Buffalo's resident haunting and dark garage rock act, JOHNS, is quickly approaching the release of its debut LP, "Grift Marks," set to drop on March 28.
Depending on what night you catch the band, JOHNS is a four or a five-piece with John Toohill (guitar, lead vocals), Sean Kader (bass, backing vocals), Nick Gordon (guitar), Ryan McMullen (drums), and "interplanetary fashionista" Jeanne Pfeiffer (backing vocals), specializing in a brand of rock that should appeal to fans of acts like METZ, Pissed Jeans and the Jesus Lizard.
JOHNS, though, was not the beginning for the band. Groups like Nick Gordon and the Hall of Fame, the Hotlights and later some in-the-works Toohill solo material (the source of the band's namesake), laid the groundwork for the current lineup and sound.
"The four of us have a long history of playing music together in various incarnations that goes back way before JOHNS became a band and we've all been been friends for even longer than that, which I think is equally as important to our dynamic," McMullen said.
"I think Ryan and I officially met at a party like 10 years ago when we were both trying to get better at drinking beers. Each of us traded some records we were real into and then… I don't know about how he feels, but I pretty much decided we were married at that point," joked Toohill.
"We instantly started hatching plans to put together a rock 'n' roll group," continued McMullen. "We were coming from different backgrounds and perspectives on music in terms of what music inspired us at the time, but we quickly found that, on a much more fundamental level, we were interested in exactly the same things.
"Between the four of us, I think JOHNS represented a real successful melting pot of those opposing points of view. We had all been playing together for a few years as the backing band for Nick, and we had been doing covers for a live-band karaoke project was a lot of fun. Jumping around between genres and styles like that I think really helped us gel together as players."
Like many JOHNS' shows, in addition to past gigs of the members' previous bands, Sugar City, a local DIY mixed-arts collective now located on Niagara Street, will be hosting the release of "Grift Marks."
"It's a community of people we are all involved with on various levels," Toohill said. "Each of us has in some way contributed to Sugar City and attended countless events. It just makes sense to work with your friends and people you know. They get what you are trying to do and want you to succeed."
"Nick is one of central organizers at Sugar City. His girlfriend Aimee [Buyea] is the director? Founder? [She's president and co-founder]. Anyways, she's at the heart of the Sugar City and, by extension so is Nick," added McMullen. "Because of that, I suppose opportunities to get involved with what they are doing have always been available to us and we're happy to contribute in any way we can."
"I think Sugar City is a such a great organization with broad and far-reaching effects on our community and they really fill an important niche that was sorely missing before they came on the scene." [See photos from a recent Sugar City Soul Night at Milkie's]
As for the recording of "Grift Marks," the band again turned to long time engineer and friend, Joseph Orlando of Mammoth Recording Studio. Orlando was also responsible for production duties on JOHNS' debut EP, "House of Wrongheads," and has developed a level of trust and comfort with the band members over their years of working together.
"Joe is an old friend that we've all known for years and has also worked with us on some of the Hotlights' recordings, some of the Nick Gordon and the Hall of Fame recordings and Sean's solo records, so our working relationship was really well established, and we were all very comfortable with each other going into it," McMullen said.
“He’s a great musician with a great ear, [he] really knows what he’s doing and has great equipment," McMullen added in explaining what makes Orlando a great engineer. “Beyond that, though, he’s a really easy-going and patient person who is able to put up with all of our bull while keeping the session on an even keel. In my opinion, having that dynamic in the studio is more crucial to the final product than what mic you use or what room you record in.”
"Grift Marks" is currently available for pre-sale through local imprint Peterwalkee Records. For $20, the package includes a limited edition white vinyl of the record, a previously unreleased EP, band merchandise and more. Purchases can be made here.
The label is operated by another one of Sugar City's "citizens," (a term given to the collective's core members) Matto LaQue, a key figure in the local music scene whose relationship with the band runs deeper than just business.
"Matto is a really motivated, positive person who's become a pretty major force in the Buffalo music community through the label, his efforts as part of the core Sugar City team, organizing the Queen City Band Lottery, playing in bands of his own, et cetera," McMullen said. "The label was on our short list of locals that we wanted to talk to once the record was done."
"I guess we all just operate in the same scene and hang in the same sea of people. We all go to the same events, shows, parties," added Toohill. "When we were almost finished with the album we brought a CD over to PW Headquarters [Matto's house] and basically said 'what do you think?' He offered and both parties just let their crack team of lawyers sort the whole thing out…"
"We're really grateful that Matto has brought us into the fold, though, and he's been great to work with so far," McMullen said. "We also helped Matto realize his life-long dream of fronting a Danzig cover band for a Halloween show back in October so I think that was really what pushed him over the edge."
JOHNS will celebrate the official release of "Grift Marks" at 7 p.m. Saturday in Sugar City. On hand to provide local support will be Newish Star, Fleshy Mounds and Space Wolves. Further event information for the all-ages show can be found here.
"With this LP, we are planning on getting out of town as much as our wallets, jobs and relationships will allow. Organizing everyone is kind of nuts," Toohill said. "We're sorting out a few week-long runs. I'm trying to book it all myself so if you dig it, get a hold of us and well come through."
"In the end, you just got to be thankful anyone is even listening."
Watch the music video for "Thrust," directed by Frank Napolski and Jeff Mace, below.
Mac McGuire is the editor of BuffaBLOG