Having burst on the scene at the back end of 2011 thanks to debut single 'Come Save Me', Jagwar Ma's rapid ascendance continues unabated. Their first long player Howlin' highlighted them as arguably the first band to unite rock-orientated guitar music with a dancefloor vibe since Primal Scream and the Happy Mondays traversed those boundaries nearly two decades ago. Last year's long-awaited follow-up, Every Now And Then, further demonstrated their progression as a band just as comfortable constructing adventurous aural soundscapes as they are penning three-minute pop songs.
Later this evening they'll play to another full house at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms, the latest in a long list of sold out shows during their week-long sojourn across the UK. As is normally the case, the weather is wet and miserable which doesn't sit well with Sydney natives Jono Ma, Gabriel Winterfield, and Jack Freeman, now more or less permanently based between London and rural France respectively.
We take solace in a backstreet bar that we're told serves the best pizzas in Nottingham. Except Jagwar Ma don't fancy pizza today. Let the conversation begin...
How's the tour been so far?
Jono Ma: It's been really good. London was probably my favourite so far. We had Andy Weatherall warming up for us which was like a dream come true for me as I've always wanted to work with him.
Your music is very reminiscent of Weatherall's work with Primal Scream in the early 1990s.
JM: In the production, definitely.
You headlined Outlines Festival in Sheffield earlier this month. How did that go? Do you enjoy playing festivals?
JM: It felt more like a gig than a festival because it was in an indoor venue. It didn't feel like your typical outdoor tent festival format. We like playing festivals in the same way as we like playing venues as well.
You're headlining Secret Garden Party in July. What can we expect? Will you be planning anything special?
JM: I don't know but that festival means a lot to us. The last time we played Secret Garden Party we were on this stage in a tree called Where The Wild Things Are. It was really good fun. We walked on stage to the Jurassic Park soundtrack. The whole crowd were swaying to it.
Jack Freeman: So we'll probably be doing that again this year!
Do you tailor your live sets depending on where you're playing?
JM: Festival sets generally tend to be slighter shorter. When we play our own shows we have more time so it gives us more freedom to do what we want.
You've got an extensive back catalogue of work now including two very strong albums. Is it difficult deciding what to play and what to leave out of your set?
JM: It's case by case. Each run of shows we will switch around a couple of tracks to make it fresh for us otherwise it gets a bit repetitious. When it comes to festivals, we try to make the sets tighter and punchier, whereas we tend to include more of the mellow, soundscape moments when we play our own shows.
The visual element is also quite an important part of Jagwar Ma both live and in your music videos. How do you come up with some of the concepts?
JM: The first videos we did were for 'Come Save Me' and 'The Throw'. Then we re-made the video for 'Come Save Me' and we use a lot of those elements from that as part of our live backdrop. We've just started working with a new visual artist who used to work with Aphex Twin, and he's already got a lot of ammo on video that we're going to use to make very reality based visuals. The idea is to stem the music through the sync in real time. We like to keep things simple and repetitious so your eye can turn and move back. If something demands constant attention, you can lose sight of everything else. It's about striking that right balance.
Your second album Every Now And Then came out three years after the first record, Howlin'. When did the writing process begin?
JM: 'Say What You Feel' was the first track Gabriel and I wrote. That would be after soon after we finished touring Howlin'. We just went away to focus on writing the second album. We finished recording it within about a month.
'Say What You Feel' almost feels like a bridge between the two albums. Was that intentional?
JM: I guess it was retrospectively. At the time we didn't view it that way. Our writing process isn't that conscious where we'd write a track to deliberately link the two albums.
Did you have an idea of the direction you wanted Every Now And Then to take when you started writing the album? It does seem quite a progression sonically from Howlin'.
JM: Again, I don't think it was conscious. It just happened. That's where it ended up. When we went into it, we had a bunch of ideas that I had lying around on the computer and a few things Gabriel had scribbled down. There was no conscious move or change in direction.
Were there any songs written during the sessions that didn't make the album?
JM: There's always a surplus of ideas left over. Actually, that's probably where we began with this record. There were a few surplus ideas left over from Howlin' that we looked at although I don't think any of them ended up becoming anything. But sometimes that's just a trigger for the next step.
How did you arrive at the final tracklisting for Every Now And Then?
JM: We kind of had all these balls in the air that we were working with. Then certain songs started to protrude out and demand attention. So we gave them attention until they were finished. Then we'd listen back to the ones we finished and realised some didn't really work alongside everything else so they fell to the side.
