It’s become something of a tradition now for the closing night of Liverpool Sound City to be something to remember, and when we saw who was down to round off the Saturday night in the Garage at this year’s festival we were pretty happy that the 2014 closing party is in safe hands. So, ahead of the best party you will have in a car park this year, we spoke to the festival headliners who’ll be making sure that Sound City signs off in spectacular style on 4th May…
Frequently name-checked by the likes of Foals, the xx and even Noel Gallagher, JAGWAR MA are a band that have surprised us all. Not only did the group seemingly appear out of nowhere to suddenly become among the most exciting live bands on the festival circuit last year, but they are also the creators of one of the most self-assured and outright best debut albums of 2013, Howlin. Although they are now based in the UK, the trio originally hail from Sydney and are quite nimbly following in the footsteps of their psych-tinged antipodean counterparts POND and Tame Impala, as a swirl of international and hipster acclaim gathers around them.
Though frequently compared to psychedelic pop bands of the 60s, there is an awful lot more to the Jagwar Ma sound than you might think. Picking apart their songs reveals how they incorporate a wide range of influences and styles into their tunes, making them difficult to pigeonhole. Therefore, the group make a strong argument for their inclusion among the freshest new acts that alternative music has to offer. Their idiosyncratic fusion of dance music and indie rock has thrown up comparisons with the Happy Mondays and others of that early-90s “baggy” tag, but the group are keen not to restrict themselves. “It’s definitely not an insult; we’d much prefer being compared to bands we like rather than Hanson or something!” laughs the band’s guitarist and vocalist Gabriel Winterfield. “I think the best way of representing who we are is as collage artists.”
The nature of Jagwar Ma’s sound being something formed by neatly interlocking jigsaw pieces of sounds is a pretty apt visualisation of the menagerie of influences that make up Howlin. It’s a facet of their style that allows listeners to deconstruct what they hear and reassemble it however they want, and also lends itself particularly well to being remixed. In fact, a probable reason for the longevity of Howlin’s success (it was released in June 2013) is the myriad possibilities it has for being reinterpreted by the remix brigade; a quick visit to their SoundCloud page shows dozens of reimaginings of the record’s 11 tracks, with The Time And Space Machine’s dub session remixes slated for their own vinyl release this year too.
Another aspect of the band’s sound is rooted in shoegazing, especially in the case of Winterfield, who used to be in a shoegaze band himself. “We were called Ghostwood; at the time we didn’t really think of ourselves as a shoegaze band but, upon reflection, we were very within that genre … we were more aggressive though: I was singing and the vocals were really up in the front; the guitars were very colourful. Being in a shoegaze band when you’re a young guitarist is just a good way explore musical colour palettes because it’s such a textural style of music, but a lot of it lacks a real rhythmic complexity … A lot of the melodic sensibilities do hark back to psychedelic pop groups though. If you strip back a lot of the pedals you’d probably end up with something that sounded like the La’s!”
The La’s are not only one of the group’s most personal connections to Liverpool, but they have also proved to be highly influential on Winterfield’s songwriting. “They were a band I really loved; they were the unsung hero on Howlin … especially on songs like Let Her Go. I remember talking to a friend of mine and being like ‘Remember that band that does There She Goes?’ and he said ‘Yeah?’, so I told him ‘I’ve just got their record and it’s fucking amazing!’ I was about 17/18 when I realised how difficult the record had been to record and to actually get out, so it was then that I also heard that there were so many La’s bootlegs … now I’ve got about 50 different copies of Timeless Melody!”
Despite having pop sensibilities, it is evident from their music that Jagwar Ma certainly aren’t a band that are scared to experiment, and are perhaps even willing to gamble their indie credibility in the name of delivering something interesting that stands out from their peers. If you combine this with Winterfield’s recent listening habits then there’s every chance that Jagwar Ma’s sophomore album could prove to be something altogether darker than the colourful but nonetheless brilliant tunes that we heard on Howlin. “I’ve been listening to heaps of early Sabbath: Master Of Reality is just incredible … Sweet Leaf and Embryo – man! I love how people have this perception of Sabbath, but when you listen to their records they’re actually quite intelligent songs. When you also look at how early their records came out you remember that people were still wearing flowers in their hair at the time and that in comparison they were just so aggressive! It came very naturally to them.”
The surprise that was a by-product of Jagwar Ma’s success definitely hasn’t worn off yet for Winterfield – “I don’t think that the excitement we feel ever changes!” – but despite this the group have heaps of self-confidence about the path they’re moving down. They are very much aware that, as a young band, they’re still developing somewhat and that Howlin could prove to be a launch pad for even greater things. “It has sunk in in a practical way, in the sense that we have to deal with what our lives are like now,” explains Winterfield. “If I kept on denying it and acting like nothing has happened then it would have a negative impact on progress. You’ve got to stay kinda relatively down to earth… but that doesn’t mean I’m not still pinching myself, I’m just trying to keep the pinching down to a minimum!”