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Interview: Sam Lockwood of the Jezabels

jezabels

SOME bands have got sass by the spadeful and The Jezabels are at the top of the pile of such bands: quite simply, they are Australian music royalty. Their 2011 debut Prisoner hit number two on the ARIA album chart; a feat matched by this year’s majestic follow-up The Brink. We chat with lead guitarist Sam Lockwood prior to their much-anticipated appearance at Splendour in the Grass.

Your first show was in 2007 was at a Battle of the Bands competition at a Sydney university. Just recently you played at the Sydney Opera House. Has the Jezabels conquered Sydney, so to speak?

No-one can conquer Sydney. It’s too wild a beast. But I can say we felt like we’d conquered something from when we sold out the Hopetoun Hotel a few years ago. Ever since then Sydney has been really good to us. So I guess instead of conquering, we feel like we owe Sydney a great performance whenever we return.

In an early interview one of you said you had to rework tracks from Prisoner to make them less complicated to play live. How much of an influence did that have when writing The Brink?

Prisoner was the first album where we went a bit experimental with the recording process. But what we didn’t think about was recreating the experimentation live. It’s hard to play five guitar layers at once. So, for The Brink we stripped everything back and tried to recreate our live sounds. It was a very liberating process.

What was it about London that made it a good place to record the album? And were you constantly bumping into other Aussie bands?

I saw Matt Corby at our rehearsal studio and subsequently went to his show and he blew my mind, so that was amazing. We became friends with Michael Tomlinson from Yves Klein Blue as well. There are a fair few Australians over there.

Lachlan Mitchell produced your EPs and your first album. Dan Grech-Marguerat worked on The Brink. How different are their styles of production? When looking for a producer, is it the catalogue of artists they have produced that initially attracts you to them?

They are actually surprisingly similar. I mean I didn’t really notice anything different. The most important thing that a producer needs to be is nice, and both Lachlan and Dan are the most beautiful people you could ever meet. For Dan, we saw that he’d worked with artists like Radiohead, Lana del Rey and the Scissor Sisters. He’d had great experience with pop and alternative stuff, and I think we have elements of both in our music. We felt he could be perfect.

How has The Brink been going down live overseas? Which country’s audience reaction has surprised you the most?

It’s been great. We’ve got awesome fans all over the world now. I’d say Germany is a special place for us. I don’t know why the Germans take to us so well – but honestly, I’ve noticed that Germans are very similar to Australians. Maybe that’s it.

A number of Australian musicians have covered your songs. Is there one that appeals to you most, and why?

Two would stick out for me. Firstly, Josh Pyke’s cover of ‘Endless Summer’ was such a great thing because he was the first big artist to take us out on the road. He’s a good friend and an awesome human. But also Big Scary’s cover of ‘Hurt Me’ was beautiful too. They are also great people and musicians, so that was quite amazing.

You’ve been on the road almost constantly for the past two years. What do you enjoy most about touring and what is the secret to staying sane or at least emotionally and spiritually coherent?

First of all, you don’t really stay that sane. I feel, because we spend our time with the same people constantly, you tend to lose some essential social skills. But it’s seriously amazing. It does get hard, however the hard times are the ones you remember the most.

Who on this year’s Splendour line-up would the entire band most like to share an evening with at a good Byron Bay restaurant?

Geez, I’ll take that one and say Future Islands. We saw them play in London a few years ago and we’re all big fans of theirs. That would be a fun evening, I think.

For Splendour in the Grass 2014

Live review: The Jezabels + Gang of Youths – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 6/5/14

the Jezabels Brisbane

SYDNEY’S The Jezabels have been making headlines in the music press recently for two reasons: getting involved in a somewhat exaggerated spat with music critics on the subject of their work credentials and putting on great live shows. So, given that singer Hayley Mary was recently quoted as saying music writers need to “fucking get a real job”, it’s with mixed expectations that I pass through the doors of The Tivoli to catch their show.

Let’s get this straight from the off: this critic remains a big fan of the band and its music, despite the fact this would make me diabolically uncool in certain circles. The Jezabels continue to shrug off their detractors and make simple and great pop music, and they seem to be comfortable with the fact they’re pretty uncool at the same time. Which kind of makes them cool.

Tonight’s gig begins with the excellent Gang of Youths, who are much-improved performance-wise and song-wise since the last time they played this venue supporting Cloud Control in August. ‘Evangelists’ is a stand-out, and the only thing lacking for the band is more time to jam; these guys deserve to be big, and probably will be.

Nick Kaloper, Sam Lockwood and Heather Shannon take to the dimly lit stage of a now-packed house and receive a monumental cheer, before Mary herself strides on dressed in glittery black top and black pants and ups the volume several fold. The band begin in measured fashion with the title track and opening number of new album The Brink. Mary’s voice is what makes The Jezabels better than most similar pop bands; it soars, chills and soothes at different points and at the drop of a hat, while the rest of the band are clinically precise.

‘Endless Summer’ is next, and the audience is in Mary’s hands at this point, followed shortly after by ‘Time To Dance’, which a Jezabels audience doesn’t really do; it’s more of a stand-gawping kind of deal. Mary spins, shuffles and raises her left hand to the roof during the more majestic moments, and while the rest of the band stay fairly static, there’s enough to keep things interesting throughout ‘Look of Love’ and early track ‘Hurt Me’.

‘Beat to Beat’ is a mid-set highlight as Mary stretches her vocal range and gets out into the audience to high-five some fans at front-and-centre, with further big responses for ‘The End’ and ‘Disco Biscuit Love’.

So, what’s the somewhat confused lesson this critic learned from tonight’s gig? It’s this: fuck the critics. Nice work, Jezabels.

Record review: The Jezabels – The Brink (2014, LP)

Sydney quartet The Jezabels have become such an integral part of the Australian indie-rock landscape that it’s easy to forget that their debut album is just a little over two years old. While much of their time has been spent overseas since that well-received debut, The Jezabels are back with a bang and treating their Australian fans to an album release over two weeks before the rest of the world, and that can only be good news for us.

Intense, brooding and full of their trademark grandeur, The Brink picks up where Prisoner left off, albeit with slightly darker undertones and a few new sounds. Soaring anthems are what The Jezabels do best, and ‘Look of Love’, ‘The End’, ‘No Country’ and the title track are the best examples, while ‘Angles of Fire’ adds a touch of Kraftwerk-esque synths and ‘Psychotherapy’ is the token slow-burner.

Hayley Mary’s voice is the unquestionable highlight and places her near the top of the pile of Australian female vocalists plying their trade right now, and when everything else seemingly falls into place so easily, it makes for another strong showing from one of the country’s best exports.