Harry Johns on success, his culinary endeavour Holy Mountain, and making decisions based on your own principles

By May 12, 2021 Culture, News
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“It’s good to know what you don’t want to do. You don’t have to know what you do want to do.”

Formerly part of punk-rock band Brawlers and alt-rock outfit Dinosaur Pile-Up, Harry Johns has been a busy man over the last few years since making the shift from the music industry to the culinary one. Spending his twenties ‘in a van,’ as he puts it, Harry can now be found in a kitchen, cultivating his brand Holy Mountain – described powerfully as ‘high impact junk food’ on their Instagram page – and working for himself; something he finds a great deal of importance in. He sat down with Dom for a chat about music, food, and everything that comes with it – and how he believes that people should make decisions based on their own principles.

‘I don’t work with people I don’t want to work with, I don’t do pop-ups at places where I disagree with their principles or whatever, and I don’t let people tell me what to play or cook,’ he stated. ‘Moving into starting Holy Mountain, I kind of just took all those skills that I learnt from doing band stuff. I still treat Holy Mountain like it’s a band.’

‘Brawlers finished at exactly the right time it needed to, we’re all still mega-mates. And then I got into cooking and stuff; moved to Liverpool to do my chef training. And then, yeah, just a system of building blocks falling into place. I think, basically, I know what I want to do now. Because I know what I don’t want to do.’

The idea of not knowing what you want to do – especially in your twenties – is something that Harry touched a lot on. And most importantly, reiterated later on that ‘it’s alright to spend your twenties not knowing what you’re doing.’ Deciding that he wanted to be a chef at age 29 was a choice that Harry spoke openly about, sharing his experience candidly in order to give advice to those wanting to venture down a similar path – whether musical or culinary. And, as Harry stated, ‘it’s because there’s something in you that you think is worth a damn.’

Deciding what to do with your life and career is a worry shared by many young people nowadays, with some often fearing that they’ve started ‘too late’ or will never succeed. In response to queries surrounding starting a band – or indeed, a business – and do it successfully like himself, Harry shared his take on it: ‘I think that if I’ve learnt anything, I think there’s an artistic nature to starting your own company… The same kind of people who start bands are the same kind of people who start companies. I feel like in my experience, things start falling into place early when you’re onto something good… I wish I’d known this ten years ago or more. But if you’re in a band and you know it’s good, but you’ve got a bass player who doesn’t turn up on time – get rid of him. Life’s too short. And if it feels right and it makes you happy, it doesn’t matter if you play to three people or three hundred people.’

He’s also a big believer in using the Internet to progress your endeavors, despite not having a personal Instagram – ‘I’m just like, ‘this is the food now’’ – stating that ‘if you’ve got a good song, you’ll know within a week… And, this is no word of a lie, I wrote ‘Mothers and Fathers,’ which ended up being a Brawlers single, on my mate’s computer. I got back to Leeds, I uploaded it… Within three days we had management and two labels sniffing around. That’s the power of the Internet. I’m on it all the time but I don’t understand algorithms or really, the big world of the Internet. What I’m saying is that exists. Don’t waste time bashing your head against the wall. If something’s not right in those early days then fix it.’

And speaking of cooking, he’s an advocate for using the Internet for that, too – ‘you can watch a ton of YouTube videos and refine some skills at home that will put you in line to be above someone in a restaurant’ – but recognizes the importance of going to culinary school, as well.

‘I think it’s worth doing proper chef training. I think you just find a restaurant that you love – the vibe, the style of food – you go in at the bottom and you work up. I found it the hardest thing in the world; I’d spent 10 years not being told by anyone what to do, I was this ‘cool front-man’ or whatever, and then fast-forward six months and I’m at the bottom of a ten-person ladder getting called a ‘dickhead’ every five minutes, just sat in the corner peeling potatoes for days and days and days. And would I change it? No. Because it teaches you all of this stuff that’s not just about cooking, it’s about having discipline and respect for people who know more than you, and patience. I wish I’d gone into cooking ten years before I did.’

Speaking on his personal life prior to starting Holy Mountain, Harry also touched on the self-reflection he’s done over the years as someone now in his thirties. Having struggled with homelessness and addiction, he shared how he’s moved forward and what he learnt along the way:

‘At the time, I was in it… And I was living in this darkness, and for me, it was easily explainable: this person’s done me wrong, and this happened, and it was never really about me looking inwards and being like: ‘this is all my fault.’ I don’t know if I’m ever going to be totally out of the woods with all the stuff that you’re talking about, but I do think that taking responsibility for one’s actions is something I’m learning about… I don’t regret any of it. I’ve got some good stories! You’re only as good as your stories. But at the same time, I fully believe that taking responsibility for your actions and looking inwards is good.’

‘I think generally speaking, I cared probably a bit too much about what people thought and what convenient cool-guy bracket to fall into, which I think is something that every thirty-year-old wants to tell their twenty-year-old self.’

As for the present-day, then, what helps Harry stay motivated and helps him get out of bed in the morning? ‘I love cooking – and this is so cheesy – but it never totally feels like a job. But then I also understand that I am in a privileged position. Don’t be afraid to cut people out of your life that are negative, and don’t make you feel good, romantic or otherwise. I would say your physical habitat is something that’s really important. Tidy your shit up. Be organized to an extent. A degree of organization and cleanliness and tidiness does wonders for me. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. The coolest people are just the people who don’t give a shit. It’s not washing up for everyone. Maybe it’s like, don’t be on your phone for the first twenty minutes of the day. Or maybe it’s like, make your bed. I’m talking such simple stuff. One of my favourite things is cleaning the kitchen!’

And without going into too much detail, Harry shared the prospect of new music via the form of a musical project between friends: ‘I’m not going to dress it up as something it’s not. There is a WhatsApp group, and I can’t really tell you who’s in it, but it’s basically all the people I really love who I’ve done music with and have gone on to be successful musicians.’

So, maybe we can see something from Harry (and this mysterious ‘invisible super-group’ he describes) soon? ‘I’m just writing songs and I send them to the guys and then we throw ideas around. We’re talking every day and putting a project together but I can’t imagine we’d be able to play live, because I think that’s done for me now… At the minute, it’s just WhatsApp and demos being thrown around…’

Of course, Holy Mountain is Harry’s main focus these days. On Instagram, he takes viewers on a culinary adventure with segment ‘What’s the Move?’ – a series that explores lesser-known eateries that are ‘off the beaten track,’ as Harry puts it, in the hopes of spotlighting them and their food. He’s also recently opened a kitchen in Ilkley, Leeds. But in the future, he’s ready to make moves of his own overseas:

‘By the end of the year I want to take Holy Mountain abroad. I’m just ready to go anywhere. You can take the boy out of the van…’

Interview: Dom Smith / Words: India Fishburn