The Jezabels’ Fiery Frontwoman Hayley Mary On Misunderstood Jokes And Why she Only wears Secondhand Clothes

luckmagJuly 23, 2014

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Don’t call The Jezabels an indie band. Sure, with their atmospheric sound and abstract lyrics, they’ve been put in that box ever since they formed in 2007, when Hayley Mary and Heather Shannon (friends from Byron Bay, Australia) met fellow University of Sydney students Samuel Lockwood and Nik Kaloper. “For us, indie was the genre when we started out,” says lead singer Mary from the Bowery Ballroom’s basement bar, where I caught up with her before the band played their final North American show. “I was speaking to a journalist recently and he said, ‘I think indie bands are bands that haven’t found who they are yet, or are scared to be who they are. Like Nirvana was an indie band, but now they’re a grunge band. The Killers were an indie band, but now they’re a stadium rock band.’” With the release this past January of their second album, The Brink, it’s clear The Jezabels have left the indie tag behind and know exactly who they are.

The aforementioned journalist was itching to call The Jezabels a pop band, but Mary is less sure. “We aren’t really a pop band, but we sort of border on it,” she says. “We were a bit scared of pop because of, you know, the old ‘selling out thing,’ but I think it depends on why you’re writing pop music. It’s different if you’re writing and you love melody and you just happen upon a pop song.”

Since their formation, the band has released three EPs and their first album, 2011′s Prisoner, snagged the Australia Music Prize, was nominated for eight ARIA awards (the Grammys of Australian music) and won for Best Independent Release. The Brink debuted at number two on the Australian charts and was hailed as a “stunningly impressive work that grabs you with melodic hooks, earnest passion, and propulsive rhythms” by AllMusic.

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Though she confesses she’s a bit nervous about the night’s gig and is looking forward to the post-show celebration, it’s hard to imagine Mary being scared of anything. Google her name and the first hits paint her as a vitriolic frontwoman with a chip on her shoulder, with headlines like “The Jezabel’s Hayley Mary Lashes Out at Critics: F***ing Get a Real Job” and “Hayley Mary Explains ‘Rant’ Against Critics.”  “I’ve made jokes before and they’ve been misinterpreted as being very serious. If you attack the media, that tends to have a bit of power in the media,” she says.

“I don’t understand why, if you know you hate a band and it’s not what your readers like, why keep reviewing it? It’s just kind of cruel,” she continues. “There’s so much music. You don’t need to review the Justin Bieber album if you’re an angry leftist blog. You all assume he’s evil.” She takes a moment to reevaluate her defense of the troubled pop superstar. “Well, maybe you need to have voices of dissent, non-Beliebers,” she adds jokingly.

But regardless of how a few cranky critics feel about the band, tonight’s sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom proves audiences are taking note. “The hype with us was a couple of years ago and now we feel like people come to see us because they like the music,” she says. “People are singing along even to the new songs which is impressive, because that doesn’t even really happen in Australia.”

Any attempts to sing along are even more impressive because Mary’s voice easily reaches the kind of high notes that mere mortals should not attempt. And with her lanky body and tough-girl black bob, her presence onstage is mesmerizing, like a combination between Uma Thurman dancing in Pulp Fiction and Jack Skellington prancing in The Nightmare Before Christmas. “I like to lunge and dance onstage, so it’s pants only for me at the moment,” she says when asked her about her onstage style. “I like gothic things, to a degree, but it doesn’t have to be extreme goth all the time.” The entire band only wears black onstage (it’s easier for the laundry) and Mary only buys vintage or secondhand clothing. “I don’t like brands that are overtly ‘brands,’ I don’t like it when it’s obvious to the common hipster what I’m wearing. I know that sounds really lame, but there’s something appealing about secondhand clothing, even if it’s from H&M—if it’s been worn before, that adds character.”

She’s slowly expanding her wardrobe color palette (right now she’s wearing a white slip dress and long black blazer). A bright blue vinyl jacket was abandoned in a hotel recently (“I realized I wasn’t there yet,” she says), but she just bought a checkered dress and will regularly wear red offstage. When it comes to her hair, however, she’s used to making radical changes. It’s now jet black, but last year she bleached it blonde (not unlike Lucky’s editors!). “I had a flip-out on the second record because I felt a bit trapped in the image that was out there and that people expected me to look a certain way. Some people really hated it,” she says, coolly. When I tell her I thought it looked excellent, she responds, “I think it was better in pictures than real life.”

