The Jezabels - Interview

27 February 2014

With their second album 'The Brink' having been recently released in the UK, we spoke to The Jezabels' lead singer Hayley Mary as the band prepare to head out on tour once again. Having previously taken a break from the world of touring after a bad case of land-sickness, the group are well and truly ready to reach their fans live once again.

The Jezabels spoke to us about the trials and tribulations of being on the road, getting bad reviews and adapting their music for live shows.

Contactmusic: Your new album 'The Brink' is out in the UK today, what can you tell us about that?
Hayley Mary: I think it's a little shorter than our last album, I think it's a little bit more optimistic, warmer, possibly a little bit more poppy and concise. The themes we touched on were gender and romance which are things I tend to be attracted to but I think moving to London and writing this record kind of made us a bit more aware of the world and world issues and the things that the UK has in contrast to Australia. It's colder and harder here, it's less isolated, there's class issues and they're inherent, there's immigration and there's people coming from places where I can't even imagine how hard it is. There's just a hell of a lot more going on in every way and I think there's also a sort of cynicism that I had not encountered in such quantity before, living here. I think that affected the record quite a bit. I think everyone expected to write a darker record but I think we made a lighter record, a more upbeat, positive record as a result of feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the issues of the world.

CM: After the success of your previous releases, did you feel any pressure to ensure 'The Brink' lived up to that level?
HM: Yeah, but successes are relative. People say that 'Prisoner' was successful and I guess to an extent it was; we got to tour internationally and we live off our music. There was definitely pressure but it was probably to make something more successful. We tried to be more concise in our songwriting and a little bit less indulgent with how much we put into a song; we kind of were a little bit more ruthless with ourselves. That might have been pressure, subconsciously that might have been a desire to break through some kind of wall into a more mainstream world but we never really talked about that. We just wrote more poppy stuff.

CM: You've previously mentioned that it was tough taking a year out after all the touring you did, does that come through at all in the album?
HM: I think it does. I think it was kind of like land-sickness; you know when you go on a boat for ages and then you get off and you still feel like you're on a boat? That's worse than sea-sickness. It's just a bit of a whirlwind going all over the world, a different city every day and knowing you're doing the same thing in every place. When we arrived in London which was a new city to us at the time, we were like, 'Okay, it's freezing, it's raining, everyone's a little bit depressed and we're now here for good until we make a record.' I think the touring had both physical and mental tolls on us; some of us got physically sick, some of us got mentally not so good. That comes out in the record I think, in that maybe I talk a little bit about cynicism and feeling alienated and that kind of thing, but I think also we used the music as a kind of therapy. We made a really positive record because of how down and out we felt.

CM: Were the songs written more for a live audience or more as a narrative for the album?
HM: Probably to be played live. 'Prisoner' turned out to be a concept album; it wasn't written like that once I had the idea that it should be a letter to a prisoner, it became a story for the album. We played live for a couple of years on that record and we played a lot live on the EPs and we discovered things that just don't work and things that do. We really are a live band; it's a contemporary thing to be a live band because that's where bands exist now, in the live sphere. Albums don't sell unless you're massive/mainstream.

CM: So were you adapting your songs for live purposes with this last record?
HM: Yeah, we were. It was a real struggle. Part of it is just practice, some things just click easier and some things need a lot of practice, but some things are just impossible. You just can't do them live without six session musicians or something and not many indie bands can afford that. You've always got the advantage of being live as an element in itself that the record can never give you, but records also have that magic that live can never give you, that perfect sound. We're adapting a lot and we were conscious of trying to make songs that work live this time.

CM: You've been compared to Paramore and Evanescence, - both bands which you're very different to -  how do feel seeing those sorts of comparisons?
HM: I find it interesting because that wasn't the case with our last record which was much more gothic and possibly should've been more comparable with those bands. This one is much more pop and I'm sort of surprised but as a musician you start realising that even Paramore and Evanescence deserve a little bit of respect for how hard they've probably worked and how much skill goes into actually making a pop record. The honest answer is I think people making those comparisons are missing the point with that record and missing the meaning entirely. That's fine but it's just lazy; particularly as a female vocalist, I've gone through my career noticing the different female vocalists that I get compared to. None of them have actually knocked the nail on the head except Kate Bush - sometimes I am influenced by her but the majority of my influences are male. 

