Four-piece Australian indie band The Jezabels are about to embark on their first headlining tour of New Zealand following the release of their second studio album The Brink earlier this year. Under the Radar chatted with lead vocalist Hayley Mary about the reception the album has received, how she handles the criticism, and why it’s a good thing to be labelled a sellout.
Hi Hayley, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.
Hi, thank you.
So, how has the reception to The Brink been?
It’s been good. It’s always a bit divisive, especially because it’s our second album. It’s been received slightly different in every country it’s been released in. You have to pick a direction, and that will always alienate some of you fans – there’s no way to avoid that. It’s also a little hard to gauge based on the press it gets, but our live shows have been going well.
How did you pick a direction?
We worked with a different producer this time, not Lachlan Mitchell who we’d worked with on everything up until this point. We realised we’d gotten used to working a certain way, and we liked that, but we wanted to try making music in a new environment.
We’d spent a lot of time touring overseas to the point that we were loosely based in London for a while, so we decided we’d like to make an album there. I can’t exaggerate how much of an impact that had on the sound we ended up with. Critics have said that the record has more of a pop sensibility, and I guess it does. That suited us because it was a side we wanted to explore and it was a natural progression for us. People are always going to accuse you of "selling out" if you move in that direction, but we do what we feel like [musically] and I don’t think it should be any other way. We’ve always felt free enough to do what feels right to us.
That’s such a tough thing to face as a musician – I think that whole "selling out" criticism is such a lazy critique too because it doesn’t make sense on so many levels...
I know it’s not really cool to say it Down Under, but I don’t think we’re a bad band. Bands like Nirvana and Oasis have publicly said they want to be the biggest bands in the world, and I’m not even sure they’d use the word sellout in America because being successful and being a real musician, whatever that means, aren’t considered mutually exclusive. But, Down Under there’s that whole "mowing the tall poppies thing", where if you appear successful, you get attacked for being a sellout. I guess we must appear to be successful to some people! The other thing is that when we left for London we were an indie band, and still are, but coming back to Australia we realised the music press had started calling us a "pop" band. I don’t have an issue with that – I like pop – but it does indicate a shift in attitude towards us.
So how do you handle that?
At first I was upset, but then I realised it’s good that people are having that discussion about art because it shows they really care. Being a musician for a living, you’re surrounded by it every day and perhaps you do come to take for granted the importance of your work. The fact that people care enough to be angry at musicians when they feel like they aren’t being true to themselves is a good way for them to help us stay passionate about what we do, to the point that we can handle that pressure.
When you first got together as a band during your university years, did you have clear common ground sonically, or did you blend your different approaches to create a sound that expressed where each of you came from?
It was definitely a case of blending our musical tastes. Between us we were studying art, science, politics and music, so we brought a range of perspectives together, but there was an intangible, uniting force there. And I think for me, the moment where we really recognised that was when we saw the cover art for our first EP [The Man is Dead] which we’d had designed by a friend. It’s this image of a man in a suit shirt, wearing a floral executioner’s mask, and there was something striking about the image - this surrealist, Magritte-like, romantic quality – that seemed to be a visual representation of our music. That image captured some of our literary tendencies, and looking back I think it provided us with a direction.
In that case, have you found the making of music videos to be a really important part of your creative expression?
Yes, but they’ve not always been a carefully thought out process as much as us just doing what feels right at the time and trying to hone our aesthetic.
It seems like it was a bit of a journey from when you first got together in 2007 to the point that you released a debut studio album in 2011? You made a fair few EPs instead – why did you take that approach?
Yeah, we were all full time students and working jobs too. When we started playing, people said it was good which encouraged us to keep going, but really, the reason it took a while for us to decide to make an album was because it took a while for us to learn how to write together. Our first EP sounds like about four different characters squished into one EP. We knew at that point, and along the way, that we weren’t quite ready to put out a cohesive, complete album. We also had no financial ability to do so. Basically we were thinking this would cost a lot and it might not sound very good. We also felt like an EP gave us three releases, three rounds of press coverage, and three opportunities to tour, so it made good sense to do it that way.
So you’re coming to NZ soon to play your first headline shows...
Yeah we played Laneway, but we’ve never come over to play a headline show for some weird reason. It was bad luck actually. I think we were scheduled to play shows at one point there but then they were cancelled. So we’re excited to finally be coming over – one day we may look back on it as an historic moment.
What, when an Aussie band finally made it to NZ? It doesn’t happen as much as it probably should eh? Australian bands often say they can’t believe they’ve been everywhere else before they’ve made it across the ditch.
Yeah I think you get drawn to the bigger markets where there are larger audiences.
Check out the video for 'Look Of Love' from The Brink ...
Wednesday 14th May, Kings Arms, Auckland
Thursday 15th May, Bodega, Wellington
Head over here to buy tickets through UTR.