One of the more interesting things to note is that Dublins JJ72 were still in high school when they wrote the tormented rock songs comprising their self-titled debut, but there's more here than simple teenage angst. After selling more than 200,000 copies of JJ72 upon its release in the U.K. last year, the trio - guitarist/singer and main songwriter Mark Greaney, hard-hitting drummer Fergal Matthews and bassist Hilary Woods - further strengthened its already solid fan base with a searing and sonic live show. I heard the record soon after it came out and was very intrigued. Songs like "Snow" and "October Swimmer" seemed to show a maturity and a development beyond their years.
Columbia Records released the album around the time of 9/11 and JJ72 finally came to the US in November 2001, playing with Pete Yorn, Remy Zero, and Coldplay. I came to Hollywood to see some of their first American shows, since the original one at CMJ was cancelled. JJ72 surprised me how heavy they were as a live act. They definitely delivered. We were able to hear some new songs that will be on the next record. As I met them the next day in their hotel on Sunset Boulevard, we were also all surprised to run into Little Richard, who gave us all some religious books. It was a thrill to have lunch with this new band on the winding roads of Hollywood.
JJ72 will be back in America playing some show in early 2002.
AL: You have already conquered the British. Now you are here to do the same thing.
Mark: Its very exciting doing this. Playing in Britain is fairly obvious because its right next door to us. Playing Europe is obvious as well, because we had been in Europe a lot anyway, apart from the band. The first time we go to Japan to do gigs, or the first time we come here (to America) its a very strange feeling going to the other side of the planet to play songs that you have written. You can think about the amount of people here. Were doing a four-week tour. It seems like nothing compared to a four week of tour of Britain, which would be a very extensive tour. That would be taking it to a lot of people. We are going to be playing to quite of a lot of people here, but its a small percentage.
AL: If you are a band who lives in London, you can drive out to Liverpool or Sheffield, do a gig, and pack it up and come back the same night. Are you going to be in a tour bus the whole time or on planes?
Mark: We have a bus, but I think that we have a few flights in between. The shows have been great so far but its hard to gage. We dont really know how the way music works here. We know American music obviously. Whether you like it or not, being in a band over a certain period of time, you will learn a little about how things work. You find out about the cogs in the machine of the music business in Britain. You know what a good live response is. You know what it means to be A-listed at a radio station. We know what Rolling Stone Magazine is, but we dont know about anything else.
Fergal: KROQ and Rolling Stone.
AL: America has tons of independent magazines and local newspapers. I heard your first record about a year ago soon after it came out and immediately, but had no idea what the live show was like. It seems that many people here are going to be surprised how exciting you guys are as a live band. There is a lot of thunder and lightning in the live act that you wouldnt know from the record that seems more intimate after seeing the show.
Mark: When we made the first record it was really our first time in the studio properly. It was quite daunting for us. We knew that we could make noise live but we had no idea how to do that in the studio. The record came out maybe a little differently than it should have in one way, regarding the way we play live. We were happy with that actually because the record is different than how we play live. There are more layers in the record. Theres more strings and other things. As you heard last night, we replaced the string section with sheer noise. I like how that turned out.
AL: Some people are just headbangers. They would like what you are doing. Maybe they couldnt understand what you were singing about, but they can relate to the noise. They are into thrills and getting a sonic buzz. Having a drink and having a good time.
Mark: I like that kind of music sometimes. That is what rock music is here for in one way. If you are straight away thinking that your audience should be a certain way then there is no point in writing music. You have to give people the option. If they want to come along to one of our shows and shake their heads and run around like mad pigs, they can. Thats cool. As music fans ourselves, that what we want to do sometimes when we go to gigs. We dont want to be listening to every lyric. Some people want to think about what you are singing. Thats fine too. Were not selective in that way to what reaction people should or shouldnt have. Its interesting. Any reaction.
AL: What exactly is the reaction in Britain? You have had a successful record. Now people are following you around.
Mark: Yeah. We filled the void. The
Manic Street Preachers sort of left and did this other thing. At that
point we came in Britain, we attracted a lot of their extremely devoted
fans, who followed us from gig to gig. We became used to that at an early
stage: that there were people who wanted to see us play every night. The
same people. Its strange in one way but we appreciate it.
