Taking a light modern-day electro jaunt through the rainbow swirled acid-influenced 60’s and 90’s trip hop, Australian band, Jagwar Ma’s Howlin’, released on June 11th, is quite the excursion into sound. Touring earlier in their native land with The XX, it wasn’t long before they caught the attention of mainstream media with Pitchfork and NPR features and radio programmers increasing track spins steadily throughout Europe and stateside.
Now currently in Europe to play a few shows and festivals and plans to hit the U.S. in September and August, I connected with Gabriel Winterfield, lead vocalist and guitarist of Jagwar Ma, to chat about his early influences, prized possessions, what we’d be surprised to know and more.
What was the first record or album you heard and you thought “This is amazing! I want to sound like this person?”
I remember when my brother showed me Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and I just loved the energy and it was just so exciting so I really got into Chuck Berry. I started playing trumpet when I was about eight and I remember my dad got me this Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux album. ..Other music that I really loved is video game soundtracks. I’ve always loved that 24 bit sound. Growing up, my brother and I had Super Nintendo. It was a main source of entertainment and but also kind of, a real source of music and soundtracks. There’s such a following on YouTube of people posting hearing music from some game that’s been forgotten about and people are like “Aww, I remember this”. I love that as well.
Can you describe how the music scene in Australia influenced your sound?
It’s a difficult question to answer without sounding naïve because I don’t know what it would have been like had we grown up somewhere else. The obvious things are that the weather is pretty good and the quality of life in Sydney is quite good. We’re very lucky but there’s also an innate sense of isolation in Australia. It’s one of the most isolated English speaking countries so we look to the U.S. and the U.K. with a telescope, trying to work out what’s going on there. And also almost getting things wrong as well in terms of our perceptions because people imitate and get it so wrong but can make a beautiful disaster.
In terms of your touring, what’s the craziest experience you guys have had on the road so far?
Driving back from Glastonbury was quite a funny experience because we just hadn’t had any sleep and we were just driving sooo far. Our tour manager had been enjoying the fruits of Glastonbury and he was driving our van and I was sitting there, having a bit of a laugh, trying to keep him awake…There was this other time when we couldn’t remember where our hotel was in Denmark. We had a driver and he was just laughing, this fat, jolly, Danish guy, and all I had was the hotel key card with the name of the hotel but there were four different hotels with that name. We were just having a good laugh about that.
So there have been no crazy groupie experiences backstage?
That is none of your business! (laughing)
What could we find you doing at 10 PM on any given day?
At 10 PM any day, I can be found doing… Definitely not sleeping, as I have weird working hours. To be honest, as boring as it sounds, I’d probably be on the computer listening to music, making little playlists or out doing something… I found this whole Japanese punk scene, this band (Bo Gumbos) that supported Bo Diddley on his Japanese tour (on YouTube) and they were amazing.
There’s this quote floating around from Noel Gallagher stating he’s “Too busy talking about Jagwar Ma to reform Oasis.” How did it feel when you first heard what he said about you?
The first thing I saw was an e-mail and it has been CC’ed a million times so I didn’t know if it was real or not. Then it came up in a NME interview and I wanted to know the story….Obviously, it’s pretty flattering. It’s a double-edge sword because sometimes it can put pressure on us…What do they say-“The internet’s written in ink?”
If your house was on fire, what are three things you’d grab on your way out?
Assuming that my family and my pets are safe (which is a miracle because in my house we have a fish tank so the fish tank would have managed to carry itself out), I’d take my guitar, my journal and my laptop. Everything else I don’t really care about. The first guitar that I got I’ve written most of my songs on it. It’s a beautiful, old American guitar.
Whose idea was it to record your latest album, Howlin’ in a barn in France?
It was both of ours. It made sense for us to go there and get away from everything that was in Sydney and focus. It does sound extravagant but your weekly expenditures in the countryside in a barn are far less than a major city. In some ways, it was more economical…It was beautiful, sunny, great weather, great food. The isolation was inspiring.
What would someone be surprised about you?
A lot of people are surprised to know that I really like gardening and flowers. I’m into growing vegetables and herbs… I like cooking and it’s so good to have your own fresh stuff from your own garden.
If you could collaborate with anyone, past or present, who would it be?
I would have to say someone from the present… I’d like to get in touch with some American artists. There’s this young producer whose vibe I really like called Hot Sugar… I wouldn’t say I want to work with Jay-Z. I’d rather do something with someone up and coming.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Maybe another record out, another one on the way. Maybe a film. I want to write a book and have an art exhibition. I’ve always painted since I can remember and a writer as well so I just need to make sure I’ll do it.