London-based alternative rock band Piano Magic have just released their eleventh album, ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’.

The group first formed in 1996, and, as well as founding and only original member Glen Johnson (vocals, programming, guitars, percussion, piano), also currently consists of Franck Alba (guitar, bass, vocals), Jerome Tcherneyan (drums, percussion, keyboards, bass), Alasdair Steer (bass) and Angele David-Guillou (keyboards, dulcimer, guitar, piano, voice).

While Piano Magic’s previous two albums, ‘Part Monster’ (2007) and ‘Oviations’ (2009), were thunderous guitar albums, ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me’ in contrast has a ghostly and fragile electronic sound.

Its tracks include the Biblical and vengeful opening number, ‘Judas’; the title track about a failed suicide, and ‘Sing Something’, in which abandoned by a potential suitor and lost in a strange city, Angele David-Guillou takes lead vocals.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Glen Johnson, who was back for a second interview with us, about the new album.

PB: The title of the album, ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’, is at one level bleak, and the majority of the lyrics are melancholic. Yet the last song on the album, ‘A Secret Never Told’, finishes with the lines, “Do not suppose there is no hope/Do not forget you’re not alone”. Did you choose that title because, for all the nihilism of the album, it is double-edged? It is perhaps a good thing, however difficult it sometimes gets, that life is not done with us.

GH: Anyone approaching this album should do so with a huge pinch of salt. Yes, in comparison to, hmm, Dappy, thematically, it's rather "heavy" but it's certainly not without humour. Albeit the dark, twisted humour the British are famed for. I rather pictured, "Life has not finished with me yet" as the defiant shout of an old man with a long white beard on his deathbed, surrounded by sobbing relatives : "Stop yr crying! Life hasn't finished with me yet!"

PB: Several critical reviews have described the album as “morose”. Yet there seems to be an element of black comedy to the title track in which its protagonist has tried to commit suicide several times and failed, and also to ‘Sing Something’ in which its female main character has missed her train home waiting around all night Godot-esque for someone who has failed to turn up. Would you agree?

GH: Exactly. I would hope people would see the lineage that runs from this album, back through the Smiths to early 20th century music hall to bawdy 17th century pub songs. Our characters may be victims but there's humour in their tragedy. A tragicom, if you must.

PB: The opening song ‘Judas’ uses archaic language (“But thorns, they will spite you with time”). It could have really been written about any despotic king or leader during the last two thousand years, or again someone more personal and closer to home. Was it targeted at any person in particular?

GH: Nick Clegg, though it could apply to so many politicians these days, couldn't it? They'll say whatever you want to hear to get into power but once there, they quickly tear off the mask and reveal themselves to be selfish, lying, grotesque bastards of the highest order. Oddly, we don't anticipate this and garrot them on sight.

PB: It seems that there is a real sense of blood and thunder Biblical old time morality and revenge to some of the tracks. ‘Judas’ and ‘(The Way They Treat ‘The Animals’ (“The way we govern the animals/Will govern how we are judged”) are both that way. Was that intentional?

GH: Oh, I'm big on revenge. I'm obsessed with karma. I do hope that it comes around; that when you die, if you've been a cunt, you're punished for it; that you're reincarnated as a slug or something. I'm not sure I would be able to sit here quietly in the knowledge that certain people who've upset or betrayed me will get off scot-free. I much prefer to think they'll have their eyes torn out in the depths of Hell at some point. After a very long, painful rush hour bus ride.

PB: You have put out albums on a variety of well-known indie labels including Rocket Girl, 4AD, Talitres and for the last two albums, Make Mine Music, but you have released ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’ on your own label, Second Language, which you have been running for some years, and in the States on Saint Marie Records. Second Language has until now largely concentrated on putting out editions of very small copies, often no more than a hundred. Why have you decided to go down the course of self-releasing it and presumably in a bigger edition than Second Language have been used to in the past?

GH: It just seemed logical to play things close to our chests. We're 100% in control of the way the record is made, financed, promoted, released, etc on Second Language so it cuts out all the bullshit that's so indelible with "the conventional music industry."

Obviously the plus for Second Language is that a large chunk of the profits from this record go back into releasing music by other bands that otherwise never would've seen the light of day. We re-distribute the (cough) wealth.
PB: ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’ moves away from the heavy guitar sound of recent albums such as ‘Part Monster’ and ‘Ovations’ and to the earlier more electronic-based sound of records such as ‘Artists Rifles’ and ‘Low Birth Weight’. Was that a conscious decision or was that just what unfolded?

GH: I consciously orchestrated a move away from the distortion pedal-as-a-solution to-everything. We spent many years relying on noise or dynamic. It became predictable to a great extent. I felt it was time to strip back to the skeleton of the songs so you could hear the cogs, the machinations and not just the blare of the engine.

On a personal note, I've been in fairly heavy guitar bands since I was 19 and as much as I find playing through a loud amp, on a big stage, in front of a roaring crowd cathartic, there's as much power achievable in near-silence, in the drone of a singing bowl.

PB: Again recent albums involved a lot of dynamic and heavy guitar musical work-outs. ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’ is, however, much more restrained.It creates great tension because you keep expecting it to explode and it never really does so. Was that again a deliberate move?

GH: I think that comes from listening to (and absorbing) bands like Codeine and Low - something I've always admired; their ability to attract listeners to the edge of the precipice and yet balance them there.

Most music is formulaic in that it supplies you with a start, a build-up and a crescendo and that's exactly what a lot of people want to hear. But imagine a book with the last page missing. Yes, it's frustrating to some extent but you're left ruminating on, "What happened?"

PB: Piano Magic have always remained little known at home, but are popular in mainland Europe. You have played a lot of fairly big venues there, and seem to draw more of an audience abroad. Perhaps having three out of five French musicians in the current band helps, but why otherwise do you feel that you do so well abroad but less well at home?

GH: We never pushed ourselves here. We were never in awe of a 5 star review or being the "hot new thing" and we certainly had no desire to tour the UK when we could be touring Spain or Italy. One of the great things about being in a band like this is that you get to travel and to see and experience things you normally would not. No disrespect to Britain but fuck.It's depressingly predictable, underwhelming and predominantly ugly.

PB: When we last spoke to you in 2007, you said that “Piano Magic exists predominantly to play live these days.” Is that still very much a case?

GH: No. That was certainly a time when we cruising high on the tour wave. Times change. In 2012, Piano Magic exists out of sheer stubbornness.

PB: You played two tiny “quiet gigs” at home at home at the Antenna Studios at Crystal Place in London las year, which holds 60 people and allows no alcohol. What were those gigs like? What will you be doing at home and abroad to promote this album, and now that you are signed to an American label do you hope to play some gigs there as well?

GH: I think we're very fortunate to be a band that controls it's own destiny. We do what we like when we like and if someone asks us to come and do something we think we might enjoy, we do it. It's never been about fame or money for us so playing a 60 capacity acoustic show in our back garden can be much more rewarding than selling X amount of records.

At the Antenna shows, we nipped around the corner to the local supermarket and bought wine and food for the audience. We wanted to help create an atmosphere that wasn't about "us and them." No stage, cheap admission that just covered the hire of the room, a good support band, a comfortable environment. We've never been the band that just walks off stage and never comes back either. We finish and then we take a beer with the audience. There is no mask. What you see is what you get. We're five people playing music, hoping for a connection with an audience. That, in itself, is the reward.

PB: Thank you.

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