Have you already started planning for album number three?
JM: We're always thinking ahead when it comes to making music. We've spoken about going back to the beginning, which initially when we started Jagwar Ma we weren't thinking about making records in an LP format. We just wanted to make individual tracks and there's something appealing about returning to that kind of headspace. Let's just make a track and put it out. We like the logistical freedom of that so we may return to that kind of format for a little bit.
Have you set yourselves a timescale?
What are your plans for the rest of 2017?
JM: We've got shows booked up until October so we're going to be touring this record until then. What happens after that, we'll work out when the time comes.
You've recently remixed songs by Temples and Warpaint among others, while your music has also been remixed by several artists most notably The Time And Space Machine. Do you see remixing as a way of keeping songs fresh and relevant?
JM: When we get our stuff remixed it's definitely to get a new steer on things. When The Pachanga Boys remixed 'Come Save Me' it took on a whole new meaning. Same with The Time And Space Machine remixes. We really love it when another artist we admire reinterprets our music. It gives it a different function. The Time And Space Machine EP is a very different way of listening to our songs than how they appear on Howlin'. We're actually about to put out another remix EP of Every Now And Then with Soulwax, Andrew Weatherall, Rebolledo who's one half of The Pachanga Boys, and Michael Meyer. They've all done new interpretations of these tracks and each one has a different function. The Soulwax and Michael Meyer ones are proper main room club tracks. The Rebolledo one has a lot of breakbeats in it while the Weatherall one sounds like it's from outer space, almost like an acid warm-up take on the tracks. That's part of the fun when we finish a record. Let's see who we can get to remix it.
You're probably the first band that's embraced both the rock and dance scenes and brought both cultures together successfully since Primal Scream over a quarter of a century ago. More importantly, it sounds natural and organic rather than forced or laboured. Was that your intention with Jagwar Ma from the outset?
JM: I think one of the reasons it sounds natural is because we don't overthink it. I think the environment we all came from back in Sydney - we were all in three separate bands before this - where all those band nights we played were also club nights. There were always proper DJs playing after the bands so it wasn't a conscious move to become a hybrid of both genres. It was never our intention to create a sub-genre of the two. We're just into lots of guitar music but also lots of electronic stuff too.
There does seem to be a lot of Australian bands crossing over into the UK and European markets right now. People like Methyl Ethel, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, and Confidence Man being three who also happen to be from different states spread around the country. Is there quite a massive creative undercurrent over there right now?
JM: We've been living away from Australia for a while. We've been based between London and France for about five or six years now, so we're not really that wired into what's happening back in Australia. There's a whole bunch of things going on in our hometown Sydney which we're aware of. Our friends update us constantly about what they're up to and it sounds like there's a lot of exciting stuff happening in Sydney right now. All those bands you mentioned are from different parts of Australia which I guess would suggest there are similar things happening everywhere. A band like Confidence Man from Brisbane, I don't know what kind of scene they've come from. We've played in Brisbane but we haven't lived there so I don't know anything their subculture.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
JM: We've been beating his drum for a long time but Jonti is someone whose music we really like. He's one of our friends from back home so people over in the UK may not have heard of him. He's put out a couple of records but nothing for about five years until now. He's just put out a new song and thee's an album coming soon. He's an immensely talented kid from Sydney and I reckon you'll probably be hearing more from him soon.
Gabriel Winterfield: Green Buzzard. One of the guys who used to play in my old is with them and they're just putting out a record now. They're a really cool band from Sydney.
JM: Our good friend Dreems. We did a limited edition white label collaboration record with him called 'Another Day In The Sun' which was a cover of a song by an old Australian surf rock group called The Moffs. He's now Berlin based but originally from Sydney. He's got a lot of music coming out this year.
You collaborated with King Krule, Warpaint, and Earl Sweatshirt on an all night jamming session a few years ago which I believe Jonti produced? Is there anyone else you'd like to jam with in the future?
JM: There's loads of people we'd like to work with.
JF: I would like to jam with... anyone! The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Just because it would be so intense. I'd also like to jam with Lady GaGa. I think she'd be great to jam with. I'm a bass player so I think Sly & Robbie would be interesting to jam with.
JM: I'd like to control the echo sound while that jam was happening. I'd like to dub that one up. And Primus. I'd like to jam with Primus!
For more information on Jagwar Ma visit their official website.
Photo by Shaun Gordon.