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The Brink, the first and title track of The Jezabels’ second album, revisits the glorious mystery of rock’n’roll redemption: the thrilling loss of innocence to a power that never wanes from one teenaged generation to the next.
With The Jezabels though, there’s always a twist.
“I have a reading of that song in my mind where the spirit of rock’n’roll is actually a kind of succubus,” singer Hayley Mary confides. “She takes your life and your soul as well as giving it to you. In giving you a reason to live, she gives you all you have.
“What’s funny is that I seem to be singing from her perspective, so maybe I’m sucking the life out of this little boy,” she adds with a wicked laugh. “That’s rather twisted.”
The Brink materialised from a dark place. It wasn’t just the second album void that naturally follows a monumental debut. Prisoner won the 2011 Australian Music Prize, you’ll recall. The Jezabels won Best Artist at the AIR Independent Music Awards and got nominated for a staggering 8 ARIAs.
But the solid two years of touring at home and overseas certainly played a part in the abyss that welcomed Hayley, guitarist Sam Lockwood, keys player Heather Shannon and drummer Nik Kaloper when they pulled up in London at the end of that marathon cycle of gold, platinum, gigs and festivals.
“We played between 180 and 200 shows last year and it was possibly a bit extreme,” says Hayley. “But the low came from not performing. We basically had a year off and I realised how much I live to do shows. For me, writing is the self-deprecating, self-loathing stage.
“We all had our reasons for feeling low at various times, but I felt like I was on the brink of a lot of things on this album. Some of them good, some of them bad: youth and age, alternative and pop, giving up and pushing through. I guess hope is part of that. And also fear.”
A fearless record of youthful optimism shining through hard-won experience, The Brink is the explosive resolution of all that and more. Hammered out by the tight-knit band through dark days in a strange new city, it’s a classic testament to the power of rock’n’roll salvation.
The first single, The End, is an act of sheer levitation heralded by the kind of cascading exuberance that FM radio was made for. Time to Dance and All You Need are all open arms and crashing cadences of hope in the storm. Even the big city bite of Beat to Beat and the cold war chains of No Country are soothed by a reaffirmed faith in unabashed pop hooks.
“Pop is a weird word,” Hayley says. “But as you get older and more experienced you do tend to have a greater appreciation of simplicity. We were growing into it with Prisoner, but now I think we have a better understanding of simple ideas communicated effectively, rather than piling all this stuff in because you think it’s beautiful.”
The clarity of thought and expression reflects a more single-minded approach, she says. “Right from the first demos we just sounded more like a band. We were writing together; not four different musical thoughts pushed together into a song.
“After all the shows we’ve played and all we’ve been through, we listen to each other better, we play together better. ‘Maturity’ is a really bad word,” she laughs, “but I can’t think of a better one.”
The album’s death-defying balance of optimism and maturity; richness and simplicity was aided by Dan Grech-Marguerat, a UK producer whose mixing, engineering and production expertise has served Radiohead, Scissor Sisters, Kooks and Lana Del Rey. He was “a burst of positive energy,” says Hayley, who helped turn the darkness to blinding light.
“What this record represents is not reflecting what is, but what we want out of life,” she says. “I guess it depends on what you think is the role of music. Is it to reflect how you feel, and bring everyone and everything to that level? Or is a kind of healing power, pushing you to this fabulous fantasy world where happiness can exist?”
If you’re reading this you’ve been saved. And you’re not alone.