Fucked Up’s Jonah Falco on laying out a bunch of feel good summer tinged tunes with his new outfit
You never quite know what you’re going to get from a member of Fucked Up when they release music away from the illustrious shadow of the Toronto band.
Drummer Jonah Falco and his cohort Mike Haliechuk first floated Jade Hairpins back in 2018 with a 12” single release, but now they’re back with Harmony Avenue, a full album that lays out a host of influences and most importantly a bunch of feel good summer tinged tunes. It’s what we all need right now, because when we have a chat with Jonah, lockdown fever is most definitely starting to bite.
“There will come a time when we can play music for each other again,” he says and it’s exactly what we need to hear. “Everybody is definitely experiencing the same relativity at the moment. For me, all is well, I live on a narrow boat, and for the last couple of years we’ve had a permanent mooring which we stumbled on by accident. It’s right in Kings Cross. So what with times being what they are on planet performance, we’re leaving these beloved moorings and going out far west.”
Before Jonah heads off, there’s still the small matter of the Jade Hairpins album about to appear.
How did it all start?
It started in the studio and became a real band. I guess we started about two years ago, right around the time that Fucked Up’s Dose Your Dreams came out. Then we got granted our Pinnochio moment back in February after recording the album. We folded ourselves out on to the world’s worktop, just as the kitchen was closing.
Timing is everything in music?
Listen, some people want to make a dramatic entrance, it’s all about how you make that dramatic entrance. Simultaneously as an exit is a very interesting strategy!
So the line up has expanded a little since the initial 12” single. How did that all come about?
It’s hard to find musicians that have enough confidence to be able to just drop into somebody else’s project and treat it like their own, not having any qualms about being a signal booster for an idea that somebody else has started to put into the world. Tamsin and Jack have both been amazing for that. They both have other projects, and they both have a lot of music under their belts. They’ve played in bands for long enough to not have any of that self conscious stuff that can up-end a group dynamic. Tamsin I know through the punk scene in London. I knew she played drums and we just saw each other at gigs and were constantly talking about drumming. I took a chance and asked her to be involved and she was really excited at the prospect.
Jack I know from when I did a Masters in composition and I met him on the programme. I went to the pub after seeing ultra dense insane piece of music. It was 3 and a half hours long and it was gruelling and insane. We went to the pub afterwards and we were just talking, and it was like the equivalent of drinking a beer after something quite stressful. I was sat at the table with Jack and you just start to talk about ‘70s punk and ‘80s punk, and we knew all the same bands. He said, “You’re on this programme, how do you know about all this music?” and it kind of went:
– “Well, I’ve been in a band for 15 years….how do you know about it?”
– “I used to be in this band…”
– “I play in Fucked Up…”
– “I opened three shows for you in 2008 with my band…”
So we became friends after that. He’s got the kind of polytropic, eclectic and ludicrous taste that I do. He’s a polymath, he can sing, play guitar and piano.
And Mike is always willing to transplant himself from Toronto into the landscape of British music scene when he can.
So why was London the place for Jade Hairpins?
Part of the reason that we wanted to form a band in London rather than Toronto, is that our presence in Toronto and our capability of doing something that can be “new” is hindered by the fact that we have such a history there. I think that it’s easier to throw yourself at the reality of being a new band in a place where you know fewer people. It was great to start from scratch and to do it in a place where music treated a lot differently to how it’s treated in Canada. And the consumption of music and the understanding of pop culture… and all that good stuff.
There’s a totally different appetite for music in Britain, and that might just be an observation of somebody not from here. Perhaps you’d see how music goes in Canada and think something different. I think it’s a bit more passive in Canada, in the way people use their enthusiasm or mobilise or even people who treat music flippantly. They treat it differently. That’s just my observation. I sit here doing the dishes to whatever BBC channel and marvel at how important the variety, and the depth and the perceived authenticity of the history of music is put out on the most mainstream radio. These channels promote this attitude of finding things and the connectivity of music. I’m sure lots of it is playlists that come from media conglomerates but it’s not entirely that. You get the sense that the people doing the presenting do the stuff they have to do and then also put so much personality into propagating the idea that music can be an important part of your life and of your narrative. I find that idea very romantic, obviously.
So it’s all about the The melting pot of the UK?
In part it’s about how people develop their desire to interact with music, I mean subcultures are formed all over the world, and we’re talking about a tiny island [with the UK]. It’s a real miracle that a place this small can feel that big. I know there’s far deeper conversations we could have about cultural appropriation, and the melting pot of other cultures coming here and having music folded into a singular identity, blah blah! This isn’t blah blah, but it’s a much larger discussion. It has all contributed to this funny panoply of people who can turn on the radio and hear a dedicated nationalised radio programme that’s talking about one micro moment in history that’s important enough in the media’s psyche to be put out there. I don’t think that would happen on a mainstream station in Canada, it might happen on an internet station, it might happen on a university station. But those things are constantly undermined. And because of Canada’s size I suspect. When the money rolls in everybody else trying to claw their way around usually gets wiped out. That’s partly an issue about money and also about approach.”
