The return of the Johnny Ill Band, who never really went away

More empty space

After a bit of a hiatus, one of our finest local bands is back — the Johnny Ill Band, who've released records on both X! and Urinal Cake. As a recent transplant to the Detroit area, I first encountered Ill as a record store employee and DJ; I didn't know how great his band was until he spoke of them off-handedly. I looked it up later, and realized this bunch of slackers were exceptional. Metro Times spoke with Ill to find out what's been going on in the last year and a half, in advance of their upcoming show at UFO Factory on Friday, May 15 with the Frustrations, Sros Lords, and DJ Timmy Vulgar.

Metro Times: What has the Johnny Ill Band been up to?

Johnny Ill: Sometimes you have to look at yourself and realize that there are certain things that you just can't stop doing. Even though you told yourself that you would learn tai chi, and instead you still go to the bar. You can't let these things get you down. You're just you. It's fine. So instead of being someone else I just wanted to start writing music again. And if I tried to do something else I would be bad at it. I'm not sure I understand how most music works and I'm kind of bad at listening to it and remembering it so I had to make up my mind to just make it how it comes out.

We weren't doing much for a while because I wasn't writing, and since the band is named after me, for better or worse, I'm the guy who does that and bugs everyone until we practice. We also had been playing the same songs for so long that it just felt really boring and we just weren't into it. I think some time apart was good. I'm not sure why, but I feel better.

Recently we've just been writing. We've been trying some new things. I'm not going to play guitar anymore. I want more empty space. We're a five piece and having two guitars, keyboard/organ, bass, and drums was good at times but it was hard for everyone to find a place sometimes. It seems like every band I watch is a straight line. There isn't much for dynamics. We're attempting to have some parts with less in them.

MT: Has your sound changed much in the time between you last played? What can people expect?

Ill: I feel like we're going to sound a lot different than we did before. I've pretty much stopped playing guitar all together and only use it after the song is written to give Paul, our guitar player, a basic sketch. So there's that, less guitar. The songs are also less upbeat and probably not as fast. I probably won't dance so people can expect me to just stand there awkwardly and hear something that may or may not sound completely different. Actually it's going to be fucking great and not weird at all. These new songs are a purer form of Johnny Ill Band, even though I'm going to talk/sing less.

MT: What other reasons are there why people should come to this particular show?

Ill: This might be the last Frustrations show for a long time, since Sean Dufty, their bass player, is moving to Seattle. Scott, their drummer, also recently moved to Chicago. He runs the Detroit label X! Records as well. The Frustrations and the Sros Lords are two bands in Detroit that people don't pay enough attention to. I love the songs that the Frustrations write, and they always sound good. You can hear everything, and it seems like they spend a lot of time on each part. The Sros Lords just seem to live in their own world. I guess it's pretty "punk" sounding but they just seem to have very much their own personality. Morgan, their guitar player and singer, is super into conspiracy theories, and even though I don't believe any of it I like hearing his weird ideas.

MT: Any plans for an upcoming release?

Ill: We're going to record at the end of the month with folk-rock singer-songwriter superstar Fred Thomas. I'm excited about that. I feel like he'll know cool song writing tricks, and he's always really positive so that will be inspiring. I'm hoping to have a record out by the fall. That might be unrealistic but now that it will be in the paper we'll have to do it.

MT: Anything else?

Ill: I would also like to go on a tour that doesn't completely suck. I don't know how to do that. Maybe someone can help us out.

The show takes place 9 p.m. Friday, May 15 at UFO Factory, 2110 Trumbull St., Detroit. Tickets are $5.

Mike McGonigal is music editor of the Detroit Metro Times.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
Scroll to read more Michigan Music articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.