As Posted on NeonNettle.com
Neon Nettle Chats To Lead Singer Johnny Dean Of Menswe@r
Autism, reforming the group and EDM collaborations
After a fifteen-year hiatus, Britpop band Menswe@r reformed in April last year with new members and their much loved original sound. Lead singer and creator Johnny Dean was diagnosed with autism aged 38 in 2008 and ever since has made it his mission to raise awareness and help other adult sufferers get the help they need.
Neon Nettle caught up with founding member Johnny Dean to talk about his diagnosis, the future for the band and their new music.
NN: When did you decide to reform Menswe@r & why?
JD: It was kind of a whim, totally unplanned. I hadn’t been on stage for a long time and never really expected to ever get back on one. Someone contacted me asking if I’d do a show for charity, the National Autistic Society. He’s a big Menswe@r fan and ran a Britpop themed night in North London called Nuisance. I have a form of autism, so I said yes. His idea was to play Menswe@r stuff, but I didn’t want to do that. It was 2013, the year of the recent Bowie comeback, so I suggested we cover him because he has been a huge influence on me. So we did a massive set with some Menswe@r stuff at the end. It was somewhat ramshackle, but went down really well and raised lots of cash. The thing I didn’t expect to happen was that I really enjoyed it.
Then another opportunity presented itself to do another gig for a mental health charity. The group I have, a lot of them were Menswe@r fans, so this time we did Menswe@r material. At the Bowie gig we played as “Johnny Dean & the Nuisance Band”, but for this show, I thought we might as well do it as Menswe@r. I pretty much put the original band line up together, gave it its identity, fronted it; so I figured if it’s me singing Menswe@r songs, then it’s Menswe@r. It was really a whim. I thought it would be nice to do it and have some fun. The first time round, it wasn’t such a great experience for me, something I’m not sure the original line up fully appreciated. So it felt right to take it by the rough of the neck and just do it for the sheer hell of it. With people who, as fans, would get a real kick out of it. There really were no other reasons…
NN: You enjoyed great success in the past, what was the highlight for you with the original line up?
JD: Yeah, it’s weird that, the success thing because there’s been a LOT of rewriting of the past recently. The whole Twenty Years of Britpop thing? But y’know, I was there, experienced it, so it doesn’t really matter to me what people write about it now. So many people have varying views on the whole thing. I’m not sure if it was an actual thing to be honest. I know what I think; I can’t speak for anyone else. I have many, many memories and mine might not fit with someone else’s, but there’s two sides to every coin.
I met some cool people and I met some terrible villains, they all know who they are deep down, I’m sure. I kind of started to distance myself from the original guys not that long after we signed a record deal. I guess it all overwhelmed me and I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of the decisions that were being made. I wasn’t happy with some of the behavior; I felt marginalised very quickly. So I started doing stuff I shouldn’t have, a bit too much and spiralled. There were some good bits. I think playing live were the bits I liked best; that’s when I felt comfortable. That’s why I wanted to do it in the first place.
NN: What led to the original split and prevented you using the old line-up?
JD: We were a band that got together very quickly out of necessity. The core was there, a couple of songs, but we had a gig coming up and needed personnel. Journalists had already been writing about us. Menswe@r was a buzzword with A&R men. We had a few weeks to get a full band together, get a manager and write more material. It was a case of ringing this guy and getting that guy. Random. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t give you time to get to know each other. You just strap in and hope for the best. It was doomed. It was always going to fall apart and it began to do that before we even put pen to paper on a contract. I guess in that sense it was exciting, but stressful too. Personality clashes, misplaced trust, drugs, paranoia, machinations, the whole deal. If someone had died we would have got the full house.
A reunited original line up? Well, a few years ago we did all meet up with that in mind, but it came to nothing. I still had trust issues with some of them and my gut was screaming “No!” Events since that meeting have proven me right, but good luck to them all. I hope they live long, happy, stress free and productive lives. Sincerely.
NN: Was it complicated gathering a band around again?
JD: No. I basically gave Steve Horry, who presently plays guitar, the instructions to find me a group of people who weren’t cunts. And it’s not yet clear to me whether it’s a permanent line up or concern. I like fluidity; I want to try things out. I’m not necessarily going to conform to the traditions of what makes a band. It’s about the tunes. I just want to write songs with people, I like it. I like to coax people into doing something that will make me sit up and get creative. I find it exciting.
NN: What influenced your decision to make your comeback single ‘Crash ‘14’?
JD: Crash was first demoed in early ’96, but we didn’t release it as a properly recorded track. The demo was put out as an extra track on one of the CD releases of ‘We Love You’. I thought it was the best thing we’d done. It was going in the right direction I felt; harder, interesting. All the right references. So with this new Menswe@r I thought it would be nice to revisit it and do it some justice and I think we did. I’m very proud of it. I don’t see it as a comeback. This whole thing, it’s not a comeback at all. It feels more like unfinished business.
NN: How do you feel the music industry has changed since the 90s, when you first started the band?
JD: There is a lot less money being thrown about for sure. Ha! It’s not my thing really. I’m just concerned with melody, sound, rhythm, communicating through art. That can of worms is none of my business. I have opinions on it all, but none really worth sharing.
NN: How different has the response to Menswe@r been this time around?
JD: It couldn’t be more different. Less pressure this time; that is for certain. But in some respects, still the same old bullshit; that’s how it is though.
NN: You recently spoke out about being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome as an adult, first of all, which term do you feel most comfortable using Aspergers or Autism and why?
