Recorded in a number of different studios in New York and London over the last two years, the album's main theme is one of journeying with a 'Country Mile' being an indefinite distance.
Recorded in a number of different studios in New York and London over the last two years, the album's main theme is one of journeying with a 'Country Mile' being an indefinite distance. The allegory is a through line for the record, with each song making up the different elements of a life seen as one journey. Here Johnny talks us through the album, track by track Country Mile 'I've walked in the fields and I've trod light for days He's some way into an indefinite journey a country mile , the purpose of which is revealed and illuminated in fragments as he places his feet one after the other along the seams of the earth.
Robert Macfarlane talks of the inherent wisdom we unlock in ourselves as we make journey's along 'The Old Ways'. As if the act of pilgrimage creates a consciousness to encompass all those who've added their will to the path, and the way itself is a projection of all those intentions, and thus becomes the teacher. So it is with our hero; the answer lies somewhere in 'the closet of his soul'. This song came out of a small red notebook. There was once 3 times as many verses and variations on the sections but over a good few years it stewed and was distilled to this version.
Which is perhaps the simplest existence it ever had, but that suits the walking ethic. It's a kind of mission statement for the intent on the rest of the record and I felt from early on that those first few thrashy chords played in a warehouse in New York should open proceedings.
It's more the spearhead for the record than the heart - the heart might be unveiled in what follows, beating its own drum for each listener and so that's why the album as a whole is called 'Country Mile' and not named after any of the later songs; it's the vessel, or a chimney stack seen on the horizon: After Eliot 'Holly, go lightly. Bright as the day Fresh as the moon and stale as the hay Cold as the window, frozen with frost; You've never been seen and you've never been lost' A love song to a ghost of the past.
This grew from words I wrote in when I was in New York doing a play there. I remember the cafe where I wrote them pretty clearly. I remember showing my friend Dickon who I was with, and he helped me with a line that I didn't end up using in this finished recording.
I remember thinking there was something wrong with it for 5 years and then I played a melody to the chorus whilst in the Welsh mountains after getting married and it made sense. Some things you grow into. The Lady is Risen 'So I'll watch you with eyes that can see, I can see that you're too good at pulling that wool over me' Again, these words were in my notebook a while - at least since finishing the recording of 'Been listening'.
So I feel like this song was the first song conceived for this record. It feels like the beginning of the heart of the record that I was talking about. I started this one 4 times whereas I never looked back with any of the others. It was a soul rip-off that left my sleeves too influence-ridden. This was the first song we got to grips with in my small studio and the work we did on this was like clearing out the attic so it took some time and some emotional upheaval.
I took it to New York and started it again on my own and narrowed down the arrangements. Eventually it all got laid down around the drums which we did one week late in David sent me an iPhone recording of himself playing that half time beat over one of the earlier versions of the song Murmuration 'I dreamt I flew with the Saints last night' My wife likes this one the most. It was a short idea - a kind of Hank Williams feel and nothing too crazy.
I also started this in New York and was reading a biography of Saints' lives whilst writing the words. I'd always been curious about St Agnes; each account of her life is different and most are pretty morbid. Genesius the actor sounded like someone I know. In some ways where the rest of the songs are concerned with physical movement, this one is about being stuck in a place but casting out your heart to those avatars that can feel the wind for you; considering the hawk that hovers high above the house for us , and dreaming of the saints.
Gypsy Hymn 'The will of the void is to shape and name forms, Our dance was never done then, I remember you well from before you were born, My chance was never won then. It closes side one. The melody and some of the words for the long, slow outro are from an old idea I had floating around in an old red notebook. I felt like the song itself could be conceived as a holy ritual being sung by itself in praise of itself.
A pagan ceremony perhaps. The first part was the last thing written for the album. I was in West Wales for Christmas last year on a two day break from doing Twelfth Night and Richard iii in town and played around with these chords and had my sister try the harmonies that ended up on the finished song.
Then I went back into Soup studio in London where we'd moved operations and recorded this and Time Unremembered over one or two days early this year. They were the last to be finished and I'd been saving them to play as live to capture the performances.
I played piano and sang and Lillie sang at the same time - it was the only song to not have any overdubs. Fol-de-rol 'I am the mother, I am the daughter, I am the will at large, I am the love that flows with the water, I am the holy charge' I wrote most of the words and a melody in a green leather notebook while I was recording A Larum in , so I guess they're some of the oldest.
They seemed unfinished so I had them in the back of my mind all this time. Originally I had it singled out for a song to feature in a radio play that I began writing and recording while we were doing that first album in Seattle. I set up a desk with a mic in a vocal booth in the studio and tried to record chapters for this play, but I folded on the play after mixing on the record took over.
Anyway the song survived and in the intervening years I got heavily into Chicha - Peruvian psychedelic music from the 60's and 70's and when I went back to the song it fitted perfectly with the tone of some of that stuff so I let that come into it a little.
But a fair bit. Einstein's Idea 'The gap in between them is nothing to us, Our eyes cut the distance as loving eyes must From me unto you son, from dust unto dust' This one swoops around the heart of the album for me. It's a lullaby to my son and originally there were two completely different songs that had the same melody.
The other words became 'Bottom of the sea Blues' and it was a difficult call to give these words to this melody. He knows the words now and recently upstaged me at an open air gig at the Globe theatre where he belted it out from atop my wife's shoulders. I sing it quietly to help him to sleep.
I realise I couldn't bring myself to sing 'oh my darling' about anyone other than him. I wasn't even able to bring myself to say 'Darling' before he came along - it's a word that feels really corny when used in most contexts, and everyone knows its overused by actors - especially those in my family - so this is the first instance I've felt able to commit to it without cringing.
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