As low-maintenance she is about her style, compared to rest of the black-clad band, Mary is a virtual fashion eccentric. “I think about it more because I’m a bit more flamboyant and dramatic than they are.” It’s a role that comes naturally to her, as does serving as the band’s unofficial spokesperson—while ceding other responsibilies, like managing The Jezabels’ social media, to her bandmates (“I’d rather talk to someone than tweet a thought”). The same can be said of the band’s recording process, in which the four work quasi-independently at first, and then come together to create whole songs, with Mary focusing on the lyrics. “I would describe it as a democracy in that it is officially, but it doesn’t always work,” she explains. “It’s an ideal, not a reality, but you’ve got to strive for ideals.”

Lyrically, there’s a lot to unpack in The Brink, especially on “Look of Love”— the most pop-sounding song on the album—with lines like, “In the dead of night, your love’s so staggering that I’ll shut it out of my mind.” That type of lyrical ambiguity is Mary’s forte—she trades in tracks that seem innocuous at first glance, but reveal a darker edge upon closer inspection. “On first listen, it sounds like teenybopper music, which I really love,” she says. “If people want to look into it, they can, but they don’t have to.”

There seems to be nothing Mary likes better than subverting expectations. She loves pop music even though it’s maligned by hipsters, she dyes her hair to disrupt her trademark image and admits to being inspired by deserted American malls (“They’re these romantic ruins, it’s like looking at Roman architecture or something”). At one point, we end up talking about Gwyneth Paltrow who, while having nothing else in common with Mary, has also recieved a lot of heat from the media. “That’s unfair, she’s probably a lovely person,” she says before reconsidering. “Maybe she’s the devil incarnate. But some people think I am, so I feel for her.”

Get Your Daily Dose Of Cats Playing Synthesizers With ‘Runaway’

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Did you find yourself thinking yesterday, why haven’t I seen any videos of a cat mixing some sweet melodies on a synthesizer?

Thankfully, 20-year musical veteran Matt Mahaffey has delivered on this request under the guise of sELF, a Tennessee alt-rock band. Their latest music video features a cast of furry felines strumming, drumming and grooving to the synthy up-beat sound of “Runaway.”

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sELF will drop their 10th studio album, Super Fake Nice on July 29.

Video: Cats make synthesizer jams for Self’s ‘Runaway’

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Matt Mahaffey has been making synth-heavy pop music under the name Self for nearly 20 years while also freelancing for a diverse range of artists including Pink, Lupe Fiasco, and Beck. Next week he’ll release Super Fake Nice, his first new album since his 2005′s album Porno, Mint, & Grime. Since then the Internet has grown considerably, and so has its role in promoting new music.

Mahaffey’s obviously been paying attention. “I’ve always fancied myself a person who’s ahead of the curve,” he says, “and with this video, I really think that making videos of cats is going to catch fire on the internets. I wasn’t available to be at my own video shoot and I refuse to allow my band to have a moment in the sun without me so we hired this rad cat band that I’ve been a fan of for a while.” Who knows? Maybe this crazy idea of putting cute cat videos online will catch on.

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The insider: misterwives talk their tour, their new album + shoes oh, and hangover songs…

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July 16, 2014

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Although MisterWives’ polygamous musical marriage is still in its newlywed phase—the six-piece teamed up only a little over a year ago—their music presence is undeniably distinguished. Their debut single “Reflections,” recorded in their drummer Etienne Bowler’s Bronx bedroom, sold thousands of copies in its first month. On top of that, the band’s first live show together, after adding guitarist Marc Campbell and the multifaceted Jessie Blum, landed them a record deal in under 24 hours. Now they’re opening for Jack Antonoff’s indie-pop project, Bleachers, working their way from Indianapolis to NYC starting in late August. So yeah, we’ll go out on a limb and say they’re not doing too bad at all.

If their insane covers (i.e., a soulful-indie rendition of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” or stripped-down version of Sam Smith’s “Money on My Mind”) or tambourine-shaking, dance move-inducing, original tracks have left you craving more, don’t fear, because their latest album is slated for a fall release. In the meantime, while we’re eagerly waiting to get our hands—er ears—on some new music, we caught up with our favorite “family” affair’s drummer, Bowler, and lead singer, Mandy Lee, at Bar III Shoe’s launch party and had them spill on their upcoming tour, in-the-works projects, and duh, favorite footwear.

How did you guys get involved with Bleachers? Were you fans before? 

Lee: We have the same booking agent and I guess they sent our music to Jack, who loved it. And now we’re opening for them! Well, at least I hope that’s what happened. But we actually knew who Bleachers was before because we heard their song “I Wanna Get Better” on the radio. And usually we turn down the radio because it sucks, but we started blasting it.

Bowler: And when I’m really hungover I think of the song and it really helps.

