Revelation is part of The Jezabels' art. Three EPs have led us this far. The Man Is Dead. She's So Hard. Dark Storm. Strange jewels dropped along their winding path to who knows where, each more lustrous than the last.
Did you see how they caught the light? Hurt Me broke the US charts, made iTunes' single of the week. Easy To Love and Mace Spray were indie radio staples; Dark Storm an iTunes #1. AIR and APRA nominations were lavished for records and songwriting.
Meanwhile in the live arena, maybe you've been shaken by The Jezabels' cocktail of power and elegance, at one of their sold out headline shows around the world, or at any number of festivals that left critics gasping, from Oz inkies to UK glossies to Austin's SXSW:
"Commanding…epic…brilliant…menacing…purring, roaring, soaring… intellectual ferocity…pyromaniac intensity…imagination and emotional rawness…thundering…threatening…exuberant rock'n'roll swagger…"
So much for peeking through the keyhole. With Prisoner, their debut album, The Jezabels are released at last.
"We love a bit of drama," firebrand singer Hayley Mary makes clear from the outset. "The EP trilogy was practical as well as conceptual on our part. It helped shaped us internally, as well as how we were perceived.
"The themes we got to develop, the aesthetic of the design... they helped establish our world, our business, our creative realm. It was nice to feel like we were protected within the force field of the trilogy."
In the force field of their hearts and minds, Hayley Mary and keyboard player Heather Shannon were The Jezabels long before they left the coastal paradise of Byron Bay for the bright lights and dark shadows of Sydney in 2006.
Guitarist Sam Lockwood recognised them in the corridors of learning. History. English. Gender. Rock. He signed them up for a band competition, conjured drummer Nik Kaloper from the mist. The battle was won. The first of many.
"It was a combination of four individual desires to play music and taking whatever opportunities we could find — which happened to be each other," says Hayley. "From there the process has pretty much been one of reconciling musical differences. But we're getting closer."
Prisoner is a panoramic study of tension and emancipation, from the echoing stone cathedral of the title track to the sun-blasted morning of the first single, Endless Summer; from the cloistered atmospherics of the instrumental interlude, Austerlitz, to the chiming and climbing pop of Deep Wide Ocean and the quiet reflecting pool of Peace of Mind.
Like the EP trilogy, Prisoner was recorded during stolen hours by Sydney producer Lachlan Mitchell, whose passion for glittering pop divas and his nocturnal gig in blood-guzzling black metal band Nazxul helped define The Jezabels' polarities of grandiose theatrics and gothic intensity.
"I was always obsessed with that whole Brontë-esque gothic melodramatic thing Kate Bush did," Hayley says. "I love the performance aspect of people like Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Cyndi Lauper.
"Nik is obsessed with metal. He's a perpetual ball of rhythm. He needs to drum so he doesn't flip out. Heather is a classical pianist who has the advantage of not really knowing the rules of rock. Sam is the earthing element. He likes organic country-folk so he balances that theatrical, over- the-top, almost '80s thing we have…
"Between us it gets very intense but also very dynamic and awesome. There's always someone with a great idea that you would never think of yourself."
Between big ideas and spectacular hooks, dynamic and awesome is about right. The ecstatically swelling melody of Long Highway and stately grace and sky bound chorus of Rosebud bring immediate rewards, but between layers of sound and meaning, Prisoner takes time to fully reveal itself.
"The lyrics are set out as a letter to a prisoner," Hayley says. "I'm interested in the idea of your personal role in your own oppression. To a certain extent the album explores the idea of looking at yourself as a prisoner and asking about the reasons for that. Are they external or are they internal?"
Perhaps related is the fact that The Jezabels have chosen to remain an independent entity for their debut album — in spite of a virtual stampede of label interests.
"The team we've worked with showed faith in us from the first show, from management to production to design," says Hayley. "That's a valuable thing, to have this internal strength of knowing it's us against the world."
World be warned. Prisoner is loose.
Sam - Guitar
Hayley - Vocals
Nik - Drums
Heather - Piano
Disco Biscuit Love single - December 2008
The Man Is Dead EP - February 2009
Dark Storm EP - October 2010
Prisoner LP - November 2011
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Expect this band to either get signed and get huge, or stay independent and get huge and rich. Fadin...Expect this band to either get signed and get huge, or stay independent and get huge and rich. Fading away doesn’t look likely, either way. This has too many things going for it to wilt. Debuts don’t get much more impressive than this.
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While fundamentally an indie band, Disco Biscuit Love is a catchy pop-rock track worthy of commercia...While fundamentally an indie band, Disco Biscuit Love is a catchy pop-rock track worthy of commercial radio attention. Lead singer Hayley Mary’s vocals have drawn comparisons to Chrissie Hynde and PJ Harvey
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The Jezabels have been obediently trotting around Australia in their tour boots supporting Josh Pyke...The Jezabels have been obediently trotting around Australia in their tour boots supporting Josh Pyke, but vocalist Hayley M’s reflections about the dark and dirty corners of Sydney belong in a venue like the Annandale Hotel. It’s not exactly the throbbing heart of the city’s Friday nightlife – more like the tip of one of its tentacles – but you get the sense that these punters know exactly what Hayley’s talking about when she riffs on chemical romances and cryptic crosses of guys and girls.
