This week we interviewed British folk musician Johnny Flynn, who hits Le Poisson Rouge on Thursday at the start of a U.S. solo tour. The multi-instrumentalist and Shakespearean actor recently did some dates supporting Mumford & Sons and co-stars in Anne Hathaway’s new movie Song One, premiering this month at Sundance. Over a couple of hours, we talked fatherhood, rebellion, working with a movie star, and Jenny Lewis.
See also: (Nearly) in Like Flynn
I have to ask an obligatory Anne Hathaway question. You play the romantic lead, a musician.
I had a really good time doing the film. Anne was great. I know she’s quite a big star, but it felt like a small indie film. She and her husband are producers too, and it felt like a family. It was quite an intimate thing.
Do you compose any music for the film?
I did compose one song for the film, which apparently is cut. (Laughs.) By the time I came on board, they had Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice doing the music. They had a bunch of songs, and they were writing more as we got closer to filming. They wrote all the songs. I performed them the way I would do them, and they were fine about that, thankfully. That can be tricky because everyone gets a bit precious about “this is my song,” but they were really cool and gracious about me doing it my way.
You grew up in a family of actors and started classical musical training really young. How will you introduce your son to art, music, etc.?
Right now, Gabriel is obsessed with the sound of the violin. He picks up wooden spoons and mimes along to the sound. I take him to music classes that are full of crashing, banging things, running around. The classes teach the Suzuki technique where you learn by ear. I think that’s really beautiful, and I never had that since I studied classical music. I was six when I started playing violin, which I guess is quite young, but I really, really loved it at that age. I completely adored the first few teachers, and then I had a teacher when I was thirteen who was a real bully, and he put me off the violin for a while. My yearning for something else and rebelling against the rigid training is what pushed me towards writing songs and jamming with people.
So you want to do things differently.
My dad died almost twelve years ago, so having my son brought up some loose ends, quite a few feelings about my relationship with him. I’m now able to answer certain questions about the way he was with me. Though I hated and resisted [some things my father did], even though it came from love, I started doing that with my son. Even though he’s really young, it created resistance, he didn’t want to be told what to do.
One of my friends told me to go see this person who channeled spirits–it’s what they bill themselves as, a spirit guide–and I’d never seen anyone like that. But he actually gave me really practical advice. He told me, Your son doesn’t need a father, doesn’t need somebody with a moral compass or a sense of himself as a father. He just needs a companion and somebody to stop him from sticking his fingers in the plugs and electrical sockets.
What musicians are you in conversation with or excited about now?
I’m excited about the Melodic, who I’m traveling with. And there’s a new guy playing with us at the moment called Cosmo Sheldrake. He’s just prodigiously talented, got a big heart, and he’s accumulating all this knowledge and he’s so wise. He collects sounds and mashes them up, sounds somewhere between Tom Waits and, like, Peruvian folk music. He’s about ten years younger than everyone else in the band, and that adds fresh energy because he’s excited about things we were excited about ten years ago.