We sent Jack Boyce to have a chat with JAWS and review their show at Clwb Ifor Bach.
Second album syndrome is quite a real anxiety for many up-and-coming bands. The initial explosion of raw emotion on the first release is hard to follow up, ideas that sounded amazing on first impression are now being overthought about and there’s added pressure not to bomb on your second go around. JAWS, however, seem more than up to the task.
2015 has been a year of self-awareness for the Birmingham band. After the swift uptake in attention on the band after EPs Milkshake and then Gold barely months in front, and full-length debut of Be Slowly further on at the start of Autumn in 2014, 2016 will bring about a new album filled with more immediate tracks in line with recent singles “What We Haven’t Got Yet” and “Bad Company”. “I think the new stuff is just natural progression for us”, states vocalist Connor Schofield, “I feel they’re just a lot more natural – a lot more honest.”
Working alongside producer Gethin Pearson, who helped forge The Enemy’s newest It’s Automatic, on the as of writing untitled new record, Pearson’s influence is felt on the both released singles. It’s a far cry from the hazy earlier releases from the band, but grittier music has always been in their DNA. Citing legendary industrial group Nine Inch Nails and Bristol’s Milk Teeth as favourites, drummer Eddy Geach calls back to the time before JAWS, “Connor and I especially – we came from a heavier background in music. We’ve always got that place for heavier music. Not that JAWS is ever going to become a metal band. I guess that’s why some of our latest songs have come out a bit heavier than people were expecting.”
Alongside Pearson, JAWS managed to bag Dan Austin as an engineer, who has brings good pedigree after working in the studio with the Pixies, whilst also cutting his teeth with other UK based rock outfits such as Maximo Park. There’s a sense of freedom around it all – the week long rigorously structured recording session for Be Slowly has been scaled up to twelve days living in a studio together, “It opened up an extra 7 hours or half a day working on a song as opposed to the previous one song a day. We didn’t feel rushed, we didn’t have to worry about getting a song done in the next couple of hours or the song is not going to happen”, explains guitarist Alex Hudson.
Despite Alex and Connor’s background in production – they both completed a year of Music Technology at university – their education didn’t really factor into the record. Alex calls back a time he had to make a banjo out of a footbath, while Connor laments the time he had to use equations to put together a make-shift pipe instrument, “It was pretty much an expensive way of killing time”, he states.
Their disillusionment with their course came half from their disinterest in it, and half from the new attention brought upon them from the media. “We were getting attention from magazines and that was just in your head rather than learning about whatever it was. You’d be trying to learn these equations and then get an email that said, ‘Radio 1 want to play one of your songs’ and then you’d just be buzzing about that”, Connor divulges. Alex nods, “That’s the whole lecture gone then, because you’d be like, ‘Oh man this is going to be sick!’”
Since this newfound attention, JAWS have been pigeonholed into a music scene that they have found difficult to shake off. The mere mention of the near non-existent “B-Town” music scene that exploded in 2012 has collectively plagued JAWS, along with associates Swim Deep and Peace in recent years. “I feel like people are missing the point” exclaims Eddy. Despite only primarily being used for three bands, the “B-Town” moniker has garnered criticism that it’s too limiting in scope. “There’s always been music in Birmingham and now people are noticing that there’s music in Birmingham”, he continues.
There’s has been an ideal set out in the media about this B-Town scene, with false representation of the relationship between these bands. “I feel like people have been fishing for a story that we’re all best mates or fishing for a story that one of us is going to be like ‘I don’t give a fucking fuck about those guys’ and kick off and slag them off, and we’re just not going to do that”, states Alex. JAWS are adamant that they are their own band, with their own perimeters in the music space.
Starting off as a pseudonym for vocalist Connor’s work, the name JAWS was used to make the project sound like “it came from a proper band” before surfacing as an actual one. ‘Flanders’ was a contender, but Connor named the band after the Bond villain played by the late Richard Kiel (not the Spielberg movie). It also held a slight connection with other water-based band names of the time, such as DIIV and Beach Fossils, who were all well known for their summery, drone-like qualities – “We never really set out to be like those bands, just loads of people compared us to them”, states Eddy.
The name has caused a few problems for the band. As much as a band like Tampa’s Merchandise may struggle with having a Google-impaired band name, JAWS are continually being mistaken for the shark movie. Even on their own website they have a listing for a tour date in Albuquerque in early 2016 , which is actually a movie showing for the 1975 classic. “I fully expect for us to, when we go to play in America, for us to play a show and people come expecting to see the film,” claims Connor. It’s all a part of the job for the trio, with confusion from outside their fan base seemingly following them around. Connor reminisces about a Nottingham gig in which an elderly woman approached him and asked, “Is that it? What time does Rae Morris start?” In between laughter from the other members of the band, he continues, “I was like, ‘What? Rae Morris?’ I looked at the gig listings and Rae Morris was on a week later that night. So, she had come a week early.” Eddy grins, “Hopefully Rae Morris brought the hardest fucking show she’s ever experienced.”
This is a band that is maturing along with their sound, although there is still that spark of playfulness that underpinned the earlier releases. Before leaving, the question of the untitled album release date comes up; “Definitely some time between January 1st 2016 and December 31st 2016” is the answer as they all crack a smile and a laugh.
Travelling into Cardiff near the end of a three-week UK tour, JAWS brought their brand of indie pop to Clwb Ifor Bach to a room of hyperactive fans who were more than willing to provide a party atmosphere to the affair.
Opening for the Birmingham band, Nai Harvest provided a tight set that holds the attention of the swelling crowd that many supporting acts fail to achieve. Despite being a duo, Nai Harvest produced a shoegaze-tinged pop punk set that sounded larger than it should have been, setting the crowd up nicely for the closing band.
Eager to share a plethora of new tracks along with old favourites like “Milkshake” and “Gold”, JAWS walk onto stage to a sound barrier of whoops and cheers. Despite the crowd only filling up around half the room, their liveliness more than made up for the lack of bodies. A continuous dance-pit – not quite a mosh-pit – filled up the majority of the room, with those on the outside competing in miniature dance-offs to the sun-drenched pop being provided.
In between tracks, frontman Connor Schofield’s favourite icebreaker is to thank the crowd on their enthusiasm. “Cheers”, Schofield says, and then continues, “I feel like I’m saying cheers too much tonight. Cheers.” It’s a muffled sense of gratitude from the band, but one that goes down well with a responsive audience.