Interview: Jonah Falco (Jade Hairpins)

Photo credit: Colin Medley.
Photo credit: Colin Medley.

When I call Fucked Up drummer Jonah Falco to discuss his latest band Jade Hairpins, he is in a good mood. Having spent nearly half a decade in London as a transplant from his native Toronto, he has finally gotten a record player for the first time as a resident of the UK capital. He hopes this is a good omen for his work with Jade Hairpins.

“I just got one that sort of suits my means and my spatial limitations and it’s just come in the mail so hopefully, this means, like, a whole new era … I’ve been accumulating records for the past five years here slowly, very modestly, but they’ve all just sat unplayed, just waiting for that day to come, and it may have just arrived, so I’m very excited.”

Talk of arrivals is very fitting since Jade Hairpins’ arrival on the UK music scene was heralded boldly and brazenly a few weeks ago with their ‘J Terrapin’ single, a teaser for their forthcoming album ‘Harmony Avenue’. Jonah explains that “the band is actually sort of the by-product of [bassist] Mike [Haliechuk] and I. Mike and I play in the band Fucked Up together and in the past few years or in the years leading up to the completion of Fucked Up’s last record ‘Dose Your Dreams’, we found ourselves experimenting with a lot of other sounds on that record but we also found ourselves with, all of a sudden, this newfound gravitational pull towards using electronics and stuff like that and we started making some music together outside of studio hours with that kind of equipment.”

“We were making these songs that were intended to land in the planet of general Fucked Up orbit but as the songs progressed, we put more vocals on them and as they took on their own character, the songs just couldn’t exist as this sort of afterthought. We decided to make it a real band. We put extra time and energy into making a full LP and then it wasn’t good enough to just have a full LP out under a band name so we decided to make a go of it and since I’ve been living here in the UK, it seemed like the perfect place to start a new band. London being the sort of busy hub that it is/was for now. It just sort of came together out of the songs themselves, in a way. The band came from the songs rather than the songs coming from the idea for the band.”

He adds that ‘Harmony Avenue’ “was originally going to be a pastiche of material based on things that were happening, roughly, in the sort of written literature world of the Fucked Up LP. ‘Post No Bill’, for instance, is supposed to be about a person that decides to actively jettison all material things and any sense of money or financial security to just be completely autonomously free of economics in a very kind and generous way. But he gets visited by the sort of spectre of greed, which is this other being. And so the story of ‘Post No Bill’ is this person having a conversation with this invisible and immovable monster of a person’s personal greed.”

“There’s an example of a story like that. ‘J Terrapin’ is a play on words, it’s supposed to sound like ‘Jade Hairpin’. It’s like a sort of origin story and I wrote the lyrics to be completely absurd and to say things that would never really be said in a song. It’s overwritten, it’s ludicrous, it has no tangible narrative arc, it’s like this garden of forking paths. Again, that’s supposed to be the origin story because that is the origin story, it’s like this completely divergent idea split into 10 tracks.”

However, he is quick to dispel the idea that ‘Dose Your Dreams’ and ‘Harmony Avenue’ take place within the same narrative universe. “The origins of them are in the same narrative universe but this album doesn’t take place anywhere, this album has now been excommunicated from the narrative universe and it’s in its own sort of planet of … in a way, you have to suspend that connection to get the most out of this album, I think, but they’re directly tied, creatively. For example, ‘Post No Bill’, ‘Lloyd in the Void’ … things like that. But there are songs that have nothing to do with the Fucked Up LP. ‘Broadstairs Beach’, ‘(Don’t Break My) Devotion’, ‘Truth Like a Mirage’, those things are not at all connected, they’re just little vignettes of song and dance.”

The logistics of being in a band with Mike, who lives thousands of miles away in Toronto, don’t faze Jonah, as he has faced such conditions in most of the bands of which he is a member since the mid-2010s. “We always made music in a modular way anyway, or we have been for the past five or six years and so this sort of thing where we go into the studio and come out with a song and then take that home and figure out ways to add to it, since I’ve been here for the past four, almost five years, has made it easy enough for me to put my face behind the microphone and try something out.”

“It’s very easy to transfer data and send ideas to one another and have them be executed or fully realised in a remote situation. So it’s jamming in a room together in a way that you have to relearn the songs that you spent hours and hours creating in the first place. Which is where the band came in actually, because the songs really take on a totally different character when you’re in a room with other human beings.”

Jonah says he sees Jade Hairpins’ music as fitting within the lineage of “M’s ‘Pop Muzik’, the Happy Mondays, Roy Ayers, early Bowie, early glam rock but with a bit of bubblegum … and then some post-punk elements.” He adds that he often discusses Orange Juice and Scritti Politti in interviews “because they had this sort of synth-pop, schmaltzy cheer that some of this has but it’s not a sort of direct influence. I don’t know, it’s in the sort of sound world that’s trying to mix the limitations of the 70s with the excess of the 80s and the know-it-all-ness of now (laughs).”

One of the things that struck me about this album was how summery and upbeat many of the songs are and how they could go some way toward relieving the monotony of what looks for most people like it will be a summer spent indoors. Jonah says he hopes ‘Harmony Avenue’ is received in this manner. “The record’s due out on May 29th so hopefully by then, everywhere that has a summer approaching can at least have their windows open and have this blaring out of their stereos. I mean it’s supposed to be a kind of fun, absurd record, a sort of character-driven misleading narrative of people and places that don’t have to exist.”

“It’s a good exercise in imagination anyway and … putting that kind of brightness and energy into it is a way to sort of do something that’s really literal for us. Even though it’s wrapped in all this other confusing material but just a sort of pop song with a bright melody and a simple tune without layers and layers and layers of density is quite a luxury for us in a way.”

