INTERVIEW – Mike Edwards, Jesus Jones, February 2015

INTERVIEW – Mike Edwards, Jesus Jones – February 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Twenty-four years on from the release of their seminal dance-rock album Doubt, Jesus Jones will be playing the album from start to finish around Australia this March.

Jesus Jones 2015

Thursday 12th March – The Zoo, Brisbane
Friday 13th March – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Saturday 14th March – Factory Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 15th March – Rosemount Hotel, Perth.

Boasting the hit singles International Bright Young Thing and Right Here, Right Now, Doubt was a number one album in the UK, and top 25 in the US and Australia. With its themes of optimism during troubling times, and the latter single capturing the emotional impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the album struck a chord with people around the world. I suggest that the record might have been exactly the right sound, singing about exactly the right subjects, at exactly the right time.

“I’d say that that would have to be a part of it, at least in some respects,” asserts singer/guitarist Mike Edwards, the primary songwriter in the band. “I do think, musically, it is very much of it’s time – which of course is a double edged sword because it made it very topical and very popular right then, but it dated very quickly… which we always knew was going to happen.

“[But] I think the people in the record company would read my comment and say, ‘no, it was due to our incredibly hard work’ and there may be some truth in that as well,” he laughs. “But yeah, you know, I think that musically we were very zetgeist-ey: we were looking around at what was happening in the outer reaches of music and bringing it in towards the mainstream, and I think that just, maybe caught the wave, if you see what I mean. It was definitely part of the time. We reflected the time, I’d say.”

Jesus Jones - Doubt cover

The word ‘zeitgeist’ was one I was going to use to describe Doubt myself. Follow-up album Perverse is almost as good a record, but it isn’t remembered as being as quintessentially ‘of its time’ as Doubt is. Perhaps it was down to singing about such topical themes?

“Yeah, obviously that approach stuck with me,” muses Edwards, “which is why Perverse not only sounds the way it does, but has the lyrical themes that it does – including the now quaintly amusing idea that the internet might actually be quite an interesting thing! Zeroes And Ones, the song, is very hard to sing with a straight face these days.”

Edwards goes on to explain that although Right Here, Right Now’s zeitgeist-hitting punch and financially rewarding success has been welcome, he was never COMPLETELY happy with the song.

“Oh absolutely, yeah. I’d like to say it keeps me in bicycle intertubes!” he says with a soft laugh. “But I would think it’s quite interesting that it’s one of those songs, [where] ‘Right Here, Right Now’ is still just a temporary title… I haven’t got around to finishing that song off yet. I thought ‘Right Here, Right Now’ is a real cop-out of a title, or it kind of, it needs a bit more thought, a bit more effort, and I’ll get around to it in a short while. But [we had to] leave it like that… I just want everyone to know that that song is not finished. I haven’t completed it yet. Maybe twenty years from now I’ll come up with a better title.

“It’s funny how it came about because it was just written very quickly in a dingy little rented flat in North London. I’m glad: I had no idea the impact that it would have on my life. It would have messed things up [had I known].

“You know it [felt like] just another song I [was] writing. I mean, it’s a good one; I felt it was a good one. Although, to be honest, I kind of got smacked down by the record company when I took it into them and they said, ‘yeah, that’s pretty good. Keep writing.’

“Well, actually what is nice about Right Here, Right Now,” he continues, “is it’s one of those songs where the audience, the public, leads its success. Because it wasn’t actually released as a single in America until it had been played a lot on the radio. You had DJs playing the song, people out there listening to it and requesting it, and THEN the American record company said, ‘hang on a second, we’ve kind of got this nascent hit on our hands that we weren’t aware of.’ It had already been released as a single in the UK, and it was actually the least successful single of the previous few. It was very disappointing, in the UK at least.”

Jesus Jones 1993

Jesus Jones 1993

Despite that unbalanced success, Jesus Jones have toured the UK a few times recently, but haven’t been back to America for some time.

“We haven’t been in a long time, and that’s kind of bizarre,” agrees Edwards. “I know that we’re bound to at some point, sooner or later. The weird thing is that, yes, we’re coming to Australia, and for a UK band is very expensive and logistically quite tricky to do. It’s odd to me because we’ve come to Australia more than we’ve been to the US and both of them have logistical difficulties and it’s expensive to get there, but it’s more so for Australia. I think the problem with the US is that, if you go there, in order to actually make any money to make it viable, you’ve got to go for 6 to 12 weeks, and for a lot of us, that’s just not possible, these days.”

With 23 or 24 years under Doubt’s belt, many fans are wondering if the band have updated the song arrangements or stick faithfully to the recorded versions.

“Actually, we have updated some arrangements,” Edwards reveals. “That’s by and large, because when I went back and listened to the album, expecting to go out and play it live in September in the UK, I thought there’s some of these songs here that I don’t think are any good at all! If I can stand playing them in front of people, they’re going to have to change.

“So there’s at least one song, it’s radically altered. The hits, I’d think, like Right Here, Right Now and International Bright Young Thing, we never really found any problem with those anyhow. They get a little bit warped over time, they just get a little worn and change slightly so they’re never exactly the same as the album version. But there are songs from the album that yeah, they really are quite different. Sometimes the songs, when we listen to them now, they lend themselves to an arrangement that reflects more modern music.

“Some of the arrangements have quite a strong Dubstep influence,” he continues, “because I listen to a lot of that these days. But the hits are all as they were, the other songs, we like to have a bit of fun with them. I don’t think people come with such great expectations, so we have a lot more life to make them more enjoyable for us and the audience.”

