Chron Gen – Interview with Jon ‘JJ’ Johnson

December 2016
Email Interview by Sabrina Selkis

Where would Britain be without punk? One of its most influential band, Chron Gen, reformed in 2013, are still having great success. Original member, JJ, drummer, gave us a good insight of how it feels to be back and what makes punk relevant today.

Before being Chron Gen, what were you doing? What inspired you to form the band and who started it?

Back in 1978, Glynn and I formed a band called The Condemned while we were
still at school. At that time, I sang and Glynn played the drums. We
played the usual punk covers plus any other songs we managed to work the
chords out to, Lou Reed, Bowie, Ramones etc! Just before we left school,
Glynn picked up a guitar and started writing his own songs (three chord
stuff mostly). I switched to the drums.

After we left school we got together with two other guys from another local
band, Jon Thurlow (guitar) and Pete Dimmock (bass) and managed to get a few
local gigs, although The Condemned just didn’t sound right to us. One of
our earliest songs was called Chronic Generation, which at the time sounded
fairly apt, so we decided to call the band Chronic Generation. A lot of our
friends used to come and watch our rehearsals and would often ask when Chron
Gen were rehearsing next (probably because they couldn’t be bothered to
use/say the full name). It gradually dawned on us that Chron Gen was
different and unusual but sounded fairly cool, so we decided to name the
band Chron Gen. It’s also a good conversation / interview topic because a
lot of people ask us what it stands for.
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In your opinion, what are the main changes now in the Punk scene compared to the 80s when you started?

I think the word and the genre ‘Punk’ has such a broader meaning now. It’s
so diverse and is now recognised (and accepted) worldwide. I think it
started to become acceptable to society decades ago, I mean, who’d have
thought that a punk band (The Clash) would perform at stadiums in America
supporting The Who!!!? The likes of The Ramones, Blondie, The Police, The
Cure and more recently, The Chilli Peppers, Green Day and Blink 182, made
punk so much more accepted and commercial.

Of course, punk still has it’s hard-core roots and followers, you only have
to visit the hugely successful Rebellion Festival in the UK or any one of
the Punk Rock Bowling Festivals in the U.S for confirmation of that
However, with social media, the ease with which it is to record music today,
on computers and even mobile phones via apps etc, and given the vast number
of events and issues going on in the world currently, it’s easy to see why
there are so many bands worldwide still calling themselves a punk band and
writing songs about things that affect them.

What is your best memory when you began touring?

There are so many great memories of touring. It was the excitement of being
in a van with four great friends, travelling to places we would never have
gone to otherwise, paying our songs and meeting so many people who actually
wanted to listen to what you were playing. I think the two most memories
were: The Apocalypse Now Tour in 1981. It was the first time we went out
and played around the UK. We couldn’t actually believe we were part of it.
Driving around the UK playing gigs in large venues with The Exploited,
Discharge and Anti Pasti. It was amazing. Our tour in America in 1982 was
a fantastic experience. I still remember Glynn and I sitting on the plane
saying to each other “how did two herberts from a council estate manage to
be going to America to play some gigs.” Even today, we still talk about it
occasionally!

What motivated you to write and release your new album “This Is The Age”?

The band originally split up in 1984. However, in the mid 90’s we were
invited to play a few reunion gigs, maybe three or four years apart. A few
years back, we played in Berlin and this inspired Glynn to start writing a
few new songs. He would record them as demo’s in his home studio. He
played a few tracks to Roy and myself and we all agreed that we should
record them as a band.

The feedback from the album has been mostly positive. The album has been
described as what you would expect Chron Gen to sound like 30 years on. It
was often said in the music press of the day that we were never typical of
many of the bands we shared stages with in the early 80’s – our sound was
always different – more melodic. This album keeps the Chron Gen roots, but
has a modern feel, with thought provoking lyrics on subjects ranging from
the events following 911 to the UK riots of 2011, and then a whole mix in
between.
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The Phoenix symbol on the cover has an obvious meaning of rebirth, how have you been feeling since then?

The Phoenix rising from the flames represents the fact that there is still
tension in the world but you can rise above it, and for us, it’s about a new
era, optimism and the opportunity for us to hopefully give people something
they enjoy when they listen to our album or have those same ‘feel good’
emotions after watching us play live. The reviews and reactions we’ve had
recently live have certainly borne this out. 

