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Taylor Johnson - Brand New Friend

Taylor Johnson - Brand New Friend

Musician, Songwriter
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Brand New Friend

Taylor Johnson started out writing songs while traversing the Irish music scene in bands “that did literally nothing”. When his sister, Lauren, was finishing her A-Levels they decided to perform together and Brand New Friend was formed. Now a five-piece, the band are headlining shows in London and Belfast and working on the follow-up to their debut album ‘Seatbelts for Aeroplanes’. Their Aston Origin and Spirit mics tick all the boxes when they’re trying to capture the perfect vocals...

Brand New Friend
Taylor and the band use:
Origin
Spirit
Halo Shadow
This is all their fault!

“I think I’m able to pinpoint the exact moment music started making sense to me. I must have been 11 years old. My dad my grandad both bought acoustic guitars and on a Friday night they would sit and try and learn old Eagles songs, classic sort of country songs, and they would sit and play in the house with a few beers. I would just sit at their feet and listen to them. From very early on I associated music with that happiness, and that sort of comfort. it was a safe place and a fun place. This is all their fault, I think!

I’m not naturally gifted at the guitar, nor a natural singer. My sister, who’s in the band, certainly is. My little brother who plays bass in the band, he is a very natural musician. I would say I’m a grafter. I learned to play the guitar very late, I only really picked it up when I was 17, 18. I wanted to be able to play a couple of Oasis songs (my favourite band), I thought, ‘if I could learn these songs everything past that would just be a bonus’. I always loved music it always made me very, very happy, but I wasn’t in any way a prodigy or a talent. I only know a few chords now, that’s all you need!”

Keeping it in the family

“I played in a couple of really terrible bands that did literally nothing, but that was fine, I was happy! I was never the main songwriter in a band, ever, that wasn’t my job. I always just strummed along, or played bass, I never really wanted to be that guy. I just started writing about 4 years ago or so, songs that were personal, about my family and about growing up and about very specific things to me, which only my sister could only really understand. We’re a very close family; I’m the oldest of five brothers and sisters, the young one’s only 10, there’s quite a gap between us. I felt so close to my sister and I just thought, ‘This would be a really cool thing that we can do together.’ It wasn’t hard for me knowing she was the right person but convincing her was slightly harder. She’s a classically trained singer from choirs and stuff, that was her vibe, so convincing her to do indie rock and roll was slightly different but eventually she [Lauren] jumped on board in 2016. She was still in sixth form finishing her A-Levels.

We started gigging, just the two of us, as much as we possibly could just in local pubs. That was the start of the band and then we went in to record something and realised, ‘Oh God, we’re going to need bass and drums.’

 So we recently became a five-piece band. I write the songs and try and sing them, play a little bit of guitar. Lauren plays synth and sings. Our lead guitar player is Aaron Milligan (who used to play bass). The new bass player is our little brother Logan Johnson, and the drummer is Luke Harris.”

Opening for Two Door

“We had worked with a guy based in Belfast called Rocky O’Reilly; he’s so cool. When we recorded our debut album with him, he thought he was just recording demos. Somehow the label, Xtra Mile Recordings [who BNF are now signed to], found out about the band. We sent them these demos expecting them to say, ‘Oh come on, let’s get these songs right.’ They actually turned around and went, ‘No, this is the album, this is it, let’s get this out now.’ We regret that a touch now, but at the time things were happening so fast and we didn’t have a lot of experience.

This year we’ve found a new producer, Caolán Austin, who’s been unbelievable for us. He’s only 25. The first day we went in to record with him he had this playlist of all the bands we reminded him of. It was so cool. He basically said, ‘This is my impression of the band, I want you to tell me all your favourite bands and we’ll use them as reference points to make the record that you want to make. We won’t rush it.’ He’s been true to his word. We think the new record is the best thing we’ve ever done by miles. We’re buzzing.

We recently opened for Two Door Cinema Club and Snow Patrol at this massive open-air concert in Bangor, near Belfast. That was my little brother’s fifth gig with us. He’s only sixteen, and literally went from jamming with us in my bedroom to stepping out in front of thousands of people within about 3 weeks! He was so fine. Logan’s a lot more chilled than I am, he takes everything in his stride. I think it helps that he grew up with me and Lauren making music and trying to form bands,. He was always going to join our band we just didn’t think it would happen so quick.”

The Belfast warehouse

“The barebones of every song are written on my acoustic guitar. It was the first guitar my dad bought me when I was 17 or 18, an old Takamine G series. It’s falling to bits, but I love it dearly. I’ll never get rid of that guitar. I’ve also got an old Casio keyboard, which I found at our old house when we moved in, the last owners had just left it in a cupboard!

