Genre is an easy thing to get hooked up on. Much of how an artist’s identity and how they are perceived is based off of whatever genre they either a) call themselves or b) are labelled. However, in today’s post-Internet age where every song ever recorded is available at your fingertips, genre is becoming increasingly less relevant. Individuals’ tastes are expanding, being an elitist of a particular genre has become incredibly uncool, and artists are taking influence from a larger spectrum.
Take for example Australian dance/acid-rock duo Jagwar Ma. Their debut LP Howlin’, released earlier this year via Mom + Pop, has gained a significant amount of attention for its fluid mixture of rock ‘n’ roll, acid-house, and psychedelia. Normally, these three things would attract different crowds, but in the hands of these Aussies, they sound naturally fitted to each other.
“We basically just put together things we liked,” says singer and guitarist Gabriel Winterfield of how the band came up with their distinct sound. “We describe ourselves as kind of being colour blind when it comes to genre. It doesn’t really matter to Jono and I… I mean, I’m looking at my record collection now and I’ve got this [compilation of] psychedelic music from Iran in the ‘70s, and right next to it is Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which is one of my favorite albums. And right next to that is an album called Analogue Africa. And that’s not weird to me.”
Forming in 2011, the band got its start when bandmate Jono Ma was showing Winterfield some sample based electronic music he was working on. Winterfield added guitars and vocals and Jagwar Ma was born. Now, two years later, Jagwar Ma has an album that has gotten them some friends in high places. Most famously, Noel Gallagher quote saying he is “too busy talking about… Jagwar Ma to reform Oasis.”
“Initially, I didn’t really believe it. I heard it through a friend of a friend. Then after I did an interview NME and they were like ‘No, it’s true,’” says Winterfield, honestly still sounding a bit shocked. “I think it is rad. I think it sort of confirms that ‘90s connection.”
A big portion of attention surrounding Jagwar Ma since the release of Howlin’ is the similarities of their sound with the ‘90s “Madchester” scene and bands like Primal Scream and Happy Mondays, as well as ‘90s EDM pioneers The Chemical Brothers. While Winterfield admits loving the ‘90s and that the decade has a huge influence on him, these artists in particular weren’t where the band was looking at the time.
“I’ve got this weird mostly nostalgic thing, but I’ve probably taken more inspiration from ‘90s Michael Jackson, the Dangerous record. The whole New Jack Swing thing, it’s just incredible. I love that production. When we did ‘Uncertainty,’ the click at the start, was totally trying to be the click at the start of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror.’ It was kind of a half-joke about that, and I think the tempo is the same as well,” claims Winterfield through a half-masked laugh.
“I mean, they are flattering comparisons so we never we never want to go back on them… I don’t mind if people think we are plagiarizing, but I think we were plagiarizing other things that people haven’t actually noticed, and I thought they would notice. Things like the Jackson thing, or The Avalanches, y’know?”
This fall will be Jagwar Ma’s first extensive North American tour and will include their first ever stop in Vancouver, however, don’t be confused when you see a third member onstage. Depending on whom you ask or what you read, Jagwar Ma is sometimes labeled a trio and the band doesn’t exactly know how to respond to this.
“It is a bit of a grey area for us as well,” Winterfield laughs. “We started as a two piece. The whole album was recorded as just the two of us. Then a friend of mine, Jack [Freeman], began playing bass live. That has been a bit of a new development… he is a good friend so he is pretty much part of the band now.”
Get Howlin’ with Jagwar Ma at Fortune Sound Club December 9th.
By Joshua Erickson
Photos: Tom Beard