Last time we spoke to JJ72 they were talking about releasing a Beatles influenced guitar pop album, so you imagine our surprise when "I To Sky" landed in the Designer Magazine offices. Produced by Flood and Alan Moulder it's an album which allows Mark Greeney's dark and twisted vision to flourish and questions the fundamental questions of what happens when are time is nigh. We caught up with JJ72's frontman to discuss the Catholic upbringing which influenced much of the bands second album.
Q: With the exception of the low key comeback gigs a few weeks ago, it pretty much been 12 months out of the limelight in the UK. Does is feel like a relief to put an end to the "JJ72 to split rumours" with the "I To Sky" album out on 16th October?
A: It's bound to happen if you don't release anything for about a year and a half. It's good to have something out, but at the same time we could have rushed in to do the album maybe instead of touring the States. But I'm glad we did in retrospect that we did tour the States instead because we learnt to chill out a little more and doing little tiny venues is a relief cos there's no pressure or expectancy. We were just another guitar band over there and you had to prove yourself, so we went into making the album with a different attitude.
Q: With debut albums you've had years to plan and write the first album, whereas second albums are notoriously difficult affairs with song writing almost taking second fiddle to the touring and promotion. Was there a lot of pressure on you as the bands songwriter to almost live up the weighty expectations both the fans and the critics had after "JJ72"?
A: Not any more than I was putting on myself. You shouldn't have to rely on other people to tell you whether you've done better than last time or not. You should be able to tell yourself that and it was a good way to have it.
But I think at times like this you get a bit nervy and worry does anybody know who we are anymore. It's obvious that people do, but you start worrying more about the people that don't like you than the people that bought your first album. It's not kind of like "Oh, I want to make more money this time round", it's more that I want to make sure that people get to heard this album because I think it's a great album.
Q: Do you feel you have any peers in the music scene at the moment. Bands you feel are, to use a corny phrase, JJ72 Friendly because the music scene as seen a shift from the music to more image conscious bands. What do you think?
A: I think there's a thin line between us and what is perceived indie schmindie, but I think with this second album I don't think there is any band like us. I think we certainly don't fit in with what's going on at the moment and that's the way I want it really.
Some cruel interviewer last week said something along the lines of "Do you not think that if this was released in the aftermath of Smashing Pumpkins 'Melancholy and The Infinite Sadness' that you'd sell 10 million albums of it straight away", but I think I prefer it this way. Maybe if we were called The JJ72's who knows what would happen?
Q: Last time we spoke you were talking about the new material and an almost pop direction in the Beatles sense of the word. And it's almost gone in a completely different direction. What happened?
A: I don't know what I'm talking about most of the time. I think there are parts of this album which are poppy, but it's nice to push things in the other way, you know. Why i'm happy with this album is because it happened naturally. I can try and contrive these things in my head before I do them, but they often change.
Although people may not see it that way I think a lot of the music on the album is optimistic and that's to do with the fact that we toured the planet and we appreciate what were doing a lot more. You see so many places, then you come home, go away again and come - and it's noticing the differences a lot more. But obviously ups and downs in one's life are going to be put into something creative so there is definitely ups and down in the album.
Q: Lyrically, your religious upbringing features heavily on the album. Did you feel the need to hide your background at first because it simply isn't cool to say my childhood was spent in churches?
A: The first album was a lot more introverted than this one. It was more exclusive, than inclusive. With this album it's definitely wanting to include every listener and every person who hears music. I think we did so many interview about how the band formed that it got to point where it was like yawn. But there was no running away from anything.
I went to a Catholic School, but 90% of Irish people do and it wasn't as if I was whipped and made to go to mass each week. Someone in Britain who doesn't count themselves as religious has probably seen more of the inside of churches than me, well probably not but. The school I went to was mostly based on the beauty of religion, and they'd probably shoot me for saying that, but it was more to do with the aspirational side of it and the ideals.
That's what got me into music to be honest and to me some of the greatest music is written for church. I think gregorian chant is brilliant and all these requiems that people wrote on an organ. You listen to Bach Requiem and then listen to Muse and you'll see the similarities. That's where the religious backbone of the album lies - the ideals and the beauty of the ideals.
