Interview: Jakob

21.05.2015

It doesn’t happen too often. It is always intense. It is unique each time it occurs. When the sounds make the reality around you first stop and after a moment disappear, while you start immersing and totally floating away. In space. In depth. In beauty.

This is what happenes every time music of this band appears around and within me. They live far. They lead normal lives. They create incredible music. Before the gig in Warsaw I managed to talk to Jakob – New Zealand’s masters of instrumental rock. Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Boyle (guitar), Maurice Beckett (bass), Jason Johnston (drums):

Jakob

I’ve been running this webmag for a few years now and when preparing for this interview I realized, that I have never asked this question to any band before. I mean the band’s name. Why Jakob is actually Jakob?

Maurice: Before we started in 1998 we watched the movie called “Jacob’s ladder”. Then we had a friend, who’s parent’s last name was Jacobs and they had it written on the edge of a book and we thought it would be a cool name. And then I went to Sweden just after we had been together for 6 months and then saw, that they had this name with “k” and I thought it’s a better looking way of spelling that and it comes from there. People ask us if we’re Christian, you know like the Jacob from the Bible, but no. We are very unchristian (laughs).
 
There is this saying that we are products of our environment. How being born and bred in New Zealand influences your music?
 
Jeff: Lots. I don’t think it consciously affects you, though. I don’t think anyone’s environment consciously affects anyone. You don’t sit there, look at the beautiful, rolling hills and go: man, that’s beautiful, I’m going to create something. But I think just being immersed inside it causes, that you naturally give off what you’re being surrounded by.

How about New Zealanders? What type of people are you?
 
Maurice: Pretty laid back. I’ve heard people say they’re so laid back they’re almost horizontal.
 
Jeff: I think really humble and understated. There is a thing in New Zealand called “tall poppy syndrome” and what that means is if you get too tall, you get cut down.
 
Maurice: If you go into to a bar in New Zealand with sort of “I’m the man” attitude, somebody will be like “get the fuck out of here”.
 
Jeff: It’s sort of opposite to Americans and by saying that I’m not dissing Americans. We all have some amazing American friends, but they have this outward confidence and bravado, but they were brought up that way. We are kind of the opposite. We’re understated and humble.
 
That humbleness is interesting. Where do you think it comes from? For example to me Polish people still have a lot complexes. That comes mostly from communism era and us being behind the Iron Curtain, from where the West always seemed like a better world everybody was yearning for. How is it in your case?
 
Jeff: I think it has to do a lot with us being a colony. You were behind the curtain, but we were in similar kind of situation being an English colony and looked down the nose by the English as we were just one of the island they serviced. I think there has been an underlying current of that, which inspired the tall poppy syndrome and the humbleness. We have always felt like underdogs. We’re tiny, little island at the bottom of the world. You are surrounded by different countries, we are surrounded by water for thousands of miles in every single direction, so that’s a pretty unique state of play that we are existing in.

Ok, let’s move on to you new album now, but before I ask about “Sines”, I’d like to quote one thing. It is a haiku written by a Japanese samurai and poet in 17th century. It goes:  

“The barn has burnt down
 now I can see the moon.”

And now, you have had many obstacles during the creation of your new album: injuries, financial problems, studio problems. There have been many stumbling blocks thrown at you by life , but relating to this haiku, would you be able to name any positives you have taken from the process? Something, which allowed you to see the moon?
 
Jeff: Firstly there is a massive misconception, and we’re seeing extinct of it with this tour, that we were doing nothing  the last 7 years, but we did lots. We did a few amazing tour with Isis, we did a couple tours with Tool, few tours in Australia with our good friends in Cog, so we were doing heaps. It was just when it came to recording, that every time we built a moment, something would happen, usually an injury of some kind or we didn’t have the money or the ability to do it at the time, so we had to start again. But as far as being a band we were still really active, playing our own tours in New Zealand and doing lots. And because of the difficulties we learnt lots. Due to all of those problems we ended up doing everything mostly by ourselves, so we learnt lots because of that too, because we had to in order to be able to do it ourselves. So there was lots of positives that came out it, as much as there were negatives.

