The Here and Now: Jagwar Ma Q&A

Feature by Tallah Brash | 18 Oct 2016
  • Jagwar Ma

We chat with Jono and Gabriel of Jagwar Ma about recording their new album Every Now and Then, working with Earl Sweatshirt and Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa... and Tunnock's Caramel Wafers

You might be wondering: why have we been talking to Jagwar Ma about biscuits? To check recording levels at the start of our chat, the boys let us into a little secret of how they're “quite partial to the bar-shaped, caramel-infused wafer.” But it seems they’ve been finding it nigh on impossible to get a hold of the dark chocolate version down in London, and claim they will pay top dollar for them: “Just to get it on record, the blue dark chocolate caramel wafer. We'll pay top price for 'em. It's just about availability. That's our only hurdle here.” So if you're planning to go check them out on in Glasgow in October, you know what to take with you.

As delicious as Tunnock's Caramel Wafers are, we can’t talk about biscuits all day, so let’s get down to the serious business of questioning.

The Skinny: It’s been just over three years since the release of debut Howlin’ – how did the album writing and recording process differ for Every Now and Then?

Jagwar Ma: I think honestly the process – as far as the ingredients; the people that we worked with, and the studio that we used – was all very much the same. So the sort of instruments and things, the methods were all quite similar. But I think that drawing from the experiences that we've had in the last few years, and how much our lives have changed is probably the greatest influence on the record.

People will talk about, you know, the anxiety of the second record, but actually I think quite the opposite. We felt quite confident going into the second record because we felt like what what we'd done on the first had been successful – you actually go into the record with more confidence, being like, 'Alright, cool. So let’s improve on those ideas, take them further and maybe walk into some new territory.' So yeah, I think that's kind of the vibe.

You recorded Howlin’ and Every Now and Then in France. How did a band from Australia end up in a recording studio in the French Countryside?

You know, it's kind of a long story... but to make a long story short, a friend of mine [Ma’s] from Australia moved to France, and then I went and helped him convert a farmhouse into a studio. This was about a year before Gab and I started working on songs together for Howlin’.  

Once we made [2011 single] Come Save Me in Australia, and we decided we wanted to make a whole album, I suggested that we go to this studio in France because it just meant that we had a bit of space and time and distance from our normal lives back at home to just focus on making a record. So that worked really well for Howlin’ and that's why we went back there again for Every Now and Then.

You worked with Stella Mozgawa [Warpaint] on Howlin’ – does she feature on the new record?

She [Mozgawa] played on one track off Howlin' – Come Save Me – she played drums in the outro. And yes, she's actually on almost half of the tracks on the new record. So we did an entire two days in the studio in London – we got Stella, and also James Ford [Simian Mobile Disco], to do drums and percussion on various bits in various tracks, which I then used to resample and replace certain elements of the beats. It's sort of complicated and kind of hard to explain. But yeah, she played on a bunch of tracks on the new record.

As well as Stella Mozgawa and James Ford, did you work with anyone else on Every Now and Then?

We worked with Ewan Pearson again – he mixed the whole record. He mixed Howlin’ as well. Ewan's a great producer, DJ and musician in his own right, so his role kind of did – in certain elements – extend beyond just mixing. Like, he actually played a few piano parts on certain songs and a few synth lines, and he was also with me in the control room while Gab was singing vocals. And he was helping out with some of the vocal production. So Ewan was also, again – as he was on Howlin’ – a great collaborator.

Jack [Freeman – Jagwar Ma’s bassist] obviously plays bass on some bits, Stella plays some drums on some bits, James plays timpani on a track, Ewan plays piano and synth on a couple of tracks. But ultimately it's all like it was on Howlin' – it's primarily the band playing and doing everything. I've sort of recorded it all myself and produced it myself.

It is worth noting, that we did actually have a conversation about getting other people involved. Like, we even thought about featuring friends of ours, like rappers, and that world, but we felt like, for the sake of the character of Jagwar Ma, it should mostly remain the same, because that's what the band is.

If there was anyone you could work with that you haven’t already, who would it be and why?

Rick Rubin! Where you at, Rick? We’re ready!

On the topic of heroes, we've had a pretty tough 12 months. We've lost Prince... we’ve lost Bowie, and Phife Dawg. We've lost a lot of people. It would've been amazing, absolutely incredible, and a real dream to at least have seen them operating in the studio. Just to show you how they work. They're all so prodigiously talented. It would have been very cool to see that. But they're all just doing a big dance record in the sky right now.

What became of your 12-hour all night recording session with Earl Sweatshirt, King Krule and Warpaint?

Well, as is often the way with spontaneous collaborations, it was more of a social incident than a musical one. I think that was communicated in the media as ‘everyone's in the studio working on this masterful song,’ but in reality it was just a bunch of people hanging out in a room, smoking and drinking beer. It was more of a social situation than a productive one.

But I do have a track, a very sort of bare bones track, which is actually instrumental. Earl Sweatshirt wasn't rapping or anything, he was just playing chords and stuff, and King Krule was playing bass. I think Stella [Warpaint] was on a kalimba, and Jonti [Danilewitz] – an amazing musician from Sydney – was the reason we were all there. He didn't get mentioned much in the articles, but it was actually his studio space and all his equipment and stuff, and I was just on an MPC. But yeah, it was more just kind of mucking around and hanging out. It wasn't really anything serious.

You’re setting off on a UK tour this week, starting in Glasgow on Thursday. What can Jagwar Ma fans expect from the upcoming tour?

Well, we are actually really psyched that we start in Glasgow. It's going to be a really fun journey going up. We always love that trip. When we play – by the way, we're in the middle of rehearsing right now, hence why we're all in the same room – we are sort of negotiating the balance between new and old material. You know, Howlin' stuff and Every Now and Then. But funnily enough what's actually happening, instead of playing songs in a normal bent, we're just kind of mashing songs together, so there's a lot of mutants going on... a lot of mutations, but it actually kind of sounds pretty good.

Anything else you'd like add? Any final thoughts?

We’re looking forward to play Glasgeee [Scottish accent] – and also, maybe Tunnock's should make those blue dark ones a little more readily available for their London fans. And the marshmallow ones!!

Jagwar Ma play The Art School, Glasgow on Thu 20 Oct, Manchester Academy 2 on Fri 21 Oct and Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Tue 25 Oct; Every Now and Then is out now via Marathon Artists