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The Jezabels' Hayley Mary talks new album, tour and the critics they ignore

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The Jezabels seem to live up to their epithet with the critics who have leveled some strong criticism against their music. However, the Sydney-based band which are currently on a tour through North America in support of their sophomore album, “The Brink” continue to win awards, do well on the charts and bring out their fans with a sold out show in San Francisco tonight.

“The Brink” debuted at No 2 on the Australian charts. And their show earlier this week in Calgary, frontwoman, Hayley Mary claims was one of their best yet. Arriving in California for their San Diego show on Wednesday she took a moment to speak to Examiner.com. “Our Calgary show was amazing. I don’t know if it’s because we were really up for it or the crowd was in an exceptional mood. Sometimes you get a night and it can be quite random ... but they were great. Actually, we have been getting a solid level of support from our fans even in the UK and Europe and have been pleasantly surprised by the crowd's reaction. ”

Mary puts on a brave front but has a tendency to go on rants against her detractors. It’s understandable given that the some of the criticism has been hard to stomach. “I have struggled with it. But I have to remind myself that no matter how violent, it is just words. To get some perspective, we had a fan who flew in from Saudi Arabia for our London gig earlier in the year. We're her favorite band. She identifies with our views on feminism, she’s in a band and they get shut down if they try to play shows, so they have to do secret, underground shows. Wow, we can fold our arms in this liberal urban society that we are lucky to live in but at least we have a voice, women can vote. So reviewers are entitled to their opinions but in the same breath, we have the right to play our ‘shitty’ music too.”

Formed in 2007, The Jezabels joined Mary with her Byron Bay childhood bestie, Heather Shannon (keyboards) and Sydney University mates - Samuel Lockwood (guitar) and Nik Kaloper (drums). They play an alternative rock in the tradition of Aussie bands such as Baby Animals and The Divinyls where a strong, defining female voice is out front. It has the Gothic bombast of Kate Bush with high, towering vocals that can soar and peak with dark intensity in the light of an Aussie summer’s day.

Best served in their breakthrough 2011 track “Easy To Love” with the metal-loving Kaloper’s pounding drums; stirring keys from Shannon’s classical training put on fine display in the pop tradition; the big fret strokes of Lockwood; and the piece de resistance, Mary’s formidable range from a gentle purr to deep tones and high, full-blown Bronte-esque drama.

The lyrical aspiration here is the depth of Tori Amos. It is an alchemy that has spawn a successful trilogy of EP’s “The Man Is Dead, “She’s So Hard” and “Dark Storm”. Their first full-length album, 2012’s “Prisoner” with its reverb and shoegaze-y feel won them the AMP (Australian Music Prize) award. It was No 2 on their national charts, achieved gold status and won the Best Independent Release at the ARIA music awards.

Their second album, released in the US in February marks a slight change in direction with Dan Grech-Marguerat at the helm as producer. Grech-Marguerat who worked with virtuoso producer Nigel Goodrich (Radiohead), struck out on his own racking up credits for his work with The Vaccines, Scissor Sister, Moby, The Kooks and Lana Del Rey.

Sometimes the laden orchestration of instruments formulaic fumbling to dig deep and then soar don’t deliver, leaving tepid radio fodder where you can’t connect, no matter how authentic the emotion. Do they need a bassist?

The moments that they do achieve success and are able to replicate the splendidness of “Easy To Love” in songs such as “Angels of Fire”, “Look of Love” and “The End”, the band is the epitome of solid songcraft albeit on the barmy side of melodrama. Mary gives some further insight to how they tackled this new album, critics and all.

On your new album “The Brink” you have some grand soundscapes with the synths and guitars that have prompted a lot of comparisons to The Killers – how do you feel about it?

