Aussie rock­ers The Jezabels have built their fan­base with a re­lent­less gig­ging sched­ule. But a band is a cool place to be in to see the world, Hayley Mary tells Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

YOU GET the feel­ing that quiet mo­ments are be­com­ing few and far be­tween for Hayley Mary and Sam Lock­wood. The singer and gui­tarist with The Jezabels have just fin­ished sound­check­ing in London’s Heaven venue for an­other gig on the tour which shows no signs of end­ing. While band­mates Heather Shan­non and Nik Kaloper get to dis­ap­pear be­hind head­phones and lap­tops, Mary and Lock­wood have to do an­other in­ter­view about the who, what, why, when and how of the Aus­tralian band.

But the pair are un­likely to com­plain about all this in­ter­est, at least not within earshot of a jour­nal­ist’s recorder. Over the past 18 months, The Jezabels have slowly and steadily built their fan­base and pro­file. Much of this is due to a re­lent­less gig­ging sched­ule which has had them reg­u­larly jump­ing con­ti­nents. But it’s also es­sen­tially down to how grow­ing au­di­ences have em­braced their big, das­tardly pop tunes. A dozen of these hugely in­fec­tious and deeply emo­tional tunes can be found on Prisoner, their de­but al­bum.

“It’s kind of dif­fi­cult still to work out why it all works so well for us”, says Lock­wood about the on­go­ing rise. “We come from re­ally dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal ar­eas and we all have very dif­fer­ent likes in mu­sic, so the best songs are when we man­age to get a bal­ance be­tween those.”

Mary re­calls that one of the first times things clicked for the nascent band was on a band-date to see The Na­tional play in Syd­ney.

“When we were start­ing off and we’d only four songs writ­ten, we went to see them and we took a lot from that in terms of what we could do with our sound. It opened our minds that we could write mu­sic which was melodic and nice and still be in­tense and earnest and dark and all these things The Na­tional are. It was a bit of an eye-opener.”

While the band ini­tially came to­gether when the four met at univer­sity in Syd­ney, the Jezabels’ story be­gan in By­ron Bay. The town on Australia’s east coast is a surf­ing nir­vana, a place where, Mary notes, you’ve got Jack John­son and other bluesy, rootsy acts blar­ing from ev­ery bar on the main street. It’s where Mary and key­board player Shan­non grew up and first be­gan to play.

“We went to school to­gether and we started play­ing mu­sic to­gether. We did a lot of open-mic nights. The ma­te­rial was a lot more laid­back and folky and im­ma­ture. I sup­pose there were some sim­i­lar­i­ties we def­i­nitely had some heav­ily ro­man­tic, melo­dra­matic lyrics. I sup­pose they were al­ways there.”

Would-be English and sci­ence teach­ers Lock­wood and Kaloper came into the picture in Syd­ney. “It wasn’t in­ten­tion­ally a plan to join a band to avoid the hum­drum of a class­room or es­cape from that,” says Lock­wood. “You need a hobby. I’ve al­ways wanted to be in a band and when I moved to Syd­ney to go to univer­sity, I joined a band, but I didn’t re­alise it would come to this.”

“A band is a cool place to be in to see the world,” says Mary. “It’s not se­ri­ous, but it can be taken se­ri­ously. It’s not im­por­tant, but it’s im­por­tant to those who do it.”

Nearly five years on, be­ing in that band has be­come a much big­ger and all-con­sum­ing thing than any­one thought would be the case at their first shows in 2007. Mary feels, though, that it was clear from early on that the com­bi­na­tion was right.

“Af­ter our first show, we got a re­ally good re­ac­tion and that’s the im­pe­tus you need to keep go­ing. There are so many bands out there that find­ing one where you’re happy and ev­ery­thing works is re­ally ex­cep­tional. I think ev­ery­one has this de­sire to play mu­sic with a bunch of mu­si­cians who work well to­gether and can write great songs to­gether. It is very ex­cit­ing when you find that, es­pe­cially when peo­ple around you, like your friends, get ex­cited about what you’re do­ing.”

For Long­wood, the signs to stick with it came in the songs they were pro­duc­ing. “There was a song we used to play called Noah’s Ark that we used to end our sets on and that was our big tune and what made us dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­one else. There was some­thing we did in that song which kind of showed us in a dif­fer­ent light to ev­ery­one else,” he says.

“Our first sin­gle Disco Bis­cuit Love was an­other im­por­tant part in our de­vel­op­ment”, adds Mary. “I had the cho­rus and Sam knew ex­actly the riff it needed. We fin­ished the song on the spot. That was a real mo­ment when we re­alised some­thing was hap­pen­ing.”

As has been the case from the early days, Mary’s lyrics are al­ways men­tioned in the despatches along­side the in­tense swell of the band’s mu­sic. “When I was younger, my lyrics were in­tense and ro­man­tic, but they were far more deriva­tive,” she says.

“When the band came along, I be­gan to hone my voice a bit to the sound of the band. I’ve found that there’s only so many things you can ac­tu­ally pull off in a song to this mu­sic, so I re­ally only write what I think will fit. It’s very in­tu­itive.

“Most of the time the sto­ries in the songs are fic­tional, I rarely write songs with def­i­nite peo­ple in mind. I ap­proach the lyrics like they’re po­etry, and it’s great to be able to hide in a made-up world and work things out in that way. I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in how fem­i­nism is por­trayed from when I did gen­der stud­ies in univer­sity and some of the songs are me work­ing out my thoughts on that. There’s a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity around fem­i­nism and I sup­pose I’m try­ing to ad­dress my strug­gle on try­ing to be a mod­ern fem­i­nist.” She’s found that as time goes on she’s got bet­ter at shap­ing those words. “I’m more crit­i­cal now about what we’re ar­tic­u­lat­ing in the songs and how we do it. Be­fore, I think we al­ways ex­ag­ger­ated cer­tain el­e­ments, like the tragedy side of things, but I know I now re­ally think about what I’m talk­ing about, es­pe­cially when I’m writ­ing about fe­males. We’ve just be­come darker and more self-aware as we’ve gone on.”

That process will con­tinue as the tour­ing to plug Prisoner goes into over­drive. By the time they come to a stop some­time in the next 18 months, The Jezabels will be a sight to see. “Tour­ing is what makes you as a per­former,” says Mary. “You can lose it if you don’t play for a while. The more we play, the more ex­cited we are about be­ing in a band and the more we re­alise what we can do.”

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