(by Gareth Wilson & photos by Ingrid Swart)
When I arrived backstage I realised that I may have had seven too many beers. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the worried look on Ingrid’s (the photographer) face as I started reading over my scruffy hand written notes. I decided to pull myself towards myself, mainly because I knew Griffin would give me a PK if I messed this one up for him. I was lucky enough to have a sit down with Jeremiah the drummer, co writer and backing vocalist of the band. It was such a great experience, just two musicians talking about tjoons.
How have the dynamics changed within the band since the Wesley Jeremiah days?
Hahaha, going back they have changed a lot man. Just in terms of crowds and sizes, that is the most obvious thing. In those days it was more like something artistic but not being recognized, now it’s about still trying to be artistic but being recognized, which is really cool for us.
Which brings me to my second question, it’s a long time to tour just one album.
Yeah it’s been almost 3 years, this is actually the last show here in Joburg.
So is writing the follow up album going to be a planned thing or are you just going to go out and make music?
I think that’s a great philosophy to just go out and make music, that’s what we did with the first one [album]. Yeah just to make music and try to not over think it, but I think its hard because people will burn you or you might be considered boring because you are doing the same thing. If you change too much you might alienate your fans. That’s the pressure I never ever thought about.
Because the second album is supposed to be the hardest album to write.
Yeah the sophomore slump and all that stuff. It feels hard, if I’m being honest, it feels really difficult. Me and Wes have like three different songs that we have written that I completed in Denver and then after this tour we just go back and keep working so um yeah, we just wanna make music and have some sort of evolution and not be too stagnant and rely on any tricks or anything and just try to make good music.
I guess in a way I am very different to many fans here today in that I don’t listen to mainstream radio. I was actually introduced to you guys by Andre Kriel the guitarist of local blues rock band the Black Cat Bones. He made me a mix tape which had the song ‘ slow it down ‘ on. I immediately related to the lyrics but one line in particular which I had to write down, was a little nervous I was going to forget it.
“And when she stood she stood tall, she’ll make a fool of you all. Don’t ask for cigarettes, she ain’t got nothing left for you.”
Is that written about somebody in particular and is she as sexy as you’ve made her out to be?
Well to clarify, this is Jeremiah, Wesley writes all the lyrics. For that one, I know he doesn’t like to divulge omuch but I don’t think it’s somebody specific. I think its sort of this, um, it’s from the song ‘Slow it down’ and I think that song just has a lot of these little vignettes and captures a lot of little things that, well it’s not like an A to Z story. That song in particular is actually just like a smattering of you know um, yeah, it’s actually my favourite song to perform live cos you’re kind of dark and dreary and you’re kind of down cos the world’s hard and kind of a cruel place but it’s ok .
To me it’s just so great because it sums up so much.
My favourite line from that song is actually “act like you’ve been here before”. I just think that is really cool because when you are up and coming you gotta fake it till you make it and then once you have made it you still got to act like you have been here before. Then even once you have made it you still don’t have a fucking clue what you are supposed to be doing or what you think are supposed to be doing.
When I listen to you guys I obviously pick up a lot of Pete Seger, Dylan, Springsteen, Young.
Yeah you just nailed every one
Well I was wondering, a lot of bands that play the genre now are writing songs about soy lattes that they Instagrammed on their new iphone 6. I know times have changed since Pete Seger and even more so since Woody Guthrie but I do feel that you guys write lyrics relevant to today but still staying true to the genre. I do feel with your lyrics, though the world has changed a lot since Seger and especially Guthrie’s day you still write songs that those people would be able to relate to. Do you guys put a lot of thought into the production and the lyrics to remain relevant but also stay true to the genre?
I think me and Wes have been in a band together for over 10 years and we write a lot of music together and lyrics was always real important. I think he [Wes] has come so far in taking a specific experience and somehow making it globally and universally relate-able. If I had to write a song, it would be very shit, like “I love you my girl.” I think it’s not too specific like we are sitting on metal chairs right now, Wes has this capability to say something sort of vague, like act like you’ve been here before which could mean so many things or, she’s got nothing left for you. That line could pertain to so many things like a girlfriend, a sister, a mother and a teacher.
That’s the thing I like most about the band is that you pay tribute to the genre and are relevant without being cheesy.
Yeah man thanks, that is a huge compliment. This is a good interview, a lot of these interviews are kinda shit.
