Unlike the ragamuffin, cow-tipping country-boy folk personas, Flynn was raised in a family of musical dramatists, including a father who instilled in him a love of songwriters such as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. A choirboy who began his classical-music education with a violin scholarship at age six, Flynn logged time at the same boarding school attended by Lily Allen and the Kooks' Luke Pritchard. He also went on tour with an all-male Shakespeare troupe.
Over two full-length albums, A Larum and Been Listening, Flynn has managed to take his biography, study and depth of feeling and create traditional music that sounds borne of the bone, not the method.
B-Sides caught up with Flynn in the midst of getting over the shock of new fatherhood before he packs up his guitar, banjo, mandola, trumpet and violin and takes to the American road again.
B-Sides: Since you've recently become a father, have you seen any changes yet in what you're writing?
Johnny Flynn: Yeah, my girlfriend just had a baby. We're kind of in the middle of that whole experience. He was six weeks on Tuesday. It's a bit early to say how or what is going to come out, whether I'm into themes of new life and flowers budding.
How does the acting play into your music?
It's about good storytelling in both cases. And being able to relate an emotional truth to the audience. Having grown up in a family of performers, it's almost like a family trade. I'm really addicted to truthful performances. There's something incredibly powerful for both performer and the audience to kind of witness. Quite a mystical thing when it happens right: a moment in a room; a communal point of focus. That's why I like the job so much, because that's a very special thing, and you can't really describe what that experience is usually, but that's what I'm after.
What's the difference between UK and United States crowds?
There's a big difference. There's something about what we do that's embraced more by Americans. We have a great thing going on [in the UK], but a lot of the musical references are from America. Americans generally let go and are less reserved in showing their appreciation. They're rowdier and can get to that mad, midnight state quicker than in the UK.
You get lumped together with your friends Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling as a new London folk "scene." What do you think of their successes, specifically of Mumford and Sons?
We always knew they would be massive because they have that epic sound with a wide appeal. Their shows are really exciting. The energy of who they are and what they're wanting to achieve, that's how they've set it up.
I love those guys, and they've been incredibly helpful to us. They supported us on our first American tour around the U.S., and now we've supported them around the UK. It opens doors.
I've always been wary of big commercial sounds myself. I think record labels don't usually like me very much. We were on a major label for our first record, and I was always trying to sabotage the radio mix they were doing. The bands I like nobody's heard of. I secretly always want to be one of those bands anyway, just completely happy with where things are. It's a Catch-22 because to be able to afford to do what you want to do, you have to have a certain success, and to be honest, we're probably just on the wrong side of that because it's still a struggle financially to get us out on the road. We just about break even.
But at the same time, we don't do anything but what we completely believe in. We don't answer to anyone. We own it. That's worth a lot to me.