Recenzja - Jakob - Sines

Because of Jason’s injury you had to cancel European tour back in 2013 and that must have been tough both for you and the fans, but what I liked about this situation is the fact, that you waited for each other and Jason’s return to health. That looks like a good friendship.
 
Jason: Actually when I did cut my hand right before that European tour and I told the boys I would be out, with the tour being already booked I told them, that if they want to carry on, I’m happy to stand down for them to get another drummer to fill in, but Maurice and Jeff didn’t agree.
 
Jeff: There was not a chance for that to happen.
 
Maurice: There’s a bond between the three of us that probably goes a lot deeper than we may know. Without one of us being in the band it’s not Jakob.
 
Jason: I told the guys there had my blessing to get another drummer. I even suggested Aaron Harris from Isis, there was one more local guy from New Zealand in the frame, but it just didn’t happen. That made our friendship even more solid.

I think it was awesome. I know it made the fans wait, but then it’s your band, your chemistry, your world and your rules.
 
Jeff: This isn’t a full time job for us. We all have full time jobs at home. Jakob is a hobby, a passions of ours. We do it, because we love doing it, we’re good friends and we like doing everything involved in it. What Jakob essentialy is, is the magic or some undefined thing, which happens when three of us get together and play instruments. That’s what Jakob is. If there is one of us not included, it’s not Jakob. It’s as simple as that.
 
Jason: We have spent 17 years as a band, but much longer as friends. I think it will be 25 years now.
 
You were skateboarders, no?
 
Jeff: Yes, that’s how we met, through skateboarding.
 
You say that with your music you want to take people away from their lives for a while, but if you allow me, I’d like to take a look into your lives for a moment.  You said that Jakob is not your full time job, so what actually is? What do you do for a living?
 
Jeff: With me being guitarist I know it’s cliche as fuck but I work at guitar shop.
 
Jason: I’m a builder. Construction industry, commercial and houses.
 
Is it safe for you being a drummer?
 
Jason (laughs): Actually we’ve talked about it. With all these saws around me.
 
Jeff: Wait until you hear what Maurice does (laughs).
 
Maurice: I make kitchens. I am cabinet maker, so lots of ways you can loose fingers.
 
Jeff and you’re allowing that?
 
Jeff: I’m just constantly waiting for a another phone call with a bad message (laughs).
 
I have noticed, that your band generates certain creativity with the circles around it. For example your album reviews. Everytime I read them it’s interesting to see how people try to capture in words your spaces, layers and textures and these reviews…
 
Jeff: ..the’re very wordy, yes, I’ve noticed that too, that our music sort of inspires poetry. Whenever I read them it always blows me away how wordy they get. It’s like everyone’s trying to outdo each other with how they can make these reviews (laughs). But it’s a massive compliment, to be honest with you. Every time I read a review it blows my lights out, because they are really good.
 
That relates also to music as well, because your pedalboards seem to be of big interest to people, who play guitars. They come to your shows, take photos of them and then try to do what you do.
 
Jeff: That is also a big complement for us. We had even Adam Jones from Tool asking to check out our pedalboards.
 
Really?
 
Jeff: Yeah, even him (laughs).
 
Maurice: You should see his pedalboard (laughs).
 
Jeff: To be honest with you my pedalboard is still pretty stripped back. I’m pretty sure, that most of the people are quite surprised how simple it is. Obviously I have a bit more complex setup than Maurice’s, but comparing to other guitar players it’s still relatively simple.
 
So what’s the secret?
 
