“Johnny was playing us all his four-track recordings. We were like, ‘you need a band.’ So we decided to be his band,” says Mama Cree, who along with fellow members of Terrible Twos provided early backing support for a young Ypsilanti-bred songwriter to get on his feet.
Johnny Ill first entered Detroit’s punk scene as drummer of The Potions, and since 2008 with The Johnny Ill Band (as a revolving assemblage of members) has released a pair of seven-inch singles on indie labels Kaboodle and Italy—with a third coming soon on X!—in addition to a solo downloadable single via Beehive. After undergoing several changes in both personnel and instrumentation, the band has settled into its lineup and sound, currently with Cree on drums, Matt Larson on bass, and Pete Steffy (Beekeepers) on organ. “We’re kind of stuck with the name now,” says singer and guitarist Johnny Ill.
“I guess it’s singer-songwriter stuff from a more skewed perspective,” says Johnny. Somewhere between the restrained crooning of Jonathan Richman, rigid rhythms of Wire, pop sensibilities of the Clash and washed in New York no-wave, the Johnny Ill Band is more proto than punk, yet could comfortably reside within the early SST Records catalog. “It’s kind of tightened and shifted. It was more guitar-driven before and weirder in some ways… at first I thought, let’s get an awesome guitar player to solo or something, but it seemed like it was almost getting in the way… so I thought, let’s try something new. Let’s try organ.”
The band has a full-length coming this summer on Urinal Cake, and they look forward to taking a continued new approach to songwriting. “It’s a lot more of just getting a feeling in a song, and a really different way of working with musical ideas,” says Steffy. “I’ve struggled to play a lot less.”
With firm adherence the Detroit community, the band’s collaborative sprit and drive toward simplicity define the essence of punk. “If you really want to be a band it’s super cheap. It’s easy. Everyone’s really close and supportive,” Johnny says.
“Bands that don’t sound anything alike can share bills here,” says Cree. “You get a lot of true weirdos. It’s not like it’s put on.”
Johnny Ill Band w/ The Vista Marias and The Rads • Saturday 03/25 • The Painted Lady • 2930 Jacob, Hamtramck • myspace.com/thejohnnyillband