The The was the guise of Matt Johnson, a mercurial singer/songwriter whose music ran the gamut from dance-pop to country. Born August 15, 1961, in London, Johnson was raised in the flat above his father's pub, the Two Puddings, a haven for well-known celebrities and criminals; he also became exposed to music at the nightclubs and dancehalls owned by his uncle, where he saw performers like Howlin' Wolf, the Kinks, and Muddy Waters. Johnson formed his first band, Roadstar, when he was 11; at the age of 15, he was hired as a tea boy for the DeWolfe music publishing company, and within three years, he was working in their recording studio as an assistant engineer.
After the demise of the duo the Marble Index in 1979, Johnson formed the first incarnation of The The with synth player Keith Laws; after playing their debut gig opening for Scritti Politti, the group issued its first single, "Controversial Subject," on the 4AD label in 1980. A year later, contractual obligations forced Johnson to issue the LP Burning Blue Soul under his own name; that year, he also recorded as a guitarist with the band the Gadgets, and The The contributed a track to the Some Bizzare Album compilation.
In 1982, The The -- now essentially a Johnson solo project, backed by a revolving coterie of musicians -- recorded the album The Pornography of Despair, which a dissatisfied Johnson chose not to release; a 1983 single recorded with Orange Juice's Zeke Manyika, "This Is the Day," formed the centerpiece of The The's proper debut, 1983's Soul Mining, an excursion into dance-flavored pop. Illness sidelined Johnson for much of the following year, and The The did not return until 1986's Infected, an eclectic commentary on the state of Britain in the modern world. Recorded with the aid of talents like Neneh Cherry, Art of Noise's Anne Dudley, and Swans' Roli Mosimann, Infected was also accompanied by an ambitious album-length video.
When The The returned with the dissonant Mind Bomb in 1989, they were once again a true band, with Johnson joined by ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr as well as bassist James Eller and former ABC drummer Dave Palmer. The same lineup remained for 1993's pared-down Dusk, but 1995's Hanky Panky marked yet another new direction when Johnson was joined by guitarist Eric Schermerhorn, keyboardist D.C. Collard, harmonica player Jim Fitting, and drummer Brian MacLeod. The first in a series of occasional albums celebrating the work of legendary performers, Hanky Panky was a brooding covers collection honoring the music of country great Hank Williams. NakedSelf followed in early 2000.