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Riot grrl, spoken word and naked hippies – Johnny Marriott from PET NEEDS speaks!

Johnny Marriott is mostly made of smile, hair and noise. His minutely sculpted lyrics and cinematically enthusiastic delivery are front and centre for PET NEEDS. I was familiar with his solo work and am very glad he’s got a whole heap more sound in his songs nowadays. He’s a very fine chap, they’re a brilliant band and they’ve got a brilliant gig coming up so I bothered him about it.

Photography by Jonathan Doyle

My favourite thing about PET NEEDS is how you and your brother play together. Have you always made music together?

JM: George started playing guitar when he was dead young. I didn’t have the attention span to at the time and now he is a way better guitarist than me!

I picked up a bass at about 16 and we formed a riot grrl band called Blow Up Doll a couple of years later. We actually did a ten year reunion the other month! After Blow Up Doll, I moved away and we didn’t play together for about seven years until he moved to Colchester and we formed PET NEEDS.

George understands music and arrangement on a different level to me. He’s good at polishing up my tunes and I’m good at destroying his. It’s a beautiful partnership!

You’ve performed solo and as a poet as well as in bands. Which do you prefer?

JM: Poetry or PET NEEDS, for different reasons. I feel that spoken word is the rawest (and most terrifying) form of art and still do it a couple of times a year.

I really enjoyed the solo stuff and had some crazy experiences along the way (including meeting awesome people like you!), but feel that with this band I now play the music that I enjoy listening to.

There’s also a big crossover with my spoken word and lyrics for the band. Songs such as ‘Outline’ I write as spoken word first, and sometimes perform it at spoken word nights. But if you look at bands like The Fall or X Ray Spex, that’s poetry over punk music, to me.

Fronting a punk band lets you do things you’d never get away with usually. I like to climb on things!

What’s your favourite poetry?

JM: I fell into the poetry scene by accident and ended up learning loads from my mates.  I’d always call myself a spoken word artist as opposed to a poet, and absolutely love seeing Dan Clark perform- his energy and delivery is amazing.  Cliche, I know, but Kate Tempest has made me cry on multiple occasions. Her plays are incredible, too, you can really hear her voice throughout.  Andy Bennett has taught me more about form than anyone else, and also put me onto Luke Wright, who is fantastic at control and performance.  Technique-wise, Holly Pester is insanely interesting with her intentional tumbles and stutters- she describes herself as “sound poetry”.  Finally, as a Colchester boy, I have to put John Cooper Clarke on the list!

Do you song write lyrics or music first?

JM: It depends on the song. Usually I’ll come up with a turn of phrase and build from there.  Lyrics are so, so important to me and I will work for weeks on them. Melodies kind of just appear every now and then and I jump on them quickly before they are lost forever.  When my brother brings an idea to the band it’s the absolute opposite- he is really melody driven and will have a chord structure and tune worked out, then we will go from there.   All the music I listen to is lyrics driven; I definitely get excited by words, whilst George gets excited by sounds.

The first time I saw you two play together was in the woods by Soapbox stage at Folk East. How did you manage to create that much chaos?

JM: Ahahaha I genuinely have no idea. That was the first time we had played together for about six years and it went mental.  Naked hippies and impromptu shed percussionists.  I guess that was the first ever PET NEEDS gig!  Build it and they will come!  Thanks so much for reminding me of that.

Pure carnage.

Photography by Manoja Ullman

It’s one of my favourite bits of music that’s ever happened! You’ve recorded a lot quite fast. Did you have songs lined up before you started playing as a band?

JM: I had written versions of Dallas and Punk for my solo stuff (I had a kind of folky backing band), but the songs needed a bit more kick to them! George and I sat down with the tunes and he helped to arrange them in a heavier style than I could do solo. We then wrote “Running” together, George brought Lamppost to the table and we went from there.  George moved down to Colchester on a whim and slept in our spare room for a while. We have branded it the month of madness.

Constant intoxication, creativity and partying.
It was completely unsustainable and he got his own place after a while. I think it was best for both our health’s.

Chart it up as a surreal bonding experience… When are you guys playing?

JM: Next gig is on Monday at the John Peel Centre! Dead excited, it’s our favourite venue.  Then we’ve got shows coming up all over. If we are keeping up with our social media it should all be over on our Facebook page!

We still need a Norwich show though, we seem to be everywhere but ATM!

You very much do. We should make that happen. Thank you! It’s been lovely picking your brains.

JM: My pleasure!

PET NEEDS recordings can be found here! Both ep’s are well worth a listen and are available digitally or on cd. Everything But Your Balance was released on 2nd December 2017 and is genuinely lovely modern punk with a trace of folk mindedness to it.

They are headlining Emerge: Greatest Hits on Monday 29th at the John Peel Centre as part of Independent Venue Week. Details available here. It’s a gig I’m genuinely sad to be missing. If this band play near you, I’d highly recommend popping in.  Steve Lamacq can be bothered making it over, maybe you can too!

Independent Venue Week events are happening across the country starting Monday. Please do get out, go see some music and support your local venue!

photo courtesy of Jonathan Doyle

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