Ben ‘gotmics?’ Standage interviewed Matthew from the JCQ over Skype about their new album, while he nursed his hangover with a litre of Barocca, and conversation quickly turned to more important stuff than microphones, like artistic credibility, alcoholism, and using your pinkie. Ben recorded their first album, in a barn, so when they left him in the dust and went to Sweden to record the new one in a real studio, naturally, he had some questions.
Ben: Hey, I like your new album, and so do other people it seems. It’s gotten good reviews in RockSound and Kerrang! so far.
Matt: Yeah, the reaction to ‘Mechanical Young‘ has been more consistent than the first. People were split on that one.
Ben: To be fair I think opinion on the actual music was pretty unanimously positive, they were just split on the Lucozade issue
Matt: Yeah, we got zero out of ten in Art Rocker for that. The review started out ‘based on the first two song titles, I thought this was going to be a gangster rap album‘. People think we make up random titles that have nothing to do with the lyrics, but it’s all relevant.
Ben: So tell me about “Aspidistra“, my favourite song on the new album. It’s a plant right?
Matt: Well originally Paul wanted to call it Black Propaganda-
Ben: But then people would think it was about black people?
Matt: Do you know what Black Propaganda is?
Matt: It was a phrase coined in WWII to describe the ‘news‘ broadcast on the front with the intention of being intercepted by the enemy, to make them think we were doing better than we were.
Ben: For demoralising purposes? Rather than encouragement?
Matt: Yeah, and “Aspidistra” was one of the British radio towers which it was broadcast from, which is what the song is about. No one ever asks anything interesting. Thanks.
Ben: You know me. I like my history lessons. So tell me about Sweden, why Tonteknik, Why Pelle Henricsson?
Matt: Because he did ‘The Shape of Punk to Come‘, and Meshuggah, and the good Poison The Well albums.
Ben: Were there gold discs lining the corridors?
Matt: Just Refused, the album cover.
Ben: Stuck to the wall? With sellotape?
Matt: Pretty much.
Ben: How did you get there?
Matt: We flew. I just took my sax, Jimmy took his bass, cause he’s left handed, and Paul took his cymbals, and one big suitcase with all of our clothes in it.
Ben: So with all his gear, were there any pieces you think particularly coloured the album?
Matt: Yeah, that’s why we went there. I used this early 70s Orange amp, through a cab with one blown speaker, which added some dirt, Martin went through a 70s Traynor. There was a ’63 Fender Vibrolux with the original tubes, a Hammond B3 with a Leslie, loads of vintage stuff. One of Pelle‘s friends is like the head guy at Hagstrom, so he dropped off three guitars. I ended up using a Hagstrom Viking, a hollow body, for most of the album.
Ben: What mics did he use? Did you spend any time in front of the amps, for feedback and sustain?
Matt: Just 57s. We tracked the album live, with the two guitar amps in an iso booth. Yeah, just 57s, but with a shared room mic that looked like a 40s radio presenter microphone.
Ben: Live? Nutsballs. To a click though?
Matt: Yeah, Pelle insisted on using a click after pre-production. He wanted consistent tempos. We added one extra guitar track per song, plus organs and things, and vocals obviously. We tracked instrumentals for three days, and then started doing music in the morning, and vocals in the evening, so Jack didn’t burn out.
Ben: So how long were you there?
Matt: We did pre production for two days, playing Pelle and his coproducer Eskil Löveström, all the songs, finalising the structures, then they left us alone for two days to practice, then we tracked for two weeks.
Ben: Sounds like hard work, did anything hilarious happen?
Matt: Not really. We’d get up at eight or nine, record until late and then just sleep because we were so knackered. There was nothing around besides houses and a supermarket, so there wasn’t much else we could do.
Ben: Right, and Sweden having famously expensive alcohol…
Matt: Exactly, about eight pounds a pint. The supermarket wasn’t that bad, but you can only buy up to 3.5% ABV there.
Ben: Jesus. So how did unavailability of cheap cider effect band moral?
Matt: To be honest, we did go completely mental. One night Paul took his top off and got on the coffee table and we tried to milk him like a cow.
Ben: And you were sober?
Matt: Completely. One evening Jimmy and Paul ate an apple whole, just for something to do.
Ben: A whole apple? I do that every day.
Matt: No, but put it ALL in at once, and just sat there facing each other, chewing, until it was all gone. I tried to leave the studio, and walk around every day, just to feel normal, but one day I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was dizzy. I just had to sleep for 24 hours. I couldn’t do anything.
Ben: So, generally, happy memories?
Matt: Yeah totally.
Ben: The end result, compared to That Was Then… is way slower, more sludgy, less easy on the ear in terms of production. Was that intentional?
Matt: Yeah, when we got the masters back it was pretty much how we imagined it’d sound. We wanted the songs to be more riff based, rather than changing chord every beat of the bar, but they’re actually harder to play than the old stuff. I broke my little finger before a festival last year and realised I could play all our songs with three fingers.
Ben: So you wanted to incorporate your pinky into the album?
