Zimbio Exclusive: Australia's The Jezabels Talk Involuntary Highs and Justin Bieber
What's your writing process like?
Hayley Mary of The Jezabels performs on stage on day two of the Falls Music Festival on December 30, 2011 in Lorne, Australia. (Getty Images)more pics »
The Jezabels aren't really sure when they'll next catch a break. Though they get the occasional rash of free days here and there, the Sydney-based band has been touring relentlessly since last September in support of their debut album, Prisoner, bouncing from main stage festival gigs to intimate club shows from continent to continent. De facto nomads, they've reached the point where they find themselves rhapsodizing about well-designed suitcases and equipment storage. With dates planned through November, frontwoman Haley Mary supposes they'll slow down next year... when they start work on their next album.
The band is at a very interesting juncture. In their native Australia they're practically household names, having nabbed the $30,000 Australian Music Prize in March (other nominees included Gotye and his pixie dream girl duet partner Kimbra). They played their last sold-out hometown date at the 5,500-person capacity Hordern Pavillion, but when I spoke to them at the Governors Ball Festival in New York City, they had performed the night before to about 40 people in a Miami club. The band's intense, New Wave-influenced pop is still under the radar in the States, but all that might change if they can get that Justin Bieber collaboration lined up.
Zimbio: So you are planning for your next album — do you know much about the creative direction it will go?
Haley Mary: Nothing, really.
Nik Kaloper: Nothing's been planned. You hear about bands that start to piece stuff together on the road, but we don't know how they do it. We just tour and we don't find time to write. So we haven't written anything for it. When it comes time, we're just going to start with a blank piece of paper and fill it up with things that don't suck.
H: We sort of have a process with the songs but it's really hard to describe. It's collaborative, but it varies every time, depending on who comes up with the initial idea. It could be a really small idea, and then we'll all just add to it. It might be rhythmic, like a drum idea, or a guitar idea, or whatever, and we'll all just add to it. And generally speaking, the lyrics come last, cause, I don't know why, it seems more natural to come up with the music first. The more poppy, simple ones are often more vocally driven, I suppose, and I only know a few chords, so that's all I can put around them. But the more musically complex ones generally come from the musicians, as opposed to me.
What do you find inspiring, lyrically?
H: I find the music quite inspiring, actually, but I suppose if we're talking about themes, I guess...I'm a bit of a fan of old, eighteenth century gothic literature. Like, novels written by Ann Radcliffe and the Brontë sisters and that kind of thing. I said gothic, but I don't mean new age gothic, I mean romanticism and tragedy and all that kind of stuff. But also what that means is that it kind of ties in with sexuality and gender. Particularly female sexuality.
You have a very dynamic voice, with a striking, confident intensity. When did you discover that you had such a unique sound?
H: I find that people sometimes say that to me, but I find it's actually the opposite in that I don't feel like I have a way I'm supposed to sound — I'll sing one line very differently to another line, because I'm kind of mimicking a different style depending on the meaning or whatever. So I'm kind of just like a bit of a very derivative singer, but I won't sing in the same style the whole time, so people don't notice. It's just drawing from a lot of different things.
Congrats on winning the Australian Music Prize. What are you going to do with the $30,000?
H: (dryly) We've already spent it on gaffe tape. That's literally my answer. No, I don't know where it went but it has been spent on just touring, really.
N: Just living while you're touring, yeah.
H: I bought a new suitcase.
N: I bought a whole bunch of pouches. Now I have separate pouches for my socks and jeans and undies and shirts in my own suitcase, which is very helpful. If you travel a lot I recommend it.
H: People think this is frivolous, but it's actually very meaningful for us.
Do you have permanent homes?
H: I had a suitcase that fell over every time you tried to stand it up—
N: So symbolic!
H: And that seems like no big deal, but if this is like every day I'm moving to a new place, and it just falls over, it's like, that's my life. So we've got good new suitcases and a few guitar strings.
From the standard Zimbio question set: Name three things that suck about your job.
N: Well, in anything you can find something that sucks, but ultimately, I really like what I do, so—
H: I imagine the good thing's gonna follow this, so we'll be ok. Um, no stability.
N: Trying to maintain relationships with people you care about. That's hard.
