Ahead of Desperate Journalist’s second album Grow Up being released next month and their biggest tour to date, James Auton caught up with the band at their recent sold out Derby date.
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story; the mantra of a journalist. Desperate for the scoop, the byline, the headline, the money. Unless there is something better to say. There’s always something better to say. Why make something up when just telling it like it’s being presented in front of your very eyes is much more interesting. Here be music writer in on-going meaningful review situation.
Jo, Rob, Simon and Caz are sat on a sofa in the downstairs room of what is Derby’s premier independant venue, The Hairy Dog, adopted home of Reckless Yes Records who are putting on tonight’s gig. The band will be playing upstairs later but right now we’re discussing what it is that the good people of Germany love so much about Desperate Journalist.
“I think they just like very British sounding indie. Ernest British Indie. I think they may just take us on face value. They have more of a respect for guitar music, whereas here it’s a bit old hat. There’s still this romantic element, that it’s still an exciting indie thing. The guitar band in the UK is so commercialised and there’s such a big industry surrounding it that it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. I felt we were being embraced into a scene.”
Like everywhere in Derby in late January, it’s cold. Lack of bodies in an echoing, empty space adds to the arctic feel, but this is the first evening at the beginning of the promotion for album two. The jumping off point for the tour that will start in late February and tip-toe it’s way through March and the record release, concluding the UK leg with the massive Scala gig at the beginning of April before hopping across the channel to tour Germany.
Desperate Journalist have got here through various band incarnations, drunken suggestions and ideas, before landing on their feet as the four piece sat in front of me. Live they are an intense tour de force, hammering through the setlist, intent on squeezing as much out of the 45 minute slot as they can. Away from the guitars, drumsticks and mics they are amiable and open.
Natural comparisons are made with iconic ’80’s bands, not least The Cure, whose song they are named after when it became a swipe at NME scribe Paul Morley due to a less than favourable review. “I really love Paul, and I like incredibly pretentious writing about pop music, so naturally when a band slags off an NME journalist using his words I thought that was hilarious and it sort of fit the slightly overreaching but also vaguely ernest tone of what we were doing, with some elements of self deprecation involved”
Jo (vocals) and Rob (guitar) formed the genesis of the band, Simon (bass) having been in bands with Rob for a while was in, but they needed a drummer. In stepped Caz, who’d always been the singer and guitarist in her previous bands but just “really wanted to be in the band” so bought their drums. It was immediate. “With no ideas, even at the first rehearsal, there was something there. It worked really well. So we just pursued it. We even wrote a song at the first practice. I (Jo) had some lyrics written down, and Simon came up with the bass line and we wrote our first song, Kitten”. And that was that.
Sometimes there are moments of serendipity. Two, three, four people are forced together by fate. They admit themselves that the parallels with Morrissey and Marr are there with their songwriting structure and process, but there is more to it than that. It’s a moment of magic. A tear in space and time that allows a group of people to come together and fuse their extraneous parts with no agenda but to make music and it just works. Like The Smiths, but it’s more than an influence. They aren’t aping them, although they “fucking love The Smiths” they are assimilating the role. Taking over exactly 30 years later.
Rob and Jo dovetail like Morrissey and Marr; Jo is the acerbic wit, the self confessed “horrendously turbulent psyche” that brings the lyrics, Rob has the musical vision, the 12 string maestro. Bevan describes her writing as a way of trying to make sense of her unreasonable internal view of the world, and trying to make something useful from her poetry. What may start as “nonsensical screeds” are whittled down to lines that make sense and then they are turned into the prose with rhythms and structures. “Rob will have a song structure, and I will try and fit them into that. I change words so they work with phrasing and melodies as I don’t think it works to have lyrics that don’t fit with the cadences. The way the lyrics are finally formed always fits with the music”
She has mentioned before the roots of the most recent singles; recent release Resolution tells the tale of a New Year’s Eve and her detachment from the typical midnight events, and Hollow describes a friend who had to escape her alcohol dependant life and separate and distance themselves, Jo is happy to admit that the latter is a rarity in that it relates to someone else. Her writing his her therapy, “the best one that I’ve found. I find it’s a way of taking things that I find completely unbearable and I romanticise them into situations that I can make useful; into a structured song that someone else will find useful and a way of getting things out of my system”.
All together, they make a beautiful racket. A focused energy, that sometimes betrays the origins “The first album was recorded as we wrote the songs, if we had four we’d go in and record, and when we had a few more we’d go back in, and that became the first album” a remarkable statement considering how sonically concise a record the eponymous debut is.
“I know what I wanted it to sound like, no adornments – vocal, guitar, bass and drums. Maybe an acoustic for fluff and depth, but no overdubs. There was a focus. If I couldn’t sit down with a guitar and that being the whole structure of the song, I wasn’t interested. I’ve moved away from that now. The new album is an album of parts and arrangements with other instruments for specific reasons.”
For the first time they’ve written an album as an album. A body of work written as such. Between Grow Up and the debut they released an EP, Good Luck, with what they’d been working on after Desperate Journalist had come out. Their second long player is a purpose written monologue about moving on and, indeed, growing up.
