Country Mile – the title for Johnny Flynn’s third album – is an apt description of a strident career that has encompassed a vast distance, along a naturally meandering pathway.
Johnny is an artist who has been led by his muse in an uncontrived fashion; his love for telling stories leading him to major theatrical and film roles, and along the way Queen Mab took him by the nose to realise certain musical dreams.
Johnny first appeared on the scene in 2006 playing in numerous bands and running club nights, but ears were pricked by his first album A Larum, released in 2008. It has come to be seen as an influential musical template in recent years, with its honest recording approach and revitalising take on traditional forms of music with songs such as Leftovers and Tickle Me Pink affecting and inspiring a new aesthetic.
A widened palette followed with his sophomore album Been Listening along with global touring. Songs such as Lost and Found and The Water (a duet with old friend Laura Marling) cemented his lyrical reputation, and prompted further collaborations with the likes of Anna Calvi, Barbarossa and subsequent production work with Marika Hackman, showcasing his desire to nurture and collaborate with varied and exciting new talent.
Following the album and a stint writing, producing and performing the soundtrack to indie film A Bag of Hammers, Johnny returned to the boards, appearing in Richard Bean’s The Heretic at the Royal Court, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem alongside Mark Rylance, Richard III and Twelfth Night at The Globe and West End with Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance, before taking the lead in The Low Road by Bruce Norris back at The Royal Court.
‘Demoing with intent’ throughout this process, with long time collaborator Adam Beach (bass player in Johnny’s band The Sussex Wit), Country Mile took shape naturally in various home recording environments and eventually at Soup Studios, London, rambling towards perfect song structures from furtive ideas without the pressure of timekeeping.
The title and opening track Country Mile sets up the idea of striking out and taking off - letting all fear and doubt dissipate to the imprint of your feet on the earth. After Eliot, which is loosely inspired by T.S Eliot’s style of writing, is about an abstract mis-encounter, a reflection on a relationship where the two people didn’t see the same thing happening at the same time.
The Lady Is Risen sees Johnny muse on the idea of divine love and its influence on relationships. The music for the song was written years apart from the lyrics and references old Southern soul records. Murmuration – the collective noun for a flock of starlings – evokes images of escapism, flying with the birds and saints. ‘It’s a song you'd sing to get through a difficult time,’ and owes a debt to Hank Williams who Flynn listened to a lot when writing the album. Fol-de-Rol references Johnny’s love of South American folk songs and specifically a Peruvian style of music called Chicha – psychedelic 'Cumbias' from the 60s/70s.
Einstein’s Idea, a lullaby written for Johnny’s two-year-old son Gabriel, takes the theory of relativity to romantic heights; ‘It’s explaining how objects, despite being separate from one another, are still attracted to each other, but talking about that space between things… the gap in between us and that same gap, it might as well be the gap between you and the stars.’ A hopeful interpretation comforting his true love with the notion that as everything is around you, everything is there for you.
Flynn supported the album with extensive touring throughout the US and Europe, including a tour in the USA with friends Mumford and Sons, sold out shows across the UK and Europe and a follow up solo tour in the US and Canada, which gave us the recently released Live in Washington DC album. His thespian tendencies have not been neglected either, with a lead in Song One alongside Anne Hathaway released next year, and a role in Oliver Assayas' Sils Maria with Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Moretz.
Rambling forward, the possibilities for Johnny Flynn are immense, especially with the arrival of Country Mile – perhaps the most rewarding chapter so far in this ongoing epic. As Johnny sings in The Lady Is Risen, ‘Life isn’t always like the end of your novels, things might wind up, but they always unravel.’