Q: The constant theme of escaping crops up throughout the whole of "I To Sky". Would you like to explain further?
A: Yeah, but not in a this place is horrible type of way. The idea that this world being a stepping stone to somewhere else. Again it's the idea of the abstract quality of music and that is sometimes the only quality that music has to be, the abstract part of it. It makes you feel other-worldly really and religion aims to do that as well. That's the affiliation I see between the two.
I want this album to have an effect on people that isn't necessarily just a simple black & white scenario or are you happy when you listen to this music or are you sad? I wanted to make people feel a little bit confused about themselves because that's how I feel most of the time when I write music.
Q: Listening to both "JJ72" and "I To Sky", it does take repeated listens to get into the second album and I think in the long term that's always much more enjoyable. Would you agree?
A: In food terms I wanted this album to be more nourishing, whereas with the other it was more of a sugar hit. And that's important to me. It may be a risk because a lot of people now just want instant, but I think if people give this time they will realize it is a really good album. I had to listen to it a lot even after we recorded it.
Q: What did Flood and Alan Moulder add in the recording process?
A: The last time they worked together was 95 with the Pumpkins I think. We've known Flood for a while because he lives between London and Dublin and we've probably drunk more pints with him than talked about music. And when it came to making the album he had to do it. They brought a listening ear which all producers should have and when I wanted to convey something through a song he'd listen to what I had to say as well as what I was playing. Every single song he would stand with us in the room like a fourth member playing an imaginary keyboard. And Alan is Doctor Rock really!!!
Q: It seems as if you've just spent so much time worrying about perfecting this album. Was it a hard process in the studio?
A: Yes and no. And I think most beautiful things should come out of some pain. There were some songs which were difficult, but overall it was quite easy and the time seemed to fly by which meant I was enjoying myself in some bizarre way. But being in the studio with people like Flood and Alan and Hillary and Fergal it's kind of a dream job.
What else can I say about it? Getting up at midday to go into a studio and spill my heart and soul into a microphone. That's what I'm proud of doing and am happy to do.
I think we pushed each song to pretty much their limits, but in 6 months time I may feel very different about that. We did a couple of different versions of "Formulae" which sounded completely different with different chords and different melodies. And there were a couple of songs like that with "Brother Sleep" and "Half Three".
Q: At times you're almost seen as the dictatorial figure of JJ72, while Hillary and Fergal sit in the side lines. Have they never felt the desire to write songs themselves?
A: JJ72 is based on me trying to get across to them what I can hear in my head. And because they know me so well now they have a pretty good idea of what is going on in there. But I think what actually makes it better is that 9 times out of 10 we fall just short of what I want it in my head and that's what makes it JJ72. Because if I had it as I have it in my head it would be why not just get in a bunch of session musicians. It's our inability and technical faults of the three of us together that makes us a good band.
I don't think they have ever wanted to write songs, at least not in this band, and I think it's just the nature of the way that thinks unfold. It's someone's baby and other people have to be the Godparents.
Q: These last couple of low key shows have seen JJ72 expand to a 4 piece. How was it to get back into the live arena?
A: Before we went into record this album I knew I wanted to play a lot of keyboards myself and we were kind of aware that we would have to get someone else in with us to play live. So we got Toby in who used to be in 1313 who have toured with us. Myself, Fergal and Hillary formed the band because we were friends really and had a good time together so it was important we got someone to tour with us who was a mate and Toby was. Playing live with him as well is a really good experience because you're playing with someone you care about a lot as well anyway and its very close and comforting in a very dark bizarre cold way.
The live shows are a lot more rounded. A very positive maturity has crept in there so everything isn't so 3 minutes bang bang bang. I think the music can allure you to somewhere else this time round and I think the audience will find them drifting off with the songs to a different place. Like we said before about "Sinking", it almost becomes like a Mantra trance like kind of thing!!!
"Formulae" is out now with the album "I To Sky" following on the 16th October
Catch the band on the road throughout the whole of October
For more info
Post your JJ72 reviews / comments on the Message Board