Musicians are not famed for their humility, but Hertfordshire’s mustbejohn has it in spades – along with a charming authenticity, and a willing need to create. His grounded outlook is not for lack of success – the lad has racked up millions of streams online, enjoyed numerous spins on Radio 1, and collaborated with names including Joe James and Feux.
Honesty and artistic flair also seep into the music. His songs capture the essence of what it is to be young in Britain today, through lyrics flavoured by beer, nostalgia and harmless hedonism. His first single ‘Jenny’s House’ seized hearts, minds, and dancing feet with its hazy groove. Since then, mustbejohn has released two stellar EPs, experimenting with a crazy variety of beats and candidly exploring the experiences of himself and his mates. His three recent singles ‘Romance in Great Britain’, ‘New Gen’ and ‘Days Feel Like Seconds’ all squarely hit the mark, and demonstrate the wordsmith's versatility in style and subject.
We caught up with him to talk music, creativity and heatwave survival tips.
Hi there mustbejohn, how’s life at the moment?
Things are going sick at the moment! But I do feel a bit like I’m always working on the next thing, on things that won’t happen for another three months. I’m working part-time and it's all a bit hectic I can’t lie, but it’s also what I want to do.
Do you feel like you need to appreciate the moment a bit more?
Yeah, I definitely need to get better at that. But I feel like recently I have been, especially at shows – I’m starting to really enjoy them. Like the feeling when people are singing the lyrics back at you, I’m learning to take it all in a bit more.
And you just got back from performing in Portugal – that’s crazy! How was it?
Yeah, 48 hours in Lisbon – it was nuts! That was at NOS festival. It was the first time I’d been to Portugal and the first time I’d performed abroad. There were some people that knew the words as well. I remember this one lad that I spoke to afterwards because he knew ‘Raining Colours’ word for word. I expected him to be British but he was from Portugal which is crazy.
You’ve done quite a bit of collaborative work now, with people like Feux and Joe James – do you enjoy that experience? Any trouble with creative differences?
Yeah I do really enjoy it. It brings something different to the song and it's exciting for the listeners. When my favourite artists have got a new collaboration it can be a nice surprise, so I want to give that as well. You get different ideas coming in. And I don’t think creative differences are necessarily a bad thing, as long as you can understand where each other's coming from. Feedback is so important.
Your recent single ‘Days Feel Like Seconds’ feels like the ideal summer tune. Is that what you were going for?
Yeah, definitely. Sonically it's one of my favourite tunes – it's not the longest or the wordiest but I just like the vibe to it. I wanted it to come out in the summer so it was either now or we would've had to wait till next year.
That’s 3 singles in a row now – have you got a date for the next EP?
Nah no date yet! We’ve got a couple more singles to do, but a project should be out towards the end of the summer.
Moving on to your lyrics – they always sound completely genuine. Where does your inspiration come from?
Everything you have heard from me is something that has happened to me, one of my mates, or some story I’ve heard at the pub – any kind of story. I can find it hard to write if there’s nothing going on because I can’t just sit there and waffle.
Are the characters in your songs, like Jenny and Lucy, based on real people?
Yeah they are – I couldn’t name them though haha.
I wouldn’t ask you to do that!
I feel like everyone knows a Jenny, everyone knows a Lucy – it's more about who they are to you.
Your beats aren’t typical UK rap or hip-hop beats, they’re usually much more dancey. Is that a conscious decision?
It is and it isn’t. I do know that I’m sometimes choosing more of a house beat when someone else might pick a hip-hop beat. But naturally, I’ll swing towards those sorts of beats – even if I wanna say something mad depressing. I like the juxtaposition between people dancing in the rave and what I’m saying.
What did you go out to back in the day?
A mixture – I remember dirty squat raves in the under 18 times where they played hardcore DnB. As I got older, I would go anywhere. There isn’t a lot of music in the pubs around where I’m from, and I don’t really like the music in clubs. I started going to more events and hearing more housey stuff, which definitely affected me and what I wanted to make.
Are live performances important to you?
100%. Like when we played NASS, I was super grateful to all the heads that had come to watch, cos they could be watching so many other people. I always get anxious before, but when it’s done and I meet the supporters in real life – that’s undefeated. I appreciate all the love on the socials but it's so different seeing people in real life.
Favourite live show?
The headline show at Colours, Hoxton was such a moment. That was the biggest crowd we’ve had, and the first time my mum and dad came to see a show. I felt like I had everyone there so it was sick.
Do you think about trying to recreate the success of ‘Jenny’s House’ and ‘Raining Colours’?
It is a pressure, but no one wants to hear the same song twice. You’ve just got to make what you want – my three biggest tunes are nothing alike. Sometimes people don’t know what they want to hear until they hear it. You stress so much less about numbers when you’re genuinely happy with the songs you’re putting out. It's all about being emotionally invested in the song.
It's Friday night – any plans?
I’ve got work after this, and we’ve got a show later tonight in Peckham. Then tomorrow we’re at Beavertown Brewery, just something to say thanks for all the love.
Any other big things coming up?
Only thing I can announce is the festival in Germany we’re playing on the 30th of July.
Finally, have you got any tips for surviving the heatwave? It’s supposed to be 40 degrees on Monday!
[Head in hands] I’ve got a session on Monday! Plenty of water and grab a beer in your local pub garden would be my advice.
Good advice John, cheers!