Jebediah: ‘We’re Still The Same Band’
Jebediah may’ve disappeared from national youth consciousness following 2004’s ‘Braxton Hicks’, but frontman Kevin Mitchell tells MAX EASTON, they never really went away.
Spawned from the belly of the grunge movement and birthed onto the triple j airwaves, Jebediah became one of a handful of young Australian acts to skyrocket into national radio consciousness in the late-’90s, alongside bands like silverchair, Spiderbait and Regurgitator.
While they were never indistinct from the soft-loud grunge aesthetic that peppered their 1997 debut Slightly Oddway, their audience had seemingly moved on by 2004’s Braxton Hicks – as did Jebediah, embarking on a seven-year recording silence after the album’s release. The break allowed frontman Kevin Mitchell to pursue his indie-folk side project Bob Evans, playing in a genre which – just like late ’90s pop-grunge – was the triple j youth market’s drink of choice. As Evans, Mitchell again found himself fortunate commercial timing, seeing his solo trilogy lauded, awarded and sold with fervour.
While the national radio station continued to salivate over Mitchell’s new project, Jebediah were working behind the scenes on what would become their first record for seven years, Kosciuszko. The album is a buttered slice of their past with an affirmed maturity and zeal that’s come from their time apart. It’s a record that reaffirms the ability of Mitchell and co. to fashion a series of tracks tailor-made for radio; all short and punchy with swirling coat-tails of atmosphere waiting to be latched onto.
I spoke to Mitchell on the eve of the album’s mid-April release about its slow germination, his successful alter-ego and how commercial expectations have changed. Appropriately, he was on his way home from triple j’s studios, where he had just appeared on the afternoon show with The Doctor.
The new Jebediah album gets released tomorrow and it’s the first for seven years. Are you anxious?
I’m not anxious at all really. I think most musicians would feel the same way when a record comes out, it’s just a relief more than anything. You spend so much time talking about the music leading up to a record before people have heard it, that it’s just a relief to be at a stage where you can stop talking about it and people can make up their own mind without listening to me tell them about it.
There’s nothing eating at the back of your head that you wish you’d added or left out?
No. It’s the first time I’ve ever made a record where I don’t have those sort of uncertainties, because we made it over three years, we had every opportunity to do everything we wanted. With every other record, if I’m in the studio it often finishes a little bit before you’re ready. You often find there’s more things you want to do, so it’s a good feeling to know that we did everything on this record that we wanted to do … and more. There was a lot of stuff which didn’t make the record. I think that definitely makes the whole release a lot easier.
The singles [‘She’s Like a Comet’ and ‘Lost My Nerve’] suggested a return to the Slightly Odway sound, but the album’s a bit more diverse than that. They’re not necessarily representative of the sound.
‘Lost My Nerve’ was probably one of the heavier and, I guess, freakier songs on the record, and then ‘Comet’ is one of the poppiest, so I suppose those two songs in terms of light and heavy are probably the two extremes. But, yeah, we tried to push every song in a direction that made it interesting … but we’ve always felt like our records have been diverse. That’s the thing though isn’t it? When you’re in the band yourself, when you’re right in the middle of something, everything seems that much more amplified.
Was the aesthetic of the record something you and the band deliberated over, or was it something that came together as the album progressed?
It came together track-by-track to be honest, and also Dave [Parkin], our producer, should take a good deal of the credit for the overall aesthetic of the record and how it sounds; a lot of that was his direction. We just tried to give every song a different kind of feel and flavor, so that every song had its own personality and had something different going on. I guess Dave as producer was able to tie it all together, so hopefully it’ll still sound like a cohesive record. I think you can definitely hear Dave’s production style across the album and that’s what ties it all together.
Do you think the songs on Kosciuszko are less informed by its time than something like Slightly Odway, which kind of dragged its influences along with it?
It’s hard to say. I guess with Slightly Odway, we were wearing our influences on our sleeve and I still think we sometimes do that now, maybe it’s just the influences people don’t recognise. I mean, I don’t know where the new record fits into current trends. It’s probably not necessarily very fashionable, but Slightly Odway, when it came out, it was very much of its time. It was a record that fitted in with that sort of musical landscape that was happening in the 1990s, whereas with this record I’ve got no idea where it fits … We’re still essentially the same band.
Are you less inclined to try to fit into anything now?
Yeah, totally, but I don’t think we’ve ever been trying to fit into anything. I think we’ve always just done our own thing and probably the reason why we were able to become popular so quickly was just because we happened to be doing something that was of its time, but yeah, we’ve always just tried to do our own thing first and foremost.
I noticed that the more acoustic ballads that used to pepper the Jebediah records are absent. Did Bob Evans take all that out of you?
Maybe, yeah. I think it’s probably true you know? Now, if the acoustic guitar comes out in Jebediah, it’s immediately, “Uh oh, here comes Bob Evans”, but with this record – and there’s still some acoustic guitar on there – I was really relishing playing the electric guitar again, it’s been so long that I’ve recorded electric guitars that I just got a bit bored of the acoustic.
Are you trying to distance yourself from Bob Evans at all?
Not intentionally, no. I’ve always tried to keep a distance between Bob Evans and Jebediah. Obviously now, it’s relatively pointless because the secret’s out, but certainly when I first started out, the whole idea of being Bob Evans was to be incognito so Bob and Jebediah could exist in completely different worlds. And yeah, I think it would sound kind of lame if there was a song that could sit on a Bob Evans album on a Jebediah record. They are still two very different things and that’s what makes it fun for me, that’s the whole idea of it for me: To be able to fling from one thing to the other and for it to always feel exciting and fresh. I’m really lucky that I’m able to do it, that both Bob and Jebs have got an audience that allows me to make records in two different styles. I think that as long as I can keep doing that, hopefully, I’ll always be creatively inspired.
