INTERVIEW: Jagwar Ma
Thanks to the pair’s gig mingling at local Sydney shows in their previous bands, Jono Ma invited Gabriel Winterfield to perform for F.L.R.C – the music experiment that fed on the nutrient of improvisation.
From this strong friendship, the guys shared their own solo projects with each other, and ended up releasing a very special single together – one that would cement the career of their band we have grown to know and love – JAGWAR MA.
A couple of years later and the boys have been climbing to the top of the ladder, barely taking a breath, as they’ve excelled in so many different ways. Most importantly knowing that their music has reached the happiness of many a fan from a variety of different music tastes.
Just before releasing the hotly anticipated Howlin’ – Jagwar Ma‘s debut album which is now available through Future Classic, we were super lucky to grab 15 minutes of Jono Ma’s time to talk about what’s happened in the duo’s exciting career thus far and where it is to head from here.
So first thing’s first, how did Ma and Winterfield first meet to eventually form Jagwar Ma?
“Well Gab played in a Sydney band called Ghostwood and I played in a band called Lost Valentinos. And you know, just the nature of the Sydney music scene, our bands ended up playing a lot of gigs together and we became friends that way. And then I started a side project called F.L.R.L which kind of involved rotating members and just basically getting friends and anyone that we wanted to come and jam with us. So one of the performances I asked Gab to come along and play guitar and sing and he did so that was probably the first time we actually made music together. Probably a couple of years later we were just hanging out as friends and he was playing the songs that he’d been working on outside of Ghostwood and I played him a bunch of songs I’d been working on outside of the Valentinos and I liked what I heard and he liked what he heard and I ended up getting him to sing on a bunch of my tracks and that kind of became the beginning of Jagwar Ma.”
As Jono and his band share the same surname, I was curious to know how “Jagwar” came to be. Was it a nickname? Something to do with Gab?
“No the name actually came about.. It was originally gonna be like Gab was going to collaborate on my stuff which was Jagwar Ma and I was going to produce his stuff which was something else, it was called Flintstone. But the first track of mine was ‘Come Save Me’ and I just put that out and made a clip for it and it did really well, so we were like well let’s just make this a band [laughs]. And I’d been remixing under an alias called Jagwar Paul before that, and so there was sort of like this natural evolution of that name into Jagwar Ma.”
Right up until the day of its release, the duo’s debut Howlin’ was an album very much wanted by many different people. You would have gathered this with the knowledge that Jagwar Ma ranked #17 in NME‘s ‘World’s 20 Most Exciting New Bands of 2013’ feature, not to mention the exciting material we’d heard by the band prior to its release. Living up and beyond to expectations, the album has proven to be a standout of what we’ve heard so far this year (and even made our TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2013 SO FAR). So does quantity ever come with quality? I asked Jono how long Howlin’ took to write.
“Ummm, hmm how long did it take to write.. I guess we’d been working on it for, you know like focused on the album for a good six months, but that’s sort of producing and recording at the same time as writing which is the way I like to work. So yeah, there wasn’t like a specific run – there wasn’t like a specific writing phase and then a producing sort of production phase, yeah it was all through the one process.”
Howlin’ beholds a great amount of wanderlust, as it was conceived in not only Sydney, but Berlin and France also. What took the album to such geographical lengths?
“Well Berlin was easy because Ewan Pearson lives there and I got him to mix the record, so that’s where most of the mixing was done. A little bit of it was done in London as well. Sydney’s where we’re from so that’s where it sort of began, but after we’d done ‘Come Save Me’ and ‘What Love’, I was like, well let’s make this a band, let’s make an album, and Gab was like, okay, cool. And so I wanted to make that transition to sort of focusing on just making an album, and I’d set up this studio with a friend in France, and cause Ewan was in Berlin – and you know France is a lot closer to Berlin than Sydney, it just meant that we had an opportunity to go over there and live on this property and just focus on making the record there without distractions. And you know we’re living there rent-free and the studio was – cause I helped build it – was you know.. It actually worked out cheaper doing it there than if we were to sort of hire a professional studio here.”
If you’ve noticed the tracklisting of the record, you’d be aware that the titles are seemingly linked to quite personal stories; kicking off with ‘What Love’ followed by ‘Uncertainty’, ‘That Loneliness’, ‘Come Save Me’ and ‘Did You Have To’. So personal, my first impression was that this record held a theme of former love. Without sounding too interrogating, I asked Jono about this.
“[Laughs] well, Gab’s responsible for most of the lyrical content but ‘What Love’ is actually a twisted sample that I’d sort of manipulated that doesn’t actually say “What Love” it sort of just sounded like that, so that’s a bit random that one. But yeah I guess we, we went through a lot of um, strange emotions when we were sort of hauled up in the studio in France. We were pretty isolated from the outside world including our respective girlfriends and friends and family. Maybe that was fuel for inspiration for a lot of the sort of heartbroken lyrics. I don’t know, maybe it’s a good starting point for story.”
