Interview: Johnny Mckelvey of The Rumjacks answers some questions after releasing one of the best albums this year


After releasing there finest album to date with Hestia, read our review here. We got a chance to put some questions to Johnny McKelvey covering the band and the new album.

First off. How are you guys doing during this current situation? How has the pandemic affected the band? Any messages for your fans?

In a weird way the pandemic at least let us stop for a while and start writing music. This obviously lead to us all meeting in Milan to record Hestia. We are normally touring so much that recording is normally pretty intense and can be hard. This way we had a bit more time to demo and write more before heading into the studio. We all miss touring so much though. It just feels weird to not be moving around and seeing different cities each night. Touring is also what keeps the band financially ‘above water’ and can pay bills etc so that’s been a pretty hard hitter for us all individually. 

For the fans…thank you. Thanks for sticking by us this last year and being the best support for all of us. Means the world. 

For people who may not be familiar with the band. Can you give us a potted history of the band and why you chose the style that you play? 

We formed in 2008 in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. All very much by chance meetings in pubs etc and then just formed the band around that. A few of us played in other bands at the time and kind of pieced together the starting members of the band while we cemented the core line up after a year or so. I would say it was mostly from our family’s being from Ireland etc and folk/Celtic music was always around us growing up in Australia. We were always exposed to that music and then as we got older and discovered punk rock, reggae, The Pogues, The Clash etc and they seemed to go hand in hand after that. 

Is there a significant punk scene in Australia? How have you found peoples reaction to you guys playing Celtic rock in Australia?

To be honest, no. There have been some great Australian punk bands over the years and still a few now but in general the Australian music ‘scene’ is in no way nurturing or encouraging at all. Australia is a very hard country to play for many reason but when we did play there years ago the shows were decent enough but making a career out of music and taking it elsewhere, you need to leave Australia unfortunately. 

New album Hestia has a great title and sees you guys sounding fresh and re-energised. How do you feel about the new album? Will it stand as a new chapter for the band? 

We are so proud! Honestly are. Mike joining the band was exactly what was needed and it has been a pleasure ever since he joined. Mike really brought a breath of fresh air back into the back and for the first time music was at the centre of our attention and we could relax and have fun with it. Who knew you could have fun doing this, right? Hah. Anyway, Mike just made the whole process a pleasure and the more we worked on songs before we met in Milan, the more we could see this album shaping up. We knew it had to be a big one, a bold one and one that held on to previous fans and exposed us to new ones. With out a doubt I think we accomplished this and more.  

How was it writing and recording in Milan? Do you think the recording location when it comes to creating an album affects the sound? 

Well, the writing started before we even met in Milan in the summer. We had a bunch of ideas and Mike had ENDLESS amounts of songs and ideas sitting there waiting to be worked on, so we had a pretty good head start before we all physically seen each other in July 2021. So in a way Hestia was all written in multiple different location and was finalised on Milan. 

Talking of writing, how does a track develop within the band? Do you start with a riff or melody? Where do the lyrics fit in? Where do you get your inspirations from? 

Lyrics would be one for Mike. The process behind Hestia was different to how we had normally went about starting the process of recording a new album. This time there was a global pandemic, we couldn’t meet up to rehearse or sit in a room just playing around and seeing what sticks. We all had ideas and Mike and so many songs and ideas already sitting there. For about three months before we met up we shared different ideas and Mike would send us over demos or songs he had in the works. We all love different style of music so even if its a bunch of chords put together or a super quick riff, we send it to each other and work on it that way. The majority of the songs were definitely properly put together when we finally met up together, though. Mike would come up with an idea and send it over and we would all play around with it then would sit together in pre production and go through the finer details. After that we would go in and finally record the songs bit by bit. 

What tracks are you looking forward to playing live? What have you missed must about playing in front of a crowd?

The feeling you get while playing is just mind blowing. It’s really hard to describe. It’s the strangest/most fun and odd way to completely share a moment with complete strangers. It’s amazing, it really is. I miss meeting people after shows. It’s a great way to meet new people and learn a lot from others and their lives or culture etc. I think ‘Light in My Shadow’ will be super fun to play and have the crowd signing along. ‘Sainted Millions’ also. 

With the consumption of music being so heavily on the side of streaming rather than physical. Do you feel you have had better exposure because of it? Are you a fan of streaming or prefer the old fashioned way? 

Good question. I would be a liar if i said that online or streaming or YouTube etc didn’t help The Rumjacks out while we were starting out. It wasn’t intentional and certainly not a thought through plan. The music ‘industry’ has always changed. Not just recently, its always been changing and these days it’s even faster than ever. As much as I wish you could put an album out and its sold a few millions copies on the first day, with 100s of kids lining up in record stores to get it, it’s just not like that any more. Big bands HATE that. But online and streaming has with out a doubt exposed artist to a much bigger audience, just with out the initial bank roll. Again, big bands hate it. But that’s the thing…its forced bands to work harder. If you just settle back and stop or slow down some fans will move on and discover the ‘the next best thing’ in two seconds with a click of the button. Bands have got lazy. Record music and tour…do it all the time and do it well. Don’t release a record and just think people will sit back and spend all their money on you! Get out there and tour it! Sell tees! I wish the big streaming platforms paid artists what they were deserved but right now that’s not happening. BUT a shit load more people know about your band and if that means more heads in venues buying your merch then (in my opinion) so be it. Shit changes. Don’t cry and moan, make it work. 

Outside of the music, what do you guys like to do? What keeps you busy? 

Everyone in the band is so different! We all live in different countries around the world too so that keeps things interesting. Mike is non stop making music or doing films etc. Adam is an arborist and loves that whole industry so when we aren’t touring he still likes to be involved with that. Pietro is just a super chill Italian who plays drums non stop and I hear he makes a mean cocktail at his local when not on tour. Gabe is a legend and renovates houses between tours and is probably studying a whole new language just because he can! I keep busy here in Belfast with band stuff and working at a friends cafe. But we all always play music everyday…would be weird not to. 

Are there any bands past or present you would love to have played with or even been part of? Is there a particular band that got you into music? 

I wish we were able to have played with Roaring Jack from Australia. An amazing band from the 80’s that didn’t get as much global recognition as I think they should have…incredible music and talent. Look em up! 
I was obsessed with NOFX. When I was super young I heard them and just didn’t look back. I’d say they were the band that really made me obsessed with music. 

Difficult to talk about future plans, but what does the future look like?

Hopefully some European summer shows but who knows about that. We are working super hard on 2022 for shows but there is a good chance we will get back in the studio again in a few months and start recording again. 

Lastly what music are you digging right now? Any bands or artists you think deserve a little more recognition?

I have been listening to a great band from Dublin called ‘Chewing on Tinfoil’. Other bands like Buster Shuffle need a bit more recognition as they rule! 

Have a listen to the bands stomper of a track Light In My Shadow, below:

Find out more via the bands Website or Facebook

Purchase the album here

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