Artists On Albums: AOA#27 (Gallon Drunk’s James Johnston on Suicide)

Gallon Drunk’s James Johnston on…

Suicide’s Suicide (Red Star Records, 1977)

Suicide - Suicide

I remember the first time I heard this album. Joe Byfield, who later went on to become the maraca player in Gallon Drunk, played it to me one night when I was staying round at his place after a band rehearsal. We were playing together in what was basically a garage band that later morphed into Gallon Drunk once we’d moved to London. I must have been about 18 at the time, and I vividly remember lying stoned, in the dark, on the floor in his room for the duration of the record, both listening to the album in silence, completely transported by what seemed to be the most other-worldly, electric and terrifying music I’d ever heard.

A lot of really great records transport you into their own world, but this one totally engulfs you. You don’t picture a band playing, the voice is so disembodied, desperate and crazed, the music a fizzing psychedelic hiss that seems to have more in common with viewing diseased cells through a microscope than any more familiar form of rock music. Yet this music is rock and roll, in its absolute essence. Crackling with a raw electronic charge, Martin Rev’s pulsing Latin rhythms overdriven into a hypnotizing sensual distortion, charged with menace, neon and paranoia, both brutal and absolutely beautiful. The organ riffs mesmerizing in their simplicity, repetition and driving energy. The vocal pushes further into psychotic acid soaked realms of manic fear, paranoia, spaced out desire, anger, and filthy raw gutter reality.

Semi-improvised, yet totally concise, it echoes a world of great music as if they’re haunted flashbacks, from Elvis to The Stooges, modern jazz to psychedelia, blues and doo-wop, The Velvet Underground to what was becoming punk rock, all distilled, blow torched into something completely modern, utterly timeless, and totally unique. A perfect and definitive musical statement.

Two people, Rev and Vega, their stark and arresting pictures on the back of the record only deepen the sense of the bizarreness of the album. The front cover artwork being simply the band name spelled out in blood.

I’d never heard anything this thrilling and original before, and it’s unlikely I ever will do again.

Rather than trying to describe the actual songs themselves, I’d simply urge anyone who doesn’t know this record to seek it out immediately, and to lose themselves in the most chilling rock and roll trip out that’s there. Suicide, “Frankie Teardrop.

Notes On The Artist:

James Johnston

Since the late-‘80s James Johnston has been the leader and only constant member of the seemingly indestructible and savage yet suave Gallon Drunk, through seven studio albums, innumerable singles/EPs, several compilations and one full live album for labels such as Clawfist, Sire, City Slang, Sweet Nothing, Sartorial Records and now Hamburg-based Clouds Hill Records.

Outside of ongoing Gallon Drunk duties, Johnston has traded briefly under his JJ Stone solo moniker, supported Nick Cave as an occasional member of The Bad Seeds, worked as collaborative foil to Lydia Lunch in Big Sexy Noise and joined the creative mix of a latter-day Faust line-up. Additionally, Johnston has also devised various TV/cinema soundtracks and acted in films such as Ken Russell’s The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher and Olivier Assayas’ Clean.

Gallon Drunk’s latest album, The Road Gets Darker From Here, is released in the UK in May and Europe in August. In-between times, the band will be living up to a phenomenal live reputation with touring in the UK and Europe.