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pic by ken Leanfore.
pic by Ken Leanfore

Iconic Australian rockers Jebediah have just released ‘Twenty’, a compilation album celebrating a stellar twenty year music career. The band is currently on a 20th anniversary national tour playing their hits, as well as their 1997 album Slightly Odway from start to finish. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke with Jebediah’s bass player Vanessa Thornton on the eve of the tour.

There are reasons why one band can last twenty years and another can’t make it past an album or two. Much of it, I believe has to do with how and why a band is formed in the first place. Take four-piece WA rockers Jebediah for instance. Kevin Mitchell, Chris Daymond and Vanessa Thornton were good mates from suburban Perth who formed a band, inspired by a mutual love of other bands. They were joined soon after by Kevin’s brother Brett. Their energy and talent wins them a national band competition and the rest is history. Twenty years later, that same energy and talent, backed up by consistently killer shows and a swag of infectious tunes has won them a legion of fans and embedded Jebediah permanently into Australian music folklore. More importantly however, they’re still those same mates from Perth and that’s a key ingredient for a lot of long-serving successful bands. They’ve just released ‘Twenty’, a double album chock full of 20 Jebediah faves and they’re currently on a national tour (which is mostly sold-out), celebrating with their fans and a bunch of support act mates.

Jebediah always had great radio support, particularly from Triple J, who championed great singles such as Animal, Harpoon, Leaving Home, and Teflon. Consequently, there are many Jebediah songs which are very close to the Australian public’s hearts. Despite a huge catalogue of tunes to choose from, the track selection for Twenty came out of the same democratic process which has served the band well for two decades, it was never going to be a bunfight. “A lot of the tracks picked themselves,” explains Jebediah bass player Vanessa Thornton. “We’ve all got our favourite live songs, which some of these are and there was a conscious decision to include a bit from each record. Maybe there were a couple of songs that some people suggested that others weren’t into but really,  it was all very civil and everyone was happy.”

Pic by Ken Leanfore
Pic by Ken Leanfore

Like most indie bands starting out, Jebediah’s earliest recording ventures were huge learning experiences. “Our first experience was with these dudes in a back shed,” Vanessa laughs. “We found them in an ad in the street press. This was around about the time just before we were signed to the Murmur label. Our A&R guy, even before we were signed said, we’ll give you some money to go to another studio and maybe record them again! We were just kids and our thing was playing live, none of us are really tech-heads when it comes to that sort of thing.”

The band has played the full gamut of gigs, from tiny pub rooms to major festivals and also found a fan or two overseas. It was an overseas gig however, which Vanessa sites as being one of the worst when it comes to playing conditions. “I can’t quite remember if it was Canada or the US at the time,” she tries to recall. “We were supporting this band and it was the tiniest stage ever and they refused to move their gear to play. I remember me and Kevin having to stack our amps on top of each other and making this giant bass and guitar stack. I remember the gig because we were going through all our memorabilia of photos and stuff and Chris had a photo of us at the gig. I recall Kevin playing on the floor! There have been other times too, where the foldback has stopped working and we’ll be playing and not being able to hear each other for the last five songs but it’s all rock n roll man!”

At the other end of the spectrum, as one of their cushiest gigs, Ness suggests that playing at an NRL State of Origin game was pretty comfortable. “Generally we get very well looked after anyway,” she says. “Strangely we did one of those NRL State of Origin things. That was pretty cushy. You get paid well and only have to play two songs. Everyone is there looking after you and basically all you have to do is jump onstage and play two songs. So it was very, very strange but kinda easy and quite a buzz.”

On the current Twenty tour the band is playing two distinct sets. For the first set, they’re sifting through the Jebediah back catalogue and playing all the crowd faves. In the second set, they are playing their classic album, Slightly Odway  from start to finish. As a result, they’re digging out tunes they haven’t performed for quite some time. For the guitarists, it has also meant that they had to delve into their old gear cache  and either locate or replicate the effect pedals which created those sounds originally. “Chris had this really old jet phaser, a massive pedal, cast iron thing and that actually got nicked from a festival about 14 or 15 years ago,” says Ness. “So he doesn’t have that anymore but we’ve played a lot of these songs live over the years so you just adapt I suppose.”

Pic by Ken Leanfore

For Ness, reproducing all of the old bass parts is no problem at all, her gear hasn’t changed much at all. “I’m using my ’69 Jazz bass on this tour,” she says. “I bought that when we were making ‘Shambles’ and it has been my main guitar ever since. The ’71 will also be on the road with me as a spare.” One thing which did change gear-wise, was her amplification. Last time Australian Musician spoke with Ness she was using an Ashdown head but she’s since converted to Fender amps. “No, I’m not using Ashdown now,” she explains. “The one I was using, I bought in ’99 or 2000, when they first came out and I haven’t been able to find one as good as that one. Before the ‘Kosi’ tour, I ended up hooking up with Fender who had just released a whole new range of amps and they’re wild. I have been using the Fenders now for 4 or 5 years and even in my other bands, I’ll use a Fender combo … a Bassman, they are so classy.”

For most of Jebediah’s career, Vanessa has taken a ‘don’t fix what ‘aint broke’ approach to her gear and has been reluctant to change things, especially for this tour. “I do need at some stage to get my bass refretted. I got a bit nervous before going on tour though. I absolutely trust the guy who will do it but maybe I am a little bit suspicious. I didn’t want to change anything before this tour.”

There were seven long years between Jebediah’s Braxton Hicks album and their last studio album Kosciuszko. Now four years later, comes the Twenty compilation. For Ness, that has given her plenty of time to play with different musicians, such as Felicity Groom and Ness’ other band Axe Girl, which also includes Jebediah drummer Brett Mitchell. “The whole Jebs thing … we don’t play nearly enough to satisfy my personal needs to play music,'” Ness explains. “For me … I need it. I need to do it but also it keeps me really enthusiastic about music, playing with other people. You are always learning stuff and I think that can only be a good thing. You’re expanding your knowledge and skills.”

pic by Ken Leanfore
pic by Ken Leanfore

When Jebediah’s 20th anniversary June tour was announced earlier in the year, it consisted of just five gigs. It quickly grew to ten, including four nights in a row at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel. As for the future of the band and the possibility of a new studio album, Ness is hesitant to promise anything. “There’s no definite plan,” she says. “I guess this whole tour and album has been the focus for the last six months, maybe even longer. It’s not ever something where there is a plan that says, OK by this time we need songs for an album, we kind of just go with the flow. Too old to make plans, see what happens. Something will happen … always does.”

‘Twenty’ is out now. Visit Jebediah’s website for tour dates

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