Was making a Jebediah album a kind of obligation considering the momentum that was building with Bob Evans and then The Basement Birds?
I don’t think there was any obligation to make a Jebs record at all. I think most people for starters just assumed we’d broken up because we’d gone away, which is understandable, and I’m sure that the expectation was for the band to fade away, maybe continue to play shows, but not to make any more records. There was no obligation from me or from anyone I don’t think…I think we made the record because we always felt that we had another one in us … We still really enjoyed playing together and hanging out together, so I think that was the main motivating force behind it.
With how long the band has been running, do you still feel the burn to tour overseas and crack that market, or are you content with keeping Jebediah here?
I guess we’ve had small forays in the past into touring overseas and the odd record, but we’ve never really had a significant opportunity happen for the band overseas. I guess we’re at the stage where we’ll just take things as they come. I don’t think we’re at the stage where we’re going to spend a year touring overseas trying to get a deal or any of that kind of stuff, I think if opportunities come up we’ll take them, but I think we’re pretty content.
You’ve had your share of commercial success and are finding more with the new singles from Kosciuszko. Do you find that success to be a two-edged sword?
Yeah, absolutely I do. Certainly with ‘She’s Like a Comet’ being played on the kind of commercial radio stations that have never touched the band in the past, was a real shock. But I’m probably more comfortable with it now than I would’ve been 10 or 15 years ago. Back then I would’ve been concerned about how it would’ve changed people’s perspective on the band … I would’ve been far more worried about trying to be cool. But now I really don’t give a shit, I’m more than happy for those radio stations to play us and for as many people to hear the band as possible. But it does still freak me out a bit when I see the company we’re keeping, because the song is being played alongside all these R&B and pop songs from America, and to my ears it just sounds completely different. But, look, maybe that’s the reason they’re playing it in the first place … I’ve never understood the commercial side of radio and I don’t think I ever will.
You wonder if the triple j youth that grew up with you have moved over to the commercial stations.
I dunno … I mean, I haven’t. I listened to triple j in high school and I still listen to them now and I think there’s a fair proportion of people who continue to do so, but I don’t know, does that thing happen? Does something happen when you turn 30, get married and have kids where you start listening to commercial radio as well? I don’t know if that happens to people or not.
“There’s every chance that Bob Evans might do a white boy soul record, but I don’t think there’s much chance of Jebediah ever doing it.”
Considering the base of support that you’d built with your older albums, did you feel a pressure to keep in touch with what you used to be? Do you feel like you’re inhibited from experimenting as Jebediah?
I think with this record, if there’s ever been a time in our careers - apart from the first year of the band - if there was ever a time that we could do whatever the fuck we wanted, it was with this record. I think it’s still important to keep in mind what the band’s strengths are. It’s a fine line, I suppose, but if you completely lose yourself, then yeah, you can end up making a shit record. I think you’ve got to keep one eye on what makes the band good, what your strengths are and remember that, and then let the other eye wander and let that side push itself into experimenting and doing different things.
I suppose there were a lot of bands who were lumped in with you guys in the ’90s, like The Fauves, who really branched out and lost their audience.
Yeah. I was reading a story about Neil Young in the ’80s making some kind of synth record that was completely shit.
Yeah, Trans. It’s pretty awful…
[Laughs] I’ve never heard the record, but that’s an extreme example of where maybe it’s important to remember what makes the band work in the first place. But in having said all that, maybe as an artist or any creative person you need to have a blowout and do something completely ridiculous just in order for you to come back to what you’re good at. But who am I? I’m certainly not in any position to criticise the career of Neil Young, even if he has made one mistake.
So you’ll take on a soul record next for creativity’s sake?
[Laughs] Oh look, I think on my own I’d probably be capable of making far greater mistakes than Jebediah would be as a group. I think Bob Evans runs far greater a risk of doing something really stupid … because there’s no one else around to rein me in. Look, there’s every chance that Bob Evans might do a white boy soul record, but I don’t think there’s much chance of Jebediah ever doing it.
JEBEDIAH ‘KOSCIUSZKO’ TOUR DATES:
Thursday, May 26 – ANU Bar, Canberra, ACT
Friday, May 27 – Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Saturday, May 28 – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
Friday, Jun 3 – Hi-Fi, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday, Jun 4 – Irish Club, Toowoomba, QLD
Friday, Jun 10 – Astor Theatre, Perth, WA
Sunday, Jun 12 – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Thursday, Jun 30 – Surfers Paradise Beer Garden, QLD
Friday, Jul 1 – Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns, QLD
Saturday, Jul 2 – River Sessions, Mackay, QLD
Friday, Jul 8 – Waves, Towradgi Beach Hotel, Wollongong, NSW
Saturday, Jul 9 – Batemans Bay Soldiers Club, Batemans Bay, NSW
Sunday, Jul 10 – Bateau Bay Hotel, Bateau Bay, NSW
Wednesday, Jul 13 – Divers Tavern, Broome, WA
Friday, Jul 15 – Bar 120, Hillarys, WA
Saturday, Jul 16 – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, WA
Sunday Jul 17 – Pow, Bunbury, WA
Thursday, Jul 21 – Hotel New York, Launceston, TAS
Friday, Jul 22 – Republic Bar, Hobart, TAS