Liverpool singer-songwriter John Witherspoon is capturing audiences with his big-hearted and distinctively personal songs. Chiefly inspired by icons Dylan, Paul Simon and The Beatles, an adherence to old-school songwriting methods (such as the raw materials of guitar and piano) is important.
What first got you into music?
I think it’s my Dad, based purely on what he played in the car. He’s got great taste. Earliest memories are a lot of Madness, Weller, Elvis Costello. He had a very popular soul/R and B compilation called “Blues Brother Soul Sister” on a lot. My siblings and I had a right laugh singing and shouting along with that stuff.
I vividly remember Blur’s Parklife getting a lot of play too. Britpop was when my Dad’s hunger for new music kind of ended, and where mine began. My older brother was Oasis-mad too, that helped me get the bug.
Who inspired you to make music?
Again I think immediately of Britpop. From the age of about 8 I was obsessed with Damon Albarn, then as I started to learn guitar I was obsessed with Noel Gallagher. Noel inspired creativity in me the most early on, for sure. But every musician that I heard in that car should get a mention. Paul Simon feels like he’s been with me from the beginning too.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Old-school. Raw materials. I balance my writing time between acoustic guitar, piano and a pad and pen. I think the 90’s thing (and to be fair, early Coldplay) can still be heard in my sound, but my hope is that the better I’ve got, the more I’m nodding to even further back, to the real greats. Dylan. Paul Simon. The Beatles. I do find it a bit hard to categorize myself…I’m a singer/songwriter but I sound like a band. Sometimes I wanna call myself indie but I’m not sure what it means any more. I’m 90’s indie. Sometimes I wanna just say rock. A great rock album can have a lot of different kinds of songs.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I don’t want to collaborate in a writing sense with anybody. I back myself and my journey, and my process of being completely alone to write. But you could twist my arm if it was some of the names I’ve listed above. Dylan, Simon, McCartney, Gallagher, Albarn. I’d just watch them write and maybe strum a guitar, that’d do me.
What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?
Well I’m still a part-time coffee barista as it is so…awkward.
If there was no music passion in my life whatsoever….I think I’d be writing about football until that paid the bills. Or maybe without all those hours of guitar and piano that I had, I could have got good enough at footy to play for Liverpool. I’d probably still swap all the music dreams for that dream now.
Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
The question kills me, with all that’s going on. Any gig memory now is rose-tinted. A golden age where people could pack sweatily into a small room and neck each other while you sang at them. Weirdly my biggest crowd was one of my first gigs ever. As part of some “Youth Music” event I played at Birmingham Symphony Hall when I was 17 to a few thousand people. I had no nerves and loved it. The Cavern in Liverpool is obviously special and I’m lucky to have played there a lot. I played the o2 once in Liverpool supporting a Britain’s Got Talent contestant, and I got mobbed by teenagers for selfies afterwards.
Nothing upcoming that isn’t being cancelled just yet.
Which famous musicians do you admire?
I’ve deffo answered this about 3 times. For the record I admire Dylan the most. By miles.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I heard the screenwriter Shane Black dispense the best writing advice I’ve ever heard. Essentially it’s all about trying to make every writing day exactly the same. Routine creates momentum. You learn how to finish songs through routine. You start backing yourself and not berating yourself through routine. He also nails what it is to get into a flow, essentially “when fear becomes problem-solving.” He talks about being terrified of the blank page until he finds “a distraction that is temporarily more interesting than your own fear.”
Honestly his theory might not apply to everyone, but it completely sorted me out and gave me back all my confidence.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Live gigs existing again would be a start wouldn’t it? If you’re talking pre-covid, well I don’t like moaning and bitching and being bitter. Music as a product has been increasingly de-valued for years now, and as long as we have the Internet, that’s never going to change. But it’s also still the most magical thing in the world. So just get on with it. If you love it you’ll do it. If you’re obsessed with it and you’re halfway good, I believe you’re bound for greatness. Ask Mac Demarco.
As long as social distancing eventually stops and the faintest prospect of a Glastonbury headline comes back into my head, I’ll always have something to shoot for.
What’s next for you?
I’ve written my whole second album in Lockdown and I’m very, very excited about it. Meanwhile I’m still very slowly releasing singles from the first record. I’m working on sorting out physical copies of the album very soon, as I still have nothing to sell to anybody.
I’m feeling like a better singer and a better writer than ever before. So I’m just trying to stay fit and well, sharp and ready. When gigs come back I’m out every night to unleash it all.
Thank you John for the Interview, You can check out John On Spotify here.