I don’t try and force it. I try and wait until a song comes naturally or I get an idea. I’ll go into my room and I won’t leave until the song’s done. That’s it. It’s just me coming up with everything there and then, guitar lines, synth lines, any riffs. I have a wee £50 USB mic that I bought of eBay years ago, and usually I’ll just make a demo there and then of how I’m feeling the song should go, just to get an idea of tempo and all that sort of stuff. Then, usually, I would send that to the rest of the guys in the band and just say, ‘have a listen, what do you think?’. We practice in this old warehouse in Belfast a couple of times a week. We use whatever gear’s in that room, it’s usually an old battered drumkit, usually the drumkits in Belfast are pretty terrible! There’s usually a Fender Twin reverb amp in that room as well. I play through a VOX AC15, which I love because I think you can get a little bit of grit from it but also, you’ve got a lovely clean tone too. It’s quite versatile. That’s pretty much how it works! Sometimes Aaron will write a song and we’ll try it, but most of the time, it’s just me getting these thoughts and emotions out in this song and writing it on my Takamine, bringing it and letting the guys bring it to life!”

Suiting the vibe

“We have an Aston Spirit vocal mic with the Brand New Friend logo on it, which is so amazing, and we used that on the EP. We actually ended up using it for my vocals and the kick drum, I think it came out really, really, well on the kick drum. Those were the primary uses. I think we’ve used pretty much all of Aston’s gear throughout the EP, but vocal mics, the Spirit and Origin, were the main ones. It’s great, they’re absolutely cracking mics! The Origin was very warm, that was the overwhelming feeling I got. I understand the importance of using the right gear to suit your voice, suit your band, and suit your vibe. Aston seems to be a great fit for Brand New Friend.

The forthcoming EP is the big thing for us now. We’re calling it an EP but its actually 7 tracks long, so is it a small album or is it an EP?... We’re going to market it as an EP, because it was always meant to lead to album #2, so that’s what we’re sticking to. 

We have another London headline date to be announced soon and there is a big show in Belfast coming up in September. We’re playing a venue called the Limelight, this is our biggest headline ever, it’s a big space, it’s about 500 capacity. We’re going to struggle to fill it! We’re being quite audacious doing it, especially because the new record isn’t out yet, but it will be out by the time the show happens. It’s our hometown show!”

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?

Taylor: I’m probably very similar to my little brother, The Streets and Oasis are my number ones without doubt. The Smiths, Snow Patrol and The Thrills are right up there, along with Lloyd Cole and The Commotions. There’s a band from Belfast called Hot Cops who are mesmerising in every way. They deserve to be huge. 

Logan: The Streets, Oasis, The National.

Aaron: Biffy Clyro, Low Roar, Braid and The Ramones. I'm also really loving Interpol and The National at the minute.

Luke: The National, Nick Cave, Tom Waits

Lauren: My favourite artists change all the time, but Paramore, The Front Bottoms and The Killers are ones that never leave the list. Honourable mentions also go to Vampire Weekend, Grouplove and CHVRCHES!

 

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?

Taylor: I’d be trying and failing to be a Sunday League footballer.

Logan: I’d be very bored.

Aaron: At the minute I'm really getting into making guitars and pedals, so maybe I would build stuff and hope someone would buy it.

Luke: I’d probably be in a 9-5 job somewhere coaching a mini league rugby team on the side.

Lauren: I have an English degree and I dabble in freelance journalism, so if I wasn’t playing music I would probably be writing, teaching or talking about music on the radio. 

 

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?

Taylor: One that made me sound like Liam Gallagher from the 90’s!

Logan: It would make me able to spit bars.

Aaron: I would make a microphone that makes any guitar amp sound exactly like the guitar tone from Interpol's ‘Antics’ album. Then I would always sound good.

Luke: My fantasy mic would be able to record a whole drum kit perfectly at once.

Lauren: My hypothetical fantasy mic would ideally give my voice the power of Hayley Williams with the vocal acrobatic ability of Beyoncé, my two queens 👸  

 

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?

Taylor: Reliable. Exciting. The Future!

Logan: Creative. Innovative. Well built.

Aaron: Supportive. Exciting. Professional. Class.

Luke: Class, cool, awesome, amazing!

Lauren: Exciting, innovative, creative and fun!

 

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?

Taylor: I have a very clear memory of being moved to tears the first time I heard ‘Listen Up’ by Oasis, but it could well have been ‘How To Be Dead’ by Snow Patrol, one of the greatest songs ever written.

Logan: Aaron Shanley – ‘I Really, Really Wish You Were Here.’

Aaron: As a child I was brought up on Elvis and I think even now I could shed a tear to ‘If I Can Dream’. So probably that.

Luke: Probably "I Promise it’s Not Goodbye’ by Chris Cornell.

Lauren: I think the first song that made me cry that I can remember was Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. ‘Time makes you bolder, children get older and I’m getting older too’ gave me a bit of an existential freak-out as a child!

 

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