With their new album, The Crystal Axis, well and truly in the collective consciousness of the Australian music community, we chatted to Daniel Stricker of Melbourne outfit Midnight Juggernauts. We talk about the new album, their upcoming tours, and the Sydney based Fashion Launches Rocket Launches project.
I understand you’re about to head over to Europe – are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, I am, definitely. It’s going to be nice to go over in the summer. But I’ve actually really enjoyed being home as well. Being able to come back between. When we toured in 2008 we went overseas for 8 months and didn’t really come back at all in between. So it’s been really nice being able to come back home and see friends and family before you go again. It’s been cool.
So congratulations on the new album (The Crystal Axis), which was just released.
Yeah, about a week and a half ago now. Thanks man.
Was it a relief to get it out there?
Definitely for me, I mean we’d been working on it for a while. It’s always a bit anxious, definitely a relief – it’s weight off your shoulders. It’s like putting your baby out there in the world. For us, when we made the album, we weren’t thinking about what people were going to think about it. We made an album about where our heads were at the time. And so it wasn’t such a big thing for us – even though we want people to hear it – we weren’t thinking “oh I wonder what people are going to think because it’s so different to our last album” or anything like that – we just wanted to produce something that reflected where our heads were at.
And what brought on that change? Was it the music you were listening to or was it more influenced by experiences between albums?
Probably a bit of both. We’d been playing live so much as a band, and touring so much, that we’d gotten used to playing together. So we became more of a live band. Because Dystopia (their last album) started out in a computer, and then we added live elements on top of it, and then worked with that in the computer. This record was very much getting together in a room and playing music, trying out ideas that we had individually, and working on it from there. So it was a different process due to our experiences.
And as for the music, you see so many bands, especially when you’re on the road in Europe, UK and the US, that we really love, so we were listening to a lot of different music. We all like really different stuff, but I think something that goes through a lot of our music is the sound of the 70s era. But that said, we were listening to heaps and heaps of different music. I guess I was listening to world music, percussive stuff. And we were watching a lot of old 70s Italian horror films while we were on the road, and that obviously influences you. I think everything around you does. It was more than “we want to make a record that sounds like the Beach Boys”
On that note, is it true you rented out a beach house to record the album in?
We wrote a lot of it in a beach house, but we didn’t physically record the album there. What we did was, when we got back in 2008, we were all really excited to work on new stuff, because we had all these ideas. So we got together for about a month, in a beach house, on the Coast of NSW, and set up all this equipment. We just bought all these analog synths that we’d been looking at for ages, and a lot of pedals, new toys! We were experimenting with a lot of sounds and ideas. So we wrote a chunk of the album there, and then we went apart for a while – because we’d been together for about 8 months, living with each other basically, so we went off to do our own stuff separately for a while, and we got back together. So there were a lot of different processes of playing it. But we never physically recorded anything other than demos in the house.
When we did the main chunk of recording it was mainly in Sing Sing in Melbourne and Hothouse in Melbourne and some home studios and stuff like that.
How long did the recording process take? Was it all pretty much done at once?
Well most of the tracking we did all at once. We did a lot of the synth work before we went into the studio, and the we kind of redid it all once we got there. Most of the tracking was between April and May of last year, and then between June and December we were just tweeking stuff, because we can. We all have laptop setups to work on it and tweek stuff and tweek stuff until we’re happy. But yeah the main tracking was done at Sing Sing. Because like I said, a lot of it was just us in a room together, playing live, rather than Dystopia, which was mainly computer based. And then we added all the electronic elements after that.
You released "Vital Signs" as the first single and video, in advance of the album. The video in particular is something a lot of us have been talking about ever since - how did the concept come about?