The thing you can’t live without on tour? 

Bowler: For me it’s a back pillow, since I do all the driving.

Lee: Incense. I’m in a band with five other guys and the smells going on will kill you.

What can we expect from you new album and how will it differ from Reflections?

Lee: The singles we have now are like Reflections on steroids. Like a mature version of it, because I’m in a different place then I was in the EP. All the sounds are the same, but just more amplified; we’ve really navigated our sound.

Bowler: And we finally have real drums in our album, since we’ve been recording in our room studio, we could only use electric. Everything is real and organic since it’s our first time in a legit studio.

What’s your cure for writer’s block? 

Bowler: I built a tree house when I was a senior in high school. It’s in the Bronx near my parents’ place.

Lee: So I get quarantined into the tree house. Writer’s block f****** sucks, it’s inevitable, it happens but you just have to push through.

What was the first album you ever bought?

Lee: Aretha Franklin. I sang “Respect” in a kindergarten talent show.

Bowler: Blink 182’s Enema of the State when I was a really awkward teenager

What was the last album you just bought? 

Both: Walk the Moon and Dark Eyes  

You guys have a great sense of style—do you have any favorite designers/stores you swear by?

Bowler: Urban [Outfitters], Buffalo Exchange, Forever 21.

Lee: On the road all you have is dirty clothes, so you’re like damn, I need to run to Forever 21 or somewhere to buy new stuff. And it all accumulates to this huge thing, because you don’t do laundry and you just end up buying brand new outfits.

Considering we’re at the launch of Bar III’s new show line, which type of footwear is essential in your wardrobes? 

Lee: I’m always in boots. I can’t do heels or anything else. Even if it is 100 degrees, I will be in boots; they’re just so comfortable.

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New Mix: Robert Plant, Jeff Tweedy, Sarah Jaffe, Sinkane, The Bug, More

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July 15, 2014

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On this week’s All Songs Considered, Bob kicks off the show with The Juan MacLean’s “A Place Called Space,” an ecstatic dance-rock number from the group’s upcoming album In A Dream. Seeking to find a subdued yin to Bob’s euphoric yang, Robin premieres London producer The Bug’s “Void,” the opening track to his upcoming album Angels and Devils.

Following The Bug’s stark soundscapes, resident classical music guru Tom Huizenga appears at the studio door, life-size cut out of opera singer Maria Callas under his arm, to play a composition by the Arcade Fire‘s Richard Reed Parry called “French Guitars.” The piece, which features The National‘s Bryce and Aaron Desner, has no prescribed tempo or time signature — instead, the musicians count time using stethoscopes strapped to their chests.

The show continues in a more fist-pumping mood with premieres from folk singer-turned-experimental artist Sarah Jaffe and electro-funk maestro Sinkane, along with Robert Plant‘s “Rainbow” from his upcoming releaselullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar. Last, blessedly safe from the blazing noon sun outside, Bob takes us out with “Summer Noon,” a sweet and airy song from Tweedy, the new group led by by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and featuring his teenage son Spencer on drums (Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5plays piano and Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius sing on the track). The song will appear on Tweedy’s album Sukierae as well as the soundtrack to Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood.

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Once primarily an acoustic folk singer, Sarah Jaffe’s upcoming Don’t Disconnect suggests a much wider range of influences; she is set to tour in the next few months with bothThe Polyphonic Spree and alt-hip hop artist Astronautalis.Don’t Disconnect will be released on Aug. 19 on Kirtland Records. More on Sarah Jaffe’s website.

Can’t stop listening: the infectious indie-pop rockers misterwives

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July 11, 2014

Taking the work out of finding new music you’ll obsess over, we’re bringing you a curated list of the hottest new jams and artists on the rise each week. For our first edition of Can’t Stop Listening, we bring you the infectious indie pop band, MisterWives!

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Who they are: New York City’s MisterWives started just two years ago in 2012, but you’d never guess it by the near-perfect mix of sounds this fivesome puts together! They released their first EP Reflections this January, and after a tour opening up for Bleachers starting August 20th, they’ll be hitting up the studio to finish their first full-length album, due out this fall.

What they sound like: Not your typical indie pop band, MisterWives combine a mix of folk, synth pop, and rock that creates a quirky-fun sound that makes it nearly impossible for you to not bop along. “We touch on many different things—it’s pop music with elements of folk, soul, and funk—but it still sounds under the umbrella of MisterWives,” vocalist (and the only girl in the five-person group!) Mandy Lee said.

Why you’ll be obsessed with them: Their shows explode with so much energy that it’s like one giant dance party! Not only are their original tracks seriously addictive, but they have some epic covers, like Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” that you’ll be obsessed with. Before you know it, you’ll be hitting repeat so often you’ll forget that other music was even an option. Yes, it’s that much fun!

