Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful, not to mention liberating, cities in the world. With a population of just under two-and-a-half million people, as well as being the commercial and cultural capital of the Netherlands, it's arguably Europe's most vibrant city. From an artistic point at least.
Last weekend, Bristol four-piece The Jacques played three shows of various sizes in just under 48 hours, and DiS went along for the ride. Having only formed eighteen months ago, the four piece - Finn O'Brien (vocals/guitars), Jake Edwards (guitars), Oliver Edwards (bass) and Elliot O'Brien (drums) - have emerged as one of the most exciting new bands to grace the live circuit in recent times. Aged between seventeen and twenty-one, their youthful exuberance and elegiac charm has captivated many an audience both at home and perhaps more strikingly, overseas, as we'll discover only too well over the course of this weekend.
Named after a term used by the French revolutionaries to deceive their captors, their first release 'Pretty DJ' came out last October on Libertines drummer Gary Powell's 25 Hour Convenience Store just months after supporting his band at their Hyde Park shindig three months earlier. A second EP entitled Artful Dodger followed earlier this year, culminating in the band's appearance at numerous festivals including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds.
Our Amsterdam adventure begins in a shoe shop on the city's busy Kalverstraat shopping area. An enthusiastic assistant welcomes us outside while a halo of shredded guitars ensure our entry to the Dr Martens store is no less understated. Playing a shortened (by their standards) half hour set to a crowd that's split 50-50 between Bristolians on tour and inquisitive locals going about their daily chores. The surreal sight of empty beer cans taking pride of place among some of Dr Marten's finest creations is second only to the intense pandemonium that greets every three-minute salvo at the back of the shop. Afterwards, bass player Oliver Edwards tells us he's already been back to the UK for an exam in between recording a television show on Wednesday and playing this afternoon's show. Dedication 1, Decadence 0.
Three hours later we find ourselves in the city's legendary Paradiso venue. This weekend it hosts the annual London Calling event where The Jacques will top a second stage bill that includes Circa Waves and The Big Moon among its number. It takes precisely three songs for the 250-capacity upstairs room to become a mass frenzy of flailing bodies. Songs like angry rabble rouser 'This Is England', 'Scum In A Bottle' (which reminds us of Dirk Wears White Sox era Adam & The Ants) and jangly anthem for the disaffected 'Weekends' steal the show as stage invaders fight for space alongside band members before hurling themselves into the madding crowd out front. It's an eye opener for sure, and one that justifies their headline status amidst a sea of high profile bands this evening. Afterwards, the band retire to their log cabins at Vliegenbos, a campsite in the city's Northern Quarter, while DiS catches up with old friends to a soundtrack of Spiritualized.
The next evening, The Jacques tour manager has arranged a gig on the campsite where they'll play with Utrecht four-piece 45ACIDBABIES, whose potent mix of metal, folk and psych pop goes down a storm early doors. Afterwards, it's left to The Jacques to cause another evening of mayhem albeit on a smaller scale and once again augmented by the clarion call of 'This Is England'. Resplendent in full Halloween garb, singer Finn O'Brien is every bit the focal point, a pocket dynamo that recalls Billie Joe Armstrong, Pete Doherty, and James Dean Bradfield in equal measures. Afterwards, we spend the rest of the evening dancing to Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Robbie Williams (no, really) while bonfires are lit and stoked with empty pallets outside.
Before the set, DiS sat down with the diminutive singer/songwriter to get his take on the band's rapid rise, sibling rivalry, and why The Jacques prefer European stages to UK ones.
DiS: One of your first shows was supporting The Libertines at Hyde Park last summer. That must have been daunting?
Finn O'Brien: It was a bit of a headfuck! We got lucky. We hadn't played a show that big before so I didn't expect it, but it was fun. I hadn't felt that butterfly thing before - I've been playing gigs for years now before we started The Jacques - and I don't usually get nervous, but I felt a bit weird before playing that gig.
As a result of that, Libertines drummer Gary Powell put out the band's first EP Pretty DJ on his 25 Hour Convenience Store label. Did it feel like you were in the middle of a dream and you'd wake up any minute?
