Jagwar Ma: “I want to be a jellyfish and just float through the cosmos”
Jagwar Ma’s second album is a dreamy idyll: one they crafted in the depths of the French countryside.
Published: 2:17 pm, October 14, 2016
It’s the middle of a busy festival season, their second album is about to see release, and Jagwar Ma are in unshakeably high spirits.
“Would that it were so simple,” Jono Ma mulls in an attempt to describe the group’s new record. “That’s it! He’s done it there, you don’t need to elaborate,” Jack Freeman laughs. “It’s complicated,” Jono elaborates. “Can the band have a relationship status on Facebook?” Gabriel Winterfield questions. “We can have ‘It’s complicated.’” “Would that it were so simple,” Jono reaffirms.
Recovering from a festival in France the weekend before, and readying for another couple of festival performances in Austria and Wales over the following weekend, the trio are certainly no strangers to the jet setting lifestyle. For the Sydney-formed, London-based outfit, returned from their studio in central France, every step is an adventure, and they’re determined to take it all in their stride.
“It’s a nomadic lifestyle, for sure,” Gabriel states. “We want to do this, and we want to do it as best we can, so we just make it work.” In the three years since the release of debut album ‘Howlin’’, Jagwar Ma have travelled all around the world, bringing their baggy beats and psychedelic dance anthems to the masses. “We all love it,” the frontman expresses. “You’ve got to love it. How could you not? You’d be crazy not to.”
Their lifestyle might seem like an endless adventure now, but three years ago, the outfit had barely performed together outside of a studio setting. “We started playing shows during the lead up to the first album release,” Jack recalls, “just to see how it would go. And it went alright!” Having spent the best part of their time since on the road, the group might still describe themselves as being “a studio band first,” but their live show has become an integral part of their identity.
While the release of their debut album was what prompted the band to first take to the stage, the release of their second is “directly influenced” by the time they’ve spent there since. “One of the starting points for this record was basically a catalogue of sketches that I’d made while we were on tour,” Jono describes. “Each beat or sketch was named after the place where it was made.”
Drawing on their ever-changing surroundings as they travelled city to city, country to country, and continent to continent, the result is nothing short of stratospheric. Steadily amassing a body of work, when they were ready, the group decamped to a studio in rural France – the same studio that birthed their debut album. “It’s a studio that I’ve helped piece together,” Jono depicts. “It just made sense to go out there and do it at a place that kind of feels like ours.” “We had a pretty good routine there,” Gabriel adds. “It was fun to be fairly isolated. It was kind of a leisurely set up.”
“The commercial studio route has really clearly defined steps for timing reasons and financial reasons,” Jono explains. Jagwar Ma have always created things their own way. “Our process is more free-flowing than that.” Set up in their own studio, the group had the freedom to blur the lines between writing, demoing, recording, and producing, and make new music in a self-sufficient way.
“It’s a constant rotation of Jono and I working separately and then working together, and then splitting up and then working together,” Gabriel describes of their writing process. “You collect a body of work, so once you’ve got enough to look at, then you work out what works together, and where the groups of ideas are.” Continuing to compose as they filtered through the material they’d written on the road, the pair lay down the groundwork for what is now their second album.
“I think our process is actually more akin to the way a lot of hip-hop is made than the way a lot of bands write,” Jono deliberates. “A lot of the band has come out of a product of us being sick of that world,” Gabriel agrees. The genres might be a fair distance apart, but taking on a set up that’s more similar to a producer and singer than a full band, the influence is evident in everything Jagwar Ma create. “Jono will be sat at the desk with the console, playing stuff, and I’ll stand at a mic with headphones on,” the frontman portrays. “We’ll riff on an idea for a while and it’ll either stick or it won’t.”
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With their new material taking shape, the group began to air some of the tracks while on tour with Tame Impala. “That definitely didn’t make things easy, but we did it anyway,” Gabriel laughs. Debuting the songs in front of large audiences, the band were able to put their newly established live influence to the test. “New songs don’t have the privilege of familiarity,” Jono alludes, “but you can feel when you play them when it’s working and when it isn’t. You can feel awkwardness in the air.” “It stings,” Gabriel winces. “It almost stings, when you know what you’re doing is fucked.”
Ever aware of the “dialogue between the two worlds,” it’s not just the music that was influenced by the bands time spent on stages. Sentiments of escapism flood the lyrics, running hand in hand with the album’s constant driving motion. “It takes a bit of courage, knowing that there’s a very high chance that a lot of people are going to hear that, but you’ve just got to be as honest as possible,” Gabriel states. “That’s something that I always aspire to. I don’t want to pretend that I’m something else, and I don’t want to lie. You’ve got to put that foot forwards.”
“When Gab says ‘do the amoeba’ [on ‘Give Me A Reason’] he really feels like he is an amoeba,” Jono offers as an example. “I want to be an amoeba,” Gabriel responds. “I want to be a jellyfish and just float through the cosmos.” Sure, what Jagwar Ma sing about isn’t complex or particularly profound, but through sentiments of adoration, yearning, and downright ridiculous dance movements, their words are open to whoever hears them.
The ability to shift into a shape-changing organism might be slightly out of reach for the moment, but through their new record, Jagwar Ma have created the next best thing. With its characteristically contagious grooves, ‘Every Now & Then’ is an immediate escape along deep-set grooves into euphoric highs. “The working title was actually ‘Twelve Silver Dragons’, if I’m not mistaken,” Gabriel smirks. “Hey! We might need that one later…” Jack exclaims. “Keep it in the box.”
Taken from the lyrics of ‘Loose Ends’, the album title is embedding the band firmly into social consciousness. “I remember someone was telling me about how Portishead adopted the ‘P’ for their logo, and the idea of every time someone sees a sign for ‘parking’ it then reminds them of Portishead,” the frontman enthuses. “I kind of liked the idea of people hearing the expression ‘every now and then’ and thinking of the record – if they know about the record.”
The product of six months spent recording, picking mushrooms, and once driving up to Mick Jagger’s house “just because [they] found out where it was” (“we were with a photographer – she had this massive camera and we were in this small car just giggling, we looked like creeps”), the album is finally upon us. “I really don’t want to say it, because it’s a cliché, but sometimes the last few years do almost feel like this blur,” Gabriel summarises of everything that’s brought them here.
“I just want as many people to hear it as possible,” he continues. “I don’t care about anything else. I just want the music to be heard.” Playing to bigger and bigger crowds on a regular basis, and with imminent plans to “tour as far as the eye can see,” Jagwar Ma aren’t going to rest until they’ve taken their music to as many people and places as possible.
The future is an open road. Driven by their craft and fuelled by their passion, the adventure is only just beginning. “I reckon Jack’s going to be in a movie or something,” Gabriel speculates. “Jono will write a book about the history of production from 1950 onwards, and I’ll write some shit poetry book that no one will want to buy, and maybe a short play.”
Jagwar Ma’s album ‘Every Now & Then’ is out 14th October.