Taking their name in homage to the famed John Peel session in which The Cure berated ex-NME journalist Paul Morley for a less than favourable review. London four piece Desperate Journalist, have spent the last eighteen months or so crafting: swelling, cinematic, epic songs laced with startlingly affecting vocals and a thunderous post punk gut-kick. This week signals the release of their superb self-titled debut album.
Desperate Journalist’s sound might positively bristle with the ghosts of the likes of The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, early REM, and The Smiths; it’s there in Rob Hardy‘s 12 string Rickenbacker arpeggio assaults; it’s there in Simon Drowner‘s dexterous baselines; Caz Hellbent‘s fire gun drum beat; and most of all the duality of Jo Bevan‘s cathartic vocals. But far from the derivative retromaniacs that characterise the songs of many modern-day post punk and 80s indie inspired bands, these songs sound affectionate, knowing and not cynical, like a love letter to the bands they are influenced by, but filtered through each of their personalities. Each one of the songs that makes up their superlative rush of a debut album beats with an unflinching heart, a simmering rage, an affecting touching point embodied by singer Jo Bevan’s intensely personal vocals that explode into towering bittersweet melodic peaks as she reclaims the pain of past memories and turns them into self affirming anthems. It’s this that marks Desperate Journalist apart from the crowd of ‘new indie bands’ as an unstoppable, unmissable guitar pop force with the potential to transcend desperate (journalistic) pigeon-holes.
We caught up with the band’s singer and front-person Jo Bevan for her unique insight into the formation of one of the most exciting guitar bands in the UK right now, the inspiration behind her lyrics, the recording of their self titled debut album, the new goth revival and why they chose to release their album initially as a stream.
In the old(en) days bands met through NME classifieds or through music shop notice boards, but it seems Desperate Journalists formation was a bit more natural than that, a series of meetings of chance: “We met at various indie clubs and gigs and through other bands we were in – Simon was in bands with Rob in Birmingham and I was subsequently in a band with Simon before this one, it was quite organic really….I was vocalist in a band called Joanne Joanne who play Duran Duran covers but we’re on a hiatus at the moment.” Jo notes before moving onto the intent bonded them as a group “We talked about finding indie bands around now didn’t reflect the things we loved, bands like the Editors or something, who take post punk which was a really exciting musical movement but just crib it in a really boring way really…”
Desperate Journalists sound is characterised by shuddering frenetic rhythms, grand guitar textures all anchored by Jo’s magnetic direct vocal , their debut long player’s three-pronged assault of the startlingly urgent ‘Control’, the affectingly twitching rhythms of ‘O’ and the bittersweet ethereal vocals, cascading percussion and anxious guitar assaults of ‘Cristina’, being the living breathing examples. Jo talks about the intent behind the songs and the explicit need for the vocals to cut through the music, to reach the listener: “I am really determined to make sure the melody doesn’t sound mangled and its really direct and works with the music. Because melodies are really important to the songs, I am really concerned with things like cadences. We are very concerned with making it sound very to the point and clear, taking away anything that isn’t necessary.”
This work further focussed their magisterial sound, each instrumental part given its space to pulsate and vocals the platform to pierce hearts, this evolution began upon their previous singles and truly flourishes on their debut album.
“It was a really natural progression from our first EP Cristina. We are a really nerdy band so we work really hard on distilling of our sound and stripping out any thing that isn’t needed.” Jo replies. It appears the studio was initially a relaxed environment for recording in very intense snatched periods recording between day jobs. “We recorded with Keith TOPT. I’ve known him for years; we recorded in Soho’s Dean Street Studio where David Bowie and T. Rex recorded. He takes a very relaxed approach to the recording, we’re all quite neurotic people who worry about things so he put us at our ease.”
Somewhat surprisingly, such was their stockpile of songs, certain tracks such as previous single ‘Organ’ were left off the long player as they didn’t fit into the record’s flow; Jo explains“We recorded more songs than we needed; a couple may come out as singles. There were some fierce arguments about the track listing, some of the older songs didn’t fit because there were quite a few peaks on the track list, already.” Maybe not so easy at the end then? “The tracks we left off sound quite epic and cinematic and they will probably come out as singles later on….” The songs are the genesis of the central song writing axis of Rob and Jo who craft each collaborative composition with a clear way of working:“Rob is always writing music; usually he tends to give me the guitar riff and I will try and massage the melody into the music. He often will write for me and knows the kinds of melodies I am working on.” Jo says.
“You must find the strength to open the wounds, Stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories and make peace with them.” — Iyanla Vanzant
Jo’s words emerge from pain; each syllable forged of experience and necessity, almost a therapy, trying to transform negative recollections into positives. (“Open the vein/open the reins/like a hole in your head/I’m a thoroughbred”) she exclaims on the marvellous opener ‘Control’: “I have got all these saved drafts in gmail of things I want to write about (laughs), I write mainly about memories, I have a really bad memory and an anxiety about remembering things. I try and write about painful situations from the past, taking control of them turning them into quite powerful statements.” Jo reveals before offering an example: ‘Remainder’ is about a really controlling relationship I was in and about trying not to blame myself for the things that he did, and turning those bad memories into a strength.”
