As well as being a model and music promoter, he is quite adept at producing slices of intriguing lo-fi beauty.
Availability: 'Getitforfree' is available via http://johnnysands.com/music.html
It is a return, of sorts, to the parable of the solo market ...
but there is something quite nontraditional and classic about Mr. Sands. I shall explain more in detail soon, because the male solo market is a bit of an undervalued currency, still. It is a genre or sector, which has been present since the birth of the music universe. The second that the first notes were sung by the legendary blues artists, back in the '20s and '30s, a strange and wonderful evolution began. Blues was little more than solo artistry. The likes of Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James were some of the earliest pioneers, and paved the way for a host of subsequent blues artists, all keen to pay homage to, and best the previous generation. When the '60s arrived the band market was more prevalent, and seemed to overhaul the solo market, and maintained a foothold right through to... well... now, really. It appears that being part of a band and having a sort of musical comfort of 'safety through numbers'; is the pervading methodology when trying to obtain success and longevity. It is not entirely factious, as with the exception of a few legends (Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley etc.), the greatest number of hallowed singers, and celebrated songs have emanating from groups. This is still the case in 2013, but perhaps there has been a marginal shift in musical directionality. It is true that some of the most reviled and hated members of the music world, are solo artists. Naming no names, but you, as well as I, know full well whom they are. There is a lot of critical attention levied at bands too, but it is in the underground, as well as on the fringes of public consciousness, that the most exciting and furtive music is taking place. I have been excited by the news of a forthcoming album by Laura Marling- to my mind, the most exciting solo female artist currently making music. There is a lot of speculation as to whether the likes of Lily Allen, Adele and Jessie Ware will be releasing material in 2013/14. Beyond the aforementioned names, there is a small number of notable female talent in this area, but most of the incredible music made my women, is reserved for certain areas of the country; most of which is either largely unheard of, or fledgling in its infancy. It is an equal share market, but the scarcity of bright female talent is not indicative of a lack of participants; more a sign that the proliferation of bands emerging at the moment, are elbowing solo artists out of the way, relegating them to an intellectual sub-section in most people's minds. The male market has fared slightly better since the '50s and '60s when the earliest examples of the breed were greasing their hair, strumming their strings, and winning hearts. Sadly there has been a bit of a dirge of male solo artists; each seemingly convinced that strumming an acoustic guitar and sounding vaguely bored in the key to unequivocal success. Again, no names shall be proffered, but there are far too few. If you dig a little deeper beneath the skin, and under piles of rubble, there is shining light. Matt Corby and Ben Howard seem capable of keeping a torch of glory lit for a few years more; but again, there seems to be a startling case of quantity over quality when it comes to the male market. If you want to be captured and fascinated, you need to steer away from the main road, take a detour, and stop off at charming little rural environs, and take in the sights and smells. It is there where- one hopes- the future good live, and I am confident that once a greater attention and distribution is given to the genuinely talented solo artists, there will be a much more balanced and diverse scene. This takes me some way to explaining Johnny Sands...
He may have a name that lends well to vivid imagery of spies and suave C.I.A operatives, but there is a similar intrigue and romantic within the biography of the Liverpool musician. Johnny seems like he was born in black and white, and he has a rather vintage and bygone mystique. Sands is as enamored with the 1950s and typewriters, as he is with motorcycles, Bob Dylan, old watches and E-type Jaguars. It seems that he would have been more at home 50 or 60 years ago, and it is very rare that in a highly modern and electronic age, that there is someone in music, who has such a passion and respect for a classic time. In photographs, Sands is predominantly shot in black and white, and has a style that is Gaelic handsomeness, Brendan Benson-cum-Nordic warrior. It is unsurprising, perhaps, that Sands is also a model and a fashion icon. With a sharp wardrobe and sharp features, he has featured in the likes of GQ (whom crowned him their 'Best Dressed Man' in 2010). Sands is fascinated by linguistics and European beauty; he has an Icelandic-worded tattoo on his arm, and a similar one on his chest, which is French. It is no shock that Sands told GQ that he considers his style and look to be largely indebted to the cinema of France and the U.S. of the '60s. It is an interesting back-story, but somewhat of a secondary appeal, considering we are here to talk music. There is a relevance and transferability between his style and noir lifestyle to that of his music. In various songs Sands sings in French, and manages to juxtapose foreign influences with the homespun majesty and history of his native Liverpool. It is a rare combination, and one that has served Sands well. As well as lighting up his local hangs, he has captured a mostly wider attention, in no small part due to his brilliant 2012 debut 'mini album', 'Postcards'. Subsequent plaudits followed, which earned him support slots with the lofty kings Wild Beasts, Django Djano, and Alt-J. I have longed been protesting how a lot of the great new music and future stocks are reserved and held in the north-west, and north-east. It is perhaps unsurprising given the rich musical heritage of the areas. When critical eyes and drooling record bosses look to London for potential stars-in-the-making, they should stop being so narrow-minded and turn their diffuse attention-spans towards a geographical area that is deserving of more than localised praise, and feint ardor.
