Published in The Music (WA, NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, June 2015
THROUGH IT ALL
A lot can change over two decades, and while the friendships formed in Jebediah stay strong, bassist Vanessa Thornton and guitarist Chris Daymond tell Daniel Cribb the music industry might be in trouble.
There are a number of reasons why WA rockers Jebediah still have a place in the hearts of fans around the world 20 years since their inception. With their debut record, Slightly Odway, they came out of the gate with an iconic album that became the soundtrack for a generation, and its worth still holds strong today, as evident by sold-out anniversary dates around the country, where fans have the opportunity to step back to 1996 and relive the album as the band plays it in full. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons Jebediah cemented themselves a lasting place is they encompass everything that music should be; friends hanging out together and playing songs they enjoy, and that’s something that fans can pick up on. “We’ve always had differences of opinions; we’re all different people, but it’s your ability to compromise that is a strength for a band,” guitarist Chris Daymond suggests, sitting in a man-cave-like bunker at Sony’s Perth HQ. “There’s obviously going to be moments, but they always seem so small in comparison,” bassist Vanessa Thornton adds.
It’s one thing to put on a smile and say they’re still best friends, but the fact the band has the exact same members it did back in 1996 when forming says it all. “Is it worth driving a wedge between you and one of your best mates because you think the guitar sounds shit or the lyric is crap?” Daymond asks. “Whatever you have a pickle with, it’s like being in a family; you’re going to have to be around or sit in a van with that person you’re picking a fight with – it’s up to you if you want to pursue that, and I don’t think we’ve ever had the fucking energy to run each other up the wrong way and find that to be stimulating,” he laughs.
With hits Leaving Home, Jerks Of Attention and Harpoon all on the tracklisting for album number one, it’s no surprise it lives on strong all these years later. But it’s not a record that defines the band, as its four follow-up records saw their sound evolve, keeping things interesting and subjects relevant, while staying true to the essence from which their debut stemmed. “There’s definitely a freedom to it,” Thornton says. “To me, it just feels really honest and really free. It’s just a bunch of kids having such a good time.”
“It’s an easy record to listen to; it’s catchy, upbeat and has a good energy,” Daymond adds. “It’s pretty humbling to be in a position where people want you to entertain them.”
The timely release of Jebediah’s greatest hits record, Twenty, further reinforces the strength of each album. Having 20 hit singles over only five albums is an impressive feat. “It’s like if you’re a chef and rather than creating the dishes, you’re putting together your best menu,” Daymond says on constructing the album’s tracklisting. “It’s what we’ve done as musicians, and to be in a position to be able to milk that for twenty years is awesome. The recorded output – to put it bluntly – is a small part of that experience for me. It’s the excitement of getting together and being on the road again with your crowd that is exciting to me.”
With frontman Kevin Mitchell now residing in Melbourne, distance and time apart may have played a role in maintaining healthy relationships for so long. But it’s a separation that renders rehearsing and writing harder than ever. It took Jebediah seven years to put together their most recent album, Kosciuszko, and that was with all members being in the same state. “Writing stuff is always something that’s just kind of happened when we’re together, so it’s a lot harder now,” Thornton admits. “We did get together for a week in Melbourne at the beginning of last year, but it was just a strange time being in a rehearsal room and thinking, ‘Alright, now we’ve got to write a bunch of songs.’”
“We didn’t really get anything out of it or write anything,” Daymond adds. “I don’t know what Kev’s plans are with doing another Bob [Evans] record – I’m sure he has those as well. We always have to allow for it to be open-ended so that everyone’s other pursuits are accessible… without talking about it, I’m sure we’d all love to make another record, but Kosciuszko took us seven years to put together, so if that trend continues, it could easily be another ten years before the next record is out.”
Blowing up in the ‘90s when major labels were still largely the key to a band’s success and continuing to still work with them while being embedded within the local scene, the members of Jebediah are in a unique position to analyse how it’s all changed. Thornton describes a young Jebediah being wined and dined at fancy restaurants wearing cut-off army pants, which leads the discussion into a wider analysis of how the scene has changed. It’s a transformation they say might not be for the better. “Trends have changed, but we don’t operate any differently,” Daymond says. “When bands do all that DIY, it doesn’t seem to make it any healthier for the industry, because the less cash flowing around, the less other satellite industries can operate around bands.
“You cut off that fuel and it all starts to shrink in on itself and becomes a lot more competitive and harder to survive. I think it is far more competitive now, but half the reason is that there isn’t the recording industry and labels around to nurture bands into success… I don’t know how easy it is for bands to be able to just enjoy it like we did.”
As far as the increased presence of smartphones at gigs in recent years, Jebediah’s stance is a strong and justifiable one. The digital age has also taken away some other simple pleasures of being in a band. “It’s like, you’ve bought a ticket to see a live band and you then stick this filter in front of your face,” Thornton says. “You’re so worried about preserving the moment that you miss it; you don’t get to just let go and enjoy it.”
“Handwritten fan mail was certainly a really great part of being in a band,” Daymond recalls. “Going around to your manager’s house and going through and answering all our fan mail. I certainly got a lot of out of that, but it could be a thing of the past.
“I don’t think it would be unusual to find that a seventeen-year-old that wrote us a fan letter in 1997 is probably still going to come to the Odway show and act the same way that they did back then – jump around and have a great time.”
Jebediah can still play sold-out nights around the country when they hit the road, but with families, jobs and other projects consuming a lot of their individual time, it’s no longer a full-time endeavour. On top of scoring fruit platters at most shows – a perk Thornton is still thrilled about 20 years later – it truly is like hanging out with old mates for the Perth four-piece; and considering they need to take annual leave from their day-jobs, it technically is a holiday. Daymond gives us a rundown of what touring means to him in 2015. “Travelling has probably been one of the biggest rewards for committing this amount of your life into a project. I hate trying to organise my own life, so when someone else is doing it for you and you just have to rock up at the right time and you’re away, it’s pretty fucking sweet. I’m very grateful for that experience. When you’re travelling around, it’s all those experiences of eating and immersing yourself in new things and meeting people and sightseeing, and not having to go to work in the morning, so all of those positives are a real blessing. When we check in now, Vanessa and I say that we’re on our honeymoon most of the time, and get a bottle of champagne or something – we’re always rooming together because we fly from the West. Travel is a big reward. We’ve still got all our limbs and we’re not deaf.”