H: People hate you. Sometimes, for very little. Well, like, people want to criticize musicians because there's some really immense sense of expectations that like, musicians are going to do something amazing or that it's really important or something, and so people are very heavily critical, and sometimes you're like, 'I'm just a person, singing a song!'
N: We got an email on the band account the other day asking for a refund to one of our shows because they thought it was awful.
H: It's like, 'Well, you should write to the politicians who are responsible for like, wars and stuff. Why do you need to hate on us?' So that's a third thing, I reckon.
Perfect. What's the most surreal—
H: Wait, you didn't give us three good things!
Give them to me.
H: To counter the last one that I said, people are irrationally fond of you.
N: So much so it's like, 'We don't know each other! Settle down!' But it's great.
H: And you get to travel the world.
N: I mean, it's an obvious one. In the sucks column you can say, you've been to so many cities and you've seen none of them. But you've been to so many cities, so yeah, that's pretty cool.
H: We need one more.
N: Doing what you love.
H: Yeah. I never feel like I'm going to work. Sometimes I'm kind of like, 'I wish I could have a choice about what I'm going to do today,' but generally I'm like, 'I'm not working in a bar anymore.'
N: Yeah, no one who makes money has that choice, really.
What's been your most surreal experience on the road?
N: This is my go-to story, but I still find it the most surreal story. One of favorite bands of all time is Sunny Day Real Estate, and we ended up playing right before them, on a main stage at a festival, and they watched our whole set. I walked up and was just like, 'Sorry, I just have to say I love you guys, thank you so much for making music,' and they were like 'Oh, you guys just played a great set, that was awesome!' Then they walked onstage and played a set and I watched them—
H: He just like, pooed his pants.
N: Yeah. There was just poop everywhere.
If you could collaborate with anyone in mainstream pop, or if you had to, rather, who would it be?
H: Oh, that's so hard.
N: Would you not want to do Lady Gaga?
N: 'Cause you find her interesting...
H: Well I liked her first album. But not the last one.
N: My big problem is I don't listen to mainstream pop at all. So, it's like, for shits... what kind of bestial lovechild would come out of us working with Nicki Minaj? Just for a laugh, really.
H: Yeah, I'd be cool with that. I think I'd choose Justin Bieber, though.
N: Oh, my god. She said it.
H: Though I might get killed. I'd get killed.
The Beliebers just threaten. They don't ever follow through.
H: Oh, no no no. Beyonce!
N: Beyonce? That would be cool! Hell yeah.
First album you ever bought?
N: Diamonds and Pearls by Prince.
H: Abba Gold.
First illegal download?
N: Pedro the Lion's first EP. I've bought everything since then because I love him.
H: I do not admit to crimes on record.
So then you're not going to answer my question about what you were listening to the first time you got stoned.
H: Dr. Dre, The Chronic.
N: I think we were watching films, actually. What were we watching? It was some stoner film like Super Troopers or some bullshit like that when I was like, 16. That was funny.
H: Actually, to be fair, Dr. Dre the Chronic was the one that I listened to when I first voluntarily got stoned. I did accidentally eat a cake when I was like 7. It was my first day at this new primary school, actually. And everyone thought I was crazy. Like, totally crazy. I was jumping off walls, it was insane, and my parents didn't know what to do, they just sent me.
N: You wouldn't keep the kid at home if you accidentally got them stoned?
H: Well, I don't think they realized how much I'd eaten. I don't even know if they knew I'd eaten it when they sent me, but they realized later and were like, 'So how... was... school?' And I was like, 'I don't know! Everyone thought I was crazy.' And then the next day they thought I was even more crazy 'cause I was totally normal.
N: A band called the Gloria Record in San Diego, at like a youth center. No one's heard of them.
H: I had my dad's band that I had to go to. They were called Celtic Rock. But I think my first actual one that I went to as a person and paid for was probably like, a hardcore show or something. I think it might have been a Parkway Drive show.
How do your parents feel about your music?
N: It's embarrassing. My mom might be one of our biggest fans. She actually bought multiple copies of our CD at the local record store so they got the impression we were well-liked in that area.
H: My dad does a similar thing, but he's strange, 'cause he's like, our biggest fan but also our biggest critic, he feels like he needs to tell you his opinions. Actually, that's one of the things that sucks about our job. People think they need to tell you their opinion on what you could do better all the time.