Last year when I interviewed Daniel Johns of Silverchair he advised me that he was obsessed with John Lennon’s Double Fantasy prior to writing his first solo record, Talk. It turns out the Beatles would become a major part of his next two years as Johns would become the Musical Director and Lead Music Producer (with Daniel Denholm) for the incredible animated series, Beat Bugs; which incorporates Beatles songs woven into the narrative to tell uplifting and life-affirming stories filled with hope and melody.
Beat Bugs is the brainchild of Newcastle director/screenwriter Josh Wakely, who previously worked with Johns on the 2011 short film My Mind’s Own Melody. After three years of working out logistics to secure the Beatles music for Beat Bugs, Wakely got the green light on this brilliant project and knew just who to call. Johns ended up producing and/or overseeing the production on many of the Beatles songs which were re-recorded for Beat Bugs. He also contributed vocals and backing vocals to numerous songs, in addition to contributing various character vocals, and composing some of the show’s original music. He’s worked with artists such as Sia, Eddie Vedder, P!nk, James Bay, The Shins, Regina Spektor and James Corden – each recording their own rendition of an iconic Beatles classic. Among the songs featured include “Help!”, “All You Need Is Love,” “Come Together,” “Penny Lane,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “Magical Mystery Tour.”
Wakely recently explained to the Sydney Morning Herald, how the Beatles component became a vital piece of his vision for the show stating, “I heard the chords and lyrics to ‘All You Need Is Love’ and thought wouldn’t it be powerful to bring that to children and to bring that to animation? From that seed the whole idea would grow. I thought it was something that would often be a platitude but it’s a simple but brilliant thing to teach anyone, especially young person.”
As for Johns, taking on this role coincided with a few other changes. He’s moved from Newcastle Australia to Los Angeles where he’s submersed himself in work. He’s spent over two years working on the Beat Bugs tunes. He has been responsible for rearranging 34 of the songs for 52 episodes. Johns told News Corp Australia that’s he’s truly enjoying his new ventures saying, “I’m feeling really good, really inspired because there is so much stuff going on here, I’m here to escape, I am here to do something. I don’t really feel good unless I am working, it makes me feel good to be creative. I could take it to the next level and work every single day and have the inevitable nervous breakdown, but I’m joking, I take a couple of days off like normal people do.”
Johns had to challenge himself in the process; needing to scale back on the arrangement possibilities in an effort to not overproduce the songs. He often found himself wondering “What would John Lennon George Martin or Brian Wilson would do?” “A lot of the time I was ironically thinking about how George Martin or Brian Wilson would do this job because they were so good getting that childhood innocence with heart,” he said.
Wakely couldn’t be more thrilled to have Johns onboard and the work he’s done stating, “I genuinely think he’s a musical genius, but separate from that, the thing that people don’t talk about with Dan is that he is a really great leader and really instinctive about people. Because he’s so fearless about the work, he lifts everyone around him. He is deeply ambitious in the artistic sense and the other perfect thing about him for this series is he does have a childlike nature and approach to work. He’s so playful and that really comes through probably more than it ever has in anything else he has done.”
Johns further explained that one of the highlights of the project was working with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on his “Magical Mystery Tour” rendition. “I would do the track and put guide vocals on it and Eddie really loved the version and said he wanted to keep my backing vocals in so my girlie harmonies are in the background,” he said.
The first season of Beat Bugs premiered on Netflix on August 3rd. The soundtrack is available on Apple Music and will hit retail on November 4th. Plans for season two are already underway with as it is slated to debut on November 18th. Artists such as Chris Cornell (who worked with Brendan O’Brien on “Drive My Car”) Rod Stewart, Jennifer Hudson and Of Monsters and Men are featured on the Season two soundtrack. Further artists joining the project are expected to be announced in the coming months.
In addition to his incredible Beat Bugs work, Johns recently produced new music with Sydney singer, multi-instrumentalist, and harpist Jake Meadows for the Good Company EP. Meadows was a part of Johns recent solo band and the two have been friends for many years. Their songs “Lost Entitlement” and “Echo of Tomorrow” were released over the past three months. “I showed him the tracks I had been working on for the EP, and he offered to produce and be a part of the project, and we just went for it,” Meadow told ToneDeaf.
Johns also hopes to complete his long-awaited music collaboration with Empire Of The Sun’s Luke Steele. While they are determined to finish it sooner than later, his humorous promise at this time is that “it will be done by 2026. “We are both desperate to get it done and we have so many songs and now just honing in on the production.”
The past two years have served to be quite busy and productive for Johns. Beat Bugs has been nominated three-times (out of four potential nominations) in the animation category for the 49th Annual AWGIE Awards. Awarded by The Australian Writers’ Guild, the awards recognize and reward excellence in performance writing. The episodes: Hey Bulldog, Ticket to Ride and Yellow Submarine, have all been nominated.
Whether it was fronting the legendary Silverchair, working with Wakely on such an innovative program or mixing with numerous other acclaimed musicians such as Meadows, Steele or Paul Mac you often get the same feedback on Johns, and it typically contains the word genius.
Watch the official Beat Bugs trailer featuring the Johns/Vedder collaboration “Magical Mystery Tour”
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