’ll start off with a demo. Sometimes the music will determine how the lyrics should be and sometimes it’s vice versa.
Hex: The writing needs time as well. We’ll put something down and then leave it and a month later we’ll listen to it and go ‘Yeah, not that, not that, not that….this, yeah, good’.
Johnny: You’ve got to go through a ton of garbage to get a piece of gold. You’ve got to chip away and away and keep at it.
Hex: With ‘Gun to My Head’, the original song I wrote, nothing in that is in ‘Gun to My Head’ on the album now. We changed the chorus, the verse—
Johnny: Yeah lots of chopping and changing, and experimenting.
Hex: We recorded it in the space of a month, working 10am to 10pm with a producer. It was a hard month. Constant all the time recording and fixing.
Andy (HMA): The single ‘Gun to My Head’ sounds a lot more electro than any of the tracks off ‘Brand New Breed’. Tell me about that.
Johnny: I think we paved the way for electronics with ‘Brand New Breed’. Little spells of electronica. Very subtle but I feel that we really paved the way for this new album.
Hex: We’re just like kids playing with new toys. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re really trying to create. Just purely by adding and taking away we end up with something new.
Andy (HMA): That’s excellent because I think it gives you that kind of Renaissance quality of people that want to experiment, who want to try new ways as opposed to people who want to stay in a certain framework.
Hex: We write for ourselves as much as for anyone else. We need to enjoy the songs we’re performing.
Mick: It really shows when you’re playing live whether or not you enjoy the music you’ve made. If you’re playing something you feel is bland and generic it’s going to show and no one is going to come back and see you again.
Johnny: You’ve got to be passionate. Just to hear ‘Gun to My Head’ live, that opening line of the chorus, just being shouted back to us, it’s a magical moment.
Andy (HMA): What is the true role of the arts in society?
Hex: Art captures and holds the emotions of the time and people.
Johnny: On the back of that as well, we very much live in a left-brained society. It’s all about memorizing facts, figures and numbers. That’s very left-brained work. In schools nowadays there’s not a lot of stress on creativity. Also what happens is there’s not a lot of empathy in the world.
Mick: Especially with ‘No World Order’ it’s about keeping in the here and now, and where people’s minds are at.
Johnny: With the lyrics I write for instance I always try to write about what I feel but I always try and keep it open to interpretation.
Andy (HMA): Tell me about a moment in your lives that have defined you.
Hex: Probably a generic answer but when I was in school I had no friends, I got picked on a lot. A very small part of why I do what I do is to show them I could do something bigger and greater than them. [Laughs] I don’t know, it’s incredibly hard to answer the question.
Johnny: I guess what you’re saying is just trying to rise above the kind of bullshit you had to deal with growing up. It was the same for me. When I was very young we moved to Livingston which is a very small, suburban town and I remember going to primary school for the first time and all the kids thinking I was a girl because I had long hair. I was only about five or six. They knew my name was Johnny so they knew I was a boy but I got picked on a lot because of my hair. Just these little moments define you I guess. I think the thing that really shaped me as a person was when I discovered Guns N’ Roses. I was quite shy and then when I listened to ‘Appetite for Destruction’ for the first time, that sheer energy and attitude in that album, it was just angry pissed off record and it got to me. I thought ‘These guys are singing about things that get me excited’.
Hex: It goes back to, regardless of what happens in your life good or bad, it’s just this series of unfortunate events that make you who you are. [Laughs]
Andy (HMA): How about you, Mick?
Mick: Yeah like when I was a wee guy—
Johnny: [Laughs] We’re getting all sentimental.
Mick: [Laughs] I was really cynical, trying to play football, trying to find out what I wanted to do. So I saw this Scottish pipe band and I wanted to be a drummer. Playing and looking at the front row, seeing people move to what you’re doing. You can have ace guitar players but it’s the drum beat that people are going to move to.
Johnny: It is such a complicated question. Maybe we should’ve just said chicks and beer. [Laughs]
Hex: Maybe we should just go back to singing about that. [Laughs]
Andy (HMA): What’s the next step for you?
Hex: We’re gonna get really drunk tonight and tomorrow we’re gonna go back to Edinburgh. That’s the next step for us.
Johnny: Maybe open up our own airline. [Laugh] Be the first band to play on the moon.
Mick: Damn right!
Johnny: Richard Brandson has been in touch and it’s looking good.
Andy (HMA): Send me a couple of VIP tickets.
Johnny: Oh absolutely. [Laughs]
Andy (HMA): How do you feel about Scotland potentially seceding from the UK?
Johnny: Yeah man, just on the topic of independence…. I’ll try to keep it short so I don’t bore anyone. I’ve seen the pros and cons and I think it can work and we can still keep a good relationship with England but be independent.
Andy (HMA): Final question. What do you want your epitaphs to say?
Johnny: Full throttle, no half measures.
Mick: One, two, three, four…
Hex: Any other is just a cheap imitation.
Andy (HMA): Thank you for your time, guys. Wonderful show tonight and it’s been a pleasure.
Johnny: Thank you, man; it has been an absolute pleasure for us as well.
Interview by Andy Starz – Copyright 2014 © Heavy Music Artwork. All Rights Reserved.