I was a kid at the time - I know I'm not that much older now - so it did feel like we were on top of the world. I guess it was like some kind of dream, but now it's all started to make sense.
Was that the first song you wrote for The Jacques? Who is the song about?
I wrote 'Pretty DJ' when I was seventeen so it's not the first. Because it's the first song we recorded people think it's the first one I wrote but it isn't. That song is about two people. It's also about the music scene at the time. How I was pissed off with certain things that were coming out. Which in retrospect is not really how I feel now because I'm now part of that music scene. I've met a few bands I actually quite like but at the time I was really pissed off.
What was pissing you off?
Certain movements. I used to read the NME all the time as a kid and I remember getting pissed off with a lot of the bands that were considered cool. There was a phase where this country was just churning out lots of generic fluff, and I remember thinking this isn't very good. It's still there a bit. We played with a couple of bands like that recently. I remember feeling a little frustrated by it at the time. I was seventeen and people weren't coming to our shows. We were playing shows in Bristol to my mum and two friends. There was also that thing of why's what I'm doing not better than what they're doing? But now, we are getting more success so I'm a little less judgmental where other bands are concerned.
Did you have any specific ambitions, goals or targets when you first started the band?
I guess my main ambitions were being able to this rather than a regular job, and for a lot of people to be able to hear it. Because otherwise, what's the point in doing it?
With two sets of siblings in the band, does that create a doubly intense level of rivalry?
Double, triple, quadruple... Yeah!
Does it manifest itself in your live performance or influence the way you write?
No because I tend to write on my own. But then it probably does with the performance because I do it with the rest of them. A lot of people say when we're pissed off with each other we play a lot better.
How does the writing process work? Do you take a song to the band and they work around it?
Not always, not necessarily. Sometimes I'll have a vision of what I want a particular song to be and then take it to the other three.
Watching your set last night was a breath of fresh air. Within three songs - the first chorus of 'This Is England' to be precise - the whole room had turned into one 250-people strong celebratory moshpit. That must have been an amazing feeling for you onstage, particularly as an unsigned band playing in a foreign country?
We seem to get a different response whenever we play in Holland to what we get in the UK. Especially in London. Audiences there can be really mean. Our songs seem to be well tailored to what Dutch audiences want to hear. I don't know? We just seem to get on well over here. It was a nice surprise, but at the same time I expect it more over here than I do in the UK.
When I listen to a song like 'This Is England' or 'Weekends', there's an inherent sense of belief in the way they're conveyed that I don't always get from other bands.
That idea seems a little weird now because while they are about me folding myself out onto a little bit of paper, they were also written a long time ago. Now, when I play them I don't really listen to what I'm saying and when I do hear what's coming out of my mouth I often can't remember writing those words in the first place!
How many songs do you have at the moment?
I think we've got about twelve or thirteen.
Do you worry that as time goes on there may be added pressure or a weight of expectation placed upon you?
I think I've already felt it. But I guess it's just one of those things? I was quite shocked initially how that happened, the more successful you get the more people want to hear new songs. And I couldn't write any more songs at that point. I've heard other people in bands say similar things. For instance Barney Sumner from New Order. He said he just couldn't write for a long period of time. It probably sounds a bit pretentious but it happens. I mean, I could write but it just wouldn't be very good. And I don't really want to do that.
Obviously being the singer and songwriter automatically ensures a lot of focus on you, but one thing that strikes me with The Jacques is each member has a strong personality of their own. Does that take a lot of the pressure off you?
No, it stresses me out because I want to control everything!
Do you see The Jacques as being your project? Are the other members inter-replaceable?
It's difficult for me to say that because my brother is the drummer, and I started my first band when I was about seven and he was about five, and I've never ever had another drummer behind me since then and I couldn't. I would feel quite unsafe without that. So that's why I'm going to say no.
You're already booked to play numerous shows and festivals in 2016. What's your long term aim?
To carry on enjoying myself touring, because if it ever got to the point where I didn't then I guess being in a band wouldn't be the right thing for me to do. I'd also like us to release an album soon because if it isn't out in the next year or two then it'll probably never happen. And it needs to happen.
