Jarcrew are like a breath of fresh air in the UK’s tired and weary music scene. Imagine the Pixies’ riff manual getting torched by Black Flag while Pavement and Godspeed! You Black Emperor fight over the charred remains, and you’re still a few light years away from the euphoric bursts of frenetic energy that characterise their sometimes chaotic, but nonetheless wonderful live performances.
I caught up with guitarist Tom Clark and drummer Rod Thomas before their recent show at Sheffield’s Casbah, and from the word go I could sense there was something they weren’t telling me…
“The tour’s gone quite well so far, considering…” says the affable singing drummer.
Considering what? I ponder gratuitously, but decide to let him continue instead.
“…considering you have to contend with moody band members…” continues Rod, “…I don’t know, we all get our good days and then we get really bad days and you sometimes don’t know how you’re gonna feel in the morning and…we don’t eat as much as we should either, which is a nightmare.”
It later transpires that Ben Milner, the band’s bass player and co-founder of Jarcrew since their earliest days gigging round the pubs and clubs of Swansea “left” the band on the eve of this tour, and the boys are staying tight-lipped on the reasons behind his departure.
“Maybe the idea of spending three weeks together in a van just got too much?” says Rod inquisitively.
“Yeah but most of us live together anyway…” adds Tom, “…so there’s no time that we’re apart, really.”
Having been together for little over two years, Jarcrew have released two albums in such a short space of time, with last year’s eponymously titled 'second' album (basically a remastered/cut’n’paste of 2002’s ‘Breakdance Euphoria Kids’) receiving a spate of good reviews, even if the general consensus was that they still hadn’t quite managed to recapture their live sound in a studio.
“Yeah, the NME gave us 5/10 for the album, the bastards!” declares Rod, “…but no seriously, it’s always nice when someone says something really good about your band.”
“I think it can create a certain level of pressure though”, interjects Tom, “as you then start to feel that you’re forever having to live up to that stamp they’ve put on you.”
“We aren’t really that fussed to be honest,” continues Rod. “If someone comes up to you singing the band’s praises after a show it means just as much as what they put in the press, if not more actually, because they’re the people who will continue to support us if they really like what we’re about.”
Having grown up in a small town (Ammanford, also the birthplace of John Cale, trivia fans) – “…he used to play the organ in the church just opposite where I live!” adds Rod, excitedly - it would have been easy for Jarcrew to move to the city as soon as Gut Records said “Here’s £50 to make your first record, just sign on the dotted line”, yet the band are still quite happy to base themselves in more familiar surroundings.
“I like living there because it’s just so scenic, you know, the views and everything. We used to complain before about living in the countryside but I wouldn’t swap it for the mad rush of city life,” insists the defiant Mr Thomas.
“They used to organise this big free festival in Ammanford in a local park and we’d be there playing with all these tribute bands and cabaret acts and most of the locals would be looking at us gone out, wondering what the hell we were doing!” adds Tom.
It’s certainly not easy trying to pinpoint one particular sound or genre to Jarcrew’s burgeoning repertoire of fractured melodies and discordant nuances, so I thought I’d get an answer straight from the horses' mouths, as it were…
“We just make it up as we go along!” Tom assures me…
…or maybe not.
“No it’s true”, insists Rod. “It’s like with the lyrics and the subject matter for the songs. They were just totally invented around personal stories and expanded upon and then the music just came along by accident in some cases! If we were to do things conventionally we’d probably end up wasting so much time on perfecting the lyrics or the music and eventually we wouldn’t be happy with how it all sounded, so… it’s better to just keep adding bits and changing bits as we go along 'til it finally falls into place.”
“Me and Kelson (Matthias – vocals) write most of the lyrics” admits Rod, “we have books and books of words and stories. A lot of it probably seems a bit off the wall because if we start writing a story then we might change one or two things as we go along, make it sound more confusing, I suppose…”
“It’s like the main theme running through the album was about being bored and doing something about it, you know do something useful rather than just moaning about your boredom” Tom declares.
“Yeah, that’s something everyone should strive to be, a breakdance euphoria kid”, insists Rod, surely in jest but looking deadly serious all the same.
