Walking down historical Congress Street through the steady droves of Southby-goers to meet with the Australian band Jagwar Ma, I listened to the bands debut album, Howlin’. When an album can be defined as psychedelic dance rock while at the same time evoking a chill wave vibe (and somehow bringing some Beach Boys-esque melodies to the mix), you know you’ve got something unique.
Jagwar Ma was formed in 2011 by Gabriel Winterfield (lead vocalist/guitarist), Jono Ma (guitar, beats, synths, production), and bass guitarist/vocalist Jack Freeman. Howlin’ was released in 2013, and they have been touring the album internationally through Future Classics, Mom + Pop Music and Marathon Artists. I caught up with the band at the eclectic antique shop, Uncommon Objects, an Austin soho staple – very fitting for the band’s first SXSW.
VM: You guys just put out Howlin’ – are you ready to put out a second album?
Jono Ma: People ask us a lot about the second record, and we’ve definitely been looking at our crystal ball and [doing] a lot of sketching and things but, realistically, we’ve got a pretty hectic touring schedule coming up and want to stay focused on that for now.
VM: I saw that! You’re heading back to New York this summer, right? Plus playing Coachella?
JM: Oh yeah, and all over really – headed back to South America in a couple days, Chili, Columbia, Brazil and Argentina, all leading up to Coachella.
VM: Wow, how do you guys keep up with the pace?
JM: Picking our battles. Like, last night for example, it was 2 a.m., and I was standing in the middle of the road outside of The Mohawk with the band Warpaint debating: should I go party? I decided in the end to go home and get some rest.
VM: You definitely can burn out quickly I imagine. Now, how did you guys meet?
Gabriel Winterfield: We met in Sydney; we both played in other bands that would play the same venues and tour together. It’s not abnormal in Sydney for cross-pollination in bands.
VM: Is Sydney a good culture for that?
GW: Yeah, it certainly was, and I think it still is, It’s got a really good vibe for bands. I was renting an office that I turned into a little studio, and Jono actually had a professional studio to work from.
VM: Did you produce all of your music yourself?
GW: Yeah, Jono produced this record; I sort of dabbled in demo recordings, but the fact is, we had the opportunity to make our own sh*t, and people would come to jam. It was a pretty good time.
VM: It seems that’s one of the best ways to create new music, so that’s really fortunate. Are there any new artists that you feel you would like to work with in the future or are inspired by?
JM: We’re quite comfortable, musically, just the two of us, because we can really cover a lot of ground. I can do a lot of technical stuff – we can both play guitar and keyboards, but we’re excited about the prospects of working with great visual directors and artists like Chris Cunningham and maybe Spike Jonze, because that’s not our forte’. As pretentious as it might sound, I would like to work with a lot of designers.
VM: Why do you think that sounds pretentious? Are you afraid of coming across as pretentious?
JM: Well, I don’t know. I guess, ‘what does physical clothing have to do with it?’ maybe…
VM: This is your first SXSW right? How has it been so far?
JM: Yeah, our first time – it’s good… quite chaotic, but we haven’t smashed Southby yet. We’ve only been here two days. I’ve seen some tired looking heads.
VM: You must get used to travelling a lot. You’re now based in the UK, right?
GW: Yeah, we’re based in North East London. There’s a bit of a vibe there. We’re not there too often, but when we are, we love it. It’s a place that makes the most sense for us at the moment.
VM: Right, because you are signed to a couple of labels right? I know you work with Future Classic in Australia, Marathon in the UK and Mom+Pop here in the US. How does that all work out?
JM: With great difficulty.
VM: Do they all get along? For instance, who handles the tour to South America?
JM: Yeah, but they just work on their territories separately; it’s not that unusual of a structure. South America is the wild west – we’re just gonna wing it down there. God, I don’t even know, but we have really great management that takes care of it all for us.
VM: Who do you wanna see at Southby? I know you guys are friends with Cut Copy [who are] playing tonight.
JM: Yes! We need to get a hold of them; it would be great to see what they are doing at the moment. I also really wanna see Danny Brown. We just did the Laneway tour, and he was on it.
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