JD: Both. They’re one and the same. I’d hate to think that anyone would feel more comfortable using one rather than the other. You should be able to say either or both and feel proud about it, which I do.
NN: What prompted you to get a diagnosis in 2008?
JD: Because nearly forty years of struggling every day started to take its toll, enough was enough. I needed to do something or clock off. Those were my options and I decided to fight.
NN: Were you surprised by the diagnosis? How did you feel at the time?
JD: No. I’d been fairly convinced I was autistic since I first heard about Asperger’s Syndrome in the early noughties. I just felt silly about it, which was stupid of me. Getting diagnosed was the best thing I’ve done in my life. The relief was immense.
NN: Did you always suspect your diagnosis and why?
JD: Yes I did because I had always been at odds with the world. None of it made the slightest sense to me. My entire life, up until diagnosis, was like trying to ram a square peg into a round hole. The slightest thing could send me into a spiral of madness or catatonia; everything was a huge effort. Like HUGE. Monolithic. Sometimes I can still slip, there’s nothing I can do about that, it happens. But I have better coping skills now, through therapy.
NN: What do you feel have been the main changes in your life since your diagnosis?
JD: Knowing who I am. That is a gift most people will never receive.
NN: How do you think having Asperger’s has affected you as a youth and adult over the years?
JD: It’s hard for me to say. It’s something that can affect those around you nearly as much. That’s something people don’t often address. It’s an adventure at times that’s for sure. It can get a bit fresh, a bit bumpy. The worst thing for me was the depression that was symptomatic of being undiagnosed and it’s something I still have to keep an eye on. Often neurological “disorders” come with other surprises and I have had my share. I’m fairly sure I also have dyspraxia, which is, quite literally, a pain at times. I’m also diagnosed as having OCD and suffer from social phobia. The latter I’m getting better at dealing with. It’s certainly challenging.
NN: How do you feel your condition has benefited your career?
JD: It hasn’t. It didn’t. I don’t think it has. I see things differently I guess, translate things differently, see the world from a different perspective. I’m not sure if it’s an advantage.
NN: Do you think music helped you?
JD: Yes and not just music, just creating. I’m a very creative person and if that part of me is repressed I become extremely depressed. I need that outlet. It’s a wonderful way for someone like me to express myself without having to use traditional forms of communication; like talking, which is actually challenging for me.
NN: Did you always keep going with your music during those tough times?
JD: I didn’t, I gave up music for fifteen years. I stopped being creative. I repressed it all because I was scared of what happened the first time around. I tried to do a 9 to 5, temping, anything that wasn’t artistic. I became more miserable. I became tired. I wanted to die. I wanted everything to stop. I ended up in hospital on a psychiatric ward. I made a choice right then based solely on the fact that I wanted to get out and see my cat. I told a doctor about my suspicions of having autism; I began to recover. I had to fight a little, but it was worth it.
NN: Do you have any of the special interests that are typical for some people with Aspergers Syndrome?
JD: Kind of yeah; much more as a kid. I’m a bastard for collecting stuff.
NN: You became involved in the Push For Action campaign and your petition to the government – can you explain to readers what that’s about and how you think autism should be dealt with?
JD: Push For Action was about getting much needed support in communities for adults with autistic conditions. There’s quite a lot of support for children, but for adults it’s not so good. Which is a problem because autistic children will one day be autistic adults. Autism doesn’t go away. The Autism Bill passed in 2009 was meant to ensure this happened, adult support, but it didn’t really do what it was meant to. So the National Autistic Society launched the Push campaign to let parliament know the bill was failing and it needed revising.
I was happy to support the campaign, as someone who has experienced the rigmarole of adult diagnosis. The petition was handed in to number 10 by myself and other campaigners and the bill has been revised. I’m happy to support anything the National Autistic Society does because they are awesome.
I could write paragraphs about how autism should be dealt with, but it all comes down to a couple of essentials. People with autism deserve every chance to have a full and productive life and are entitled to all the support their local services should be providing to ensure this happens. Anything else is unacceptable. Also, tolerance and respect, it’s not much to ask for.
NN: What else do you feel could be done for kids and adults when they are diagnosed?
JD: There’s so much, so much. But right now, it’s a learning process. The important thing, I feel, is to listen to those who have autistic conditions and to stick to the facts about what we know for certain about autism. There’s so much misinformation out there. Everyone thinks they’re an expert and right now, not even the experts are experts. I’ve met a lot of pricks who’ve tried to tell me about autism and don’t know the first thing, it’s insulting. LISTEN. FIND OUT. BE A BIT MORE SENSITIVE.
NN: How does it feel to have all to be back on stage at festivals and performances lined up over the summer?
JD: Excellent. Like I’ve already said, it’s where I feel comfortable. Whether it’s playing to a couple of drunk blokes or a sold out crowd. Obviously the latter is best, but sometimes it’s beneficial to have to dig deep and find the energy.
NN: What can we expect from a Menswe@r live show?
JD: People should come to one and find out.
NN: In the past, you’ve spoken about being a fan of electronic music, any plans to collaborate with any EDM artists? Or make dance music?
JD: I want to make all kinds of music. Why restrict yourself? It’s all good. Whatever you want to do, do it, whenever you want. That’s what loving music is really about, otherwise it becomes a rule making process… this is good, this is not and that can fuck off. That’s for boorish dullards; that isn’t loving music. That’s being a dick.
NN: Finally, who do you reckon will take home the World Cup this year?
JD: Well, I think it’s already been decided by FIFA that Brazil should win it…
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