CM: The album art is very unique, who was behind the design?
HM: Jarek Puczel. He's a Polish artist and we honestly just found him because we were talking about the themes of the album with our graphic designer and we decided that the record was sounding a lot warmer than our previous stuff and that photography might be a little cold for what we were doing and we wanted to make a painting instead. I talked to him about intimacy versus alienation and that resonated with him and he found those artworks. The cover artwork is beautiful; I believe it's two people kissing but you can't see their faces and it's the perfect contrast between the most intimate thing and the most anonymous thing.

CM: Were you listening to any albums whilst writing the record and did they influence the sound?
HM: The guitarist, Sam, was listening to Talk Talk a bit; I don't know Talk Talk but I'm told they influenced the sound. For me, I think Cocteau Twins. I discovered them in the last couple of years and think they're pretty cool, mainly because people told me I would like them because we sounded like we were influenced by them before but weren't. I think influences are not as direct a thing as people think. I don't feel like I had anything that I was particularly listening to as I don't really listen to much music while I'm writing. I don't listen to much music full stop, actually. Influences are just there; you can't always name them, it's not always conscious.

CM: Do you find it difficult to make the contrast between upbeat melodies and darker lyrics?
HM: I don't find it difficult, I find it necessary. I love epic and beautiful melodies that make you feel good but I find it really hard to sing like that. I write some pretty cheesy lyrics, don't get me wrong, but there's a level that I just won't go to when it comes to cheese and  I think if you have a really cheesy, melodramatic melody that sounds uplifting and then you put uplifting lyrics in it as well, it's almost intolerable. You need a poetry to it all, you need a contrast or juxtaposition otherwise it is one-dimensional. I can't believe in something unless it has some ambiguity to it because I don't believe that there is some kind of fundamental truth in the world. Similarly, I can't just write depressing s***, there has to be a positive angle or a silver lining otherwise it doesn't really reflect life or who we are as people.

CM: You're back on the road soon, are you glad to get back to touring?
HM: I wondered why people asked, "Do you prefer touring to writing and recording?" because I didn't really think about it but this time round I realised I loved touring. I need people to be clapping at me nightly or I get depressed [laughs]. I love being in the same place and I love London and various other cities but there is something magical about playing shows and getting on stage and playing songs that you've worked on. There's nothing like it, it's just the best part of music I think.

CM: Do you have that spotlight mentality that you like to be the centre of attention?
HM: Well, sort of but I also, like most people who like to be centre of attention, underneath it all have low self-esteem. I don't think I'm particularly great but I'm not particularly happy when people say I'm not great. Any singer who pretends they're not an egotist is, again, lying. Anyone in a band who pretends they're not doing it for other people to love them is also lying.

CM: Where'd been your favourite place to perform so far?
HM: I really like Scotland and Ireland for some reason. I like the peripheries of the really major markets like Canada, Scotland and Ireland, and New Zealand. When you're just outside America or England, it's that regional vibe that you get where people are not as snobby and spoiled for music as they are in London, for example. I love Germany as well. There's nothing like home as well; Australia has the greatest crowds. It's not a coincidence that our shows are selling out in Scotland and Ireland, I like playing those places because they like coming. I like people who like us.

CM: What can we expect to see for the rest of 2014 from The Jezabels?
HM: It all depends on whether you people stop giving us terrible reviews or not. We might never come back here! [Laughs] No, it's all about touring for us this year. I don't know how long it will last for; it depends on how many people come and how many people buy the record. I think we'll go to America after the UK and Europe and then we'll go to Australia - we get to play the Opera House which I'm pretty excited about. Two nights and one of them's on my birthday. Then we're not sure; maybe we'll come back to Europe for some festivals if they'll have us.

CM: To finish off let's do a quick Q&A: Who's your favourite fashion icon?
HM: Edward Scissorhands.

CM: Name a band you like who we may not have heard of.
HM: Crowd Control.

CM: Any pet hates?
HM: I hate it when people think it's bad for a band to want to be big.

CM: What movie bad guy would you be?
The Joker!

CM: A song you wish you'd written yourself.
HM: 'Summer of '69'.

CM: What was your favourite cartoon whilst growing up? 
The Rugrats or The Simpsons, it's undeniable! 

CM: Thanks very much for your time, Hayley!

Nathan Mack

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