[MUSIC: Interview] Jinja Safari
It’s been a huge year for Jinja Safari. The starry-eyed folk pop group completed an international tour and capped it off with a triumphant Splendour set, but it’s the little things they recall the most fondly. “When you’re in the middle of touring, there’s so much going on that you can almost miss the fun stuff,” singer Marcus Azon says. “You spend all your time in airports and sound checks, and it starts to become a rhythm, but then later, you start to think back on all insignificant things you did along the way – the highway rest stops and things like that. Those are the parts we remember the most.” One such experience in Canada really stands out in Azon’s mind. “We did this stop at a waterfall, and we all just walked up and had our own little space. We put some music on, looked up at the waterfall and walked up this shallow riverbed. I put some Dave Matthews on and at that point, everything seemed to make sense.”
Jinja Safari’s next gig is at the inaugural Cockatoo Island Film Festival, a weekend of music and movies in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Azon is quite stoked to be returning, even though his first gig on the island, several years ago, took something of a surreal turn. “When we first started this band, a friend of mine got a gig organising some percussionists for a UK band called The Tigerlilies,” he explains. “They were playing this gig on Cockatoo Island, and they needed eight percussionists dressed as convicts playing rhythms on jail bars… It was all very dark, gothic gypsy folk. The four of us, minus Joe [Citizen, bass], we all went out there and just hammered away on the bars, played some polyrhythms. Alister [Roach, percussion] actually had to do a solo song, so the only member of our band who has had very little prior singing experience got up there and sang solo – but he really nailed it.”
Over the past year, Jinja Safari have toured Australia with a fine selection of local bands, everyone from Miami Horror to Boy & Bear. Support slots like these are an essential part of a young band’s career, and Azon tells me that they learned a lot from the various headliners. “You pick up little tricks from the guys who are a bit older and wiser,” he says. “It’s like at school – you see the kids who are a couple of grades above you who can do cooler tricks on their BMX, or little extra tricks on the half-pipe. [As a band] you watch what they do, how they interact with the audience.” Touring with Boy & Bear taught Azon some tricks about modulating his vocals and bringing out the quiet bits in songs, while sharing a stage with Art Vs Science had, well, the opposite effect. “They’re such contrasting sorts of music, and the fact that we can get on both bills is awesome,” he says with a laugh. “It was early on in the life of the band, too. Our set is always evolving and changing. We’ve got some pretty mellow songs that don’t work on an Art Vs Science tour, then some more driving songs that would get us in trouble on the Boy & Bear tour. We all got told off a couple of times but, you know, you live and you kind of learn, you tone it down a little bit.”
Anticipation is high for Jinja Safari’s debut album – the band’s last release, Locked By Land, collected their early EPs). “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later, I think,” Azon says. “We’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, and we’re into the mixing phase now, so I think we’ve found a collection of tracks we’re all really happy with.” A fair chunk of the record came together while the band were touring overseas. “Touring takes up a fair bit of time, and if you’re playing to smaller crowds you start to wonder if it’s worth all the travel, so we set ourselves a challenge to put songs together on the road. Pepa [Knight, keys] had just gotten these plug-ins for Pro-Tools – some were samples of sounds from East Africa and some were ‘60s Abbey Road drum samples – so he put a series of instrumentals together as we travelled, then gave them to me to record some lyrical ideas.
“When we got back, we Frankensteined it all together and came up with five new tracks that we could slip into the collection we already had.” Of these, he reckons three are good enough to actually make the album. “That probably sounds a bit contradictory to the way we’re portrayed and the sound you hear, which is very organic,” he says. “I don’t know. When people listen to our music, they hear this kind of silly folk-y, jungle-y sound and assume that we must be a bunch of hippies sitting in a little cottage making Afrobeat, but it’s really just like any other electro band: it’s just us plugging away on our computers.”
Where: Island Life @ The Cockatoo Island Film Festival – Concert Series
When: Friday October 26
More: The Concert Series runs from Thursday October 26 – Saturday October 27, and also features Matt Corby, Arrested Development, Gossling and heaps more; head to cockatooislandfilmfestival.com
Posted: October 19th, 2012 under Brag 484, Music, Music - Interview, New.
Tags: Arrested Development, Bluejuice, Gossling, Island Life, Jinja Safari, Marcus Azon, Matt Corby, The Cockatoo Island Film Festival