Fergal: They may be annoyed because we did it properly rather than in some compromised way. They dont have the balls to really go for it.
Mark: That happens in every city all over the world where theres some music scene. Theres usually some clique of people who are scared of going for it properly. They will use their "indie" credentials as an excuse. Thats what we found in Dublin, and in Britain. There are plenty of good bands that have good songs, but they wont do interviews because they think its beneath them, in some way.
AL: When you go back to Dublin do you have some of the local bands play as a supporting act?
Hilary: We have played with different support bands all the time. When we go back to Dublin, there may be a lot of envy going on there, because there are musicians who have played a lot of gigs. We came along and had good timing. Now we are playing long tours with several different bands in different countries. I think that there is no chance of gaining any recognition in your own town. You have to go away first and leave yourself to circumstance. Especially in Dublin, because they are very skeptical of the bands and very slow to say anything is good. They dont dare say anything.
Mark: Luckily for us, we didnt have to spend too much time in Dublin doing a circuit of local pub gigs. We worked with a sort of useful type of naivete that made us just go for it and appeal to a larger audience elsewhere. It just seemed logical to send a demo tape to a record company and expect a reaction.
AL: What do your parents think of the records?
Fergal: They love it. They sense our dedication.
Mark: It made sense that they would be supportive of it, because they saw it being born.
AL: What are your plans about touring and doing a new album?
Fergal: This is our "American" tour.
Mark: After we finish this tour, we are going to demo some tracks for that next album. We played three new songs last night. We decided that this would be a good time to try out new ideas. Thats all they are, as opposed to definite songs. We figured that at some of the bigger venues where we are supporting Pete Yorn many people wouldnt know who we are. So we can afford to give it a go. We are going to record the new album in January 2002. Come back and tour here in early spring. We are going to keep it going.
AL: Have you played with any American bands?
Mark: We did a tour of Britain with The Dandy Warhols. We supported them. It was just before our album was released. It was nice. It was a weird matching. We are not the same types of band. Thats what was interesting. You learn to get along with people and you learn a little from people. That was good. We played with some other less salubrious bands like Embrace and Ocean Colour Scene.
Hilary: We have played with Coldplay too.
AL: Are there any bands you would like to play with or like to meet?
Hilary: I cant really think of anyone in particular, but I would like to meet Billy Corgan.
AL: When can he play onstage with JJ72?
Mark: Oh God, I wish. I remember writing a letter to the Smashing Pumpkins when we first started JJ72: "Please, let us support you!" I think he is now doing gigs with his new band, Zwan.
AL: On the way over here I was reading about the time you met Michael Stipe. You are not a big fan of REM?
Mark: It was the first time that I was told to "fuck off" by an international rock star. It was quite an experience.
AL: You wrote most of the songs on JJ72 when you were in high school?
Mark: Yeah, about four or five years ago. I am 21 years old now. I wrote all the songs on acoustic guitar. Last night I played a new one. Thats how things are now panning out. Its similar to the first album, where I write the stuff at home, and then I bring it in to these guys, and then, thats where the band exists. They put their own feeling into the song and thats how a JJ72 song comes about. Its the way things unravel. Anyone is welcome to write a song, even you. Flood is going to produce the next album. He did stuff with the Pumpkins and Depeche Mode. There will be less smacking people in the face. There will be less bombast. I want the next record to be as powerful in a slightly different way. A little more subtle. We are going to steer away from the "quiet, quiet, quiet . LOUD" sort of stuff. I dont know how to describe it. I dont know what we are doing.
AL: Do you have any hobbies?
Fergal: All we do is play. Not much else.
Hilary: We dont have time for it.
Mark: When I am not playing with the band I am at home writing songs. Some of the stuff we did before the band, like playing football, you cant really do at home, and I would be a prime target to get my legs broken anyway. Its weird. When we get home, we spend a few weeks sitting there doing nothing, and then we start getting fidgety and start going "oh shit" and then we are off on tour again. I relax when we sell ten millions records.
AL: I wanted to ask you about the song "Snow." Is there a James Joyce (see quote below) influence on that? It reminded me of the last part of "The Dead."
