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April/May 2015

by Eddie Dawn-McCurdy

The Jury And The Saints: Knocking On The Devil’s Door

by Eddie Dawn-McCurdy

The Jury And The Saints: Knocking On The Devil’s Door

The Jury And The Saints have been busy pretty much since forming in 2009. Not long after they toured Australasia with Paramore and have since put out a couple of EPs and a debut album, 2010’’s ‘’Daydreams’’. Now signed with SPV, a German record label, earlier this year they graced the cover (plus eight editorial pages) of German rock mag Visions, and have recently released a self-titled sophomore album, which they recorded in Germany with a decidedly German rock producer. Eddie Dawn-McCurdy talked over watery coffees with singer Jesse Smith and guitarist Rowan Crowe about their apparent Teutonic obsession and life as family-centric international musicians.

Auckland rock band The Jury And The Saints know a little about success. Captivating live shows propelled their 2011 second EP ‘‘Revival‘’ to a peak of #2 on the NZ Top 40 chart, and sales of over 7500 copies. After subsequently signing to wide-ranging Hannover label SPV, the four-piece played Switzerland, Austria and Germany in mid-2013 before recording near Berlin.

According to guitarist Rowan Crowe, their German love affair is more chance and opportunity than any planning on their part.

“It’’s funny. It just happened to be over there that they loved the music –– you know, it’’s big choruses and gang singing and rock music, I guess.””

“Apparently because there was a bunch of stuff coming out of NZ that was good, every week they’’d [SPV] check the NZ charts,”” hard-working vocalist Jesse Smith adds. “And because we were punky kind of rock they thought, ‘’Oh yeah, this could work.’’””

The band (which also includes Ivan Beets on bass/vocals and Marty Kroon drums/vocals), signed on with SPV at the end of 2012, and in the middle of the following year The Jury And The Saints headed to Europe for six weeks. Three weeks of touring (playing to 6000-strong crowds, with Deutschrock band Frei.Wild), was followed by three weeks recording what would become their second album, a life experience Jesse says he’’ll never forget.

“We ended up in a tiny town just outside Berlin for three weeks, staying at this weird little hotel just round the corner from the studio. The landlady didn’’t speak a word of English and was an alcoholic –– so it made for very interesting conversation!””

The band didn’’t know German-born rock producer Alex Lysjakow before recording with him either, simply following the label’’s suggestion that they work together.

“But we were psyched with what he did,”” confirms Jesse.

Lysjakow is likely best known as bassist in Down Below, a decade-old East German rock/metal act, more recently gaining credit as a producer and mixing / mastering engineer.

“He produces a lot of rock, and coming from a punk background I think he gets it more,”” adds Rowan. “It needs to capture that energy, that essence of what it is, or else it’’s…”” he gives an exaggerated shrug.

The central photo in their album sleeve is of a massive and keenly arm-waving German crowd, and it does seem they’’ve managed to capture that energy. The album has been well received overseas. Along with the obvious interest in Germany, as evidenced by their cover slot on German rock mag Visions, there have been high-scoring reviews from magazines and websites like Kerrang, Rock Sound and AltCorner. But any such positive buzz overseas can feel oddly distant when the band’’s back in NZ.

“It’’s one of those things where it feels like you’’re having a dream at night and then you wake up the next day,”” says Rowan. “It doesn’’t feel like reality. You get these things from the label saying, ‘‘This is incredible that you guys got this!’’ But when you’’re here it doesn’’t feel like it’’s happening, so you just go [shrug] –– ‘‘Oh well, guess I’’ll keep cleaning windows!’’””

Jesse explains that much of the 20-month delay between recording and release was because they mixed the album fully three times, in order to make sure it was how they wanted it to sound. It was ready by mid-2014 but the label then went through a merger with BMG, which held up a lot of planned releases.

Their bio describes The Jury And The Saints’’ sound as ‘stadium rock’, but their pop-punk roots aren’’t far from the surface. Jesse was in Streetwise Scarlett, while Rowan played in Goodnight Nurse, two of the bigger bands in New Zealand’’s mid-2000s pop-punk scene.

“Pop-punk was just slowly fading out back then –– now we’’re trying to resurrect it,”” says Jesse. “We gave it a break, rewrote it, let it mature and we’’re taking over again.””

“Pop-punk’’s still my favourite because it’’s so happy,”” Rowan adds. “It just makes you want to have fun. But then hardcore has that aggression and energy that no other genre has.””

And while their tastes these days include bands like Brand New and Balance and Composure, one of the big names that comes up as an influence is Blink 182.

“It’’s not like we sound like them, but it’’s the influence of just… being silly, you know? Having fun,”” Rowan explains. “I like that, instead of people trying to be cool or real serious about it, they just have fun and do it. And for me, I love how they’’d just be silly when they play live. I think that’’s a big part of how we started as well, just silly and fun.

“I guess we’’ve got better at playing since, and actually focused on that, but also on putting on a really fun show so people leave going, ‘I had so much fun tonight’. That’’s what I want –– I want people to come and actually feel like they had a good time, instead of feeling like they came and watched a band that was trying to get more famous.”

“We want to put on a show that if someone comes and they had to bring their mum, because they were too young or something, the mum would have a good time as well, even if she didn’’t like the music,”” adds Jesse. “We’’re just trying to create a good time for people, I guess.””

And good times on stage for themselves, too. Like the time they threw sausages out into the crowd and got told off by Paramore’’s tour manager. And when Rowan shot Jesse in the face with a confetti cannon.

“It was such a mess. The problem was that we’’d already thrown out the sausages, and so people were throwing everything back on stage and it was mixing raw sausage with confetti… it was like PVA glue everywhere.””

Despite such antics and opportunities the band tries to stay down to earth, balancing the music and touring with real life. Three of the four have families and so need to balance rock’’n’roll with being husbands and dads. Jesse denies there’’s any contradiction between making shouty punk music and having small children.

“If you’’d met my children it’’d make sense! They’’re all insane,”” he laughs. “But for me the idea of musicians having to be these young dudes with no wives or kids to be cool is something that I want to destroy. I dislike that ‘rockstar’ idea, so I’’m happy to go against the grain, you know? I think part of what I want to do is just be a normal dude, but also do what I love doing –– and not let music control my life in every single aspect.””

Straightforward enough. But the tone seems like it’’s threatening to get too deep, so we go back to joking about watery coffee and sausage throwing, and not too long after that Jesse and Rowan have to go back to work.