Photo: Pat Graham
Things are getting heavy on night three of Joanna Gruesome’s London residency. After a relatively quiet end to 2014, the band are starting the year, in which they release their second full-length ‘Peanut Butter’, with three tiny shows at Hackney closet Power Lunches.
“We’re ready to go to bed now”, remarks guitarist Owen Williams before frenetic closer ‘Psykick Espionage’, between swigs of beer, and the significant amount of fans who have turned out for all three of the shows give weary nods. If the venue wasn’t already tightly packed enough for each night, the Power Lunches air conditioning system decided to develop a leak on the first night and hasn’t stopped. As a result, the first three rows of the venue have become a puddle, giving one Gruesome per night an early shower, with the stage too small for five. As he’s too tall to stand on stage, guitarist George Nicholls gets the short straw.
Joanna Gruesome could have easily played a single night at a bigger London venue with no air con issue and no overcrowding to debut new tracks, but giving the DIY venues that put on their first, nervous shows three sold out nights and giving a platform to eight fellow DIY bands from around the UK to play to audiences that may be unfamiliar with them is clearly what Joanna Gruesome want from this exercise. As such the three-night residency works perfectly, if chaotically. The set largely follows an new-old-new-old format, giving enough insight into what to expect from ‘Peanut Butter’ while still showcasing ‘Weird Sister’’s blistering highlights.
On this showing, the new record’s set to possess an added severity. Alanna McArdle showed glimpses of rage on the band’s debut LP, but really lets go on multiple occasions during new tracks ‘Jamie’ and ‘Honestly, Do Your Worst’, teaming verses of soft twin harmonies with Williams with choruses spat out with venom. It’s a style that’s been eased into on the two examples of new material since the album, ‘Jerome (Liar)’ and ‘Psykick Espionage’, which appear on split releases with Trust Fund and Perfect Pussy respectively. There was the new material, plus the small fact that they picked up last year’s Welsh Music Prize. The stakes are higher.
To chat about the composition of ‘Peanut Butter’ and plans for Joanna Gruesome’s 2015, DIY catches up with the band before the final show of their residency.
How’s the Power Lunches residency been, overall?
Alanna McArdle: It’s been fun. I was a little nervous, as it’s been the first time we’ve been playing these new songs together, but they’ve been received well I think.
Owen Williams: It’s been nice. Last time we played here everyone was piling on the stage but because of the air con drip, people have been taking a step back and it’s been a much nicer environment, just dancing without smashing each others’ faces in because they’re too scared of the air conditioning.
Are you finding it more difficult as you’re gaining greater exposure to keep the shows this DIY and this small?
AM: It was a bit tough when we went to the States because and it’s so far away and we had a US booking agent mediating everything. The shows were really great, and mostly in all-ages venues, but one or two slipped through without us noticing, and we ended up playing a huge corporate sponsored festival next to an Abercrombie & Fitch in order to pay for our flights for the rest of the tour.
George Nicholls: People were just there drinking craft ale and chasing their kids around a shopping centre, so it wasn’t really our thing, but the majority of shows were really great and that was the only dodgy moment we had.
Have you found yourself turning down more events akin to this one since the album got out to a wider audience?
AM: We don’t actually get offered much stuff like that. We got offered some sponsored tours and the like, but not as much as you would think, and we had no problem turning things like that down.
“Our situations are changing all the time.”
— Alanna McArdle
‘Weird Sister’ was made up of songs that stretched back to the very start of Joanna Gruesome, did you feel like you were starting from scratch with LP2?
OW: This record has been written as a self-contained record, whereas the first one feels more like a compilation now.
And how does that make you feel about the first record now, looking back?
AM: This one is a lot better.
Do you feel under more pressure to deliver now people will listen to whatever you put out on the basis of what they’ve heard before?
AM: I thought about it a little at the start, but then decided to not care. We didn’t expect to get as much press as we have done off the back of the first record, so it was a little nervewracking, but then because we didn’t expect to get that much press, why would we start operating as though that’s what we aspire to? We’re just trying to have a nice time.
GN: It’s a bit different in the sense that the music has progressed a bit more, and it’s fun experimenting with new stuff, but realistically it doesn’t really matter if people like it or not.
AM: People seem to really love trashing a band’s second album, but I think there’s a lot to be said for bands who spend their second album refining and honing a specific sound, especially when, as a relatively derivative indie-pop band, there aren’t an endless list of places we can take our music unless we decided to do something completely wild. However, I do think there are a lot of differences on the new album.
OW: There are moments on ‘Weird Sister’ where we were clearly looking to incorporate other styles and be something else but weren’t quite there yet, but I think this album is representative of us right now.
With jobs, studies and ‘real life’, how much of the band is turning into having periods of being active, then time to work and sort things out, and then regroup again?
AM: Our summer was very much like that. Very on and off.
GN: For the first record, Owen, Dave (Sandford, drummer) and I were in uni, and everything was circling around term time, so we had very set times when we could devote all our energies to the band, and times when it had to take a back seat.
AM: It gets to a point when you get a job, you quit the job to go on tour, then you have to get another job, and it seems like a cool thing to do, but it’s stressful in reality. So much of being in a band depends on future planning and booking tours in advance, and we need to be willing to sacrifice quite a lot of your money and social life, but we figure it out and work things out as they come up. Our situations are changing all the time.
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