Two years ago, Johnny Flynn started recording his third album: Country Mile. In the interim, he has kept himself relatively busy. He’s been on tour around the USA supporting Mumford & Sons alongside Mystery Jets. He’s garnered critical acclaim for performances in Jerusalem at the West End Apollo, The Low Roads at the Royal Court Theatre, and the Twelfth Night / Richard III double-bill at the Globe. He’s gotten married and had his first child! He’s starred in a string of independent films. And he’s just finished shooting Song One (2014) opposite Anne Hathaway, which he has also written the soundtrack for with Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley. Now with Country Mile completed, he’s embarking on a European tour with his band The Sussex Wit. “It’s weird how things turn out. It’s been kind of mad. I suppose I’ve had a pretty epic year.”
Flynn has consistently been labelled as a member of the British “nu-folk” scene, along with Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, etc. The branding seems strange; Flynn’s troubadour style and poetic disposition places him at the opposite end of the genre to Mumford & Sons stadium-filling folk anthems. He clearly has mixed feelings on the matter: ‘I’m also friends with bands that play hardcore punk… It’s weird, people seem to think, “Oh, they use some acoustic instruments and they toured together a few years ago, they must be the same thing.” It is very naïve, and kind of lazy journalism.’ On the other hand, he concedes that being regarded as friends is immensely favourable to being ‘pitted against each other by record executives like it’s the early 90s.’ Indeed, Flynn appears rather fond of his humble origin-story. ‘The big major labels have less of a grip on things… the music that’s being made now is by these artists and collectives, with a spirit of collaboration and friendship and openness. We got where we are by operating with that spirit.’
Of course, music is just one side of Johnny Flynn’s coin. Besides his umpteen triumphs on the stage, Flynn’s film career is steadily gaining momentum; next year he’ll appear onscreen with Anne Hathaway in the musical Song One. When I ask if this is the beginning of him being led astray to Hollywood, he’s amused but quick to clarify his ambitions. ‘I’m not that fussed about being what you might call a “Hollywood” actor. I’m much more interested in doing indie films or theatre projects… I don’t have any desire for the fame or the money.’ This answers my next question before I can ask it; how come he hasn’t collaborated with his close friend Robert Pattinson? Why no cameo in Twilight? Flynn laughs. “We talked about doing a project together, that’s maybe still in the works.”
Our conversation drifts back to music, and it becomes clear that music and acting are tightly entwined in Flynn’s mind. ‘For me, the time spent acting in a play or doing a film is important for the music… I go into writing thinking of songs as scenes or whole plays in themselves, and I kind of cast myself in them.’ That story-telling element is present throughout his back catalogue. His debut album A Larum was written during his time with Shakespeare troupe Propeller, and has become something of a cult classic for its Bard-esque and sometimes obscure lyrics. Flynn adds that his latest, Country Mile, owes a similar debt to the novels of Robert McFarlane. For all his success, Johnny Flynn is refreshingly modest. And for all the theatrical eloquence of his music, he couldn’t be less pretentious.