Over the past two years, Sydney-based band The Jezabels has seen its popularity spread all across Australia and now to the wider indie rock world. Filling an ever growing niche between indie rock and mainstream pop, it’s garnered major airplay on Australia’s Triple J radio station, charted on US college radio and played major festivals on three continents.
The band is led by singer Hayley Mary, an intensely crisp alto who mixes earthy sensibilities with the vocal theatrics of 1970s and 1980s pop singers from Freddy Mercury and Cyndi Lauper to David Bowie. Add to that the backing band of pianist Heather Shannon, guitarist Samuel Lockwood and drummer Nik Kaloper, who apply buzzing, layered post-rock sonorities to songs that nevertheless manage to stay tightly focused. On Wednesday, The Jezabels play at Legacy Taipei with three other very good bands as part of a tour of four Asian cities. The Taipei Times recently caught up with Kaloper at a food and wine festival in Hobart, Tasmania, via his tour manager’s cellphone.
Taipei Times: It seems like things have been happening pretty fast for The Jezabels lately.
Nik Kaloper: More than two years ago, it would have just been a dream of ours to get overseas with our music. Now we’ve been to North America three times and to Europe three times. In Australia, on our October tour, we sold out three Forum [Theatre shows] in Melbourne, which was 1,700 people each night. And in Sydney we did two Enmore [Theatre shows], which is 2,300 people. The enormity of those gigs make them special, nerve-wracking and memorable. But sometimes the best gigs can be playing to just 150 people down in the small corners of Australia, because it’s intimate and you can see all the faces in the crowd.
TT: What’s the story of the band?
NK: We all met at Sydney University four and a half years ago, and we’re all from really different musical backgrounds. Before The Jezabels, I was drumming for a thrash-metal punk band. Heather is a classically trained pianist. Sam was playing country and bluegrass. And Hayley idolizes 1970s and 1980s pop sensations like Freddy Mercury and ABBA. So if you look at us on paper, there’s no reason we should’ve ended up in the same room together.
TT: Were you all studying different fields as well?
NK: We joke amongst ourselves that we could start a school amongst the four of us if this doesn’t work out. Heather was studying music at the conservatory in Sydney. Hayley was studying English literature and gender studies. Sam was into English and history. And I was doing a physics and mathematics degree.
TT: Well, if there’s something consistent, it seems you’re not afraid of creating music that’s extremely dramatic.
NK: Maybe that’s one thing we have in common. We don’t mind exploring the grandiose and the drama in life.
TT: Is there any particular reason you chose the name The Jezabals?
NK: There’s the Biblical story of Jezebel from the Old Testament. You could say it’s an intended reclamation of the term Jezebel, which these days means a “harlot” or “slut.” We think a feminist reading of that story suggests she was just a woman trying to speak her mind, though the accepted version of history maybe portrays her as something she might not have been.
TT: You’ve gotten quite a bit of radio play on Australian radio. What are your thoughts about being on pop radio versus being an indie band?