This is reflected throughout an album punctuated by the emotional complexity of Jo’s words from poetic existential angst (“this voluptuous abyss”) sheer frustration of not saying what you wanted to at the time (“Cristina can you help me? I am embittered and hitting out”). To strident kiss-offs (“because you are half the man you think you are/you are a moments sad inside of me”) and impassioned cries (“the static in my head keeps me frantic and dead”). She’s laying it all out there and taking the upper hand, quite literally: “I find it quite therapeutic to write about these kinds of situations. I am quite an emotional person, I cry quite a lot at anything, and that happens quite a lot so I guess that comes out.” It’s something Jo relates to a quote she heard recently “I saw the Nick Cave film recently and he talked about being concerned about getting older and worrying about losing his memory and how that if you lose that you can lose your sense of self, not to compare myself to Nick Cave (laughs) but I really related to that idea.”
The affecting swoop of C86 jangle and throbbing bass of ‘Happening’, a tune whose melody hangs heavy in the air, calling to mind Ali Sheedy in the Breakfast Club, is conjured up out of Jo’s childhood reminiscences: “I spent half my childhood in the States, so I guess ‘Happening’ is my romanticised memories of that period of my life”
Desperate Journalist are releasing their records through the Fierce Panda label, building upon a relationship that started last year: “Simon from the label (Fierce Panda) said he really loved the name of the band as it reflected his life as a journalist, so there are advantages to having this awkward name” Jo laughs and recalls “He came to see us supporting Six by Seven in London and offered us a single release which worked well for Organ and so we just kept in touch after that”
With the shifting of the music industry and change in release models, following a run of superb singles in 2013 and 2014 – ‘Cristina ‘, ‘Organ’ , ‘Happening’ and ‘Control’ – Desperate Journalist and their label took the decision to initially release their album as a stream on Spotify and other streaming outlets. We wondered what was behind this brave decision?: “Fierce Panda suggested it as a way to release the album.” Jo points out “I tend to listen to a lot of stuff first through Spotify and Bandcamp these days and if I like it will buy the vinyl so I guess that’s the way we approached the release. A lot of the people who are into our band will probably buy the vinyl if they are into it, because it’s something you can really engage with and wrap your arms around.”
Desperate Journalist are doing it themselves – the artwork, the touring – and they are under no illusions of doing this to try and be ‘huge’ (although that might be nice); after all the industry is changing but if their songs and performances can affect people, Jo and her bandmates are happy: “We just want to make music we enjoy and that speaks to us and try to reach people.” But what about bands who specifically go out there to chase some kind of dream of making it big, alone? “It’s like there’s a drop off between bands that are doing it themselves and then there’s a tier of acts who are perhaps from one kind of background which is a bit worrying really. For instance we played with a couple identikit indie bands and they were all posh boys really. That’s not to say posh boys don’t have things to say but there’s a real lack of people from certain backgrounds in bands at a certain level now.”
A recent article in Noisy suggested that the new wave of bands dressing like goths is a new thing, but gothic sounds, fashion and literature never really went away did it? But now there is more of a distance and appreciation of this era, if sometimes a little lack of imagination in interpreting it. It is a trend that Desperate Journalist are bucking; they are a band aware of the Goth sound of the 1980s but not in awe of it, firmly putting their own stamp on both their sound and look: “The support band for our album launch Terminal Gods sound really like gothic but with a harder edge like the Sisters of Mercy. For a long time Goth bands seemed quite lame, now there’s a new wave of stuff with more personality and edge. Goth as a style and sound has always existed but there was this big gap between the stuff in the late 70s and 80s and now. In America, I guess it’s different because they have a lot of hardcore punk there, when they hear something British I guess it must seem quite exotic and different for them, so people going back to Siouxsie and the Banshees and Einstürzende Neubauten and others, and take from them”
We might be slack-jawed in thrall to Desperate Journalists kinetic, frantic, grandly emotive sound, but who are Desperate Journalist listening to lately? “I am really into this band called Viet Cong at the moment who are like XTC with a bit of Pixies which is what I really like, so they’re really cool. I love the Run the Jewels albums too especially some of the lines.” It seems Desperate Journalist’s sound is formed of a gathering of their members, sometimes quite different influences “Caz is into Bright Eyes and a lot of post punk bands, Simon likes Glam rock and post punk, Rob is into a lot of new indie bands and early REM which probably comes across in the music. It’s a real mixture really.”
The immediate future include the release of their much-anticipated debut album on Fierce Panda records this week, plus more shows, and more new releases upcoming too: “Hesitate will be the next single” Jo informs us before revealing “we’re already working on our second album. Rob never stops writing really! Hopefully we’ll be going on a UK tour in April, which we hope will be announced soon!” All of which means it’s about time you fell in love with Desperate Journalist, it’s futile to resist.
Desperate Journalists eponymous debut album is out now. Buy it here