All the way from New South Wales – The Jezabels

Jezabels6We realised we were in the presence of something more than a bit special when we stumbled on The Jezabels playing in Hoxton back in May. Things are often a bit intense for Australian bands playing London, what with swathes of the ex-pat community keen to get some cultural communion, but the rabid crowd reaction was way more than nostalgia for home – it’s fair to say that it was righteous and justified. They’re a hugely strong band, yes we realise they’re a four piece, and it’s no disrespect to the rest of the band – Heather Shannon, Sam Lockwood and Nik Kaloper to say that frontwoman Hayley Mary was intensely compelling, putting so much emotion into her performance that she sprang from the shadows like a whirlwind as the band started up, then slumped at last note, spent, without even the energy to leave the stage

They’ve been together since meeting at university in 2007, and back home are regulars on the festival circuit and have toured with the likes of Tegan and Sara. Their last EP ‘Dark Storm’ can best be described as epic pop music, and we are pretty keen to get our hands on what will be their debut album ‘Prisoner’, which be released in Australia in the autumn, while we poor Europeans have to wait until the new year.

The band will be back in the UK for 6 dates in early September as part of a European tour.

Guitarist Sam Lockwood gamely answered our questions

How are you guys?

Pretty well, just sitting backstage at Splendour In The Grass setting things up for our show later this afternoon.

Do you want to introduce yourselves? When and how did the band get started?

Hello there, we are The Jezabels, nice to meet you! We are a group of four musicians who make off-centre pop music. We met at the University of Sydney in 2007 and have been making music together since.

What can you tell us about the Australian music scene? Do you have any sense of musical separate development, like the way kangaroos and platypuses did?  I mean, Australia has a great musical history, and far too much seems to stay over there.

The Australian music scene is great. It’s just big enough to support a good national musical culture. Right now for instance Lanie Lane is playing on stage as I write, and she is an awesome singer-songwriter who writes in the 50’s/Rockabilly style. There is a great plethora of styles and genres being explored here. But there is a great wide ocean between here and anywhere and that is extremely hard to traverse. We managed to do it slightly via the internet so hopefully that’s the start of something new for Australian acts.

Does the immense amount of space influence the music?

Definitely. You can hear it in our stuff I think, but also historically in bands like The Triffids, The Go-Betweens and even in Midnight Oil. There is a willingness to bring in all that space into the songs, whether lyrically or musically. Reverb is a good example. But also minimalism in lyrics. Australians are the masters of writing as little as possible – as a reference to the little that goes on in the Australian landscape.

We seem to see you here in the UK on a fairly regular basis? You’re doing a whole European tour in September?

Yeah we’re trying to get over there as much as possible. It’s not that easy with the distance and all the trouble that come with that. But for all of us I think Europe is the height of overseas travelling. We’ve met so many cool people over there too!

What’s the best thing about touring? It certainly can’t be the weather coming over here? (Oh dear lord, a Brit just engaged an Aussie in conversation about the weather, what a cliche)

Haha the weather over there is not that bad – here it gets way too hot! But the best thing about touring would be just that – touring. We’ve become close with our touring people and the people and promoters that we’ve met since we started touring there. So the greatest part is the surreality of being on the other side of the world with your friends and all the weird things you can get up to.

What’s the ickiest, yuckiest, most horrible thing touring has led to for you? Same socks for a month maybe?

Ummm I’m not too sure – food poisoning is usually the winner. But we aren’t that extreme a band. Actually I blocked a toilet at a venue in Brooklyn and the toilet water flowed down the stairs and into the bar. Very nice experience. But American toilets block way too easily. I swear it wasn’t my fault.

Is it a difficult thing for Australian bands to break in the UK would you say? I got to see you in May in Hoxton, London. If I recall, it was sold out, and the crowd were definitely rabid, but I got the feeling that I was in the presence of a band that are pretty much a big deal back home?

Well yeah we are going pretty well over here, but it seems as though that doesn’t necessarily matter. Big bands from here I know aren’t doing that well over seas. Maybe it’s an issue of style not translating. Aussie Hip Hop is massive over here but I haven’t heard of an Aussie Hip Hop group doing amazingly overseas. People are saying that it is a very big deal what we are doing. Which is really exciting!

When I saw you, although it’s a great venue, it’s one of those where you have to walk through the audience to get on stage. I was really struck by how Hayley was in this pool of stillness and quietude until you struck up the first note, exploded like someone charged with 10,000 volts for the whole set, then in the nano-second that the set finished, she just slumped back into the shadows with a thousand yard stare. It was a hugely striking contrast. Is that how it always is?

Yeah she takes performance very seriously and to do a really good performance – it takes so much energy out of you. When we do backing vocal practice I get dizzy after 3 minutes. She belts it out for up to an hour and still manages to keep her energy levels up for the whole show. I don’t understand how she does it.

You seemed a lot more intense, rockier, live than on record. Is that fair?

I think so. Though I think that it’s simply a volume thing. I think it’s important to play loud and strong, because essentially that’s what most people want to hear.

I’ve read your sound described as ‘hard to define’ which is real a cop-out. I’ve also read one of our major British newspapers comparing you to Fleetwood Mac, which frankly just puzzled me. How would you describe it for our readers?

I hate doing this because I honestly think that it’s really hard. I tend to tell people that we are ‘a pop group with a female vocalist’. That’s an extremely simplistic explanation but it’s best to let other people decide for themselves. One of the best I’ve heard is Karen O fronting Explosions in the Sky. That is majorly flattering.

I take it Australia is the sort of place they’re quite relaxed about bands putting out tracks with titles like ‘Disco Biscuit Love’?

Haha yeah that song was one of our first and sort of represents that stage where we didn’t exactly know what was going on. But that song is basically a parody of the electro scene that was prevalent when Hayley wrote it. It’s more tongue in cheek than serious social analysis. Maybe that’s why it got through censorship…

The new single “Endless Summer” is pretty damn anthemic–would it be humanly possible to have that as a title and it be anything other? It’s certainly a lot more breezy than the Dark Storm EP

Yeah it’s quite an epic title isn’t it. People get us in trouble for being perhaps a bit too ambitious with our titles. But Hayley takes a lead from her Lyrics for song titles so it must mean that her lyrics are extreme. Which they are so that makes sense.

So, you’ve let the single out, is that a good indicator of what to expect from your first album, Prisoner?

The album is very different from “Endless Summer” but also very similar–there you go for an annoying vague answer. But it’s true. The layers are similar on the album but the other songs have a bit more space to them perhaps!

What are plans then, are you going to be touring in other territories after Europe?

To just keep touring this album I think. We have a number of summer festivals coming up in Australia, which is extremely exciting. Then hopefully come to the northern hemisphere for the summer up there.

Thanks Sam!

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