Hailing from Reading Pennsylvania, Johnny Action Figure is a truly special band that should not be lumped in with the saturated “indie” scene. Their catchy melodies and infectious vocal harmonies will find a way to win over the most jaded of music elitists. Johnny Action Figure has put out two studio recordings so far, a self titled release in 2004, and “Johnny Action Figure Asks The Room To Please Stop Spinning” in 2006.
Their success has caused them to open for such leading acts as Something Corporate, Wilco, Senses Fail, and The Get Up Kids. Having the opportunity to interview with vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Chris Sheehan, The Quad was able to gain insight into Johnny Action Figure.
When asked why the band was formed and how, Sheehan said, “Brendan (Fullam, guitar/vocals) and I started the band together in early high school, around 2000. We had things to say as young teenagers, and wanted to get that out in song form.”
The band has been together for eight years as of now, and the lineup has stayed consistent for two years.
While the band is not technically signed to a record label, they were able to team up with a local label from their hometown of Reading known as DRP Records. Thanks to DRP Records, and their good friend Frank Phobia, Johnny Action Figure were able to put out their 2006 EP.
“It was our first new material released in a few years and it was a great step for us.”
A brand new full length album is currently in the works that will be completed under the band’s own direction and production.
One may wonder, “how does Johnny Action Figure go about creating the sound for their albums?” Sheehan’s answer was the band’s style comes from a wide range of influence.
For example, nods are taken from such 60’s and 70’s acts including The Beach Boys, Steely Dan, and Elvis Costello. More contemporary bands also mold the sound of Johnny Action Figure ranging from My Morning Jacket and The Anniversary.
The wide spectrum of influences explains Johnny Action Figure’s core sound. As Sheehan stated, “It definitely revolves around melody. We have three of us who sing in the band in some way, so there’s a lot of harmony and use of vocals as an instrument.”
One can see the concept of Johnny Action Figure’s sound in their “Your Fortune’s Gonna Leave You.”
This piece shows off the bands knack for making unique melodies and vocal harmonies that hark back to the soundscapes created by the Beach Boys.
The chorus is one that will etch its self into your head for weeks after hearing it only a few times. “Your Fortune’s Gonna Leave You” was also made into a music video, as was their song “Loose Our Face.” “Loose Our Face” features the same attention to vocal harmonies, while containing a catchy jangling guitar riff supported by a driving bass rhythm supported by keyboards adding a sense of lushness to the piece.
Musicians are not the only influence to Johnny Action Figure.
“We also draw personal influence from comedians like Woody Allen, Ricky Gervais, and Bill Murray,” says Sheehan.
This influence probably explains why when The Quad asked how the band went about choosing the name of the band Sheehan said, “It’s a lost mystery buried beneath the sands of time, kind of like Indiana Jones.”
Like any band, Johnny Action Figure has their highpoints and low moments of being together. Great moments are when they play a great show and fans come up to them to let them know that they really enjoy the band’s music.
What about the low points to being in a band? Sheehan said that has to be eating horrible food while on the road, and filling up their van’s gas tank. Despite the issues with being on the road, touring is still matters to Johnny Action Figure.
“We love being on the road. We’ve had some great times on our self-booked US tours over the past year or two. These days, however, there are so many other avenues for promoting your band besides touring, that being on the road isn’t as important as it once was. But there’s always something to be said about getting in front of crowds and playing live, for sure,” Sheehan said.
One matter that is growing increasingly problematic in the music industry is illegal downloading.
However, Sheehan says that at this point in the band’s career downloading can only help the band by getting the word out about the band.
“We’re not making substantial amounts of money from our music at this point, so it really wouldn’t be making a difference for us now.
Although I don’t necessarily agree with people who think that, for some reason, music should be free,” said Sheehan.
As one knows, the “indie rock” scene is flooded with bands, and Johnny Action Figure acknowledges that. Sheehan said that there are a lot of bands out there, and the same bands tend to fall into the same musical habits as the next band. It can be a challenge to stand out from the rest of the pack.
“We just stay focused on doing what comes naturally to us, and hopefully people catch onto that.”
When The Quad asked if there are any difficulties to being in a band that one may not recognize, Sheehan said it is incredibly hard to get noticed by the people that would be able to get the band to the next level in their career. Yet Sheehan is optimistic in his views.
“But we work together, four people trying to steer a ship toward a certain goal. It can be trying, but in the end it’s worth it.”
Johnny Action Figure is a band that everyone should check out if they get the chance. Sheehan’s last words of the interview were, “Come see us play live! Meet us, let us meet you. And check out myspace.com/johnnyactionfigure,” words that one should follow if one wants to be pleasantly surprised when they experience Johnny Action Figure.
Devon Czekaj is a first year student. He can be reached at DC678434@wcupa.edu.