In saying that, the tracklisting is immediately juxtaposed upon listening to Howlin’ due to the fun and dancey instrumentation. Has Jagwar Ma‘s sound been influenced by any of Jono’s favourite artists?
“Um, subconsciously yeah, it must be! It’s kind of how we learn to make music I guess, by being inspired by music that we love and then that makes you want to make music and you try and make music like that first. You know, I remember that’s sort of how I began on guitar. It’s like, I wanna play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or whatever. And when I started to get more into electronic production, it was like yeah, I want to make music that sounds like Daft Punk or whatever. So for this record specifically, I think I’d sort of reached a point in my life with my production work where I didn’t have to consciously think about trying to make it sound like any one particular artist or era. In fact I kind of consciously wasn’t listening to a lot of music while I was making it because I wanted to sort of focus on the tools available and the limit for the music making process to, you know, a, b and c. Like a guitar, a sampler and a microphone, and percussion and to keep the lyrics simple. See what music comes out of those four ingredients or whatever. Yeah what came out is the album that you’ve heard, and you know I think the influence is subconscious and basically all from, you know, listening to music and loving music for a couple of decades.”
‘Come Save Me’ was released a while ago now. Did Ma and Winterfield expect to see ‘The Throw’ as Howlin’s first single?
“Yeah. Well like I said before ‘Come Save Me’ was kind of testing the water, almost like a track in isolation, like, well let’s put out a track, and then we formed a band after that, and then we committed to making an album after that. ‘Come Save Me’ is quite a poppy song by nature of the melodic content and the lyrical content. We felt like ‘The Throw’ was a little more cerebral, a little bit more, I don’t know, internal, and yeah not as conventional in terms of pop structure and pop ingredients. So we kind of wanted to reset once we sort of had the album in sight. So ‘The Throw’ was kind of like here’s the beginning of Howlin’; this is the first track from the record. And yeah, ‘Come Save Me’ was sort of like something else in isolation, but it is on the record and we’ll probably re-release it. We’ve kind of remixed it a little bit, so it’s slightly different on the album compared to the original 7” version.”
What track of the record does Jono hold dearest?
“It changes you know, from week to week, [laughs] day to day, errmm, I’m trying to think. The last track I think is like really different to the rest of the record. I would say it’s, I guess instantaneous when we made it; it was literally just like looping stuff on the fly, and it kind of came about really quickly and, yeah, I really like that track. It’s really different to the rest of the record. It sounds really deep and kind of underwater. The rest of the album as you say is quite upbeat and you know, quite fun, so that’s kind of the odd one out for me.
“That one is about Berlin isn’t it? That last track, what’s it called again?”
“Yeah ‘Backwards Berlin’ that one”
It would be lazy to classify the music of Jagwar Ma as “electronic”, as it touches base with other music origins through the specific instruments used and how their sounds are created, which seems to say a lot about their wide fan base. I asked Jono how he would describe the sound of the band’s music to new listeners. Turns out he’s not big on answering this one. Sorry man!
“[Laughs] God I hate this question. Um, I don’t know, jump online and see what people are writing about it. There’s loads of comparisons – to Manchester and 60’s and this and that.. To me it just sounds like you know, whatever happens when Gab and I are writing songs together.”
Right after supporting The XX earlier this year, Jagwar Ma were scheduled to play their first headline tour. Halfway through, Jono unfortunately became quite ill which forced the tour to go on hiatus. With the intention and hope that Jono has since gotten better, I asked if we could expect any Jagwar Ma shows any time soon.
“Well yeah I mean we can’t keep postponing shows forever especially with the album coming out. But basically yeah I’ve been really sick for the last sort of three months and getting worse and worse. I’m back in the UK now and I’ve actually been training someone up to fill my spot in the live show, just to afford me a bit more time to recover, which is pretty strange and quite difficult really. You know, you put all your passion and energy into making an album and making music and the reward is then taking that out on the road. You know we’re doing shows like Glastonbury and Reading and Ibiza and Calvi On The Rocks and Pukkelpop and all these amazing European festivals that I’ve dreamed of playing at all my life and it looks like unless I kind of have a miracle to cover me in the next couple of weeks, I won’t be able to do any of that. But you know, that’s life.”
Well it seems that deserved miracle became a reality as Jagwar Ma have just announced an Australian tour amongst their European dates!! We couldn’t be more happy for the guys!
JAGWAR MA AUSTRALIAN TOUR
Supported by GUERRE and DJ ANGELO GRUZMAN*
Thursday, 25th July
The Bakery, Perth
Supports by Guerre and Gus Da Hoodrat*
Tickets available via OZTIX.
Friday, 26th July
Rocket Bar, Adelaide
Tickets available via MOSHTIX.
Saturday, 27th July
Splendour In The Grass, Byron Bay
Tickets sometimes available with needed luck via MOSHTIX.
Thursday, 1st August
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tickets available via the CORNER’S WEBSITE.
Friday, 2nd August
The Standard, Sydney
Tickets available via MOSHTIX.
Words by Hannah Galvin.