You recorded “This Is The Age” at home, how was this process? Would you do it again?

Having never embarked on anything like this before, it took a couple of
years, purely because we had no experience in the technical side of actually
making an album; we learnt as we went along really. However, having total
control over the recording process, we were finally able to get the
production we were looking for without being limited by budget – it was a
much more relaxed process. The production is our best yet – a natural, live
feel with a driving rhythm section and the guitar sound we always wanted.
We have kept it faithful to the Chron Gen roots (melodic and catchy), but
with a modern feel and thought provoking lyrics.

Would we do it again..? Well the jury’s out on that one! No
seriously, it all depends on what the future holds.

Now, could you tell us about your video for the track “Jump”, how did you enjoy filming it? Who participated to it?

Jump is about making the most of what we have and not being brought down by
negativity around us – if you don’t like something; walk away. If others
don’t get you; that’s their problem.

The video was filmed in various locations around Hitchin and a big thanks
must go out to film professionals Gary Durham, Christian McCormack and their
team for making it all happen and the guys who provided the workshop and the
amazing car.

We had a lot of fun making it. It was an eye-opening, but great experience
for us – our first video. We’d definitely like to do another!
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You played in London earlier this year, at the 100 club, great gig?

Yes it was. It was our first gig back there since 1982. It’s such an
iconic venue and playing to an enthusiastic crowd and with our friends from
Vice Squad and The Defects made it a great night.

What is/are your favourite song(s) to play live and for what reason?

Personally, I enjoy playing all our songs. The opening two, Lies and Jet
Boy, Jet Girl, get the crowd involved straight away as they join in. For
me though, I like playing Outlaw. It’s the song we’re best known for and
one of my favourite CG songs.

Also you have been very successful playing in California, what are the highlights of playing there apart the weather?

We went out in May and it was absolutely amazing! We played a number of sell-out gigs in California and did the closing show for the Punk Rock Bowling festival in Las Vegas with The Angelic Upstarts. The people that came to the gigs were late teens/early twenties – they knew all our songs and frankly, we couldn’t believe the reaction we received. We sold more tee shirts than ever before and the crowds went absolutely crazy when we played. It was like the height of the UK scene. The last time we played the U.S. was in ’82 – probably to the parents of the guys that came to see us this time around. There is a great scene in California, and some amazing people. There are already plans in motion for us to return to the States next year.

There is a show confirmed at the “No Future festival” in Bristol next year, what can your fans expect?

It’s a gig we’re really looking forward to as it’s been well over thirty
years since we played in Bristol. The set will include many of our old
songs with a handful of new songs from This Is The Age mixed in.

Rebellion Festival : What does it mean for Chron Gen?

It’s an amazing Festival and we were lucky enough to feature on the first
one in 1996 as well as help to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.
The atmosphere is fantastic; so many people and bands coming together to
have fun, party and celebrate everything that is great about Punk Rock.
There were a number of people who saw us play in California last Summer and
had always wanted to come over to the UK to experience Rebellion. Well some
of them made it and took the time to come up to us for a chat, beer and
photo’s. That says it all about this Festival, what it means to us and why
we will continue to play there for as long as we’re asked to. 

What goes on tour stays on tour I know but is there an exception to the rule you would share with us?

…If you tour overseas, make sure you have a ticket home and don’t have
to pawn your bass guitar to make up the airfare back!

That’s more advice really, I couldn’t possibly divulge anything that could
result in law suits, criminal proceedings, books being written or a movie
being made… actually, the last two may have some mileage!

Anything else you would like to say? 

2016 has been a fantastic year for us, we’ve had a great time. Having the
opportunity to do this again is a real privilege which we are very grateful
for, so thank you to everyone that has supported us. Recording the album has
motivated us to do more gigs. Our live performance is driving and energetic
– we give it our best at every show – it is the very least that the people
who come to see us deserve. We enjoy playing together and I think that comes
across.

Basically, we’re four mates enjoying being together and just enjoying the
ride for as long as people want to ride along with us!

For more about the band:
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