Hiding in the suburbs of Sydney is one of the most impressive and ridiculous bands Australia has produced in a long time. With a sound born of wry eighties pop drawls and shuddering rock, if Johnny Hunter is anything they’re a bloody good band. When I first saw them play at the Lansdowne some months ago, I actually tore back down the stairs to grab my dad from his dinner to come and listen with me. For those who have ever wistfully longed for the live music our parents generation experienced in Sydney’s pub rock heyday, then Johnny Hunter gives you the next best thing, a glimpse at just how good Aussie rock can be.
I sat down with frontman Nick Hutt and guitarist Ben Wilson at Chippendale’s hallowed home to local music royalty, The Gladstone Hotel, to catch up after a month or so of touring with The Lulu Raes. With an EP on the way and plenty more pop dusted punk thrown into the mix, the future is looking exceptionally bright for this five piece who describe themselves as “Provocative but not to the point of being annoying.”
Originally from Wollongong, I was eager to hear how Johnny Hunter came to be. As it turned out the thought of a ‘real life band’ at the time of its inception was a bit laughable to everyone involved. Now, over a year later Hutt and Wilson were grinning with endearing charm as they reminisced on those early days.
[Hutt] “I met Xander [guitarist] at uni – in college – and it was that classic chat of college kids. ‘Oh you play acoustic guitar? Crazy. I write poetry, let’s chill.’ We started writing acoustic music and playing in front of people at college and some Italian girl on exchange said that she knew these guys who play in a real life band and me and Xander were like ‘Woah, what really?’
“We were so pleb we never thought we’d be in a band… We had to decide whether to keep it as a hobby or try and put our foot in the door and make it more than that. We ended up finding a new drummer and a new bassist. The new drummer was a fanboy of our old band. We got him when he was seventeen. Now he’s one of the family.”
Here is a band who are swiftly making their way into the light, however it is with conviction that Johnny Hunter is taking cues of a different kind from their peers. [Hutt] “We were using bands as a measuring stick for what not to do. We were going to live music and the same gigs and seeing the same bands and just thought, ‘Something’s got to give here.’ No one was actually doing anything spectacular so maybe there is room to do something that is a bit weird.”
It was here that Wilson jumped in “It’s all comparative, so when we were coming up with what we were going to do with Johnny, we thought [that] when you got to a pub show it’s generally the same kind of pub rock. Somewhere between slacker and a bit loud, hard and fast. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you can understand why people don’t spruce up so much when they see it. It’s easy to get lost in the mix when you sound like that. We didn’t have any attachment to that whatsoever.” To see Johnny Hunter perform is to see this embodied in every way. Hutt’s sumptuous style and sensuality-soaked attitude on stage is an experience one will not quickly forget.
This expressive aesthetic and presence has been deeply inspired by the greats, and the boys were quick to admit that the Johnny Hunter show didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. As Wilson explained “We were going through this phase of Bowie – Hutt had an awakening on it – I latched right onto it. In high school it was all Bowie, Hunky Dory, Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust, those albums were so defining. So we went down the rabbit hole on it and went full blow out and it changed a lot of what we could expect of ourselves in terms of what we can reproduce… We didn’t have much of a budget but we had the idea that if you put yourself out there and put on this cabaret.” And cabaret is the best way of describing it. With every flick of the hip and lick of the lips, Hutt dares the audience to question him. Just as you feel that the show has melted into a stew of sex and debauchery, the stage explodes and we are back to fierce rock’n’roll. You’re left blinking your eyes, wondering whether it really happened. But as Wilson added, “It’s only unique in the sense that we are doing it. No one is doing anything unique and everything is built on the shoulders of those who came before.”
A standout track in the Johnny Hunter tome is 1995 whose chorus bellows, “I am a millennial, I am indestructible.” I urged Hutt to go into exactly where the band was coming from in their seemingly defaming interpretation of their own generation. He responded pointedly, “We’re taking the piss out of people who think that. When we were at school we were always told we were really special and that everything would fall into our laps. You’re moulded with these expectations that everyone is going to give you all that you want.”
It was here that Wilson mused “You come out of those institutions and it becomes abundantly clear that you are not owed jack shit and things take a dark turn if you are not adequately equipped to adapt to that… It’s not commentary on particular mates but definitely on social circles around us.”
Johnny Hunter have just wrapped up an extensive tour with Sydney band The Lulu Raes, a relationship which has flourished according to Hutt. “We met Taras [Lulu Raes] ages ago when we were recording our first couple of songs with Dylan Adams outside the studio and we were hearing so much about him because The Lulu Raes album was going on at the same time. We were then asked to join the tour and it was really great stepping stone. It was a great experience, we had a lot of fun.”
But it’s an odd match even with the same producer behind them. For one of Sydney’s most celebrated pop bands and a wild punk outfit to join forces on the road is far from expected. So where does pop sit with Johnny Hunter? [Wilson] “Eternal and never far from our hearts. [Hutt] “Everything we do has a soft spot for pop… But pop punk refers to one of the worst genres in music.”
Johnny Hunter has their debut record just around the corner, and with a coveted following this is a release which is highly anticipated, and as Ben revealed, fans will not be disappointed. “It’s in the vein of what we think is already popping off really well with the people that like what we do. It’s got pace and attitude but it’s not soft and pop… We’re at that point where we can say ‘that’s a Johnny Hunter sound,’ rather than ‘that’s Johnny Hunter doing a sound.’” The record is due to be followed by an East Coast tour and based on all I have witnessed from Johnny Hunter these are shows that will exceed everyone’s expectations.
14 July, Yah Yah’s, Melbourne
28 July. The Lansdowne, Sydney