Interview: The Jezabels are on The Brink

In the lead-up to the imminent release of The Jezebels’ new album, The Brink,’s Jess Matthews caught up with Heather Shannon, the lady behind the keys of the band:

The first single of the album is called ‘The End’. What’s the significance of that particular track being brought out before the actual album? It feels kind of like when you pull the death card in a tarot reading… like an end before a new beginning or something?
‘The End’ did come together in a bit of a backward way because Hayley (vocalist) had the lyrics to the chorus for quite a while and then we came up with the groove for the song afterwards. She was stressing out a bit about writing another album, she didn’t know if she had it in her or could find the creativity so she would just sing ‘this is the end, the end, the end…’

So the song did originally emerge from a bit of an internally ambiguous place then?
Yeah it did but she (Hayley) often has that feeling when we have to write stuff… she just stresses a bit.

Generally speaking, how does the creative process work with you guys?
This time around it was pretty relaxed, we just jammed for about six months so it was fairly collaborative. Sometimes we worked one-on-one just to change it up a bit but that got pretty messy. Comparatively it was different to the creative process of Prisoner because with that we recorded at the same time so it didn’t have that same vibe that comes from playing together live that The Brink does. We missed that and wanted to make sure we recreated it.

How does The Brink sound? Is it quite different to Prisoner?
Definitely. I think it’s a lot more approachable and there’s not as much reverb, it’s far more direct in presenting in our ideas. I think we really wanted to get straight to the point with the song writing this time so we cut out a lot of stuff that wasn’t necessary.

You’ve said that Prisoner was a little bit melodramatic, oppressive and reflective of internalised personal feelings… is The Brink a departure from that?
Absolutely. It feels like a bit of release, that sort of inherent depth of feeling is still there but it’s a bit more balanced this time by other elements of our music.

When do you start touring with The Brink?
Our first show is in Singapore with Laneway (Festival) and then our first Australian show is in Brisbane on the 31st of January. We’ve only played Brisbane Laneway in the past so it’ll be nice to be on home ground in Sydney this time.

What’s been your favourite live show experience?
That’s a really hard question… there’s been so many. I did love our Tai Pei show though. It was really different and we didn’t expect anyone to actually come but we managed to get about 100 people there still. It was just very memorable and so unique.

Have you had any weird fan experiences at shows?
Actually we had a really awesome show this year in London which was quite small, about 250 people or something and it seemed as though people from all over Europe flew in to come and see us. There was a girl there from Saudi Arabia and she said that she had flown in for the show… she told us that she was in a band of her own but its against the law to play music in public there, particularly for women so they have to play in these underground venues in secret. One of her friends had been arrested for flyering for one of their gigs! She had some pretty amazing stories and it was awesome to meet someone like that.

the jezabels interviewOn that feminist type note… the band name, The Jezebels, how did that come about? Obviously in The Bible Jezebel was a prostitute…
It was kind of a joke between Hayley and her dad… I think he wanted to call her that when she was born and her Mum completely disagreed. So it was her idea to call the band that. It’s not really such a controversial thing anymore so it doesn’t really have the same weighting. I guess it might be a little bit of a feminist, women power thing though.

And how do the boys feel about that?
Fine! They’re massive feminists! Haha.

The Jezebels have expressed an interest in touring with The National, which I think is fitting because you sort of sound like a sort of feminine/softer version of The National, is that any closer to happening?
I’m not sure, it actually almost happened but they decided to choose another band in the end. But I mean hopefully we’ll play with them one day anyway, we’d still like to.

If you had to listen to three songs for the rest of your life….
Ummm shit. Can I choose classical pieces?

1. Chopin – piano concerto #1
2. Shostakovic – symphony #11
3. Bach – Something Almost Being Said

Not a Jezebels track?! What’s your favourite Jezebels track?
Probably one of the new ones, from The Brink.

The Australian music landscape is in a state of flux at the moment, what do you think this means for more traditional bands like The Jezebels?
Well the way audiences access music has changed a lot so with sites like Spotify audiences are buying less music which means there’s less capital behind us all. Because of that trend bands like us possibly won’t be able to afford to tour anymore because of the high cost… so that might make diminish… and the popularity of single producers will probably rise instead.

And in terms of a sonic evolution of sound? The contrast of the constant amalgamation of genres from electronic producers like Flume, Jagwar Ma and The xx that are changing the way audiences tastes and how they consume music… do you think that will mean that the more instrument-driven sound will become less popular in the future, or the opposite?
I guess the whole band thing is starting to look a little bit old fashioned but also I think, when it comes to playing instruments it’s really different… nobody wants to hear a guitarist rock out anymore with a guitar solo. Artists definitely have a more modern way of playing now and adapting to musical trends.

Perhaps it will work the opposite way too though, because trends are cyclical so maybe audiences will get sick of listening to the mess of hybrid stuff that is so popular now and rediscover a respect for the fact that you guys are playing traditional instruments with a legitimate amount of talent and finesse… Maybe it will actually work in your favour in the end?
Yeah, it’s similar to the way people are consuming music now too, ie. online…but despite that there’s also now a massive resurgent trend to buy records again….similar kind of concept. It’s a bit of a throwback trend.

Exactly, just like beards are back in fashion now too. HAHA. So, talking about musical hybridity…..if you had to give The Jezebels a creative sub genre name what would it be? Where would you fit?

Ok, well what three adjectives would you use to describe your current sound?
Last night we were listening to The Brink with Sam’s (guitarist) parents and Sam’s mum who is very into music said, “this sounds like a protest song”, and I thought it was a really awesome perspective on some of our new music because a lot of it is quite political, in an objective way, not preachy but quite affected. I really liked that comment, I think it’s quite fitting for The Brink. So, Protest will fit somewhere in there…

And then also ‘Goth’ and ‘Romance’…

So, The Jezebels could effectively be Romantic-Protest Goth?!

The Brink is due for release on the 31st of January in Aus/NZ and in February everywhere else. You can catch them at Groovin The Moo 2014. For full details of the festival and ticket info, head to the Groovin the Moo website.

jess matthews


Interview by Jess Matthews