Hayley took to the stage in a loose-fitting Phantom of the Opera production T-shirt and pranced about like a talent quest panto act, but we forgive her that. The girl’s a natural at the mic, simple as that. Swooping and soaring above typical soprano range with grace and flair, or channelling Nick Cave in the devil-may-care melodies of ‘Noah’s Ark’. She can lift the roof on the word "urinals" (on ‘Old Little Girls’) and not sound ridiculous, and you can’t say fairer than that.
It’s not the comparison I would’ve expected to make, but the live setting brought out some of the inner Brandon Flowers in the song-writing: the marching band gait of the coda on ‘Be A Star’ and the punch-the-air choruses of ‘Disco Biscuit Love’ making more of an impact than on the Man Is Dead EP. It’s moments like that especially when you can see the sticky red carpet to success unfurling before the Jezabels.
Heather S (keys) and Sam L (guitar) served the tracks well (less so when forced to become surrogate bassists) but, as with the EP, it’s the volatile presence of Nik K on drums that really took the Jezabels into exciting territory. His ballistic rhythms are the antithesis to Hayley’s classic pop sensibilities, and while it may have occasionally sounded like a battle of wills on record, it worked a charm on stage. A big comfy doona on a bed of nails.
The Jezabels have been sharpening their claws on Sydney stages for a couple of years now, and Hayley herself still reckons that they’re primarily a live act. She’s probably right about that at the moment, but once the band works out how to wrestle the energy of their live show onto record – look out.
The Toff In Town - Headline show - Live review
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The first time I heard Hurt Me on the radio I was blown away. The heartfelt lyrics, strong, soaring ...The first time I heard Hurt Me on the radio I was blown away. The heartfelt lyrics, strong, soaring vocals and warm timbre of piano transported me back to the pop ballads of my childhood. The Jezabels’ sound has that strong outer shell, with a deep, tear-jerking centre that resonates in the same way a Divinyls or Belinda Carlisle track used to get into my brain and under my skin.
I was surprised to see a strong show of male support at their sold-out headline show at the Toff In Town, for what I expected would be a female-dominated gig. And I was genuinely taken aback by hoe young this Sydney quartet looked. But, just as they deliver an arresting, mature sounds over the airwaves, the group set the tone early on stage, with a 5/4 time signature that removed any question about their musical abilities.
Disco Biscuit Love took the crowd vibe up a notch, with plenty of people singing along, to the palpable delight of drummer Nik Kaloper and guitarist Sam Lockwood. Rarely was there a moment during the set when Lockwood wasn’t sporting a grin from ear to ear, his coy but triumphant expression intimating he felt like the luckiest guy alive to be up there on state. His apology for being a poor public speaker between songs only further endeared him to the crowd, and you could almost sense the female contingent swoon when he added playfully, “I’m mysterious – just remember that”.
Lead vocalist Hayley Mary was charming too, making self-conscious observations as she joked between songs. Announcing, “I’ve never done this before”, she directed the mic to the audience and lapped it up as they took out the first chorus of Hurt Me. The last song of the set, it was the one everyone had been waiting to hear and cheers whistles erupted with the opening bars.
When Mary gets going, her voice reminds me of Kate Bush belting out Wuthering Heights, sans the schoolgirl soprano element. There’s a trace of Little Birdy in her vocal quality, but with a darker palette. Heather Shannon’s polished piano-playing shows versatility in shaping tender melodies or driving percussive beats, and combines with rhythm guitar and drums to form the outfit’s bass section. Dynamics are a central building block for textured chorus that often evaporate to expose an earnest piano or guitar solo. But analysis aside, perhaps the most apparent sign that The Jezabels nailed it for me was the fact I was still humming their tunes two days later.
INPRESS MAGAZINE July 21, 2010 - Chelsea Roffey
The Toff In Town - Headline show - live review
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The Jezabels, not to be outdone came out with all guns blazing. I have seen them a number of times a...The Jezabels, not to be outdone came out with all guns blazing. I have seen them a number of times as opening acts themselves recently and they definitely are getting better and better, which is exciting both for them and their fans alike (especially because it will lead to more shows like this where they are the headliners). Unlike their supports, The Jezabels strength lies wholly in the group. Nik Kaloper chugs away on drums, giving nothing fancy but keeping time perfectly a characteristic that is actually not as common for drummers these days as it should be. Sam Lockwood and Heather Shannon on guitar and piano respectively build a great musical foundation each song and give a tightly fitting harmonic support to Hayley Mary, on lead vocals. This girl has an impressive set of pipes, especially live when she can bellow out her deep-meaning (especially for young women), pop lyrics to the greatest effect:?
“Oh Trudy, you're with the meanest boy on the hills / I know he's groovy / But he only loves you when he's on pills" (Disco Biscuit Love)??Easy to Love was the first track and it encouraged us all to get our groove on, which I did for a good portion (up the very back because it’s embarrassing being pretty much the only group of people drinking and dancing). Fan favourite Old Little Girls and its distinctive piano opening was a definite highly for me, I’m still singing it now. However, the moment that was the most moving was during Hurt Me when Mary stopped singing, said “I’ve never tried this before”, and held the microphone up to the crowd to sing along. The resulting cascade of eager voices and surprised/exciting looks from the band was the perfect symbol for The Jezabels musical journey so far. The future can only get better as they refine their sound and stage charisma.
Rave Review – David Micenko
The Man Is Dead
Be A Star
Old Little Girls
Disco Biscuit Love
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