Taking no prisoners
The Jezabels’ drummer Nik Kaloper tells Mark Tjhung about the gamble of leaving Australia, the crazy pressure they put themselves under and how small is the new ‘big’
It gets us every time, the spelling of this red-hot, dark and dreamy rock quartet from Australia. It’s deliberate, of course, according to The Jezabels’ drummer Nik Kaloper, offering the official explanation that it’s meant to ‘allude to the idea of the woman of ill repute without actually being equated to it’.
It makes sense, on several levels. After all, The Jezabels really do get around. In the past few months, the former Sydney, now London-based lot have been bed-hopping aplenty, taking on a hectic road schedule that has just taken them from the UK to Europe to North America and back to the UK, and seen them pushing their lush, layered, angsty disco-rock debut album, Prisoner, furiously across the globe.
From their London base (“It’s hard to call it a base, because all we’re here for is four or five days at a time,” says Kaloper), a day before heading back to their homeland Australia (where, of course, they’re a bit of a big deal, recently winning the prestigious Australian Music Prize, beating out the globe-dominating likes of Gotye), the drummer takes a few minutes to chat with Time Out…
You guys were killing it in Australia and now you’ve journeyed overseas. How’s the move been?
It’s a little bit daunting. It’s just reminded us exactly what it felt like in Australia three or four years ago. You play these small clubs and most people wouldn’t have a clue who you are. You sort of go back to the bottom of the ladder and you really try to play your heart out to convince people that your band is worth something. We just want to see how far we can take this. If we hit different parts of the world with everything we’ve got and it turns out we have a unique brand of music which only Australia likes, we’ll re-evaluate and see what happens.
We heard Prisoner was written and recorded in an extremely short period of time. What was that process like?
It was a six-month period, including two months of touring. If we had anything less than four months [in the studio], I think we would have lost our minds. We said to ourselves ‘what’s the soonest time we could bring out an album – because it’s time for an album’ and we just worked backwards from there. And we just did it, locked ourselves in a studio, and didn’t come out until shit got done.
Would you do that again, for the next release?
While I don’t regret having done it like that because it was really interesting, I don’t think we will do the next album in the same fashion. We found that, after we recorded the album, we’d actually never played more than half of the songs together as a band. It felt really strange and we literally had to go and learn how to play our own songs together.
Arranging must have been difficult, with such huge songs?
Yeah. We got a little bit overambitious when there was three of us with instruments and Hayley [McGlone] with the vocals – and some tracks on the album have 70 layers or so. It took a bit of rejigging to actually figure out how we didn’t lose the vibe of what we’d done, even though we have 67 less layers than the song had on the album…
You’re all from quite different musical backgrounds. How did you actually get to your sound in the first place?
Whatever we do is the product of four of us having coming from different musical backgrounds. The band I was in before was just this trashy metal band and I just drummed like an animal. Heather [Shannon, keyboards] is a classically trained pianist. Sam [Lockwood, guitar] loves bluegrass and folk, and Hayley idolises Queen and Abba. There’s no reason the four of us should have ended up in the same room making music together – and I’ve no idea how
So what’s the focus at the moment?
It’s purely touring and taking our music to new places. We have some incredible things like festivals coming up. I’m really excited to be playing events like Lollapalooza. I think we’re focusing on just sort of spraying our music as far as we can for the rest of this year before, in 2013, we’ll settle back down and start working on another album.
Have you started to think about the direction you want to take with your future work?
We’ve had plenty of discussions about it. We’re acutely aware that we have to make another album and it can’t be worse than what we just made. I feel like we’re at a point where we’re probably going to take a left or right turn rather than follow the same trend. With the three EPs and the album, that felt like we were just trying to see how big we could make everything. I think if we tried to top Prisoner in terms of bigness, we’d end up with some kind of black metal album or something like that.
See The Jezabels at the Grappa’s Cellar on Tue Jun 19; Tickets: Grappa’s Cellar, 2521 2322.