Interview with Jagwar Ma – 20/10/2013

Meet Jagwar Ma: Chatting about Napoleon, Noel, Yannis and Voodoo Ray pizza…and how they write songs too!

Jagwar Ma are an Aussie Indie/Psych band, right out of Sydney, now based in London. With top DJ guru Andrew Weatherall remixing single Come Save Me and on the back of Howlin’, which has tickled Noel Gallagher’s fancy, it’s been quite a trip for Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield.

Fresh from four Stateside gigs and sold out shows in London, Glasgow and Manchester, The Mic met Jagwar Ma before their also sold-out show in Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms (read the review here).

A planned 5-minute interview became 20 minutes, which worked up to an hour’s conversation over a beer. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more self-effacing bunch of guys, who spent much of the time smiling, laughing and telling stories. Here’s just a bit of what they said:

Welcome to Nottingham. What have you been up to?

Jono: We played Manchester last night, and arrived in Notts just before lunch. Caz (tour manager) and Remy (stage technician and driver) took us to the Olde Trip to Jerusalem for a beer. Jack Freeman is with us too. He plays bass for us when we’re live.

Is that how you guys relax just before a gig?

Jono: We do different things in different places. Most promoters seem to think that bands all love table football and all that.

Gab: We’re fortunate. We’re in a band, and we’re playing all over the world. We like to get out and about before a gig, meeting different people in different cities, learning a bit about their culture. I guess that that gives us a pretty interesting perspective. We recorded Howlin’ in an old farm in the French countryside – nowhere near Marseilles, Paris or Nice or Caen – and met up with a lot of local people. However, I did keep on stumbling upon where Napoleon was kept in prison.

Jono: He was a prisoner of his own appetite for war.

Gab: There’s the sub-title for your article.

How did you meet?

Jono: We met through friends. I’d been in a band called Lost Valentinos, and played here in the Rescue Rooms a few years ago. It was a student gig; there was a giant bouncy castle in the shape of a tiger, with lasers coming out of its’ eyes. It was weird.

Gab: I was in Ghostwood. We bonded over a Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon. After that, we just started writing.

Where have you played?

Gab: Our first gig was in Nijmegen, in Holland. We toured Europe with Foals, Australia with The XX, and headlined in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. We’ve just played London, Glasgow and Manchester.

Jono: We were also at Glastonbury and Festival No. 6 in North Wales.

I saw that Tim Burgess tweeted you after seeing you live at No.6?

Jono: Yeah. That’s pretty cool…we played with Factory Floor at a small festival in Croatia, and he may have got to hear of us through them.

And Noel Gallagher has blamed slow progress in hooking back up with Liam due to both of them talking about you rather than reforming?

Gab: He’s amazing. He’s just championed our band since the moment he heard us. It’s really flattering that he’s got our back. He certainly was a hero of mine when I was twelve. I think one of the first songs I ever played was an Oasis song, so it’s very sweet that he’s supportive of us.

Jono: Karl Hyde (Underworld) also got in touch after hearing our Radio 1 set with Zane Low at Maida Vale studios. It’s inspiring.

Gab: It’s overwhelming.

Any collaborations on the horizon?

Jono: Yeah, maybe, but that’s definitely not the kind of thing that we just force or get too eager to do. At the moment we’re just focused on playing our shows, and being us, and making music the way that we make it, but if something kind of organically happened then yeah, it would be great.

Gab: When we toured with Yannis and Foals, it would be a late night and, you’re in arms, and they say ‘you know we should do some stuff together’. And we went ‘yeah, we should do some stuff together’. And then the next morning happens and it’s just like, ‘nah’.

Your first album, Howlin’, has got some great reviews. But what do you think about writers claiming that the songs are a mash-up between the late 80s / early 90s Madchester scene and the 60s Beach Boys surfer thing?

Jono: I think every musician wants to think that they are doing something original.

Gab: It’s just an obsession. I’m totally blown away by the obsession that people have now. I think because everyone has such an extended catalogue of music, they just constantly want to work out what things sound like. When I was younger I’d listen to other bands and I didn’t give a shit about what they sounded like. I just liked them.

Jack: I’m far more interested in decoding how the music was made, methodically, rather than what it sounds like. What other bands sound like is a pretty boring conversation. But you know analysing what gear and what techniques they use to record the songs is far more interesting. It’s more about the craft.

Gab: There’s definitely something at the moment that’s a little bit kind of, like, too compulsive about people trying to be cool and say, ‘ah, it sounds like this’.

