interview : Julia Johnson, The Last Prom
The Last Prom is not your average band. A concept band geared around the apocalypse, The Last Prom combine theatrical elements with awesome pop music to create shows that are more of an ‘experience’ than a straight up gig.
Each band member is a character – the Antichrist (Nick Delatovic, vocals), Death (Julia Johnson, vocals and keys), Pestilence (Brad Heuvel, bass), War (Mel Twidale, drums) and Famine (Chris Finnigan guitar). The band usually takes the stage in full costume and makeup, and stay in character throughout the set.
Over the past year, the band have been busy working towards their final show, The Last Prom : An Apocalypse in One Act. Directed by Joel Barcham, it’s a stage show that features 10 brand new songs, set to the tale of the tragic love story between Death and the Antichrist, and ultimately taking place at a high school prom.
Lip caught up with Julia Johnson (aka Death) to chat about the upcoming show, and her other life as frontwoman of Julia and The Deep Sea Sirens (JDSS), Canberra’s favourite folk band.
The Last Prom is very different from JDSS – what drew you to being part of the band?
I was invited to join the band at a time when I felt I was in a bit of ‘creative cul-de-sac’, and the idea of playing a different instrument, having a different role in a band was really exciting to me. I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself, surprise the audience and have loads of fun along the way.
The theatric elements are a huge part of the band’s overall appeal – tell me about being Death. Is it difficult maintaining the character while playing?
I find that being in character on stage gives me this whole other dimension to consider, and gives me interesting cues as to how to perform the song. Having to think, ‘Hmm… would Death deliver these lyrics angrily, sarcastically, etc.’
It’s so much fun, I love practicing being in character in rehearsal – it can get very silly, but I find the sillier we get, the further we take things, and the more colourful our characters become.
At gigs I love the excitement of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen – having to think up Death’s reaction to different things which happen in the audience, from wolf whistles to people winning Prom Queen (Death is quietly hoping to win this time around).
How has it been taking on the acting elements of the November show? How are rehearsals going?
Intense, bizarre and so, so fun! Joel Barcham is an incredible director and has given us all some great coaching – things haven’t just stepped up another level, the story world and its characters are going to be so real on the night! It’s so interesting having someone critique and guide your entire performance – from the way I hit the keys, walk across the stage, or even the exact emotion of an exact lyric or line.
How did the show come together as an idea? Was it always part of the plan?
Nick Delatovic is the brains behind this idea. Originally our sights and goals were a lot more vague, but with the success of the first few gigs, it didn’t take long for his crazy imagination to set us on the journey towards such a huge undertaking. I don’t think there’s ever been a performance like this in the world before.
You guys have been building up to this show all through the year, but it features entirely new songs. Why is that, and will those songs be available after the show at all?
The songs are the vehicle for the entire story of the night – I suspect we might tour the show one day, but for now, these songs have no plans to ever be repeated. I kind of like that – it makes it more special for us and our audience on the night.
What next for The Last Prom, or is this going to signal a break for the band?
Somewhere in the haze of costume-making, songwriting, gigging, choreography and rehearsing, we buckled down in a recording studio a few weeks ago… once the dust settles we may have a very special song to release.
Let’s talk about you! You’ve been part of the Canberra scene for a long time – how do you feel about the music scene there?
I feel like I was raised by the Canberra music scene – that’s how supportive it is! From an audience perspective, we live in a city where venues are scarce and the population is ever changing. This affects us in good and bad ways. The Last Prom’s November production is a prime example of our lack of venues affecting us in a good way. We’ve had to think completely out of the box, and it’s ended up resulting in the coming together of multiple artistic disciplines (sculptors, musicians, choreographers, fashion designers, visual artists, graphic designers, illustrators, actors and dancers) for what is going to be one of the most fun, most ambitious and immersive nights the Canberra music scene (or theatre scene) has had.
You’re launching Family Pets, JDSS’ debut album next year – how does it feel to have the album complete and circulating?
It feels a world away to all the last minute Prom preparations! I’m so proud of that album, it remains the biggest achievement of my life. I love that I was able to show it to Canberrans before releasing it nationally, it felt like I was showing my family first. Watching it go out in to the big wide world is going to be wonderful – I can’t wait to get on the road with the band and sing the songs to more people.
Any last words, now that the apocalypse is apparently night?
I guess the main thing I want to do is encourage people to come to The Last Prom – it really is going to be a night to remember. You know the end of the American teen movie (of your choice) when they all go to the prom and drama/comedy/tragedy/life-affirming moments ensue? Well imagine being AT that prom. TIMES TEN, with supernatural themes. I really want to boast about the awesome outfits which have been designed for me to wear, but I’m already giving away the fact that there are costume changes. I’ll just say one more word. Sequins!
Image : Adam Thomas
The Last Prom : An Apocalypse in One Act is taking the stage on Saturday November 10, 8pm at Ainslie Arts Centre, Canberra. You can buy your tickets here for a well-priced $15.30!
You can also find out more about Julia and The Deep Sea Sirens here.