I haven’t heard that but I have no problem with that. I’ve heard of us being a female-fronted Coldplay. And I have no problem with that either. I don’t ever pretend that we’re trying to be original. I don’t think anyone is truly original, it’s just different ways of telling a story. I believe you can be unique but ultimately, it’s about putting out a variation on the same story. Besides, I like The Killers. “Mr Brightside” and “When We Were Young” were really appealing songs to me. They were like a knife to the heart when I first heard them. I really don’t get that reaction very often. And The Killers have great songwriting and musicianship. They are a real band – they play, they write. You can’t really flaw them the way you can with other pop bands even. I think we need to get away from the desire to hate the popular collective. It’s got to be popular for a reason.

You have had quite a bit of criticism leveled against you – is there a difference between how the British and US press treat you?

Yes. To the British press, it seems we are just not very cool. But we’ve never tried to be cool. We don’t dare to be cool. Or try to fool them into thinking we are. But to the Americans – they think we’re cute and funny. (laughs) When we first came out back in 2007, when discussing our music, people would always have to mention Crocodile Dundee. I mean we had nothing to do with Paul Hogan, in fact, The Jezabels are a reaction to that very masculine culture that can exist in Australia. But things are changing, especially these last few years since Tame Impala’s break-out in 2011 as a cool Aussie band.

Juanita Stein from the Howling Bells, another Sydney band said the UK press take their music very seriously, as serious as their politics?

Music is important everywhere. But I think they feel like they are the guardians of good music and I understand someone’s got to say that shit but with the US there just seems to be more of a sense of hope and optimism.

What did you learn from your first album, “Prisoner” which was quite well-received and did that affect how you recorded your sophomore album?

Actually, they say now that the album was critically-acclaimed but at the time, they didn’t think so. When people heard we were nominated for the AMP award, we were heavily criticized and had a judge even step down. Then we won and it was like ‘the AMP award is now shit cause The Jezabels won it!’ So we have to remember we are writing for our fans and ourselves. Opinions change, fashion change even what is considered authentic changes.

And you moved away from Sydney for a while to write “The Brink” in London – what was that experience like?

Being in a foreign city and writing … maybe that fish-out-of-water feeling comes across. But we needed to leave Australia to write the album. We had done the Sydney thing and I know you don’t need to leave Australia to make a new album but we wanted to spend some time somewhere else, to experience another city in a more static way instead of that touring cycle. People did say to us, ‘London is so grey, you’re not going to turn really dark right?’ We already are dark and would have just become morbid. But instead I think this new album is warmer, in re-action to that darkness of London.

What was it like to work with Dan Grech-Marguuerat who has also worked with a couple of other Aussie bands like Howling Bells and Deep Sea Arcade?

We picked Dan Grech because he was really positive and is a ball of energy. It was strange at first because we had always worked with Lachlan Mitchell in every single one of our recordings. But he couldn’t come to London and spend all that time with us to produce this album. It was definitely a different experience - Dan Grecht was more assertive, Lachlan was like another member of the band. But we really trusted Dan, for better or worse. Nothing is exactly how you ever imagine it to be and it’s about whether you want to push against the flow. I get caught up in my brain a lot but sometimes you have to acknowledge other people’s ability and I think, you make a better record if you play to everyone’s strength.

The Jezabels play at the Rickshaw Stop tonight, with Gold & Youth as their supporting act. For details, please click here. The show is sold out.

THE JEZABELS NORTH AMERICAN TOUR 2014
(Gold & Youth Supporting all dates except Firefly)

June 6th @ Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, CA (SOLD OUT)
June 8th @ Neumos in Seattle, WA
June 9th @ Imperial in Vancouver, BC
June 12th @ The Triple Rock in Minneapolis, MN
June 13th @ TBD in Chicago, IL
June 14th @ Lee’s Palace in Toronto, ON
June 15th @ La Sala Rossa in Montreal, QC
June 17th @ Brighton Music Hall in Boston, MA
June 18th @ Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, DC
June 19th @ Johnny Brendas in Philadelphia, PA
June 20th @ Firefly Music Festival in Dover, DE
June 21st @ Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY (SOLD OUT)

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