Due to lazy journalism that seems to link all things Welsh as being “the new breed of metal”, I asked Tom and Rod whether or not they felt hindered by being mentioned as likeminded souls to people like Lostprophets or Funeral For A Friend.
“No, not really” insists the drummer. “I think one of the reasons people call us a metal band is because generally we like music with loud guitars, but I think it shows throughout the album that we’re all into really different stuff to each other. I think when you’re just starting out you tend to learn the most popular stuff to all of the band members at the time, which for us was Iron Maiden, but there really isn’t any snobbery as far as musical influences or genres go. I mean, I’m just as satisfied listening to the new Outkast album or Can, in fact most krautrock stuff, and that’s what makes us the band we are really. Someone is always bringing something new to our sound, and although it can sometimes be frustrating that we’ll probably never write the perfect three minute pop record, we know that eventually we’ll know when we’ve gotten to where we really want to be.”
“It’s like that Virtual Festival thing that Bobby Gillespie’s putting together on Radio 2 at the moment. That probably describes the way we see our next album”, insists Rod, “a bit of Van Halen here, Black Sabbath there, the Beach Boys ‘Smile’ thrown in there somewhere, Fugazi’s no compromise policy and well… it’d obviously be Jarcrew making the record!”
So would you say that the album is inspired by the delights (or lack of them) encountered on the other side of the English Channel, what with ‘Paris And The New Math’ and ‘Sad French Death Metal’, among others?
Rod laughs. “I don’t know really. I think we do genuinely like the French language and it sounds good to music, like with Serge Gainsbourg or Edith Piaf, and even French Rap! ‘Sad French Death Metal’ is actually about Jim Morrison’s grave being in Paris, which is kind of morbid I suppose, and then ‘Paris And The New Math’ is about an invention during the French revolution.”
Having been first released as a single during the summer of 2002, ‘Paris And The New Math’ has enjoyed something of a resurgence thanks to the video being heavily playlisted on MTV2, and subsequently being voted by the viewers into the Top 10 favourite videos over the last couple of months.
“It’s great!” admits Tom. “We’d never complain about something like that, even if it is one of our older songs. It’s probably the only commercial sounding song Jarcrew will EVER do so for something as big as MTV2 to pick up on it is quite something. And the video was dirt cheap too! Kerrang TV refused to show it because the video was too low budget, so for MTV2 to still play it is quite amazing. It’s funny really because when we were kids we always used to watch bands’ videos and think we could do so much better.”
But surely the potential of ‘Paris…’ suggests that if your next album was to be based on a similar theme then commercial success may be just around the corner?
“I don’t think we could do that if we tried” says Rod. “If you try too hard to write pop songs then a lot of the time they tend to come out as bad pop songs, really contrived. I do think we’re trying to be more melodic and instant rather than making every song have a 5-minute intro. We want our next album to be more cohesive because although we’re generally happily with the way ‘Jarcrew’ sounds, we know it’s quite patchy in parts. At the time we didn’t really care and we tended to cut and paste things together rather than just re-record it from scratch.”
“I think if we had one ambition with the next album it would be to make all the songs sound the same, not in a way that everything is repeated throughout, but like when you listen to a Joy Division record, everything sounds like it was recorded by the same people using the same sounds, which is something I don’t think we’ve quite achieved yet,” adds Tom.
“It’s like creating a whole picture, with the sound and the production and everything” says Rod, definitively.
“Mind you, the way we write songs, it probably won’t be ready til 2010!” declares Tom, somewhat prophetically.
And will there be any more cameos from the old dear who appears on the “hidden” track at the end of ‘Jarcrew’?
“That was an actual phone call! She kept phoning me all the time” confesses Rod, “she kept leaving these strange messages. I think it had something to do with my brother actually, because at the time he was working in this factory in Bridgend and there was this mad girl who took a fancy to him, and he was seeing someone else at the time so didn’t want to know, and she had this aunt or grandmother who had Alzheimers or something, so the girl from the factory would get her old relative to phone my brother up and leave messages on the answer phone!”
Somehow, I guess the answer must be "No" then.