I was introduced to the talents of Johnny Sands by a fellow musician, who resides in the north. I was surprised that his name had not been mentioned in the social media circles and to a wider degree, the music press. It is the codification of talents such as Sands, that has angered me quite a bit; but my boiled blood is mollified when I hear the opening moments of 'Getitforfree'. There is an electronic drum pulse that pecks and taps with stylised punch. In the same way as the cinematic chef-d'ouevres capture and seduce with smoky monochrome kisses, the track builds atmosphere and mood with a simple and concentrated lust. There are modern tones to the intro; in places I was reminded of Wild Beasts, Thom Yorke's solo work, as well as tones of The xx. When words are spoken, there in a lo-fi echo to them, and I was reminded of The Strokes and Casablanca's trademark vocal sound. It is quite an unexpected pleasure, and there are shimmering colours of French eletronica. The lyrics are purging and inquisitive, as Sands poses the following to a departing sweetheart: "... Why do you want to get when you get it for free?" The programmed beat is consistent and not modulated, which keeps the emotion in check, and provides a level-headed drive, that propels the song. The focus is on vocals and words, and the vocals are clear and high in the mix, free from any distortion or overproduced epidemiology. Sands' vocal lifts slightly past the 0:40 mark and shows a bit of tender restraint, before the abated noir soundscape, returns to the fold. The unnamed and unmanned former-paragon seems to have run from Sands' home, and into a Tarrantino film, as it is asked: "Why you wanna stall/When the men got a gun?". Whether this nervy imagery as deployed metaphorically or literally, it is an evocative and striking scene that is being set. Sands has a talent for painting tension and palpable emotion throughout. There are a lot of questions being asked by our hero, fully aware that few will be answered by the outlawed beau. It is perhaps unsurprising that there is little sympathy in the words, or any sign or redemption or Stockholm Syndrome in the future. It is a sharp tale of love-gone-wrong and the consequential effects on the various parties. Sands seems concerned mostly with the fate of his woman, rather than portraying any sense of self-doubt or insularity. It is a composed spit-ball, carefully subjugated so that no venom or bile taints the song. It is fitting, at this point, to mention Bob Dylan. Like the sainted Mr. Zimmerman, Sands has a solid blues conviction to his voice, that has as much in common with the black blues of the '50s, as is does with the biddable suburban heartache, that is the tapestry of a lot of The Strokes' work. The style of the song has a lot in common with Dylan, circa 1963/'64. Where as Dylan's focused had a politicised and philosophical bent, Sands' heart and storytelling has more relevance in the modern streets, and modern times. Where as a lot of male solo artists opt for a bleeding heart sensitivity, which matches falsetto musings with a Beta Male mandate; Sands does a reverse. The vocal is strongly masculine, with flecks of east coat America. The lyrics are honest and a maelstrom of pointed words and pertinent questions. He wants to know why his former girlfriend has fled, when he can give her all she wants for free. There is a little longing in the lyrics when it is said that (she) is "what I need". When there is an introduction of hand-clapping (and the tonal mood shifts), there is an invigorated passion employed. Sands vocal has a lighter edge of Ray LaMontagne, when he implores: "Out there, out there, out there/It's me". He is making a scene, and seems to be some regret or lamentation in his words, although damned if he shows it in the vocals, keen to play the role of stoic James Dean/Marlon Brando.
As the song comes to an end it is surprising to learn that it has received under 300 listens on SoundCloud. Sands has a very modern and relevant sound, and one which fits perfectly in the credible Mercury Prize-worthy sector. The song is tight and focused, and the music itself switches from metronomic electronic pulsing, to romantic blues. Sands' vocal has a pleasing consistency to them, and have little directly in common with the likes of The Strokes' front-man, to be honest. There are little whispers, but by and large it is highly individual. This is perhaps not a shock, given what we know about him; his background, and his enviroment. It is a great song that stands up to repeated listens, and is at once instant, and slow-burning. With so little credence paid to artists whom are willing to break from the overstuffed modern mould and create something personal and relevant to them, it is refreshing that the track is not a commercial or bloated number. Sands has a fascinating mystique and variegated style about him, yet has a tangibility to him, that adds weight and conviction to his music.
Just this morning, Sands Tweeted that he was deciding on the most expeditious way of charging around Liverpool, in the hope of curating as much talent as possible for this year's Liverpool Sound City festival. As much as he is in love with music, art, and sound; he is also keen to further and aid other artists, and above all, cultivate a group of like-minded artists whom can put their stamp on the music world. In a climate where the blueprint seems to contain too many straight lines, grey edges and neo-venacular/hair shirt modernism, Sands has a older influences and modern twists, to create something a lot more eye-catching. It may not be a high-rise modern sky scarper; instead it is a charming stylish French cafe, or nightclub. In the short term it may not be as profitable, but in the long run it will still be there; still be drawing in huge crowds of loyal patrons, and will not be consigned to the pages of forgotten curiosity. Take a listen, and let the songs absorb into your consciousness, and be inspired to hear more of Sands, as well as keep an eye out for associated Liverpudlian talent. I have been invigorated this morning by the brilliant music, as well as the inspiring personality. Probably best...
... you get on board, before 'Getitforfree' becomes a pricey commodity.