In October 2010, The Jezabels delivered an EP called ‘Dark Storm’, the third and final release in a trilogy of EPs that began with 2009’s ‘The Man Is Dead’. Jesse Shrock caught up with drummer Nik Kaloper to chat about all things Jezabellian.
In music, it is often (if not always) the less obvious partnerships that yield the most interesting output. Take The Jezabels, for example. The Sydney foursome – who play something you might call ‘indie rock’, were it not so emphatic and intense – owe much of their unique sound to their vastly different backgrounds.
“The four of us, as musicians, come from different corners of the world to be honest,” relates drummer Nik Kaloper. “Our singer Hayley (Mary) is very much into 70s/80s pop music, like Abba, Blondie and The Divinyls. Sam (Lockwood) is sort of a country, bluegrass-loving folk guitarist and Heather (Shannon) is a classically-trained pianist.”
Nik’s contribution, meanwhile, is to give the band a thunderous rhythmic quality that I, for one, would regard as being more obviously at home in a metal band. When I put this observation to him, Kaloper laughs. “It’s funny you say that, because my previous band to this was a technical metal band! I’m very much into metal music… and it needs to be really brutal for me to enjoy it.”
“I think in the beginning the others were very desperate for a drummer, simply because they entered a band competition saying they had a drummer when they didn’t. They were prepared to take anything they could get… even if it was the next ‘metal guy’, as it were. So I joined the band under those circumstances, but then it all seemed to keep working, and no-one was going to deny the fact that it was a lot of fun to play together.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Nik adds. “I sometimes get told to take my playing down a notch. But on those occasions I’d probably have to agree with them.”
The cumulative effect of Kaloper’s furious drumming, Shannon’s elegant piano lines, Lockwood’s echo-laden guitar work and Hayley Mary’s soaring vocals is a powerful, yet spaciously textured sound that seems like it has been (and should be) played in large rooms. Kaloper confirms that this is quite deliberate.
“That sort of sound is something that, with each release, we’ve progressively gravitated more strongly towards,” he says. “Anything that’s too crisp or too thin, production-wise, reminds me as a listener of the fact that it was made in a studio with sound-booths and all that kind of stuff. (While) something that’s a bit more spacious, and a bit more textured, just makes it seem like it lives in the real world a bit more. Since we realised that we could achieve that sound, and that it seemed to work for us, we’ve been deliberately pursuing that.”
Judging by the reception The Jezabels have been getting at their gigs lately, the ‘big space’ that surrounds them in their recordings is not something that will have to be simulated for much longer… Kaloper eagerly tells me how ‘stupefied’ he has been by the crowds over the band’s recent headlining tour, particularly in notoriously aloof Melbourne.
“It wasn’t just the sheer quantity of people that turned up, but how warm and nice they were,” Kaloper relates. “It was quite contrary to what we’d been told to expect from Melbourne audiences, which is to stand back with their arms folded. In the first chorus of (previous single) ‘Hurt Me’, Hayley just said ‘stuff it’, stuck the mic out into the crowd, and they sang along with the first chorus.”
The act of memorizing the band’s lyrics seems an especially strong testament to the crowd’s devotion – particularly in light of how abstract those lyrics tend to be. Kaloper confesses that even he can sometimes only guess at the meanings Mary weaves into her enigmatic verse.
“Hayley can be a little bit secretive about the meaning of the lyrics,” Kaloper says, “and I’m often left in the same position you are, in terms of having to find meaning in them for myself. (But) knowing Hayley and understanding the discourse that goes on within the band, I’d say there’s a lot of gender issues that she explores, and that there’s a bit of a romanticised nature to the lyrics throughout our EPs. I can definitely say that she puts a lot of concerted thought into everything she writes. She’s really quite picky about what she ends up singing, and goes through lots of changes and revisions before she’s happy.”
To date, The Jezabels have released three EPs – The Man Is Dead, She’s So Hard and the most recent Dark Storm. While all three have been made with a similar production palette, it would really only take a cursory glance over the similarly-themed cover art and cross-references in the song titles, to tell that the band have intended the EPs to be taken as a package.
“We wanted these three EPs to be regarded as a single, coherent body of work,” Kaloper says. “Stylistically, we wanted to grow and augment on the same style within them. We weren’t prepared to dramatically change anything we were doing at the time, we just wanted to explore it more as we went along, craft it better … But we’re not going to be releasing a fourth EP. We’re writing for an album now, and trying to mix things up a little bit.”