How they’d describe their music in three words: Organic, soul, and colorful. (The perfect trio if you’re asking us.)

The song you should add to your playlist ASAP: Download their energetic first single “Reflections,” which has had over 3 million streams on Spotify, and it’ll leave you wondering how you’ve gone this long without their glorious tunes in your ears.
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Check out MisterWives EP Reflections, and hear their song “Vagabond,” the theme song on MTV’s new hit show Finding Carter now!

Song Premiere: Like Swimming, “Among A Thousand Desperate Minds”

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Swedish trio Like Swimming nicked their name from the Morphine record of the same name, but their music betrays none of that band’s ominousness. Instead, “Among A Thousand Desperate Minds,” from the forthcoming Structures, is a big, glimmering pop gem. Claes Carlström and Ida Hedene’s voices balance each other beautifully; his is a big, rich baritone croon — think early Scott Walker singing Spandau Ballet — and hers is light and crisp and summery. They make the song’s message — one of abusive love in oppressive situations — feel like the centerpiece to some futuristic Broadway musical.

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Listen Up | A Brazilian Rock Band to Get You Into the World Cup Groove

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June 25, 2014

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It’s World Cup season, and native Brazilians can’t get enough of the attention. “My country is living and breathing soccer more than usual,” says Rafael Rocha, the frontman for the band Wannabe Jalva, which is based in Porto Alegre in the south of the country. “Brazil has kind of stopped for a bit.” Rocha and his bandmates Felipe Puperi, Fernando Paulista and Tiago Abrahão are in an especially celebratory mood these days: they’ve just finished their upcoming, as-yet-untitled EP, and are planning to take their sound — which they’ve curiously taken to calling “uterus-space-groove-rock” — global. “That’s a term we put together only because everybody needs a label,” Rocha explains. “We have so many influences, from newer acts like Queens of the Stone Age to older ones like the Doors. We also have a funk and soul vibe going on. Our music somehow links all of that together … we try not to place any boundaries on ourselves.”

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Their brand-new single “Mainline,” which has its world premiere here, is a snappy, guitar-driven song about, well, writing songs. “It has dual meaning,” explains Puperi, who shares vocal duties with Rocha. “The song is about addiction, and the need to make music we are proud of. It’s a bit like our statement about what our past year of writing was like. It was the last song we worked on and turned out to be our first single.” The band is now prepping for a fall tour, which will include an October stop at New York’s buzz-generating CMJ Music Marathon. Until then, the guys are reveling in their national sport. “We’re really anxious about the reception both our music and our country is receiving,” Rocha notes. “But it’s cool, man — it’s a good time to live here.”

Watch an Exclusive Live Performance from Norwegian Popstars Highasakite

vogueJuly, 2014

highasakiteFrom what fjord or deep wood the quirky Norwegian popsters behind Highasakite emerged, we have no idea. But after stumbling upon them at this year’s South By Southwest music festival, it was pretty exciting to have the band show up in Vogue.com music writer Jacob Brown’s living room to record and film this exclusive live performance of their enigmatic ballad “Since Last Wednesday.” The trio is now in the midst of an intense series of European dates—we suggest catching them on the main stage at the Øya Festival on August 8. But if you can’t make it to Norway, they’ll be back in the States this fall for a big, soon-to-be-announced tour.

Song premiere: Husky’s ‘I’m Not Coming Back’

 

June 26, 2014

 

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The Australian band Husky has had a pretty eventful couple of years: After releasing their debut,Forever So, on Sub Pop Records, the musicians built a worldwide fan base, thanks to constant touring and gigs supporting Gotye, Devendra Banhart, The Shins and Neil Young & Crazy Horse, among other acts.

Husky has a second record on the way later this year, and today I’m pleased to debut its first single,I’m Not Coming Back. While the tune has a folky vibe, about 45 seconds in, it blossoms into a sunny pop tune perfect for a summer road trip mix.

Says member Husky Gawenda:

At the time I wrote I’m Not Coming Back I was thinking about the idea of starting again, leaving everything behind, which I think everyone considers at one time or another. The great thing about writing songs is you can sing about things instead of actually doing them, and singing about things is often easier and safer than actually doing them.

I think along with the lyrics, the music and arrangement has a feeling of momentum, of perpetual motion, perhaps of traveling to a distant place, far from whatever it is you might be running from.

INCB is a song about leaving things behind, but as with all defiant songs, I think, there’s a sense of irony, a sense that leaving is easier said than done, or easier to sing about than actually do.

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