Sonically, it has moved on too. Comparisons can be drawn with certain bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sisters of Mercy but Jo says this isn’t a conscious shift in sound. “We didn’t go into this band to sound like anyone in particular, we’ve never had the conversation, but it’s all kind of solipsistic in a way as if you’re interested in something you’ll naturally lean toward sounding like them but it’s not necessarily that you try to.
“It also comes down to individual contributions, so I (Rob) play the guitar like I play guitar and that is a bit like Johnny Marr and Caz loves The Cure so will drum with a gated ’80’s snare sound, so it’s bits of all those things that are individual about us that come together to create a whole. But I think it’s accurate that we sound like them, that’s fine, they’re great bands”.
Upstairs, it’s a sell out. This is the first gig since the second track from Grow up was released on 1 January, aptly titled Resolution, and the set now leans heavily on the new record.
Kicking off with I Try Not To there is an impetus, an eagerness that naturally flows from introducing a new batch of songs. Most importantly they fit together perfectly with older songs, Happening comes straight after and is followed by the previous single Hollow an atmospheric epic story with what is at the epicentre of the new LP; space. It’s equally about what isn’t there as what is, the guitar is separate angular hooks and lines with gaps that the bass, drums and Jo’s vocals fill. She is an engrossing frontwoman, twitching and jarring movements with the microphone cord wrapped around her neck, eyes tight shut as she delivers her startling voice. She exudes confidence and the right amount of ego that make her compelling. With the lynchpin of Caz and Simon in the rhythm section and Rob supplying the licks, it’s a beautifully well-oiled machine.
The beast that stalks the corridors of the music industry, the ghost at the feast, the elephant in the room. A band made up of an even split of the sexes, it’s a rarity but above all it’s unnecessary to draw that distinction. They are a band. That’s it. The be all and end all. “There have been people very eager to be weirdly sexual or patronising to me about being a frontperson or have said things designed to be complements but are insulting like ‘I love female fronted bands’ which doesn’t make any sense to me. It is frustrating that we aren’t appreciated as a band, rather than a female fronted band. It should be a level playing field. It does stick in my craw”
It isn’t only the asthetic. The technical side of it is questioned. “The amount of times Jo has been plugging in the pedal she uses for her vocals and the soundman has come over an said ‘have you got that plugged in right, love’, or ‘are you sure you need that, darlin’, and all that sort of stuff but no-one is saying that to me (Rob).”
Jo says, “The question is always “have you thought about that” and “are you sure you know what you’re doing” and the answer is ‘yes I have or I wouldn’t be doing it’. I’m confident in what I’m doing, I think I’m good at what I do and I’ve decided to do these technical things to get that result but that wouldn’t be a question readily asked of a male singer.”
Caz is also on the receiving end of comments such as “aren’t you a good drummer for a girl” but as she puts it “maybe as I just tell them to fuck off I don’t get it as much.”
There is the feeling it is changing but as Jo says “there needs to be more done as a lot of women don’t notice these things as it is the way they interact with the world all the time. It’s something you come to expect in a faintly depressing way. I will always expect people to be patronising and take a mans point of view over mine, sadly.”
Back on stage, it’s their natural habitat, it’s not about gender, it’s pure and simple. Brand new album tracks are debuted, Your Genius, Lacking In Your Love and the superb Why Are You So Boring sandwiched between Eulogy, Control and Cristina from the first album, before the set is brought to a shuddering end by the new single: “Five, Four, Three, Two, One and it’s over”.
Or at least it would be if the clamour for an encore wasn’t so loud. Back they come with (Elizabeth, My) Organ, an early single that they begin with The Stone Roses’ classic. And then they’re gone.
This is just the aperitif. Things kick off properly in a few weeks time as they approach the album release on 24 March, culminating in the Scala gig on 6 April. “It’s the biggest gig we’ve done so far, it might be the biggest gig we’ll ever do, if it’s not, it’s a bonus. It is slightly daunting but very exciting and we’re extremely lucky to be in this position”.
There’s no luck involved. They’ve grafted to get to where they are now, and it is only the beginning. The critical acclaim is starting to roll in. The two singles have been winning songs on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable on his 6Music Show, earning 10/10 scores, gigs are selling out and the album is a step up. The ingredients are there. It’s up to us all to make it happen for them. They are the best band in the country at the moment. You just don’t know it yet.
Grow Up is released on 24 March via Fierce Panda, on CD, LP and as a download. Pre-order the CD here.
See the band:
- Saturday 25th February – Manchester, The Live Room
- Wednesday 29th March – Bristol, Louisiana
- Thursday 30th March – Sheffield, Leadmill
- Friday 31st March – Glasgow, Nice N Sleazys
- Saturday 1st April – Birmingham, Sunflower Lounge
- Thursday 6th April – London, Scala
- Saturday 8th April – Darmstadt, Bedroomdisco
- Sunday 9th April – Freiburg, Slow Club
- Tuesday 11th April – Stuttgart, Goldmarks
- Wednesday 12th April – Cologne, Blue Shell
- Thursday 13th April – Hamburg, Gruner Jager
- Friday 14th April – Leipzig, Ilses Erika
- Saturday 15th April – Bremen, Lagerhaus
Image by Pete Darrington.