It may have been on a smaller scale, but for people of a certain age JJ72 were their very own My Chemical Romance. Coming to prominence when they were just aged 18, Mark, Fergal and Hillary set emotions running high as well as being pin-up poster stars of Smash Hits. The second album "Eye To Sky" ventured perilously close to prog rock and while it was an accomplished album that was ahead of it's time they lost some of the fans along the way. Now back with a new bass player Sarah, Hillary left the band to take up Russian Studies, the band are reinvigorated with 2 albums worth of material that will be released when the time is right for the world to take JJ72 to their hearts again. Designer Magazine caught up with Fergal to discuss the game plan.
Q: There was a time when Designer Magazine would do a JJ72 interview every couple of months, but it's been a while now. How does it feel to be back?
A: It feels f**king brilliant. The last 2 years have been so f**king tough with Hillary leaving, making sure we held on to the record deal and then writing the new album when the odds are against us. The record company lost a little faith with us after the 2nd album, they thought it was a great album but you have to sell a certain amount if you want to make another album.
Q: How was it for you guys when Hillary left?
A: It was pretty bad. I can't say it was a good thing that happened. She wanted to go and we knew she wanted to go for a long time. She just wasn't enjoying it. She decided that she was leaving and she was going to study russian, which is what she'd wanted to do before she joined the band. At the end of it she loved being on stage and being in a band, but I think the toll of touring was too much for her.
She's very very happy now studying russian, she's just a lot happier as a person. You don't realize sometimes when you see someone all the time that they are that unhappy, but you can see it now how happy she is.
Q: After Hillary left how did you decide which way to go forward? How did you meet Sarah?
A: We consciously went we're not getting a girl in the band. It wasn't serious, but you have to tailor your life a bit because you have to respect the fact there's a female everywhere you go. And plus it's going to end up that two of the band members get together at some point in time. We decided that we weren't going to get a girl, and i'm not being sexist but men are usually better guitarists.
While me and Mark were just jamming around we were looking around various gigs and found a few people. Some people were desperate, you know what I mean. They were good players, but there was one guy that used to spit every time he opened his mouth and I just couldn't look at him.
It ended up that everyone worked when you heard it, but it just didn't feel right, so we ended up going to this gig where we saw Sarah. We just said do you want to rehearse, we never asked do you want to be in the band because we'd gone past the stage where we were looking for someone to join our band. We were back in regular jobs and we'd just rehearse at night and when we started with Sarah it was when it started working really well. We'd jam the songs together and they'd all have a different feel because it was a different bass player.
Q: The last tour we saw you on you played Academy 1 where Mark was turning into a Matt Bellamy-esque figure with zillions of guitar effects. How has Sarah affected the dynamic musically?
A: The songs aren't different, but they're different because we're better musicians. She's just smart. She's an amazing bass player. We had to be tight musicians to allow Mark to go off and scream his throat out and rip his hands on the guitar. The sound changed a lot now. It's a lot more pared down with us only allowing Mark to have 2 effects pedals
Q: From what i've heard of the album sampler the new songs sound radio friendly stripped back songs rather than prog rock opus, but from the rumours i've heard the rest of the album is dark as f**k. Did you have any pressure on you to write singles from the label?
A: A little bit, but it wasn't so much from the label, it was more from ourselves. If we were on a major label we'd have probably been dropped, but you still want people to listen to what your making because I want to get out of the job i've been working for the past 2 years. I was a labourer on building site that wasn't too bad....but everyday i'd end up knee deep in shit.
Q: What was Mark doing over this time? Was he working?
A: Mark was writing the album cos if he was working we wouldn't have an album by now.
Q: I can't actually imagine Mark working you know?
A: Mark's Mark, you know what I mean. He always finds a way out. He always finds a way to do what he wants to do.
Q: It must be a relief to not have to work on building sites then?
A: Totally and there's no way we're going to let it go now. All we knew when we left school was playing in the band, we'd never had to work a normal job. This is our chance to keep it together and seriously we wouldn't be here without the fans. If I was a fan I don't know whether i'd have waited so if you told us we'd sold 20 tickets I wouldn't have been surprised but to sell the venue out after such a long time. It's pretty mad because we've hardly had any radio play of the new single so it means these are people checking the internet every day just to see if we've got a new EP out or a new gig announced.
Q: You did seem to have that obsessive fanbase?
A: Yeah, I think we did have more a cult fanbase.
Q: What happened in Castlebar....didn't you storm off stage after 40 minutes?
A: No no no. The thing is you play your gig to the best of your ability and you go offstage for an encore and if they shout more you come back on, if they don't shout want more you don't walk back on stage. So there was a massive gap and the crew start clearing up the gear and when we were hanging around the side of the stage people were coming over afterwards saying are you not doing any more
The place in Castlebar was like the sort of place you'd have for a wedding reception. Then the venue in Belfast was really weird, just really tall but small.
Q: How do you feel about coming back to the current music scene?
A: I've always hoped there was a timeless feature to our band. I think we're a different sort of act than the bands with skinny ties. We're in competition with Razorlight and The Bravery for airplay, but we're playing new songs to older people so we're not in a real competition yet. Hopefully we will be in competition though, but we can go away and hibernate and thing of the long-term. Those bands are in the position we were a few years ago.
Q: Which are your favourite tracks from the new songs?
A: It's down to how they get received live, so live it's "She's Gone", "Take From Me" and "Underground". This album is like one album of greatest hits, it's quite different. In terms of sound it's closer to the first album because we went back to recording through one amp, we went back to Ian (producer) out of simplicity.
Words: Alex McCann
Backstage Photos: Shirlaine Forrest www.shirlainephotos.co.uk
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