(From left to right: Sam Lockwood, Heather Shannon, Hayley Mary and Nick Kaloper of Australian band The Jezabels)
The Jezabels must love Singapore a whole lot. They are due back on 25 January 2014 for the Laneway Festival. And it will be the alternative rockers’ fourth time here (unheard of, around these parts) since their appearances at Music Matters (2011), The People’s Party (January 2012, alongside Bombay Bicycle Club and The Naked & Famous) and a solo gig at Home Club (June 2012).
Named after the much-maligned female figure in biblical history, the Australian band are made up of lead singer Hayley Mary, keyboardist Heather Shannon, guitarist Sam Lockwood and drummer Nick Kaloper. They have come a long way from their days as a band in Sydney University to opening on tour for bands such as Depeche Mode and Pixies in the UK.
Mary told inSing in a phone interview from Dublin that Singapore is one of the band’s “favourite places to tour in the world”. The weather is a welcome change after spending time in Europe, where the band have been for more than a year working on a new album titled ‘The Brink’, and touring.
“We’re very excited to play a festival (in Singapore) because we’ve done our own shows there. The Laneway lineup is going to be incredible. We’re just really happy to be on that lineup with all the other amazing bands,” Mary said.
THE ASIAN FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE
Armed with their echo-y, '80s New Wave-influenced rock, the foursome are now seasoned pros on the touring circuit. Mary enjoys playing both intimate gigs and festivals. She said: “In an intimate gig where people come to just see you, it’s wonderful. It’s got a certain energy and you know that everyone’s there to see you. You don’t feel like you need to work to hold their attention as much.
"But a festival is exciting because there’s pressure. You’re part of a group of bands travelling and you can just maybe get a few more fans, or entertain people on a fun day so it’s a little bit more lighthearted.”
Now more used to beer-fuelled gigs in Scotland and Dublin, Ireland where the band have just played, Mary is eager to see the audience response at Laneway in Singapore. “It’s always interesting to see how crowds react. Sometimes they just stand there and clap really politely, and some are crazy. I’ve never seen a crowd in Asia in a festival setting, so I want to see how you guys will react.”
But before she steps on stage to face the audience, Mary has her own pre-show routine. She insists on wearing red lipstick on stage and likens it to “putting on (her) show mask”, where she can become a character or someone else, “someone more powerful than yourself".
"I don’t know why. Sometimes if I forget my red lipstick, I kind of freak out,” she said candidly.
THE JEZABELS 2.0
Known more for their melancholic lyrics and moody, echo-soaked riffs, The Jezabels are still, in Mary’s words, “very much us, but a step up” in their new musical phase.
The band had just finished work on their second studio album, recorded in London. It marks the first time the band are working with producer Dan Grech-Marguerat (Moby, Lana Del Rey, The Kooks). She said ‘The Brink’, due out in January 2014, “sounds like quite a positive, warm record, but it has darker themes”.
She added: “I was excited to go in a more feel-good direction with the music. I think we’ve done that. Hopefully, people won’t feel like it’s a complete change from our last stuff, but I think what we’ve done is simplify the way we write. It’s the first time we’re sounding more like we’re playing together as a band, rather than four individual parts put together.”
PUTTING A FACE TO BODY OF MUSIC
Their songwriting process with the new album has also evolved. “With (first LP) ‘Prisoner’, we wrote as we recorded. So it was a bit more of a conceptual, experimental record,” she said.
With new album 'The Brink', there was more discipline involved.
”We locked ourselves away in the studio and wrote for quite a few months. So it would begin with a riff or a drum beat or a vocal line or some kind of melody, and we would all just jam over it for hours until it sounded good. And then we would add another section,” she revealed.
As the main songwriter, Mary starts off by singing a melody over what the band has jammed. Then she goes off to “write some lyrics that I think will suit how the music makes you feel”. She described it as "trying to put a face to the body of music".
But it has also been an escape, of sorts, as Mary revealed that "I was a little bit down during this year at times". She admitted that "songs are a good place to explore sides of yourself you’re too scared to explore in reality".
"But I think I felt a great deal of hope, and the desire to keep going and not give up, and I think that comes through on the record."
That positivity is manifest on first single, 'The End', which is uncharacteristically upbeat for a Jezabels track, with Mary's gleaming vocals, beachy guitar licks and an undeniable hint of shoegaze.
Mary was more spirited when talking about the band's very memorable name.
In a funny story, she said that her father almost named her Jezebel: "He used to always tell me it was a great name. But my mum wouldn’t let him.
“(She is) one of the many female figures in history who has been painted as a whore possibly because she was just a strong woman. We thought we could reclaim the name, so that when people hear it, eventually as we get bigger, they’ll start to have a different understanding of the term ‘jezebel’,” she said.
She admited that it was all “very ambitious”, but said, “we’ll get there one day”.
The Jezabels will be at the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2014 | Date: 25 January 2014 | Time: To be confirmed | Venue: The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay | Tickets: $150 (standard ticket); refer to the Laneway Festival website for full package details