Oh really, great because I have no idea what I am doing. When I think back on the genre and take into consideration that I am a bit of a purist and grew up in a small town but also with the kind of music that you play. When thinking back on this kind of music it always brings Jesse James type characters to mind. Is that who The Lumineers are? Are you guys wild, because you get this feeling like you guys have really lived?
I think that we have been through some stuff, you know Wesley’s father died of cancer, my brother died of a drug overdose when I was like 14, that was like 12 years ago so we have been through some shit and it comes out in the music in like abstract and not blatant ways. When writing this album we spent so much time on the lyrics and the instruments . Like we use a mandolin and then we want to use a banjo but if we use too much banjo then we will be like Mumford and Sons or any other folk bluegrass band. So we didn’t use any banjo and limited the mandolin to a few songs. We were so conscience about it, like if we were getting ready to go out and you put a hat on or like do I put gel in my hair or I’m gonna shave my head, basically finding the outfit for each song took so much hard work and was so fucking painstaking and so fun and so annoying and everything in between. I think for me as the co writer to Wes, we just wanted to write songs that had a specific vibe or a specific vignette so when you heard it you were like” cool I’m listening to something and something is happening right now.” That’s what we tried to do, I’m not saying we did necessarily but that was the aim at least.
That’s why I asked you earlier, let me just find the rest of these things.
Hahahaaha, yeah I love your handwriting!
My handwriting is terrible. Another great lyric is “Never for money, always for love.” I have actually been re-looking my life and trying to see how I can change it so that I only do things I love. This lyric was a huge inspiration to me realising this. Do you guys realize the effect your music has on people lives.? Even a short little line like that?
That’s actually a Talking heads song.
Really? I had no idea.
Yeah it is a David Burn song, “always for money never for love”, haha, but that is such an incredible lyric. It is such an insane lyric, I think when we play that song at shows and when you hear that you think like damn that is a really powerful thing to say but if you mean it that’s really beautiful. I think we all do mean it.
Never realized it was a Talking Heads song.
Yeah it is one of my favourite songs of all time.
That been said, now that you aren’t starving artists, what is it you most look forward to treating yourself to while you are in South Africa?
I have probably been domesticated a bit, we travel so much that to me the thought of treating myself wouldn’t be room service, wouldn’t be champagne, wouldn’t be expensive sushi it would probably just be be me being with my girlfriend and being able to play the piano in my sweatpants. You know just being really simple and domesticated. All the travel has been so extensive for one album I cant complain but sometimes we do.
I know you have other wide influences from Beethoven to Guns n Roses.
Those are all Wes influences you hit right on the head, Wes is more like the anchor to this band, he likes Dylan. He grew up listening to The Cars, Springsteen, Talking Heads, Tom Petty. For me, I like Beethoven and Radiohead, more avante’ garde music like John Brian who makes music for movies. I love the idea that you are making music for a specific idea in your head and that was sort of the idea for our songs, to create each individual island and not just like, oh yeah all their songs sound the same. I think that is like the worst thing that someone can say. Someone is like, all your songs sound the same and you’re like really? Fuck, we tried so hard to make ’em sound different and sometimes people say it and I’m like that’s ok I guess. Sometime I listen to music and it all sounds the same.
Sometimes I can be a bit of a purist so there isn’t a lot of new music I take on.
Me too honestly, I don’t want to come across as a douche but it’s hard to be impressed with new bands. I like listening to something that is literally remarkable
I hear you. It can be hard to listen to new rock n roll when Zeppelin have done it all or Dylan when it comes to folk. There are very few bands that last 10 years anymore.
That’s a really good point man. I think that if I’m in a plane or a bus and I want to listen to something really good, if I have something like that on my phone I will listen to it but if not, I will literally just listen to nothing. Sometimes I just prefer silence, you know some people are like whores with music, they have a thousand bands you have never heard of and that’s great but I’m just not that kind of person.
I been following you guys on twitter and I’ve noticed that you have really been enjoying Cape Town. Have you guys had a chance to hit Joburg at all? I love this city so much, I just find it to be such a hub for creativity and culture.
No unfortunately we flew in last week and went on a safari 3 hours from here and then we went to Cape town and only got in like two hours ago and we were all just so smoked, we fly out again tomorrow night.
Thanks for doing the interview.
Is there anything you recommend? I fly tomorrow night at like 7pm.
Hit the city or Soweto.
Well thanks man, what’s your name again?
Really nice meeting you. Can I take a photo of your notes or would that be weird?