Jonah’s enthusiasm in talking about music, its history and culture is infectious. To the point where even though we should be talking about his own band, we end up delving back into the archives.
It’s interesting to try and be in a band here and what that means. I watched an archival thing that BBC put up from 1978 that was about independent bands negotiating staying independent or going to larger labels. The bands they talked to were Mekons, Sham 69, Alternative TV, The Slits, The UK Subs. And already that’s a massive spread in terms of musical approach.
There was no provincial attitude, about “oh you guys are weird doing this”. It was all about analysis. Of course it was John Peel doing it, so that might have had something to do with it. They spoke to the Mekons, and they looked wonky and strange and like they were kicked out of their squatted loft where they were doing Action Thinking. They were talking about whether or not they should even put record out because they’re anti-materialism and putting another record out would be just anther product in the world. But the reality of being in a band is that you need something to show that you exist to propagate your own existence.
Then you get to Sham 69 and they’ve just signed to Polydor and they’re playing Reading Festival. These young people from a completely different reality, not a Northern Town or Post Industrial. They’re getting a big break, and they’re like “listen, we’re from this place, and we’re getting our message out to as many people as possible, so you should sign to a major label”.
Then it goes back to Alternative TV who are these arch ideologues, and they’re saying “we do stuff for nothing 365 days a year, and we can make it happen. Imagine what these labels with hundreds of thousands of pounds could do if they wanted to do something for nothing. You could create this utopia!”
So it’s like this constant back and forth and the conversation is still the same and it’s something that every band has to face up to about how to get their music out there and how to live. It’s perfect that I saw this today in the midst of the pandemic and isolation and non performance. How to understand your place! It was brilliant to see that level of analysis.
And The Slits said something like “we’re not ready to put out an album, because why would you put out an album that has loads of mistakes on it.” But those mistakes and that feeling that you hit as a band, are what makes music magic. When you code it too much, it becomes sterile. Perfection becomes predictability. You need that chance element.
It was Mike and I who collaborated on the writing. And there were a lot of chance elements. In the last few years, the way we’ve started to write music together… it used to be a standard process. These days, just because of time and space. When we’re in the same space, we get an idea and forge the songs on the spot. Some of the songs on the album we started on morning and finished that evening, and all they needed was a bit of arranging. We’d just carve up the songs in the void.
One of the things about Fucked Up offshoots is that they never sound anything like Fucked Up. Why is that, and will the next Jade Hairpins sound like this Jade Hairpins?
The Jade Hairpins album is pretty confused… no wait I should be more complimentary of myself. It’s a masterstroke of sophisti-pop. The Fucked Up thing is kind of interesting, because it’s like where you throw every colour in the visible universe into a bucket, it comes out the colour of Fucked Up, and you think “how the hell did those things combine to do that?” Fucked Up gives ourselves carte blanche stylistically but it comes out the same way.
The songs get ordered and arranged the same way, the themes are coming from the same writer, ideas get explored in similar narrative arcs… so you know, Young Guv being different, me being different, my projects being different Jade Hairpins being different. It’s like the execution of all these other colours, without having to go through the Fucked Up machine…in a way.
So there is an expectation from ourselves that Fucked Up has to sound a certain way, but I realise that must appear to be not true from a listener’s perspective. It is kind of true, there are certain things that make up a Fucked Up song, and there are certain things that don’t. These Jade Hairpins songs are expressions of taste and all the other impulses of rhythm, timing and layering that don’t work. It’s not that this is the stuff that didn’t work in Fucked Up, it’s just that this could never have. This has its own energy. The next Jade Hairpins record will be similar, but it’ll have a lot more cohesion, it’ll be written with the intention of being the same gesture. It’s going to be really exciting to develop that. We can see what makes a Hairpins song now. The Hairpins has a kind of clockwork element and interlocking and a particular relationship to electronic sounds. Now we’ve established some of these relationships and some of the humour of it. By which I mean, the outdated sense of humour – like bile! It’s got yellow bile and black bile. All of that stuff is recognisable so when we make the next record we’ll be extracting the stuff that worked and leaving behind the stuff that’s perfectly good as it is.
The original Jade Hairpins 12” is a good couple of years old now, and it sounds different to the material on the album. What happened in the last two years to change the sound?
Motherman and the B side was the same session. Mike and I collaborated, we went into a little studio with a couple of friends of ours and we were just goofing around with vintage electronics. Those songs came out of an eternal amount of loops, the same 12 minute drum loop, and just jamming. They were arranged into those two songs and they were released incognito. Because it didn’t seem right to take credit for, it needed to just exist and see if anybody noticed.
The album… these are songs that got written with an intention to deliberately write them. The most collaborative effort, Post No Bill – and it was kind of like Prince, or Huey Lewis. Moshe Rozenberg Absolutely Free, and Trevor Blumas of Doom Squad are on that recording. The rest of it is the product of hours spent in front of a mixing desk and an audio interface.
So how did the full record come about?