Jeff: It’s in your hands. When I grew up the brother of my father’s girlfriend, kind of like an uncle, was quite influential on my guitar playing, because he was always around my dad’s place jamming with my father. I was a little kid then, only watching and listening to them, but as I grew up and became a decent guitar player, I started jamming with him as well. I remember talking to him about fix and stuff, when I started getting into them, and he told me then: „”You don’t need a fix. You’ve got all the effects you need in your hands””. So your technique is much more important than the pedals you’ve got. There are lot of guitars players, especially those who get into things like post-rock, who think if they just get a bunch of delays or reverbs they are going to be cool and create this amazing music, but they won’t. You have to have what it takes in your hands. You have to have your own technique first and foremost and then start developing these things. So I think that’s the secret behind what we do. It’s not the pedals that we use, it’s how we play it.
 
Maurice: We get many e-mails from people asking about what pedals do we use, especially Jeff, and I think they think they can go out and buy those pedals and then sound like Jeff. It’s not going to happen. You need to have it in here (Maurice shows his hands).
 
Hands as the tools of imagination.
 
Jeff: Exactly.

Jakob - Jeff Boyle - WarszawaJeff and his magic hands

Warsaw, 09.05.2015

photo by “Lazzaroni”

So there is a lot of value in and around your music, but there is one aspect of your art, that makes me wonder and that is your videos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are bad, but I think that there is definitely much more visual potential in your songs, than they way it’s expressed in your videos. Why is it so?
 
Jeff: The reason is that all of our videos have been done for free. We never had proper financial resources for videos, so we always had to rely on a friend of ours Kurt Davis, who happens to be a filmmaker and he would basically have an idea, ask us if he could make a video out of it and we always agreed. Well I think it’s better to have a video than none, right?
 
Maurice: It has always been his idea. We never had any input into it, because it’s for free, except for „”Blind Them With Science””. That was all our idea, because we knew some people who were camera operators and had gear to do it, so we thought about making straight forward video how we play live and that’s how it came about.
 
Jason: If we had a big budget, we would definitely do something amazing. Something to suit the music.

YouTube Preview Image

Ok, this one is a bit personal. I have to say, that to me “Saint” off the “Solace” album is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created by a human being. You take Bachs, Mozarts, Miles Davises, whoever you want, you name it, but within my perception of reality, because of the way that song makes me feel,  it’s right up there with all of the best musical masterpieces. And now, I usually don’t do that and don’t ask how a certain song was created, but with this one I am really tempted, so please tell me, how did this song come about?
 
Jeff: Wow, that is amazing to hear, thank you. As for the song, when we went to do recording session for „Solace” we had two written songs and six ideas. The first thing we did we recorded those two written songs, but once all the instrument tracks were done, we thought they weren’t good enough and immediately scrapped them away. So we were left with those six ideas and started developing them into songs in the studio and they became songs on the album, so Malachite, Pneumonic, Lonsome, Safety In Number and Everything All Of The Time. During the first recording session, which lasted 3 weeks, we got all the drums done and those six ideas basically done and we had some time left at the end of that session. So we started just mocking around with ideas and Saint was literally a jam. It was just this little idea I had that I have been mocking around with for a while and it was literally press record and lets see what happens. So that song was as organic as it can possible get. It came out of nowhere. I’d like to say there was a divine intervention, but unfortunately there wasn’t (laughs).
 
(laughs) It’s all good. I realize, that it often happens in a very ordinary way.
 
Jason: Actually around that time it was when I had my first daughter and her name is Emily Hutter Johnston, and “hutter” means “saint”. So we thought about calling the song so, but we switched the word and used “saint” instead of “hutter”.
 
Jeff: And with me, just before we went to record “Solace” my girlfriend’s mother passed away and she was a saint. She was amazing woman, really incredible person, so on a personal level for myself that probably had a little bit of inspiration behind it too.
 
So there is magic after all!
 
Jeff: There you go (laughs).
 
But seriously, to me that song with its calm, depth and tenderness it carries, it makes me identify with it a lot. If breath of life would have a musical presence, then that would be it.
 
Jeff: Absolutely. I mean hey man, whenever I listed to it now I still get the hair on the back of my neck standing up and you know, we wrote that song. So that’s pretty amazing, that 9 years after making it it’s still doing it for me.


