Written by: Sam Murphy

Jagwar Ma: In Pursuit Of Warmth

It’s a well told story – hyped band releases well-performing debut album, attempts to change things up on the second album and immediately stumbles. It’s a story that Jagwar Ma could’ve easily fit into with their second album but instead, they’ve written their own.

On their second album Every Now & Then, the Aussie band haven’t tried to change much, really. They’re the same band with the same sound that they delivered on their excellent debut album Howlin’, instead this time around, they’ve just refined their processes. Without chasing something entirely different, they’ve created an album that naturally expands on their sonic backdrop, delivering songs that have more clarity than ever.

We spoke to Jagwar Ma’s Gabriel Winterfield on the eve of their album release about not chasing a sounds, but rather chasing a feeling – warmth.

The album is out. How are you feeling about it?
A combination of excitement and relief. When you’ve been working on something for so long, the anticipation and the expectation and everything amounts to peak levels. It’s like, it’s just got to get out.

Is it a different feeling to releasing your debut? You had some expectation from the hype you built beforehand but this time people know what to expect somewhat.
The naivety of putting out your first record, I don’t think that can ever really be re-experienced. That’s a one off thing that happens, I think you can’t ever really fully understand what that feels like for a second time. It feels like a completely different thing.

When you released Howlin’ did you have expectation or goals of where you wanted to be by the second album?
I don’t know. Not really.

In that way you were able to turn a fresh page with the second album and really do what you wanted to do?
I think we did that with the first record as well. Sometimes people can be somewhat over strategic with music and they can decide that they want to achieve this and that and the outcome of that means that the music ends up sounding rather soulless, not soulless, but you can hear that ambition. That’s a relationship that you have between thinking commercially and thinking artistically.

You can hear that in the second album because it sounds as if your sound has developed but it’s not a forced development. What were the main factors that made this album a bit sunnier?
Well, I actually don’t think this album is as sunny as the first one. I think the first one is sunnier sounding if I’m honest. I think that’s a personal thing, that’s a personal decision moreso than anything as in I think you play out how it feels. You play how you feel and you play where your head is at. I don’t think, and I say this often, but you can’t pretend with music. You can’t lie with music. It comes through especially if there’s some sort of emotional sentiment to what you’re doing, it’s very difficult to ever put forward one feeling and that not actually being where your heads at. It’s important to stay in touch with yourself.

I’m interested to know then, if this is a darker record than the first. Is that from a lyrical point-of-view?
Well, it’s not darker particularly but it’s a deeper record. But I think that comes with maturity and age.

Yeah, is it the sort of record that you couldn’t have made three years ago when you didn’t have the experiences of touring and spending time together?
Yeah, I think so. It’s different, very different.

Often with bands that have success with their debut it’s hard to reboot and begin again for the second record. Did you guys find that at all or were you inspired to start again?
We like what we do so I think we’re still a relatively young band. It’s only our second record so I don’t think there’s any lethargy in that way. It was quite easy to turn things around and be like, “ok, cool, now I’m making a record”.

There are a few different influences in here but one of the big ones is soul. What kind of things were you listening to while making the record or were they more nostalgic influences?
There’s stuff that we were listening to and things that we always listen to but the soul thing was definitely something that we were mindful of. I was mindful of that element to it just because I wanted to see if there was a way to do that in a legitimate way. I think soul is classic and it’s of no particular time.

It’s almost a throwaway comment these days to say a record is influenced by soul but it’s something that’s being picked up with your record without you having to tell anyone. Was it something that was running through the veins of the music effortlessly?
I think it was something I was excited in. Even the way that we play guitars and the way that we don’t use a lot of effects on the guitars. The record itself is a very clean record. There’s not actually a lot of effects. It probably sounds like there are but a lot of things, even on the electronic side, they are synthesizers plugged straight into a desk. There’s clarity to that and there’s something really beautiful about that. There are a lot of musicians I’ve read about and talk about that talk about creative clarity when it comes to ideas, about putting your ideas down without trying to be dynamic and creative and get in the way. Songs, for example, they can sounds fantastic just with a guitar and a mic and that’s it. I think we’re both of that school, Jono and myself. We like the idea of the songs we write for someone to just be able to sing them. I would never want them to get to the point where they can’t just be a song that can be played on an acoustic guitar. Or a piano and a voice.

That idea translates really well to this album because some of the songs are very spacious and melodic. Was delivering songs that sounded uncluttered a goal?
Not really a goal. The perspective that we have on music is quite far back. It’s a distant perspective. We don’t really go into genre and think of pop or commerciality or anything like that. We really just take that big step back and think, “well, what do I like?” And when you stand back, the difference between pop record and obscure pop or whatever, it just becomes a warmth. It’s always a warmth you’re pursuing.

I must say on a personal level, I’m quite fond of music from the ‘50s because I think there’s something very beautiful about the recordings and the style. I feel like generally speaking, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s there was this great optimism which I think is really beautiful. Especially, in the UK and somewhat in the US there’s often this psychedelia thing attached to us and I kind of sometimes want to buck against that and be like obviously we love that music from the time but that later ‘60s thing probably wasn’t as influential as the early ‘60s thing before things became really colourful. I like the early ‘60s when music was almost dance music. That’s a correlation that we enjoy the fact that if you’re djing you can go quite comfortably between dancey bangers of now and then early rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a good vibe, that strange correlation.

It’s one thing to experience the warmth and excitement of a record in the studio but it’s another thing to take those finished songs out to a live audience. Have you guys been feeling really good about the new songs live?
Yeah. When we toured with Tame Impala we did try out new songs because the focus was on them and so we were opening and we could play our new songs. I think that crowd really enjoyed the songs and we were excited that we had that opportunity to do that. Very much so, touring and playing always affects decisions. We were doing that at a point when the record wasn’t finished so there was still flexibility to change it. It’s important to make sure how things feel live. If things feel sluggish or they’re not working, it’s good to note.