We were actually meant to do the video with a guy based in New York, but it kind of fell through last minute. So we had 3 weeks before the shoot to come up with an idea. And then the band had an idea to use a technology called flip scan, which isn’t a new technology, it’s just something we all really loved and thought looked really cool. And then the other idea was for the artwork to be really consistent over the whole record. So we decided that, because we’d used so many synths and heaps of percussion, and it was much more a live record, we’d build a set up that consisted of everything we used on the album, and incorporate it all within the artwork and the video. And then we got our friends who are artists to help build the structure, and then we built everything around it. And then we got our friend to direct it. It was just this really easy thing. It was kind of rushed, because we only had three weeks to come up with everything. But that’s the best thing – when you come up with a concept, and make it happen. I think that’s the reason we make music or do creative things – because we get something in our heads, and then a month later the satisfaction of pulling it off, or making it happen, or being able to watch it on the screen – it’s amazing. It was a really enjoyable clip to make, and I’m just happy it turned out really well. It was a team effort!
When putting the structure together for the music video, were you basing it at all around a design you had in mind for the album cover?
I think before we went into making the video, when we knew it would be based on everything we’d been collecting, we just went “ok, this has to be the album cover”. And so on the day, we got a photographer to come down, and take photos as we were playing, and we loved it. We loved the concept of it, even more so than the piece of art it created. It’s just great to work with friends, you know. We’d been wanting to do it for ages.
What’s the strangest instrument we’ll find on that cover?
It’s like Where’s Wally that photo! There’s so much stuff on there. I remember going to a florist once, and I bought a gourd – like a pumpkin - and that became a piece of percussion that we use – like a shaker. So there’s some weird fruits on there. I guess you wouldn’t expect to find percussion in a florist!
I’d like to talk briefly, too, about Fashion Launches Rocket Launches – how did it come about?
It was just a group of friends, we’ve all played music in bands together. We just wanted to do something where there’s no expectation, no pressure, just this really live thing. If anything, even in terms of the Juggernauts, doing that over the course of recording the album, definitely had an impact on me, especially, in the way we approached recording it.
Yeah I was going to ask that, how FLRL impacted the new album?
I guess it changes the way live music can make music, if anything it makes communicating between musicians a lot easier. Because that stuff’s all completely improvised, but I think we just play music so much together that it’s this unspoken telepathy. And so I think with the Juggernauts, we tried doing so much more stuff live, jamming so much more, And when you’re playing live overseas for a year pretty much non stop, you get better as musicians. So when you get down to writing songs together, it gets a lot easier. You can read each other a lot easier. And we were happy in both MJ and FLRL to explore this. Of course a lot more in FLRL though – MJ is essentially a pop band, and we love pop music. But FLRL is a lot more hypnotic – I mean we’ll play something for an hour. I don’t think radio’s going to play a song that goes for an hour! *laughs* We could do a radio edit or something...
It’s the Godspeed (You Black Emperor) I’ll never see!
Yeah, exactly! You know, when the Juggernauts were talking about people to work with – because we were working with this guy Chris Moore (producer/audio engineer). We actually spoke to one of the guys who was a producer for Godspeed, and he was really interesting, all his recording techniques. We also spoke with this guy that did Mogwai, and he was really interesting too. His whole philosophy of recording was possibly to write completely electronic stuff and then going into a jam environment. So you record everything, but you have these premade loops. So if you have a pop song, you have the chorus, or like a two bar loop that’s a part of the song. But you don’t know where it’s going to go, and so you play for a few hours, and record the whole thing, and then cut up the song. And I really love that idea, and I hope to explore that in the future with pop music – whether it’s Juggernauts or something else. He’s in Scotland, so I’m hoping the next time the Juggernauts are in Scotland, maybe we can do something like that. There shouldn’t be any boundaries to the music you make. Once you set yourself boundaries, all of a sudden, you can’t progress. I don’t know what I’m trying to say... I guess just that music’s fun.
I guess that’s the moral of this story, it’s fun to play instruments. Be they from a florist or at someone’s house in Scotland.
It is. It’s a lot of fun.
On that note, we’ll leave it there. Best of luck on the European tour, it sounds amazing!
Yeah man, thank you. Every day you’ve totally got to pinch yourself, it’s fucking crazy.
Midnight Juggernauts return from their European adventures just in time for Splendour in the Grass, and then they'll kick off a national tour. Dates and tickets are here.
The Crystal Axis
is in stores now!