TALKING TO A DOPPELGANGER: THE I AM KLOOT INTERVIEW
"'This is why I like being interviewed over the phone,' he says, 'I might not even be me. You might be talking to a doppelganger'."
By Peter Wild
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I Am Kloot are making their way through the Tyrolean Alps to play a gig in Vienna, but me -- me, I'm fifteen again, sitting in Albert Square enjoying the best that a Mancunian summer has to offer (which is heat and shine more akin to memory of heat and shine, which is summer washed out and seen years later on a vintage camcorder) watching a young guy by the name of Johnny Bramwell performing under the name of Johnny Dangerously. He's singing songs of Subway Life and Pierfront Arcades, detailing the effect of this town on Mary, letting us know what life can do ('too many words are hard but true, we'll all wind up like we knew we'd do, bruised black and blue'). He made a convert of me then, overshadowed the Man from Delmonte (my then favourite band, who were on right after), sent me searching for vinyl in Piccadilly Records (all I could find was a mini LP called You, Me and the Alarm Clock, a mini LP that has since wound up as the single most copied record I own, a record that Johnny regards as "lo-fi before people coined the term"). His songs found an admittedly bruised place in my heart that withstood the intervening years until I heard from him again, as the frontman for I Am Kloot.
So we're talking on the phone, John Alfred Bramwell and I, as Kloot make their way through Europe and he's telling me what changed. He's explaining what the difference was -- what made Dangerously Dangerously, what makes Kloot Kloot. "I was always a bit -- difficult," he says of the old days. "I kept myself very -- aloof. I'd do my own thing. I'd put out my own records. I didn't have a band. I'd drive myself to gigs. And I don't think that helped. But there were a lot of other things. The climate in music was such that people who were writing songs like I did then weren't getting a look in."
I mention the quote I spotted on the Kloot website -- about his days busking in Paris and Stockport, about how "you get a better quality of disinterested twat" in Stockport than you do in Paris.
"I was heavily involved in life," Johnny explains. "If you're living in Athens and Greece, you're not really in pursuit of any career in music." The busking was more practical than aesthetic: "I was stuck in Athens and strapped for cash nine or ten years ago. It's a practical way of -- being able to be somewhere. If you think 'Fuck it, I'll stay!', busking can help you get through that."
So I asked the man: what changed? What was it that initiated Kloot?
You get the impression John Bramwell shifts in his seat a little. (He told me earlier, he liked being interviewed over the phone because it preserved "the air of mystery"; he'll refer to the air of mystery again, later, when we skirt the issue of the band's name: I say it's a movie thing, first Johnny Dangerously, then an oblique reference to the casually perverse Alan Pakula movie Klute, Johnny says "You know I'm never going to say, am I?") As far as what changed goes, Johnny admits:
"It was partially me and partially the culture. Also I think, it wasn't until a few years ago that I found my own real way of writing my own songs. I was working at the Night and Day [cool bar in Manchester frequented by the likes of Elbow and Alfie], and I stopped writing and performing -- just stopped completely for a year and a half. That cleared out the junk. When I eventually started writing "Twist" and "Storm Warning" and "To You" and "86Tvs", I really felt then that -- cos of the life I'd led -- I suddenly had an angle, a perspective that was different from other people. And that's when things clicked."
We talk a little about the classic first album, Natural History, and the eponymously-titled second album. Where Dangerously was - was -- I stumble for the word. Johnny says "Innocent" and it's perfectly just right, so perfectly just right I repeat it back to him -- yes, innocent. Where Johnny Dangerously's songs were innocent, Kloot's music (songs like "Twist" and "Proof") is perverse but still, inescapably, romantic. He's a perverse romantic, busy skewering darkly optimistic pop gems like "3ft Tall", the most recent single, the video for which features a dozen or so hoofers fresh out of a Busby Berkeley flick, busy kicking their thighs high in the air as Johnny stares out at you with that laconic what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-here? face.
Johnny likes that. "I'll use that," he says. "When people ask."
We talk some more -- about their remaining dates in Europe, about what the band has planned for the next album, about a possible DVD of live footage that may be appearing some time next year -- but the air of mystery prevails: "This is why I like being interviewed over the phone," he says, "I might not even be me. You might be talking to a doppelganger".
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Peter Wild lives and works in Manchester, England. He's the co-founder of the Bookmunch website, which takes up a whole lot of time, but when he gets a moment free he's writing short stories and a(nother) novel. Either that, or he's catching up on the sleep his 20-month-old daughter deprives him of.