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The Lonely Robot: John Mitchell Interview

Posted on February 23, 2015 at 6:05 AM

Anthony Firmin talks with John Mitchell about old lawnmowers, cheap guitars, spacesuits in Trafalgar Square and a certain Lonely Robot

John Mitchell is a busy man - and that's just the way he likes it. If he isn't in his studio he is working with It Bites. If it isn't It Bites then it is Arena. Then there is Frost*. So it is no wonder his robot is lonely!



Fortunately, for ManchesterRocks, John took a few minutes out of his busy studio schedule to talk to Anthony Firmin who managed to ask many earthshattering questions about life, the universe and everything…



The project has taken some time to come to fruition. I seem to recall it being mentioned a couple of years back when It Bites were doing their "Map Of The Past" tour…



That's when I first thought that it might be a good idea to do something on my tod. A few people had been pestering me to do something on my own for a while. Then Fish rang up and wanted John Becks number as he wanted a keyboard player just as we started work on the new IB album. John went off on tour and we have downed tools for the foreseeable and I thought what shall I do now, now is as good a time as any so ended up doing [Little Robot] instead. The label was really enthused by the idea.



Did it take a long time to write and record the album considering it was conceived a couple of years ago?



Not really, no. It takes me a while to get going, it's like starting an old lawnmower. Once the floodgates were opened and I got going it probably only took about three weeks in total, and that's writing and recording and I tend to [do both] as I go.



Nik Kershaw seemed a surprising choice as a guest on the album…



I think he is a great pop songwriter. He wrote The One And Only for Chesney Hawkes, which is one of my favourite songs of all time. And he is a great musician. First and foremost he is a very good guitar player and that is his secret weapon and I just wanted to get him on an album doing that. I think it is interesting to get musicians to do what people don't expect them to do, put them in a different frame.



And Steve Hogarth is on the album but not as a singer?



He is best known for being this extraordinary singer in Marillion and people know he plays piano and it's very understated. Some people who I have spoken to are offended that I just got him on piano and a bit of backing vocals and it was Steve's idea to do the backing vocals, not mine - "there you go may, there's the mic, knock yourself out". Who am I to stand in the way of Steve Hogarth when he wants to sing!



Was there anything musically that inspired you for any of the songs on the album?



When I am not in the studio I tend to listen to a lot of more chilled out music, lots of film soundtracks like Clint Mansell who scored Moon. He kind of deconstructed film soundtracks, a simple repeated riff, which he does an exercise in tension building on. And John Murphy as well who did the soundtrack to Sunshine.

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You are inspired quite a lot by science fiction, was there anything directly that was a trigger for the new album?



No, not really. I wanted to make a few comments about the way I see things. It's going to meet with some criticism. I am not a conspiracist like when you see chemical trails, I don't think it's Russians trying to subterfuge our minds or anything like that. But I don't think human beings as a species originate entirely from this planet. It just seems odd that [we] are at odds with the environment we have been put in. And the way technological advances over the years have come in ebbs and flows and fits and starts. It's strange how the Egyptians had capabilities above and beyond other civilisations of the time and then it suddenly disappears. It seems odd to me.



Are we likely to see any Lonely Robot performances at all?



{Deep intake if breath} Well, I don't know. The album gets released on 23rd of February and if it completely tanks then…. {laughs heartily} I won't go paddling my wares to 20 people at the Dog and Duck in Croydon, there's no point. If it does really well then I would love to.

Sonically, the album sounds quite cinematic so if we do any gigs I would like them to be events and not a million dates. One concert in one territory in a decent sized venue so we can represent [Lonely Robot] with a proper stage show. A case of less is more and quality not quantity, as it would be quite an undertaking to carry the whole thing off live and I'd like to do the thing the justice it deserves.




It looked hot on the day you did the spacesuit photo shoot and it looked like you were getting some strange glances from the public as well?



When I was putting the album together I was fully aware of what I was getting into, what I am going to do, how it was going to look even before I put pen to paper. So I knew what the cover was going to be the day we did that shoot. I was outside Paddington tube station holding out the little robot that's on the cover.


The rest of the photo shoot was absolutely the most terrifying thing I have ever done, it was my idea and I have no idea why I thought it was a good one. I remember jumping off the train, with my friend Rebecca who took the photos, thinking "it's too late to turn back now."


The funny thing is, you're walking around London with a space suit and a helmet on, you feel a bit disconnected, in your own little bubble. It's only when the helmet comes off that you feel an absolute idiot so I tried to keep the helmet on as much as I could. We then went to Trafalgar Square where people were like "you can't take a photograph here, you can't take one there, but you can over there", so Rebecca went "go over there quickly" so a lot of the shots were spontaneous.


I did think about playing chicken and ask one of my mates to go around London in a space suit. And then I thought if you don't go through with the experience of running around London in a space suit then you take something away from the experience itself and I wanted to experience everything about this album, not just sitting on my bum in a dark room!


I am not much of an exhibitionist but this took the wind out of my egotistical sails.

You used and an Epiphone Les Paul a lot on this album, do you like to use cheaper guitars?



They are cheaper, let's not beat around the bush. I have one decent guitar in my arsenal and that is a Paul Reed Smith classic that my mum bought me for my 18th birthday, it is very dear to my heart, I love it dearly. But somebody said to me “take it on tour, it's no good to anyone sat in a case." So I took it out on tour and within a couple of days the guitar tech had dropped it and put a massive dent in the back of it, I was heartbroken. And from that moment on I thought I am not going to play anything worth a lot any more, I'm just going to play planks of wood, and to be honest with you it all comes from the fingers anyway.

That Les Paul that you mentioned came from a shop around the corner from me, it was hanging in the window gleaming at me and I thought "you're going to be mine." I fancied a change because I had a Cort endorsement for a while and that was always associated with It Bites. So I bought that guitar for a couple of hundred quid, somebody had already shown it a lot of love and had put some expensive pickups in it and had the thing set up. I played the whole album with one set of strings, the strings it came with.

I am not reverential about guitars. It's strange in a way, a lot of guitarists I know obsess about guitars they have got and at the end of the day I say “it's just something to do a job.” That [Les Paul], I've become quite fond of it, and if I go on tour I probably won't take it, it'll just get dinged on the back of it!






And with that our time was up.



Both I, and ManchesterRocks, would like to thank John Mitchell for his time and wish him the best of luck with the release of his solo album Lonely Robot - Please Come Home.

Categories: INTERVIEWS

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