Interview: Midnight Juggernauts
Melbourne’s Midnight Juggernauts swept in on a wave of hype back in 2007 with their debut album, Dystopia. In 2010 they released their well received sophomore effort, The Crystal Axis, but for the last three years they’ve been suspiciously quiet. Until now that is. Something You Said’s Dean Rostron recently chatted with Vincent Vendetta about their new album, their upcoming Australian tour, their unusual interest in vintage Soviet culture and the potential pitfalls of being an indie band in the digital age:
The album title, ‘Uncanny Valley’ refers to roboticist Masohiro Mori’s hypothesis of the human relationship with the aesthetics of androids. Why did you choose this as your new album title?
We thought it was an interesting concept. The idea of this ascent towards perfection and the gulf of Revulsion before this peak is quite dramatic. While it was created within the robotics and CGI worlds, this concept could also be applied to art and music, or even life and relationships, depending on how abstract one would like to get. We thought those dynamic emotional shifts were appealing and remind me of torment and turmoil in other fields.
You’ve previously described this album as ‘Soviet sci-fi pop’, your record label is titled ‘Siberia Records’ and the video for ‘Ballad of the War Machine’ was recently filmed in Russia and portrays you as a lost Soviet pop band. Where does this interest in Russian culture come from?
We initially called our label Siberia as it seemed like the most far away fantasy location at the end of the earth. It shadowed our vision of our own country Australia, being far away in the antipodes away from the rest of the world. We like that idea of seclusion, where unique environments can foster unique creations. Though in Russia we also loved the deep and dynamic history and culture that place holds. They’ve had so many significant eras of change which is so intriguing. I have this book called Cosmic Communist Constructions which documents soviet architecture through the ‘60s and ‘70s which was also a good inspiration. It’s great when a creation whether it be a building or monument or a song can represent an evocative mood or a dramatic moment in time. We also just wanted to shoot a video of us dancing on top of jetfighters.
‘Uncanny Valley’ appears to have themes of technology throughout. Have you ever been tempted to make a completely electronic record using no acoustic instruments?
We’ve made music which was completely electronic before. It’s probably easier to create a record this way. However when we create music for this band the initial sketch of an idea will often come first from a guitar of similar, so we usually have a trace of that which we build upon. Though we’ve made music which was just techno beats and arpeggios which we’re into as well. I guess it just comes down to the mood we’re in that week of recording.
You recorded part of this album in France and other parts in your own studio. As home/project studio recording technology increases exponentially and recording budgets are cut do you see large studios going by the wayside and more artists producing and recording in their own studios?
Yeah it’s been a dramatic shift over the last 10 years or so. Pretty soon it will only be the largest acts that will be able to afford going near the old large studios. Artists are definitely getting more adept at creating on home studio set ups. Ableton was a big advancement for lots of acts out there too. We’ll usually write sketches with Ableton while on the road, and then do proper recordings with Protools at our home set ups. Whatever feels comfortable.
Before the digital age an artist would tour to generate album sales. Now it seems the bulk of an artist’s income is generated by live performance, merchandising and sync deals. The album almost serves as a marketing tool in this new model. Has this been true in the case of Midnight Juggernauts?
Yes this would be the same with us. I think we’ve done ok being able to balance all of these different aspects, though touring is definitely a driving force to get your music heard.
Where does the writing process generally start towards a Midnight Juggernauts song and has this changed over the years?
A lot of our songs are quite different but often someone will come up with a sketch of a song which we’ll then jam on and others may expand upon. Sometimes it will end up being a long winding jam so we’ll try to condense it to make it a bit more palatable. It’s easy to become self indulgent while writing but we’ll try to balance that aspect so people can still connect with the music.
You explore the evolution of CGI in the video for your latest single, ‘Memorium’? How does this relate to the song itself or was it just a cool concept you wanted to explore in a video?
Well the ‘Uncanny Valley’ concept was the idea of this attempt to reach an appealing human likeness in robotics or computer technology. With the concept for the ‘Memorium’ video we liked the idea of the early years of computer technology also attempting to reach this recreation of human likeness and human emotion. That parallel was interesting between the album concept and the video concept, plus the lyrics of the song portray a warped nostalgia which worked well when place against the early wireframe memory footage.
You have an Australian tour coming up in August. How do you reconcile the vast production values on your albums in a live situation?
It’s often a different beast but there’s a lot of songs on this album which we also wrote with the stage in mind. Plus we’re taking more gear and have another member who jumps in on stage whenever there’s new parts needed to be played, or synth dials to be turned. All this can cause havoc with airline excess baggage.
It was not uncommon for an artist to release one or two albums a year a few decades ago. Do you feel there is increased pressure to tour an album for an extended period of time these days and does this have an effect on your ability to create and ultimately release new music?
That could be the case. However I think we could probably do two albums a year. We’re constantly writing and have a great deal of music sitting there which we should probably finish off. Another factor is that we’d been juggling other projects and focussing elsewhere for a little while too. It would be great to have more music out there though. Maybe we’ll try crack the whip.
What is your favourite song on the new album and which is your favourite to Midnight Juggernauts song to play live?
Different songs on the album appeal to me at different times, depending what mood I’m in. I do like ‘HCL’ at the start though as I feel it represents different moods and terrains we’ve covered over our lifespan, from then to now. I like playing any song like that live where we can expand or play with build ups. Will be good to see which songs the audience respond to. They can be our guinea pigs.
If you happen to be in Aus, you can see Midnight Juggers at the following venues. Their new album ‘Uncanny Valley’ is out now on Siberia Records.
Friday 09 August – The Lighthouse, Darwin (Darwin Festival)
Wednesday 14 August – Bar on the Hill, Sydney
Friday 16 August – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday 17 August – Zierholz @ UC, Canberra
Friday 23 August – Karova Lounge, Melbourne
Saturday 24 August – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Friday 30 August – The Hi-Fi (Brisbane), Brisbane
Saturday 31 August – The Northern (Byron Bay), Sydney
Friday 6 September – Prince of Wales Hotel, Perth
Saturday 7 September – Capitol, Perth
Friday 13 September – Adelaide Uni Bar, Adelaide
Interview by Dean Rostron.