He explains that Jade Hairpins have plans to tour “barring any travel restrictions that stay the course. I mean, we had plans to try and make things happen around the time the record came out and there’s a couple of things in the calendar tentatively in the UK with the hope that in the autumn we could do some stuff in North America as well but these are all speculative [plans] and now that everybody’s not allowed to leave their homes, all this stuff’s up in the air. The record is still going to come out on time and everything will be in place.”

On the subject of touring, Jonah says he has been greatly impressed by the musicians Jade Hairpins have toured with thus far. “We’ve been really lucky to play our gigs in the UK so far – even though they didn’t end up on the shows due to an illness, our friends in Nation Unrest are really great and Cal came with us on our tour on a weekend that we were supposed to do with them regardless. We get along with them great and their music is amazing, kind of like somewhere between Front 242 and some more difficult house things but they’re a vocal band and they’re a live group.”

“You know, they both come from the punk world, Josh and Cal, like we do and so there are elements – we’re talking about physical objects and tangibility, because they both come from being in bands, their electronic performance is really a bit like watching a band. I saw them recently and it just brought the room alive. It was such a great feeling. It was less of a feeling that you were watching a DJ, it was less of a feeling that you were watching an electronic musician play, it was like watching a band playing.”

“You know, the London punk scene and indie scene I really like. Beyond London as well, I really like the band Sacred Paws. Mike and I both think that they’re absolutely amazing and we have been lucky enough to play with them. They’re from Glasgow. Fucked Up were lucky enough to play with them in North Carolina earlier in the summer and I think the way that they approach pop music or guitar music is just full of such energy and such joy and such engagement. My dad, who’s a piano player, he would refer to that as music by saying ‘It cooks! It cooks!’ Not everything cooks, you know, and they really cook. They lock in together and so I’ve instantly gravitated towards having the guitar and drums and bass working together and the vocals slotting in perfectly. It’s like seeing some totally sublime mechanics as a really generous creative gesture. I think Sacred Paws are definitely amazing. I hope we get to play with them.”

I mention that I really enjoyed High-Vis’ set when Jade Hairpins recently shared a bill with them at The Fiddler in Kilburn. “High-Vis is another band that I would mention in the same breath. They sound like The Chameleons and in a way I feel like we occupy a similar kind of anachronistic place in time. The sort of in-between period between the explosion of punk, their age group, and what they’ve done in music. They all come from the punk scene as well, so it’s like everybody has this really aggressive and positive but mindless past musically to answer for. So you end up in these, like, melodic spaces but you can’t shed [your origins].”

“With Jade Hairpins, the LP is so full of synths and electronics that it would be easy for us to not have guitars but when we play on stage it’s guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, with electronics as well. You see with High-Vis, it’s all about melody and it’s all about motion and counterpoint and stuff like that but you’ve got this aggressive vocal and you’ve got this sort of self-aggrandising bravado of punk music backing that up. So again, that’s why we ended up playing shows with them. I asked them in particular because of that connection to melody and that sort of origin story that we all seem to share.”

I ask, given how prominent the synths are on ‘Harmony Avenue’, whether Jade Hairpins are planning on recruiting a synth player for their live shows. Jonah says the band are discussing it as an option “because the workload or burden of handling all of the parts on stage is fairly well distributed but there is something that’s nicer about having somebody that can play another instrument live and most of those electronic parts, with the exception of something like the drum programming, can be played by a person and were played by a person. To have another person in the mix to get that fuller thing on stage – another singing voice, somebody who can play the guitar instead of me – absolutely creates a load of options to make the live show slightly – like, we’ve done well, I think, to recreate the record without strictly recreating the record.”

“But we’re in danger of doing that because we’re playing to, you know, backing tracks or sequencers and with a real person it’s about performance. I think the thing I’ve learned over the years of being in a band is that for years I considered myself as being more ‘in a band’ rather than as being an ‘entertainer’. If you choose to be in a band, the great part about being in a punk band and being in the punk scene is that it’s just an explosion. It’s like the audience and the band are just exactly the same and I absolutely think that that carries over in my psyche and in my approach but when you’re doing something that’s a bit more complicated or that requires a bit more attention on the performer’s part, you’re kind of the entertainer, you’re there not just to be a human record in a room, you’re there to engage with people and also provide the spectacle.”

“Sometimes an extra person means the spectacle can be that much more and you can change it from the experience of just hearing a record in a room with shit acoustics and not as good sound as a fully mastered and mixed LP. You can be about how music changes and how players work together. It goes back to exactly what I was saying about Sacred Paws and how watching them play is about watching four musicians interact as much as it is about hearing a song being played to you, you know? So yeah, the more the merrier.”

Jonah adds that being the frontman for a band is a new experience for him because he’s “used to being the drummer. Which is this sort of pseudo-martyrdom where you’re physically exhausted and nobody really sees you so you think ‘Oh, you know, I’m working so hard and nobody gets it’ but you can be eccentric in other ways and you can be eccentric with your instrument and … there’s consequence to what you play on stage but there’s no consequence to your behaviour on stage as a performer because you’re operating a machine … it’s felt more than it’s witnessed – for the most part, I’m generalising of course.”

“But as the frontperson, you’re stood there and not only are you the focus of attention … you are also the voice, you’re the conduit through which your group is supposed to engage the person that’s decided to watch you. I find myself struggling to be fully natural up there so far but it’s really good because I enjoy socialising and I like public speaking, so if I can just get my energy in the right spot – I mean, I already enjoy it but I think that I’ve got a couple of lessons to learn about fronting the group, you know what I mean?”

On the evidence of Jade Hairpins’ album and recent Kilburn gig, both of which were brimming with confident songs, those lessons would seem to be fairly minor ones. ‘Harmony Avenue’ is released via Merge Records on May 29th. You can pre-order it here.

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