Rising from Sydney to the world stage with a fresh take on elements of the Madchester sound, Jagwar Ma have reached critical mass with their debut full-length Howlin.
The record consolidates the rapid rise of the outfit, led by vocalist Gabriel Winterfield (formerly of Ghostwood) and multi-instrumentalist Jono Ma (formerly of Lost Valentinos). Speaking from just west of London, nursing a busted knee, Winterfield contends that the recent explosion of Jagwar Ma’s profile is just a continuation of his broader musical narrative.
“It sort of feels like it’s been a long time coming. I played in a band beforehand that didn’t reach the level of success I wanted it to,” he says. “It’s funny, even though it’s a completely different band in every single way, for me personally, it’s the same journey. All I wanted to do is become successful in music. Obviously I do have loyalty to my friends and my old band, and we’re still close friends, but I knew and they knew that all I wanted to do was become successful in music. So I’m glad to be getting that much closer.”
With Winterfield coming from Ghostwood’s psych sounds and Ma from indie-dance outfit Lost Valentinos, their approach to writing songs for Jagwar Ma is not defined by clear-cut roles.
“It all varies man, people try to work out how we write songs and it changes every time I try to explain it, but it never does it justice,” Gabriel explains. “Basically we walk into a studio and come out with a song, and that’s it. Obviously I sing and Jono is on the production side of it, but the intricacies are too complex to sum up.”
Together the 11 tracks on Howlin offer an eclectic journey through a range of genres and tones, but maintaining an air of consistency was not too great a challenge. “As long as there’s a continuous voice in the record,” Gabriel reasons. “Say if there’s a great novel, every chapter is different and different things happen in every chapter. But the overall tone of the book carries through from chapter one to chapter 50, it’s all going to feel like the same book, even if the main character goes through these changes. I feel like that’s the same as the album.”
While it sounds very ‘of the now’, Jagwar Ma don’t align Howlin with any current musical fads. “I’m not averse to trends,” Winterfield says. “I see something that somebody’s wearing on the street, if I think it looks good I will look up where they got it and try to imitate it, or try my own ideas,” he says. “I’m the same with music. If someone is doing something cool now then I’ll definitely want to imitate it, then after a while I will deviate to my own task. Having said that, when we were in France making the record I don’t think we were thinking of anyone else apart from ourselves when it came to what album we wanted. It was our own way of being self-assured. There was also a lot of music happening last year that was really cool, but was difficult to imitate. Artists like Grimes, Azealia Banks and Tyler, The Creator. They were the three I was most excited about. But I’m not really a rapper, and I’m not a girl, so even if I wanted to imitate that it wasn’t going to happen.”
As for the live formation of Jagwar Ma, Winterfield is still looking to evolve and expand their ranks. “We definitely want to get more people on board live. We want to do less and less digitally and more with live hands, especially with beats and percussion. I’d love to have a keyboard onstage, like a Rhodes. Maybe standing at a piano Little Richard style. As it stands now, there’s live bass and I play guitar and sing. Then Jono will run the 808 live and some synths, he also jumps on guitar for one song. It’s kind of funny.” he explains.
You can also expect things to get a bit raved-up. “I definitely see people dancing, sometimes people do rave out and it ends up feeling a bit ravey – which we’re totally for. I love dance music and I always have since forever, same with Jono, but a lot of the time when I see a DJ or whatever I’ll be the guy standing at the bar just listening. I love listening to the soundsystem, the nice engineering. I don’t usually dance. So I feel that if people are like that at our shows it would be hypocritical to be upset that they’re not really getting into it, because I know that they are in their heads, they just don’t feel the need to express it physically.”
With the NME, the Guardian and more singing their praises in the UK after their massive success at Glastonbury, the immediate future looks very rosy for Jagwar Ma – but Winterfield’s not looking that far ahead just yet.
“I was supposed to have a meeting with my manager today, but I dislocated my knee three days ago. I’m sure they would think a lot more in ‘strategies’,” he states wryly. “Because we don’t really think in ‘strategies’.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK