When he was five years old growing up on Teeside, Jonny Green sat out in his back garden, staring out into the middle distance, a look of intense concentration etched on his face. His mum, concerned by the gravity of Jonny’s expression, asked him what he was up to. “I’m just listening to the music,” was her son’s reply. Only there wasn’t any music playing. “I was just imagining it, I guess,” he recalls, years later. “I always seemed to have music floating around my head.”
Translating that dream music has been the goal which has consumed his life. It enticed him to quit a successful career as an artist, to write songs, start a band, trail across the country and make records, somehow pissing off Death Row Records boss Suge Knight in the process (True story! Ask him about it...). And when that excursion into the world of pop ended, in a ballistic burnout borne of exhaustion, frustration, mental and physical collapse, his source of therapy wasn’t the rubber walls of the nut-house, or the beige-hued solace of The Priory. It was a room in a flat in Leytonstone, a portastudio and a sampler he could barely make sense of, and yet somehow made sweet music with.
With such rudimentary tools, Jonny Green explored his own deepest feelings and memories of pop music. He trawled through a disparate, honest jumble of influences - the Top Of The Pops compilation LPs his auntie bought him as a kid, the albums all the rock press told him to buy through his youth (a canon he ultimately rejected, reasoning reasonably that decades of enforced worship had worn flat the grooves on all his Beatles and Stooges records, that no fresh inspiration resided there), the gems he discovered while idly scanning the radiowaves for glimmers of hope.
The process fuelled, informed his own creativity, an almighty burst of which caused him to write over 300 songs in two years, a number Jonny himself acknowledges as, “Ridiculous.” Boiled down to a clutch of the best, they make up the Satellite project, a startling, wonderful record which swoops down from nowhere, to profoundly monkey around with your own limited concepts of what pop music ‘should be’. But don’t mistake this as some cool, cerebral deconstruction of music’s most carnal, primal, essential flowering - Satellite is heart and soul music, without a shadow of doubt.
We’re talking a record that zings from the towering, unbearably beautiful psychedelia of Flaming Lips, through to the brassy pop braggadocio of Robbie Williams (no, really!). An album understanding both the haunted downbeat sample-pop of Eels, and the uplifting boom!-thwack!-buh-boom!-boom!-thwack! of a Motown backbeat, obliquely acknowledging that the latter often touched on just as much poignancy as the former. The product of a man who grasps that the most perfect pop music is a magical cocktail of tragedy and comedy.
Satellite’s songs are tales of strength, and strength in repose, of everything falling apart, and how sometimes things only make sense when they’re lying in pieces around you. Bittersweetness is the key, the uplift you get from the downstroke. Satellite might dip a toe in dark waters, but never without dragging a finger in the fluffy pop clouds above.
It’s Jonny’s vision, through and through. He called the shots, wrote the rules. One was to never simply wallow in the bad times: too self-indulgent, too easy, better to make some sense of them, some way forward. Another rule: there are no limits, except for your imagination. Searching for new sounds and inspirations the oddest things struck a chord – Missy Elliott was an early discovery, a Steps tune aping a Jackson 5 riff.
His particularly left-handed working process made an indelible mark on proceedings. He learnt how to use his sampler literally by trial and error, a slight dyslexia preventing him from reading the instruction booklet. He knew that, unlike his previous career in rock, the sounds he wanted to make on this record he just couldn’t track down with a mere six strings and pickup. The whole process was eminently punk-rock, “That sense that, really, anyone could make music, regardless of how good a musician they were.” A period working with acclaimed producer John Leckie came to an end, when Leckie’s take on the songs didn’t gel with Jonny’s.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get to make a record again,” he confesses, “so I thought, I’m not going to do anything that’s not perfect, that doesn’t feel exactly right.” It was with this forceful, focused manner that Jonny approached the whole project. Jonny and his engineer stepped in and pieced the record together developing an almost supernatural relationship.
That attitude extends to how Satellite will progress in the near future. Jonny’s distaste for the mundane that affects too much of the pop’n’rock experience today shines through, he’s already said that he won’t tour the record, until he’s got the kind of profile and support that’ll afford him the ability to carve out the live performance of his dreams... James Brown is a constant reference point, as is Beck’s latter-day showmanship. There’s also a short movie that Jonny’s commissioned and soundtracked, a tale set in the scarier parts of East L.A., directed by Spike Jonze protégé Howard Shur.
What’s clear, is that this record, unlike anything else you’ll hear all year, is the first step from an artist unwilling to follow the conventions of all that ‘can’ or ‘should’ be done. In grasping for the music in his head, Jonny’s carved a record that contains a fair chunk of his heart and soul. This is music for life. Cherish it.