First came the swarms of flying ants. Then the bees flooded down the chimneys. Before long the giant rats invaded. Holed up in a remote writing studio in Crescent Head, deep in a national park in Northern Australian, Jagwar Ma must have thought some all-powerful being was sending Biblical plagues to stop their second album, and feared for their first-writ.
“People think it was Exile on Main Street but it was more Withnail and I,” says singer and guitarist Gabriel Winterfield. “We had to deal with a flea infestation while recording [2013 debut album] ‘Howlin’’,” adds guitarist, beat-maker and producer Jono Ma, “and this time we had to deal with a flying ant infestation. A beehive had been created in one of the chimneys and then there was a giant rat infestation. I’ve never seen that many flying ants congregate in one area in my whole life. They’d nested in the wall of one of the buildings and it reached that time of the year when they were going to leave the colony. Millions of flying ants were crawling across the wall. It felt like an apocalypse, and this was day two.”
“One of the working titles for the song ‘O B 1’ was ‘Flies In Your Gut’,” Gabriel laughs, “because we had these steaks and we were pretty sure this fly had laid eggs all over them.”
No amount of intestinal fumigation and ant typhoons was going to stop Australia’s greatest psych-pop-rave-folk hope from digging their sonic claws into album two, due to coincide with their UK tour in October, called “’Fucking Yeah!’… no, actually, it’s called ‘Every Now & Then’” and recorded between London and rural France in what Jono calls “a plague of ideas”. Expect widespread contagion on its release on October 14…
Was it inspiring to tour with Tame Impala as ‘Currents’ thrust them into arenas?
Gabriel: “Yeah, playing with Tame was amazing. They’re really good friends of ours and there’s obviously some sort of cameraderie with two Antipodean bands touring around Europe and the UK, that felt really special. They’ve never compromised their style for the sake of success. They just play incredible music and they write from the heart, I think that’s inspiring for anybody.”
Did you know what sort of record you wanted to make this time?
Gabriel: “We’re both songwriters and we both bring different things, so when we’re at the start of the record we’re both quite open with each other. It’s like ‘this is the thing I did on the weekend’, ‘this is the thing I did last night’. At the beginning of the formation of the record it’s kind of anything goes, from things that might be more folk inspired to things that are straight up techno, or things that are rock and roll. As the momentum picks up a process of elimination begins to swell and we start to prioritise. Then quite organically we have a record. I think it’s a really good way to work, especially doing a second record when as much as you want to pretend there isn’t, there’s a pressure to deliver and perform.”
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As a band with a wide array of possible new directions, was there one you naturally gravitated towards?
Gabriel: “There’s things that we both share a passion for and they will be these stalwarts that we’ll always look up to. Brian Wilson, not only as a songwriter but as an arranger, melody guy and a person – he’s an incredible musician and such warmth emanates from The Beach Boys records even though they can come from very dark places. It’s something that we’ll always take great inspiration from. We also grew up in an area which was very sunny and we had a lot of sun as kids, so there’s something about that which really resonates I think. Then there’s stuff like J Dilla and stuff like that are people that we find inspiring. There are some tracks that are a bit reminiscent of ‘Howlin’’ and then there’s other bits where it’s definitely us trying to do something else.”
Jono: “Most people that have heard the record feel like it branches out even wider. The net has been cast even wider than the last one in terms of the ground that it covers, it’s more eclectic.”
There are cinematic references to tracks like ‘O B 1’…
Gabriel: “The words came from a very introverted, introspective way of looking in at yourself. I was thinking of the film Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro, kind of “You talkin’ to me?”, and there’s obviously a relationship involved in there as well. ‘O B 1’ is more of a pun to do with the synthesizers we started on.”
Jono: “The synthesizer that does the main line through the track is an Oberheim, so I just wrote ‘O B 1’ because it was literally the first thing I did on the synth when I turned it on for the first time.”
What are the other key tracks?
Jono: The next single is called ‘Give Me A Reason’, it was originally two separate tracks that have been joined together. There’s another track called ‘Ordinary’ which we’ve been playing out live a bit, so if you listen to the Glastonbury set or the tour with Tame Impala, you would have heard it at those shows.”
Gabriel: “That’s a whole load of kick-arse beats and mad chaos.”
Will this be the album that breaks you Tame Impala big?
Gabriel: “It’s not really something either of us think too much about. I don’t think we’ve ever had a single in the charts, it’s not really what we’re concerned about. I’m inclined to say I don’t give a fuck about it. We’re quite proud of it so we just hope people like it and we can play it to as many people as possible.”