Jono: I kind of find it more interesting to know where, you know, like a sample, or a riff, or an idea comes from…

Jono, I’ve seen that you’ve done a mixtape for an Australian website… 

Jono: Yeah. The theme was originality, and that’s sort of how I interpreted it as trying to find out the original source of samples or songs.

It’s really interesting, you’ve looked at the origins of Praise You by Fatboy Slim and Fool’s Gold by The Stone Roses, and a few others too. How did you come up with those particular songs?

Jono: There’s about eight tracks that I really, really love, and so naturally this is a whole bunch of songs that just came to mind when they were like sampled ideas from other songs that I love.

Bo Duddley by Derek and Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore)?

Jono: They are just comedians that I love. My favourite acid-house track is Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald. He lifted a sample from Bo Duddley on the Derek and Clive Live album, the words ‘in her, in her sort of Voodoo rage’, and truncated it. I bought the vinyl album from Amoeba Records in Los Angeles just a couple of weeks ago.

Isn’t there a photo of Jono outside a pizza take-away called ‘Voodoo Ray’s’ on the inner sleeve of Howlin’?

Gab: Jono once sent me a text message at 4am to try and entice me to come to Kingsland Road, in Dalston, and it was, “I am listening to Voodoo Ray at Voodoo Ray’s”

Jono: They were playing the song, and it’s a shop. I couldn’t believe it…weird.

What other bands are you listening to?

Jono: Factory Floor’s self-titled album is brilliant.

Gab: And I’m listening to Black Moon.

Where do you get your ideas from for your songwriting?

Jono: You know, I think we’re all sort of insecure in various ways in the outside world, but I think one of the things when we’re in the studio it’s kind of like, this confidence, knowing just what to do like almost instinctively. I don’t think that that much conscious thought goes into it. Confidence and instinct – but not self-righteousness.

Gab: I think a lot of optimism went into making Howlin’, and a lot of faith in what we were doing and I think we both thought it was good.

Jono: The seed for each idea will happen separately, or independently, depending on what song on the record. Sometimes Gab will have an idea for a track, sometimes I’ll have an idea for a track and then we’ll relay it and it will grow.

Gab: Because you kind of build, you focus on the little bits, just tasty little bits. For example on Uncertainty, doing the little vocal harmonies, that was a whole world in it’s own. I was working out the notes I wanted to use on guitar, and then I was multi-tracking, tracking them in a demo on Garage Band with a microphone. Meanwhile, Jono was working on the loop, an eight-bar thing, adding extra little bits and pieces in it, adding a synth line, adding some mic effects, and swinging it and doing some stuff.  We then put the bits together, and then go ‘aha’. It’s pretty good and then walk away with that, and go ‘alright’ and do something else. Then we were dancing around a bit with a guitar, and we were like fucking around for ages when we were on the guitar part. I remember Jono was having a go with the guitar and then I was playing the guitar and Jono was sort of conducting. And then it kind of ended up being the guitar part that was there. And then the vocals, the chorus, came a week and a half later, and it was supposed to be like a rhyming pattern like Dr Seuss. That’s how Uncertainty came together.

Jono: It’s complicated and it’s different for every song.

And then when you come to play it live, do you then sort of say ‘well this might work slightly differently’?

Jono: Yes. It’s always evolving. We’re constantly trying to think of ways to sort of change the set in the way that the songs are played.  Yeah, everyone’s ideas are always valid.

Gab: We all give each other quite a lot of license.

Jono: Even Caz and Remy might have opinions. Caz will say, ‘I thought that song worked really well’. She’s upfront and has an objective perspective of how it’s actually been received. It always sounds different on stage so, yeah, it’s kind of assessing everyone’s ideas and things.

And your single Come Save Me, remixed by uber-DJ-guru Andrew Weatherall, has just been released as a 12-inch single? How did that come about?

Jono: Well, Ewan Pearson who mixed our record is actually good friends with Andrew. Ewan’s one of the few DJs that, like Andrew, doesn’t go back-to-back with many people at all. And Andrew is one of the few DJ’s that Ewan will collaborate with, so there’s the connection.

Gab: Both silver fox dance music pioneers.

Where next for Jagwar Ma?

Jono: The Q Awards tomorrow… but first, to Josh at Murdock’s in Shoreditch for a beard trim.

Gab: We’re gonna try and scrub up for that… and look half decent.

Jono: And then finish the UK tour. And then Europe in November. And then we’re back in the States for nine gigs before Christmas. Shaun Gordon

Photos by Shaun Gordon for