Mark: Yeah. Pretty much. People in Britain are really annoying in interviews. They say: "Hes talking about the weather." Its an obvious metaphor for something falling from the sky and covering the ground and making everything magical and beautiful. Its a quite special thing. Its like magic. I read Dubliners and the last part of "The Dead." There was a description of snow falling all over Ireland. What was cool about it was it made Ireland sound like this huge massive land. The snow falls on the "central plains" of Ireland. Ireland doesnt have any central plains. Its so fucking small. The description of it made Ireland, and being Irish, bigger than it actually is. That why "Snow" is the song it is. That is a huge chorus and making it sound bigger than it is.
AL: There is one video you did where you beat each other up. Who won that fight?
Fergal: Mark won the fight. Its in his contract.
AL: There are a lot of JJ72 websites. Many created by the fans. Do you read any of them?
Mark: Yeah. I just a computer a few weeks ago. We have an official site. Then there is (www.jj72.org). Its huge. People write there all the time. They are on there for hours. Stuff about us. Thats kind of freaky. Theres someone sitting down somewhere thinking about us somewhere in the world all the time. Its like when this guy was on the toilet was he thinking about us?
Hilary: There are over 50 websites about us. We only set up one. Ours is very functional. The other people have more time to put up stuff.
Fergal: Ours is shit. There is a fan website that is better than ours is. I have to go to the loo. (leaves)
AL: I heard some fans got your phone number.
Mark: Its weird. You might get sporadic phone calls. Four calls will come in two days of each other, and then nothing for months, as if they just lost the number or something. Back home, you go out and give your number to someone who you think is your best mate. Then at the end of the night, your number has been passed on. You have to change your number again. A few times when I went on tour, my parents would get calls from places like Sheffield in the middle of night: "We want to talk to Mark."
AL: Melody Maker is no more? They voted Hilary "sexiest person alive" and then went under.
Mark: They couldnt handle the response. They gave us a lot of support. One of our first interviews that we thought was very important was in Melody Maker. They certainly helped us get quite a devoted following. They made us into a hardcore indie band. And so did NME. These magazine are an integral part of getting music out to people. Other bands dont see that way.
Fergal: Little Richard gave me all these books. Hes upstairs. He said "Give these to your friends, man." (laughter)
Mark: No way.
Fergal: Yeah. He said: "Where you from?" I said "Dublin." He said" "I played there before, man." (laughter) He had two massive guys with him. I shook his hand. I like LA. You take it for granted here but you actually meet these people here in LA.
AL: Yeah, I just bumped into Dee Dee Ramone over at the Virgin Megastore before this.
Mark: I have to tell you something. Elijah Wood was at our gig last night. He was with another guy, Dominick, who was also in the film Lord of The Rings. So we end up drinking with these guys last night. It was really weird being with Elijah Wood, and drinking in LA, and talking about films and music. That was an experience. I like that. In London, we are seen as a cool band to see because we are young. We get invited to things in London and Dublin too, because we live there. They people want to get together to pat each other on the back. Anyone who is involved in music or film, they like successful people around, so they can be in this exclusive club. Heres its different. There are genuine people here who are brilliant actors or somebody. They are pleasant towards each other.
AL: London has those exclusive clubs. The Met Bar .
Mark: Oh God, yes. Its ridiculous. We have went to all those award parties with secret locations. The NME awards or the Q Awards. The secret aftershow party ends up being a shithole. It was really great hanging out With Elijah Wood and his mates. We were sitting in a garage drinking a beer and smoking a clove. Thats what I like.
AL: What are your apartments like back in Dublin?
Fergal: We all live at home with our parents.
Mark: When we are on tour, our apartment is the bus. The apartment on wheels. Then we get home and loads of times we think "okay I am going to get myself a nice apartment." Then I think what is the point? Might as well let my parents watch my empty room when I am out on tour.
AL: You live with your parents too?
Hilary: Im sort of in and out.
Fergal: Go back and get a good meal.
AL: Does the media follow you around back at home?
Mark: Once we were back at home. We were listening to one of the main radio stations in Dublin. It doesnt even play our music. They said "In Dublin news today, JJ72 are at home having a break. Hilary is off having a holiday in the Canary Islands. Fergal is home fixing his motorcycle."
"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." - James Joyce