Do you think it's that important nowadays for a band to release an album in the early part of their career - particularly in the climate of diminishing record sales?
Probably not, but then also trying to control the speed at which it does happen can also be quite problematic. If you try and slow the process down you may end up shooting yourself in the foot. And the same the other way, because I don't think you should push things before they're ready. Which isn't what I want to do. But I don't think that would ever happen because I'm pretty stubborn.
You've achieved most of your success in the last eighteen months through hard work and word of mouth. How important do you think it is for bands to put themselves out there rather than just rely on positive reviews from the press?
I just think we have some really good mates. Most of the people at the front last night followed us over here from Bristol. But I also think spending too much time thinking about a fanbase can be quite lethal because you have to remember these things are quite disposable. You can say one bad thing in an interview or write a song someone doesn't like or get to a certain level and people decide you've become too big or whatever. So I think its best to try not to think about it and appreciate it while it's there. But don't worry when it's not because the right people will tune in.
Some people might argue that the music you're making isn't in vogue or deemed as being cool. Does that bother you at all?
Yeah, it does. I think a lot of people in my position would probably say they don't care. I worried about it for a long time until I came to the point where I thought I can't really do anything else. It's quite genuine what we do, and if what we're doing isn't in vogue - which it's not - then that's fine. But if it's not, I can't really do anything about it either. I think if I started to tailor our songs a certain way they'd end up sounding shit. I do like a lot of stuff that's considered cool at the moment but I think if I tried to be like that it would just be a bit second rate. What I'm trying to do is something that's my own. But I do worry about it. A lot of my friends - especially in London - do come to the gigs and they like it, but it's not the sort of thing they'd listen to at home. I don't listen to bands like The Jacques. I listen to soul and jazz. I don't really listen to punk any more. It was something I listened to a lot when I was younger and now that I play it all the time I struggle to listen to it. I don't want to come home after a gig and sat down and listen to Kurt Cobain screaming in my ear.
If you weren't playing in a band, what would you be doing?
I study fine art at Goldsmiths.
Does the band take precedence over your degree? Do you see there being a time limit on the band?
There probably is but I'm glad that I'm able to ignore it because if I was too worried about that I wouldn't get anything done.
You've played with a lot of experienced bands over the past year-and-a-half. What have you learned the most?
My opinions on what I like have changed. My tastes have changed. A year-and-a-half ago I was really into bands like the Smashing Pumpkins but my taste has become a lot more diverse now. I've also learned that it's important to be polite to everyone you meet in the industry. Not because I have to but because I enjoy it much better than putting up some sort of guard. Also, things don't matter as much as people tell you they will. If you fuck up gigs it's fine. I've had a lot of stuff rammed down my throat about how you have to get everything perfect. Say this to the right people and get these gigs right. It really doesn't matter. Just trust in your own material. If you don't believe in every song you're playing then why should anyone else?
As a relatively new band yourselves, on a steep learning curve of your own, what advice would you give to other bands just starting out?
Spend time appreciating what you've written and making sure its exactly what you want it to be. You should really love what you're doing. Some bands seem to want to get by just imitating who they've got stuck on their bedroom walls. And that's fine. If you want to be in a band with three of your mates pretending to be Joy Division it's fine. But I just think it's shit! I don't want to be malicious about it but that kind of thing has nothing to do with me. That's the difference between The Jacques and a lot of other bands. Half of them are just actors. The other half are genuine.
If I asked you to recommend three new bands who would you put forward and why?
A band from Doncaster called Bang Bang Romeo. I really like them and their frontwoman, Anastasia Walker, is very captivating live. The band we're playing with this evening 45ACIDBABIES. I've never seen them live but they came to one of our gigs and sent me a link to their demo after and it blew me away, so they're playing with us tonight. Also, a band called The Big Moon from London. I've only seen about thirty seconds of their live show and one of their videos but they're the nicest four girls I've met in this business. I don't usually click with people I meet backstage but they were lovely.
For more information on The Jacques visit their official website.