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Jezabels Talk Indie Cred, Being Starstruck, ‘Twilight’ + More – Exclusive Interview

The Jezabels
Graham Denholm, Getty Images

Australian indie rockers the Jezabels are a relatively new band on the rise. The group formed in 2007 after meeting at the University of Sydney, and having released their full-length debut, ‘Prisoner,’ last year to much critical acclaim, they hope to continue the momentum they’ve been building. Frontwoman Hayley Mary and drummer Nik Kaloper chatted with Diffuser.fm during this year’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago.

You released your debut album, ‘Prisoner,’ last fall to a very receptive audience. Did the band ever feel like, “This is it,” when ‘Prisoner’ was completed?

Kaloper: No, of course not. I don’t think we’re ever the type of band to be like, “This album is the one. We’re going to go big places with this.” I listened back to it, and I’m like, “Well, s—. That sounds pretty good, and that’s everything I knew how to do at that moment in time. So we’ll just play as many shows as it takes until we get the general consensus of whether people do or don’t like it. And it’s all been sort of positive, so it’s cool.

Mary: We’re big fans of the gradual build. We don’t really think there’s going to be an explosion as such. People say, “Oh, you’ve gotten so big.” Well, not in comparison to the last five years we’ve been together.

‘Prisoner’ won the prestigious Australian Music Prize in 2011. What was going through your head when you found that out?

Mary: We were overseas, which I think made it good for us. There’s always a debate surrounding that because it is the award that has cred in people’s minds and has a lot of expectations. It’s not like the popular choice. It’s more the credible choice. We were lucky to avoid the whole discussion around it, but it was amazing just to be shortlisted let alone win.

What are some of the biggest differences in the music scene between Australia and North America?

Kaloper: The sheer size of anything that happens on this continent makes it a completely different story compared to anything in Australia. Australia has maybe about two-thirds the population of California in its entirety, so it’s always going to be different game to play if you’re in a band. And that’s just the main thing we’ve noticed. As far as drawing other generalizations, you find it hard to. This venue in Berlin feels like this one in Denver for some reason, and we have no idea why. You find similarities everywhere, and there’s a few differences, but it’s always hard to compare and contrast.

Jezabels played at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal recently. Describe that experience.

Kaloper: We were in catering and Jónsi from Sigur Rós just sat down a couple tables away and we’re like, “Oh God!” The Arcade Fire weren’t playing, but it’s their hometown, so they were just hanging out.

Do you get starstruck when you perform at large festivals like Lollapalooza and Osheaga?

Mary: Sometimes I think it’s harder to get bands down to Australia, so to an extent, you’ve got a local scene where you know all the bands. Then on occasion, you see awesome big acts that you’re a massive fan of. But here, everywhere you go, it’s like, “Whoa, whoa! There’s Jack White! Okay!” You know what I mean?

It must be frustrating for music fans in Australia to have to wait for such a long time to see some of their favorite bands.

Kaloper: It is frustrating. You can tell that bands who are touring are looking at their budget and going to Japan and are like, “Do we turn left or do we go back?” It’s always just the extra costs, really. The extra flights and accommodations to go to a market that’s so small, you might not know how it’s going to react exactly.

Mary: Australian audiences are actually really great. Possibly because they’re ready and starved. The funny thing is when the whole global financial crisis happened, we did start getting a few bands over, because they were all like, “Australia’s got cash. Let’s just go there.”

Hayley, you said at a show once that the Jezabel song ‘Long Highway’ was originally set to appear in one of the ‘Twilight’ movies but was later considered “too mature.” What did they mean by that?

Mary: Do you know how offhand that comment was and how many times I’ve had to face it since?

Kaloper: It would have been 130 people at a place called the Lead Mill in Sheffield, and I can’t believe how many times it’s come up since then [laughs]. Who was in that crowd that was so well connected?

Mary: I did say that. It was kind of true, but it was also a bit tongue-in-cheek. We were kind of told that might be the reason. It’s a six-minute song, which requires maturity for listening. What they specifically said, apparently, was that the voice was too mature. I don’t know if that means I sound old or I sound intelligent. I’m going to hope that it’s the latter.

You recently toured with Garbage in the U.K. for a few shows. What was that like?

Kaloper: On the first show with them, we were going up to the dressing room up top and [vocalist] Shirley [Manson] just opens up this door and walks right into us. She’s like, “Oh hey, guys! How are you? It’s so good to have you here!” She shook all our hands and she said how grateful they were to have us. It was really sweet of her to say that. In short it was a great experience to tour with them. She just owns that stage.

Mary: They all own the stage and they were all really humble and interesting people. I think with some huge bands you get the sense that some are a bit wary of meeting new people all the time. They’re not jaded at all. They’re just generous and harmonious people.

Going back to your live shows, are your set lists set in stone or do you tweak them depending on the crowd’s vibe?

Mary: The official answer is that they’re set in stone, but we do tweak some of the songs.

Kaloper: I think I can count the number of times on one hand when we’ve ever responded to a request. And that’s not because we think we know better or anything like that. If a song gets requested that we haven’t actually rehearsed in six months, we just feel too scared to play it. We’d rather play a song we know we’d do well at than play a song that we might F up.

The Jezabels are currently touring in Europe in support of ‘Prisoner.’

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