Ok, so you’re on a European tour now and when you come here, do you have a feeling that the perception fo the audience is a bit different? That people really wait for you here, some even call you legends.

 
Jeff: Well we have pretty good following in New Zealand as well, but as far as the whole legend thing goes I think that comes from the fact that when we started back in 1998 there was no such thing as post-rock. We were really inspired by bands like Slint, Delta Space, High Dependency Unit and we were trying to create our own brand of music of bands that we loved listening to. There was lots of other stuff that inspired us, but those bands were sort of good point towards post-rock. So I think to a certain degree people look at us as pioneers of post-rock.

As for touring Europe we love it, man. I know we haven’t done it very often. We would love to be able to do it much more often that we have, but we definitely feel the love here. I remember our first ever show in Germany. That was in Hamburg , first day of tour Isis. We flew there from New Zealand through San Francisco and our guitars were left at the airport in USA. So we turned up in Hamburg without guitars, with backline that we never played before, as it was picked up by our tour manager/soundman for the tour and once we got there, we had to literally get the gear out of the van, put it straight on the stage, borrow guitars from the other support band, tune them down to where we tune, plug in and play. And all of that after traveling 36 hours straight. So it was fully extreme situation. There was 1100 people in this amazing venue in Hamburg and we played first, then Kill The Thrill, really amazing French band and then Isis. Because we were late and mocked around getting everything sorted out, we could only play 4 songs. So we played those songs and at the end of our gig the whole crowd was yelling „”Ja-kob! Ja-kob!”” and we were like: “holy fuck!” (laughs). I remember going backstage and seeing the Isis guys and they were like: “What is this?! You turn up with no guitars, you play on gear you never used before and listen to those people!”” (laughs). So I think we knew straight away that we’re going to have really good relationship with the Europeans.

Jakob - Warszawa - HydrozagadkaJakob, fans and Buddha

Warsaw, 09.05.2015

photo by “Lazzaroni”


Continuing within the European context, this question comes from an inhabitant of a continental Europe. Tell me, what is it about this specific game, which can last up to 2 weeks, that people in some countries like New Zealand go crazy about it. Cricket – where’s the mystery in it?

 
Jeff: Oh man, don’t get me started. But in our band it’s mainly me me who’s into cricket.
 
Jason: Yeah, I’m not into that. I surf.
 
So Jeff?
 
Ok, so my grandfather…
 
Here it starts…

Jason: I’ll be back in 30 minutes.
 
Jeff (laughs): So my grandfather James Boyle said, that if everyone in the world understood cricket, it’d be much better place.
 
That’s strong.
 
Jeff: It’s true though. A game of cricket is much like life. It’s long, hard and can change a the drop of a hat. It’s true that the test can go for up to 5 days, they don’t go up to 2 weeks, somebody must have lied to you (laughs). A game can last 5 days and it can end in a draw, so mainly Americans ask us how we you handle that, but the personal battles and the team battles that go on within those five days are fascinating, absolutely fascinating. It’s all about momentum and to get on top of each other. It’s the best game in the world, by a country mile.
 
Jason: I’d like to say that I’m from New Zealand, but I don’t fucking get it. I’d rather watch paint dry than cricket.

(laughs) Ok, last one. You have already mentioned Tool in this conversation, so please tell me something more about that private rehearsal they did for you.
 
Maurice: It was awesome. Adam and Danny came to the last show on our US tour with Isis, that was in Los Angeles and they asked us if we wanted to do tour with them. So we asked when and they were like: next week. But our visas were running out the next day, so we had to turn it down. So they said they were having a rehearsal tomorrow and asked to come along. So we went there and sat there literally just a few meters away from them. It was without Maynard, only 3 of them, but still, when they started playing Stinkfist we were just blown away.
 
It must have been quite surreal to you, having played their covers when you were in highschool.
 
Jeff: Yes, we played their covers from Undertow and Opiate, so being there and then touring with them in Australia was something really incredible.  

Thank you for your time, guys.

Interview by Chris Bienkiewicz

 
 
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