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Interview: Nik Kaloper From ‘The Jezabels’

The Jezabels 2016

Australian alt-rock heroes The Jezabels are on the cusp of releasing their third studio album ‘Synthia’, set for release this coming Friday. We caught up with the band’s drummer Nik Kaloper to talk about the makings of the record, their inspiration, and The Jezabel’s evolution and success.

It’s been 18 months since you concluded the tour for ‘The Brink.’ That seems like quite a fast turnover to create a full studio album! Did the production of ‘Synthia’ come quite organically?

Absolutely yeah, it’s nice to hear to think it was fast because some people think it was way too long! It was pretty organic. We all took some time off just to go and relax and find ourselves. When you’re so deep in the band all the time, you sort of want experiences to bring back to motivate writing. But yeah, when we came back together, it was actually to rehearse for a festival we were playing, and we were like “oh let’s book a few extra days just to see if we have a song, or two in us.” And before we knew it we started writing again. We were like, well here we go again!

I guess in that time off you get some more content and stories to tell.

Yeah exactly, otherwise it’s like well what am I actually bringing into the band that’s valuable or useful, rather than just doing the same stuff over and over again.

Was there a particular inspiration for this album?

No, not at the very start. The inspiration was mainly that there was no pressure to make another album. I guess after the second album, we were like okay well you know ‘Prisoner’ seems to be doing well. We were starting to get some fans, so we wanted to keep it going. So there was a sort of imperative to keep delivering. But after ‘The Brink’ tour it felt quite different. We could jump into another album, or we don’t necessarily have to. So, there wasn’t any pressure and in a sense that was for us inspiring, because we could do it at our own pace and in our own time. And as the journey went along, that’s when Hayley [singer] started to inform a lot of the songs with her lyrical content. Then we started to get a picture of what we were trying to do with the record.

Feminism seems to be a very strong theme on the album, why was that such a driving force on ‘Synthia’ do you think?

Because I think it’s something we are all quite close to, as one politically motivated topic. You look around, and I’ve had a number of experiences where I think gender equality is lacking in institutionalised and personal situations every day. It’s something I feel very proud to drum for. I can’t really express my thoughts on feminism through drumming of course, but it’s great to provide a backbeat to Hayley when she’s getting her message across.

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

They’re all pretty different! I do like Stamina, the very last track. I’m such a sucker for like overly emotional, epic drama and for me that sort of captures that. It’s really melancholic as well, I’ve always liked really sad music.

Does that song resonate with you in particular?

Yeah that song really does resonate with me! Because you know sometimes it feels like there’s nothing other than stamina to keep you going. It sounds really horrible, but if you’re looking for the will to live you can’t always find it in your family, or in your partner, or in your home. You just have to keep going for the sake of going.

Over the years you have had a lot of success, winning an ARIA and the Australian Music Prize (AMP). What was it like to get recognition for your work?

Yeah look I personally find it, not a double-edged sword, but I find awards in music very strange. Especially the experience of those ceremonies and that kind of stuff. I mean on one hand it’s very incredible to get validation from your peers. But then, you’re put up against other artists and people say well this work is better than their work. I’ve never seen music as something to stack up against someone else. I think it’s all pretty great, because someone is just trying to say something. So yeah, I don’t want to take any of that for granted, but it’s not something I think about actively, or seek for that matter.  

Over the three albums how do you think the band’s sound has changed?

I think it’s changed in subtle ways. I don’t think it’s changed in a Radiohead kind of way. I think the things that brought us together in the first place are still evident in the music. For us what tends to change is the production and the instrumentation more than anything. So you know, ‘The Brink’ was a very glossy record and that really put a very different spin on everything in my opinion. So that in a way changed quite a lot. But we realised that wasn’t quite for us. We really enjoyed the experience of making a record in that vein, but it felt really good for us to almost go back to the production, style and aesthetic that we had earlier in our career.

I think what’s changed on this record is that Heather’s [keyboardist] come forward with some of the synthesizers and other instruments. She’s really learnt how to make those instruments work well and sound great. It’s a tiny change, but then as you keep writing and you get to the end of the song and the end of the album, you realise it’s quite a big change in terms of how the songs come together.

And over your career, how do you think the music industry has also changed?

I’m not exactly sure, obviously the whole streaming world and the digital age. But, I mean that’s been going for a while. It was obvious that it was going that way maybe 10 to 15 years ago. At the heart of it, nothing too much has changed. People still want to listen to music and want to listen to it a lot. There’s no evidence that supports the idea that people are listening to less music. So, I think as long as people are interested in listening, then the only thing that’s going to change is the form of delivery. Obviously that has changed a lot, you know like people hopping on Spotify and streaming the album, rather than buying it. I don’t really care too much though, I think to fight it is sort of useless anyway. As long as people are getting something off the record, that’s the cool thing! My opinion is that it hasn’t changed too much, there’s still a massive place for music in the world and people will keep delivering.

So, we were all very sorry to hear about Heather’s struggle with Ovarian cancer. Do you think having this album was a refuge or an outlet for her in any way?

Yeah definitely I do, she’s a very strong woman and a big trooper. Throughout all this, she’s always like “well you know you have to keep busy, I want to keep working. Because, what else am I going to do. Just sit there and think about this kind of stuff”. In a way it serves as a creative outlet to keep her mind focussed on things she really cares and not let it wander too much. So it was really strong of her, but also was a really good decision to forge on and keep going with it all. And at the end of the day, that’s what she wanted. If she wanted anything different we would have respected that obviously. So, yeah I think her decision has served her really well. And you wouldn’t almost know it at times, she’s still as strong as ever musically. It’s hard to keep up with her honestly!

Do you guys have a favourite place to perform in?

For some reason, and I can’t say exactly why, but I’ve always loved going to Germany. I think the venues there are awesome, the people that work at the venues are awesome, I love the food – the whole experience of being on tour in Germany is fantastic. People are really into music and not in a way that it’s something to listen to. The questions you get are always surprisingly specific and considered. Things like, in that second pre-chorus of Endless Summer, did you decide to change that drum beat for any specific reason? It’s funny! It’s hard to say exactly why, but I’ve always fancied touring in Germany.

Do you have a favourite song at the moment?

Yeah I’ve been listening to some Kraftwerk lately actually. I just watched a documentary on them. I always knew they were innovators and pioneers in their field of electronic music, but never to the extent that this documentary made me realise. So that sparked my interest in their music. I would say Pocket Calculator by Kraftwerk. It’s so ridiculous, it’s fantastic!

The Jezabels’ upcoming album ‘Synthia’ is set for release on Friday 12 February.