Sound Seekers

NEW RELEASE: The Johnnies tap into rock history with good vibes and local shout-outs

Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani

The Johnnies, L-R: Mel Sturk (Johnny Jump-Up), Sarah Wotherspoon (Johnny Tonic), Christine Majid (Johnny Mental), and Devin Cook (Johnny Money). Photo by Steve Taylor

HERE’S … THE JOHNNIES!

Johnny Ramone was a hard-ass. Johnny Lydon reminded us all that “anger is an energy,” while Johnny Marr, during The Smiths’ heyday, was known for his boundless enthusiasm. The lore of Johnny Cash, meanwhile, is firmly entrenched in his Man in Black moniker.

Thinking about the Johnnies of rock history— and there are many — conjures up images of Brylcreem and bad boys, of simple chord structures, and getting soused.

Tapping into that arcana is Ottawa four-piece The Johnnies. They formed in 2009 and play three-chord rock tunes about drinking, fighting, and making out. The songs are set in Ottawa locales and play up all the good vibes of group dynamics. Centretown Porch Sit is a feel-good, yay-for-summer tune that incorporates the names of their friends in each verse.

Sparks on Sparks is about a first-date at Ribfest, while Broke Down Flora is about getting your gear stolen — a true tale of woe, based on the theft of a pile of guitars and amps that belonged to The Allrights, the band that Johnny Jump-Up (aka Mel Sturk) plays with.

In addition to the band name The Johnnies, there are other shout outs to rock history. Johnny Jump-Up cranks out tunes on a Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker, Johnny Mental (aka Christine Majid) has a down stroke that recalls Johnny Ramone’s legendary strum style, Johnny Money (aka Devin Cook) has the low-end covered, while Johnny Tonic (Sarah Wotherspoon) gives the punk’s birdsong countdown of 1-2-3-4 with her drumsticks.

With a common name like The Johnnies, you can perhaps tap into the so-called blood harmony implied by a shared moniker à la Ramones.

The bruddas influence is front and centre in the music of The Johnnies. They wear it as fondly as The Riff Randells did. The Vancouver band formed in 1999 in homage to the central character of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, the movie starring The Ramones. (Diehard fans may note that Johnny Money has an uncanny resemblance to Kate Rambeau, Riff Randell’s BFF in the film).

The Riff Randells were all an all-girl band for most of their duration (they had a male vocalist for a stint) and often had to answer to the novelty of it all. That’s something The Johnnies are hoping to shake off.

“It’s frustrating that it’s a novelty,” Johnny Jump-Up says. “We never wanted to play up that aspect, but it’s really hard for people to get that because it’s marketable. When we get introduced on stage or on the radio, the host will say, ‘up next the all-girl band The Johnnies.’ It always comes out.

“That’s why the name reflects that concern. We don’t want to perpetuate the idea that an all-girl band is a novelty.”

But there is plenty of novelty in joshing around about Johnny monikers, like an offline name generator game that the band tends to play. A fan who dances at all of the shows was crowned Johnny Gogo, for instance. A family member in Newfoundland is Johnny St. John’s, and so on.

The Johnnies name taps into a rock and roll spirit and offers a kind of guise.

“It’s fun to have Johnny names, because maybe people can’t tell we’re women,” Jump-Up says. “I don’t want people coming to the shows because I have boobs. I want them to go because they like what we’re doing.”

This weekend, The Johnnies are releasing two songs with Pretty Bad Records, an Ottawa label that releases only singles on 45s.

Saturday, Feb. 4. 10 p.m., $5. Dominion Tavern, 33 York St. With The Shakey Aches and The Polymorphines.

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