We were writing songs in the studio, and we pushed out these songs that were a little further afield than what we’d normally come up with. They took on their own character, so we put them into their own category that wasn’t Fucked Up, it wasn’t a project. And those got developed into the record. I sang on some of them, and other people sang on some of the others, but it didn’t always work with someone else…as a kind of compilation. So my voice being the sole voice is like a unifying aspect. I’m not trying to be self-aggrandising, but it’s kind of the thread that flows through it. The stylistic difference musically are like Talking Heads, Happy Mondays, Television Personalities, and Buzzcocks. Mary Magazine is supposed to be like David Bowie singing on a crappy DIY song. It’s all these elemental stations of how we like to think about music. The maximal most crowded way possible, or the most humble diminutive way possible. Humility, for me, has always been at the centre of making music.
When you’ve got some many influences within each of the band members, how is that Fucked Up ended up with that sound? All the offshoots sound different and yet somehow there is this wonky, literate, fucked up prog punk.
We started off as derivative as we could have been, and then after a certain point, tastes started to deviate. There’s quite a ceiling to being a local band in Toronto, and we hadn’t toured very much. Then we started to make broader gestures. Like when we put two songs on a 7 inch, we were ridiculed for doing that. It was an homage to old soul and punk singles, but people were like “we’re getting ripped off!” The more those things crept in, the more we knew we could push the limits of people’s expectations. So the songs got longer, we were getting into krautrock and psychedelia and prog. I was getting into ‘70s rock like Deep Purple, whilst consuming loads of punk. Damien and Mike would consume as much music and culture content as they could. When Hidden World came out, we ended up with this record that was part Adolescents, part Pink Floyd, Poison Idea, My Bloody Valentine – it was one of those happy accidents where nobody knows what they’re doing. We perfected what we thought was like a record that made sense, but it threw all these question marks into the mix. Because it was well received, we took that as a good marker from which to go forward and not worry about how we perceived the band.
That carries over into Jade Hairpins too, in that I would have had a very hard time with being self-conscious about releasing music that sounds like this. This crooning Edwyn Collins over Madchester, 808 State beats, I would have hated myself, if my 20 year old self could have seen me dancing. At this point, it’s the perfect moment to say fuck it, you know what… you can catch up. If you’re behind, catch up, if you’re ahead, I’ll see you in a minute.
My tastes are quite old, I’m somewhere between absolutely needing to discover new music and [adopts angry Northern Accent] WHY CAN’T THEY PLAY GOOD FUCKING MUSIC ON T’RADIO??
The British influence is definitely a presence in the sound and there’s even a paean to Broadstairs Beach. How did that come about?
Jack the guitar player lives in Margate, and I went to visit him and his partner and had a magical day that ended up with the three of us getting a cab over to Broadstairs to just howl at the moon.
We got this huge fuck off order of chips and sat on the sand listening to Mott The Hoople. And then along comes the instrumental for Broadstairs Beach, I showed up to the studio one day and Mike had just put the song together. The idea for the song comes from Bill Wyman‘s Je Suis Un Rock Star, it’s like really twee, or a BBC sporting theme, or a rejected theme for the Auf Wiedersein Pet series in Spain. So it has this satire element to it. It’s just this magic landscape, and so I thought it was just really nice to be there.
The weight of life sinks in the sand. It’s this temporary place, where the water recedes and you get a bit of land and you get it taken away from you but you can just sink it to it for a second, and just be there. I thought it was just a nice poetic evening and a way to celebrate this place, that kind of has an element of anticlimax. I’m basically gunning for a residency on the lido.
So what’s next? I mean, right now we don’t know what we’re going to be able to do as a population.
It’s perfect that you said nobody knows what we’re going to do. We’re releasing our record and we had some plans for a trip around England… I mean what do you do? How do you release a debut album by a debut band in a time when there’s no music? In some ways, it’s interesting because everyone’s attention is fixed on consuming media because it’s a thing that people can do from home. On the other hand, there’s like no sense of occasion for these things, it’s hard to understand where to put your enthusiasm or your energy. We’re still releasing videos and the album, it’s still coming out, it’s summer, it’s bright, happy music.
The way I’m trying to justify all this to myself is that before the current situation across the world happened, there’s no real reason that anybody should have cared about Jade Hairpins anyway, so everything is a victory. There’s an energy and a privilege behind it. We’ve got great record labels behind the record, we’ve got great people on the record, people already seem to be enthusiastic about it, but there’s always that question about why and who should care about this. What have we done to make you want to hear this? And the question is exactly the same. I think we can be more charming in person, and that this music is meant to be danced to and experienced live. It’s very positive and kind hearted. That’s what I’ve tried to put into the words to these songs and into the sound of these songs as well. So there’s a huge gap in not being able to play live, but there was always going to be that huge gap. The answer is not, that we simply won’t have music any more, so, you must do it. I could think about music in the world before the pandemic, in the world where everyone has their own struggles to do their life. I can certainly continue to think about music with this extra added thing going on.
There will come a time when we can play music for each other again. When that is, who knows? I refuse to will music into non-existence, I don’t have that pessimism in me. Maybe that’s extremely naïve but all I can say is… just play it up really loud and dive into these silly wordplay things that we’ve put together. It’s for enjoyment. Laughter and enjoyment.
Jade Hairpins’ album Harmony Avenue is released through Merge on 29 May 2020. Tour dates and further information can be found here.