Jesus Jones 1991

Jesus Jones 1991

Edwards goes on to say he listens more to Dubstep than almost anything else nowadays.

“I tend to listen to Dubstep and drum and bass and very little else. I’ve got a half an ear open on the latest charts, but I don’t really know who’s who or who’s doing what. I’m very tightly focused on the music that I listen to. I’ve been that way actually since I suppose since the mid-90s. I found increasingly that rock music interested me less. Pop music is easy to become more ephemeral, but I think that’s just a function of my age. But the stuff that really gets me going, yeah, it’s dubstep and drum and bass really. Anything that’s got a load of bass in it, I like that.

“[But] you can never beat a bit of old school AC/DC, I’ll tell you that,” he concludes with a grin you could hear down the international phone line.

In addition to the whole of the Doubt album, Edwards says fans are in for a treat from Jesus Jones.

“We’ll do the songs that we really like to hear, and the songs we think the audience want to hear from the other albums,” he promises. “There’s a decent bit of Perverse, there’s a decent bit of Liquidizer. There might even be a bit of Already, the fourth album on EMI. I can’t actually remember, off the top of my head; we don’t start rehearsing for a couple of weeks. It’s kind of the songs you’d expect us to play from the other albums, but also the things we put in there to keep us on our toes and to make the whole thing just as exciting and fun as it can possibly be.”

In addition to altering some of the song arrangements, another thing that’s changed is the band’s personal style, with Edwards cringing at the thought of their haircuts and fashion sense back in the early ‘90s. Have a look at this video clip for The Devil You Know as an example.

“Dear God, I would hope so!” Edwards laughs. “They’re not necessarily any better, as time will no doubt tell, but yeah, I can’t look back at our old videos …

“It was fun to do [The Devil You Know video], actually,” he counters, “because we felt we had been pushed right out to extreme, and anytime you feel you’re that far out on an edge, it’s going to be pretty drastic. So you’ve got one of two responses, it’s going to be love or hate, I think. I actually love it – the director, Zana, was a very focused, driven person, which is great because she had a strong vision for what she wanted from us, and it was not our vision, which was perfect for us at the time, but it pushed us way out of our comfort zone, so I kind of liked that actually. It was very striking. That’s the thing, we definitely stuck our heads above the well above the parapet with that one.”

Talking of Perverse, many people don’t realise but the 1993 album was one of the first big albums recorded entirely digitally. Did that feel like the band were breaking new ground at the time?

Jesus Jones 03

“Oh absolutely, yeah!” exclaims Edwards. “Not only was it a new thing for us, it was fairly new to music. There will always be people making albums without any ‘real’, for want of a better term, instrumentation on them, but they tend to be a lot more kind of minimalistic, either kind of hip hop or house record. We were making a rock album. It was entirely digital. It does seem very easy to do these days, but at the time – you also have to accept that [we were] against the fact that that was the grunge time, when everything had gone back in time to the 1970s. We were right up in the face of, kind of, perceived authenticity.

“So we were the complete antithesis of what was going on at the time… so in a way we were kind of the polar opposite of the zeitgeist from one album to the next. We’d moved right across the range. I’m very proud of that, actually. It’s one of the reasons I think Perverse is possibly our best album, because it was so in the face of the times, not representative of them. So, doing it that way, it made it an interesting project for me. It was intellectually stimulating to try and get the sound that I wanted. I’m very proud of that. Good album, I think.”

Of that there is no question, and hearing songs from both albums live will be a treat later this month. Seeing as digital recording was literally in its infancy at that time, was the tech reliable?

“No, not at all. No, it was unreliable! I remember having a big electricity spike at a gig in California. It just took out all of the electronic stuff. At that point, I was always glad that we were also a traditional rock band if need be. We’d get out our drums and guitars and we could carry on with the show. Yeah, it’s funny. We can come to Australia these days because all of our stuff is on a laptop, where it used to be this enormous great flight case that had everything in it. It weighed a ton. It’s got to the size of a DVD player.

“Yeah, it’s amazing now. We often reflect on it, that one little ordinary laptop, and that’s got everything on it, these days.”

Jesus Jones 02

To change tack completely, I enquire if Jesus Jones ever have any flak from religious communities – especially in America – over the band’s name?

“No we didn’t, but it always quite surprised me,” answers Edwards, legitimately sounding surprised. “The only thing we had was the obvious place, in the South of the USA. I think some old guy called up a radio station and said he wasn’t very happy on the idea of this band being called Jesus. That was it, so yeah, I look at it these days, we could have a much more inflammatory name if you wanted to incite religious opposition.”

Edwards went on to write an eBook about the original disintegration of the band, called Death Threats From An Eight Year Old In The Seychelles. The eBook seems to have vanished from the internet for now, but if anyone does find a copy, let us know – we’re dying to read it. The author takes up the story.

“That’s a good point. You know, I need to find it. I had someone on Facebook this morning say ‘You know, you should write a book about it’ and I said, ‘but I did!’ Yeah, I need to bring that up somehow. I have no idea where it is. It is so old now… yeah, I’ll dig it up… all right, okay. You’re the second person in 24 hours. Obviously I’m being told something.”

An edited version of this interview was originally published in X-Press Magazine’s 11 March, 2015 issue

INTERVIEW – Mike Edwards, Jesus Jones, February 2015

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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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