Matt: Yeah, to challenge myself.
Ben: Writing the first album basically involved you throwing riffs on top of fruity loops on your laptop and then handing them over to Jack to do whatever he wanted right? You came to me with 12 almost unlistenable, but completely written songs. Now that Martin‘s in the band, did you write differently?
Matt: Yeah, completely different. For this one we all made an effort to get involved with melody and lyrical content. Even Paul put down some backing vocals on the demos.
Ben: Talking of Paul, he drinks now, what’s that like?
Matt: Yeah! It’s awesome when we hang out now. After our set at a festival, I was tucked up in bed and he was tearing it up at silent disco. He’s a new man. He’s a classic drunk too, always telling us how much he loves us.
Ben: But from straight edge to silent disco, aren’t you worried he’ll be smacked out by the end of the year?
Matt: Nah, he only really drinks real ale and shit. He’s very selective about what he drinks.
Ben: What gear have you bought recently?
Matt: Well I only really buy pedals now. I got an Electro Harmonix Hog, it’s like a proper version of the Pog. You have eight different harmonies you can blend in, like a drawbar organ. If you add an expression pedal you can play a chord, hold it, play another chord and then glissando up to it. I also got a Diamond compressor pedal. It’s a boutique optical compressor from Canada. I leave that on all the time ’cause it just makes my playing a lot…
Matt: Yeah, or consistent. It means I don’t have to be as good, or practice as hard. It just really fattens things up. Peter Miles uses one to record drums apparently.
Ben: What about vans, how’s the new van?
Matt: Fucked. It gave us loads of shit on our last tour. We had it repaired while we were in Sweden, then we got back, driving home from a gig, the rear axle snapped on the motorway.
Ben: Wow. What did that sound like?
Matt: Just two really loud bangs. We pulled over and had it towed. So that cost about eight hundred quid to fix, but we think the engine’s on the way out, and the clutch is going. We want to sell it and just rent, but we don’t want to rip anyone off.
Ben: Ouch. I remember when JesseJames sold Shane-O and transitioned to rentals. There’s this place opposite Wembley Stadium called Tiger Tours who are pretty cheap and do nice Sprinters, but going back there at 4am on a monday morning to return the van was a ball ache. It’s hard to tell what’s more expensive – renting or owning.
Matt: I mean, there’s still a few people who drive, who do the man in a van punk thing, but not many. Our friend bailed us out when our van died, but since word got around that he drives bands, he’s been really busy.
Ben: So how have you been balancing the books?
Matt: One thing we’re doing is this cover band. It was all for money, but it’s proven to be quite fun. It pays way more than JCQ and all the money goes straight into our pockets rather than back into running the band.
Ben: What are your favourite songs to play?
Matt: We do Gangnam Style, Living on a Prayer, that’s always a crowd pleaser. I hate playing Sex on Fire. There’s nothing redeemable about that song. But it’s like you’re contractually obliged to play Sex on Fire.
Ben: Are you bashful about telling people? Do you think it undermines your artistic credibility as JCQ?
Matt: At first yeah, we kind of kept it quiet. It was just a weird transition, playing at a muddy rock festival and then playing a wedding at a hotel, with a bunch of nine year olds jumping off chairs and doing knee slides on a polished wooden floor. And of course we’re not doing it as ‘The JCQ‘. I kind of wish, in hindsight, that we’d not done the Lucozade ad as JCQ, but Hassle pretty much signed us off the back of it.
Ben: Yeah, I think the game is changing. Artistic credibility is becoming a greyer area. On one hand, you have people who can’t differentiate between a youtube cover video of ‘I’m gonna pop some tags’ sung by dogs, and a recently unearthed recording of prison chain gang songs from the 40s. And on the other hand you have these informed, but militant hardcore kids who can only publicly enjoy ‘corporate assisted’ music if it seems like they’re secretly ‘screwing the man’.
Matt: Yeah, these days people appreciate that bands can’t be picky if they want to eat, but because the internet makes the whole process so transparent, they feel obliged to have an opinion about it. We were thinking of doing those shows in Morph suits, but for now we just wear stupid glasses.
Ben: Right, the disguise. The disconnect. Have you seen Masked Intruder? They’re this punk band, just signed to Fat Wreck. We played a show with them in a Chicago suburb. Totally normal band dudes, then they put on coloured ski masks and take to the stage with thick Brooklyn accents. They have a hype man dressed up like a camp policeman who hits people with a plastic baton and makes them dance. On paper it sounds awful, but it’s actually really entertaining. You have a tour coming up. Where are you going?
Matt: Yeah, in September. Now that you’re asking, I’m not entirely sure where we’re playing.
Ben: Nottingham, Birmingham…
Matt: Oh. I like Nottingham because they have a sign on the wall that states if you break an SM58 you have to pay £200 for a new one.
Ben: Even though they only cost eighty quid?
Matt: If you break a monitor you’d have to re-mortgage your house.
Ben: Well good luck on that tour, go sell some albums, and don’t break any mics.