A flux of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA) born bands have been seeping their way into the hearts and ears of Liverpool’s burgeoning music scene of late. Singer and songwriter JETHRO FOX is the latest LIPA luminary to do so, and with a trickle of tunes being revealed at carefully picked moments, the development of an engaging and expansive new pop sound is unfolding under his expert guidance.
LIPA is a popular choice for many a budding young performer and when the Colchester-born Jethro is asked what initially attracted him to Liverpool, he admits that, “It was actually LIPA or nothing. I just had my heart set on it”. Enticed equally by the musical heritage the city exhales, it was an obvious choice, as the close-knit musical community inside and outside of LIPA’s walls has aided Jethro’s development. “It’s very collaborative. It’s not really rivalry, it’s a time where people just help each other and want to make good music together,” he points out, naming grass roots projects and the DIY ethic of Liverpool’s promoters. For a well-schooled musician in such a creative environment, Jethro seems to have found the perfect breeding ground for his musical endeavours in Liverpool.
“It’s a pretty young project, but it all started with the song Before, which was about in the Autumn of last year,” Jethro explains. Before, which begins with a tentative arrangement of drumming and clattering hand claps, uses a strong, resounding guitar riff, and lifting harmonies. Peaceful and forceful at the same time, the hand claps and harmonies are certainly the song’s anchor, a heavyweight soulful affair, edgy and perfectly structured. As momentum gathered around the song, the equally awakening Echo and In My Arms followed, and Jethro Fox was born: “I ended up getting a band together, naturally I suppose, and moving things on from there.”
Forming a live act to present to the world was the next logical step. “When we started it felt quite ambitious,” claims Jethro, as instilling a wealth of parts written by one person into a live formula is bound to be. “Initially, the idea was very much to imitate the sounds on the recordings as far as possible,” Jethro explains; however “their own elements are shining out, like Fabian [Prynn]’s drums – he’s got a personality in his drums”. Having recorded all the harmonies himself, different voices were required live: “we’ve got a Norwegian guy, Yurgen, who sings half the backing vocals.” Transforming the recordings into a live presence has resulted in different, unexpected elements, with a touch of personality.
Jethro’s music exudes a nostalgic quality, with lilting harmonies and generous percussive intricacies. “I don’t quite know where this whole 60s thing came from, but my parents were really into that kind of music and would play stuff in the car.” Quoting the Beach Boys and The Hollies as influences, alongside Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear, there is a clear love of expansive, graceful sounds embedded in Jethro’s music: “That big, life-affirming quality to it is something that really appeals to me.” Belonging to the generation whose parents were so marked by 60s and 70s musical counterculture, Jethro is perhaps an example of a generation’s tendency to indulge in the direct, yet subtle influence of their parents’ record collections. And with the ever advancing and occasionally baffling palette of new musical genres, a nod to our musical forebears often brings us back down to earth.
This life-affirming quality also stretches to Jethro Fox’s clean and well-polished production techniques. Working closely with good friend and producer Tarek Musa, Jethro admits, “We can be really honest with each other”. They enter into the recording process with a clear vision, aiming for “the big sound, the close harmonies, the big drums. But also, we wanted the Nordic aspects to shine out and there’s a cleanness to it.”
A seemingly rather introverted song-writing process may inevitably lead a musician to favour crafting their songs over performing them, however, when Jethro is asked which he prefers, he exclaims: “If you asked me before my first gig I would have said the recording; then five minutes into the gig at the Kazimier. . . it was fucking great.” For the brooding songwriter, live performance could be daunting; especially as a front man. But Jethro embraced this new role with a confident and humble stage presence: “There was a good amount of people there and [it was] really obvious to me within a couple of minutes that I massively preferred doing that to recording.” Following their first live outing at The Kazimier, the band played The Great Escape in Brighton, and Liverpool’s Sound City festival. Claiming the latter as his personal favourite, because “there were a few people singing along, which was weird,” he tentatively concludes that “I don’t know when the next time I’m going to be playing in a cathedral is,” making the church venue at The Great Escape a one-off experience.
Jethro Fox’s gradual ascent into musical acknowledgement recently escalated when the band performed a live session for Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6music show. The BBC Introducing session was held in the most famous of recording studios, Maida Vale. “Some of my heroes recorded in that studio and it was surreal and amazing.” Talking enthusiastically of Lamacq, Jethro reflects that, “I used to listen to him when I was small. Those people become larger than life, especially when they’re on the radio as well; they’re these kind of mysterious voices.”
It seems that Jethro Fox has proven himself well worthy of recognition beyond his LIPA birth, aided by carefully timed releases, a sincere and excited outlook and a bagful of harmonies. With a re-appropriation of all that’s good about 60s pop, in a clean and vital form, Jethro Fox proves the 60s weren’t just for our parents.
Jethro Fox releases his debut single Blinding Light on Tough Love records