John Hancock on ANR's New Album, Recording With Justin Bieber, and the End of the World

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In addition to orchestrating alternative pop epics, Awesome New Republic also makes jokes, constantly reminding us that "we're humans, not furniture." And so, when we call ANR's John Hancock, he immediately starts riffing. "You're calling from Miami New Times? Miami's home for information, culture, and events?" 

A few weeks ago, the band opened for Yeasayer to rave reviews and big laughs. But if you're more into catching live music and comedy of the free persuasion, ANR will be giving fans a preview of its upcoming album Stay Kids at Sweat Records tonight. Go.  

First, though, check the cut for the rest of Crossfade's coversation with Hancock. Topics include humble beginnings, gracing the pages of NYLON, and capturing Justin Bieber's target audience.

New Times: How does it feel to get more on a national recognition? There's a feature on ANR coming out in November's issue of NYLON. I also know you guys have been in Filter and you even did a video for Seventeen, which cracked me up.

John Hancock: Yeah. Yeah, we did that. One of my childhood friends is an editor there. That was partly why that happened.

It came out really cute, though.

Yeah, it was fun. All that stuff is fun. Kind of silly, you know. And fun. It's all fun. You never, like, start making music and start a band so that you can play acoustically at Seventeen magazine headquarters. But, you know, somehow I end up doing those sorts of things. [Laughs]

Well, it's good to expand your fan base. That way maybe you can steal some fans from Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers and everyone else, and expand those girls' horizons.

Absolutely. Justin Bieber is awesome. I didn't think so until I saw him play a drum solo on MTV. Have you seen him play drums? Yeah. I taped that [this year's VMAs] and was just fast forwarding to see if anything was interesting. And yeah, he was really good.

Speaking of kids, tell me about your new album with ANR, Stay Kids.

[Laughs]. Well it's written and produced by Justin Bieber. Umm, no. [Laughs] It's this record we started making at the beginning of this year.

It's supposed to come out in October. But have you decided on an exact release date yet?

It's actually not coming out in October now. We initially said it was going to come out in October before we really had any opportunity to put it out in any way other than on a small scale ourselves. We started working with this label out in England called FIC and they're putting it out in November. We're working with them and they have it planned and everything. So it's only a month later.

Is it going to be released on vinyl-only like you did with your most recent solo record? Or are you going to release it digitally and on CD, too?

I think at first it's going to come out digitally at the end of November and then it'll be available for sure in stores, like, in January or February on LP and probably CD. I mean, I dunno. I guess people still buy CDs? You're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't put some CDs out.

Yeah, of course. Is it a departure from your previous albums at all? I heard a few of the tracks and it sounded a little like your earlier stuff.

Yeah. It's definitely a departure from a lot of the stuff we did last year. It's kind of similar to the first album that we made. It's kind of like that album's big brother or something. 'Cause it's kind of conceptual, and that whole album's thing was about a couple of people dying in one week when we were writing it. This album is all about the disaster in Haiti, the Gulf Coast disaster, and all of that. Also, it uproots this paranoid idea of Miami flooding sometime in the future.

Well, Miami has been flooding with all of the rain. But it's more, like, just South Beach.

Yeah. But, like, a mega flood. Like the flood to end all floods. [Laughs] That's what the album is about. It's mostly about that stuff. There's like a love song on there, but it's mostly about....

A love song about flooding?

[Laughs]. No, it's kind of about... It's like a bunch of Carl Sagan quotes incorporated into like a love song. So it's somewhat about the universe.

Oh, wow. So you're incorporating all of nature, then, from natural disasters to the universe and space.

Mm-hmm. Well, we hang out with scientists a lot, so they really get in our heads and freak us out about stuff, and we end up not being able to think about stuff and we just write about that. [Laughs]

Your solo album shows a much softer side in contrast to ANR's usual "get up and dance" vibe. But now, from what you're saying, it sounds like this will be a softer album too, and going back to your origins.

Yeah, I guess. Not necessarily going back. But the album is called Stay Kids and that's sort of the idea of staying youthful and not being cynical and hardened by the realities of modern society. [It's also] a desire to think about, "Well, what were we thinking when we decided to start a band in the first place?" We weren't really thinking about anything other than making a cool CD that we could burn for our friends. That old stuff is just a pure intention, I guess [Laughs] That solo album is the same kind of thing. Originally, I just made it for my friends.

But now you're touring with a full band and everything.

Yeah, we're playing Bar next Thursday. I'm starting to make another solo record with this guy Mike McGinnis who's playing with this band Plains and Jared from Coral Morphologic. He's, like, sort of producing. Like, actually we're roommates and we're just friends. But we're kind of playing with the idea of a pop arty album kind of thing.

Wow. So are you guys going to be called John Hancock and Friends as well? Or is this something else?

Well, we're trying to come up with a name for the band. You know, like right now we're calling the band John Hancock and the Deadly Arm. It's like the CIA or the deadly arm of settlements or something like that. There's an earlier song from my first solo album called "The Deadly Arm." That's what it's from. But yeah ... I mean, whenever I can get some of those players. It's a pretty traditional thing still where the solo person does it all in the studio and then they just play the parts live, you know? We kind of just settled on a lineup.

How many people will be in the band?

It's four ... Four or five and me? Yeah. Much smaller than the first time we played, which was like 11, which is a lot of fun.

I can imagine, but the setup and taking everything down ....

Yeah, plus practice is really frustrating with that many people who are all friends with each other.

So how are you separating your solo performances with a full band and your solo album from ANR, time-wise? Will we be seeing an even mix of both John Hancock and Friends, John Hancock and the Deadly Arm, and ANR performances in the near future, or is one band going to sort of give way for the other?

I hope not. I don't really have a lot going on besides music. [Laughs] So that's kind of plenty of time to make a lot of it. For now, the John Hancock band that I've got -- the little five piece -- whether or not it's called John Hancock and Friends or John Hancock and the Deadly Arm, or whatever, right now that's kind of just more of a local thing. [And] ANR ... We're going on tour in November and on tour in January. Thus, the definition of side project.

Is B-Rob going to be in the side project as well, or just in ANR?

Yeah, he plays bass in it. Yeah, he just does what I tell him to do in that band in opposition to dominating our band. [Laughs]

So how do you guys decide what to play at your shows, given your extensive discography?

As far as just picking the stuff we play live, we try to think about it. In general, outside of Miami, we're used to playing for people who aren't really that familiar with us that they would be, like, "Oh my God, they didn't play this!" or something. [Laughs] Whereas down here, a couple of people say that. For the most part, people who follow us are aware of the fact that we go through a lot of material and we try to stay in what we're working on in the moment when we play live. So we don't really play old stuff that often.

Then what are you going to play at tonight's show at Sweat? Are you going to do your new album strictly? Or are you going to play old favorites, as well?

Umm, we'll play pretty much the new album, a couple of other songs that [aren't on it] that are even newer and we dusted off some old stuff, too. Other than that, we have our friends digitally filming the show and we're recording it on audio. So basically, we set the show up to try to document a set of ours.

So almost like a CD-listening party, so everyone can hear it before it's released.

Yeah, that, plus we were thinking ... even if you have like one fan in Kuwait, they can watch your set on the computer if they like your music. That's kind of what we were thinking: it would be good to film our show and to film the vibe, so they can see what shows are like in Miami. I think Lauren [Reskin] was talking about doing something basically with that idea and try to document bands performing at Sweat to promote groups through the internet with their live videos.

Awesome New Republic with a special guest. Sweat Records, 5505 NE 2nd Ave, Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and it's free. All ages are welcome. Visit sweatrecordsmiami.com.


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