Harvest Festival 2012’s remarkable lineup consists of musical acts revisiting, reforming, and in the case of American electronic dream pop dark disco (to name but a few genres attributed to the band) four-piece Chromatics, reaching Australian soil for the very first time.
Chromatic member and producer Johnny Jewel has been here before, but as part of the electronic duo Glass Candy. This time Jewel is coming armed with the Chromatics’ fourth studio record Kill for Love, released earlier this year in March. However, despite only recently being unveiled to the public, a finished version of Kill for Love has existed since 2010, but was kept under wraps as Jewel felt there was room for improvement.
“There was no overall conceptual thing stringing it all together. The songs were detached from eachother in those versions and it was just kind of disconnected from itself… The ideas on a lot of the songs are the same, but the final version of the beginning of each song is largely determined by the end of the song that precedes it and vise versa,” explains Jewel.
“The earlier version… I felt like it was too separated to be a proper album, which is what we wanted to do with this record. It was a collection of really good ideas that were unrealized and didn’t come up with a sum stronger than its parts. I wanted everything to exponentially compliment each other and it wasn’t happening.”
Kill For Love 2012 is a seamless string of sonic synergy, but in order to obtain the record’s ebb and flow, Jewel sacrificed more readily accessible pop tunes that could have stood alone as easily packaged singles. In a musical climate where a hit song could be a fix to financial struggle, Jewel’s commitment towards creating a coherent product rather than cramming together a selection of singles is both courageous and commercially controversial.
“A lot of the things we do are risky, it’s kind of the way we’ve always done it and we do what we think is appropriate for us and try not to think about what the industry standards are and kind of exist in our own bubble and throw everything else out the window.”
“It’s challenging; there’s a lot of external pressures for bands these days that are technology based. It’s really hard to silence those voices in your head…there’s all these different ideas and people get distracted with, you know, musicians these days have to wear a lot of hats. There’s lot of work behind the scenes that can kind of take away from that writing process that prevents people from making proper albums anymore.”
“We do everything ourselves (via Jewel’s label ‘Italians Do It Better‘) so that way there’s no one who has control over us and we don’t owe anybody anything and we’re not obligated to sell anything, we’re not obligated to tour, we’re not obligated to make a certain amount of money to recoup some video or something like that.”
“All these pressure that bands have to weigh in on and do things they don’t want to do and compromise themselves, which eventually causes them to burn out or regret the situation or just not be writing as well… for us it’s all or nothing and we really care about the music. The business is secondary which is fortunate for us because the music industry is kind of a joke,” Jewel’s laughingly sighs.
“At this point if you don’t care about the art then you should just sell vacuum cleaners or something because there’s no money in the selling of music. I mean there’s ways of making money and we do well but we’re lucky people care about the complete album.”
“So you really can’t care about the money if you’re going to care about the music. You kind of have to choose one or the other.”
Jewel chose the music and fortunately for him and the Chromatics, the fans followed suit. Jewel has previously said that Kill for Love ‘asked a lot’ of its listeners, challenging them to invest their attention at a time when much conjecture exists surrounding the death of the LP.
“There’s a lot of discussion about the attention span of (the) mp3 and blog culture but I do think the record is a real slow burn and I think in that way it asks a lot from the listener.”
“It also asks multiple listens to kind of slowly unfold; which is different. It’s a pretty precise record but it could have been even more abbreviated for maximum pop… you drift mentally with the record and that’s a little different by today’s standards, in the pop world everything is sort of banging out a single.”
“Everything is so impressively advanced and articulate that a record that’s really primitive like Kill For Love kind of challenges the status quo for the listener. So I really wasn’t sure if people were going to be able to get behind that or if they’re just going to fall asleep; and I mean both things happened, they woke up happy,” chuckles Jewel.
It was by chance that Jewel was able to witness first hand the effectiveness of Chromatics’ Kill for Love. An unsuspecting night out morphed into a social experiment of sorts as Jewel observed his band’s latest effort to dictate the mood of an unsuspecting public.
“I went to a restaurant in Montreal for a friends birthday and… just by chance the restaurant for some reason put on Kill For Love, they didn’t know I was there; a lot of people don’t even know I live there.”
“The dinner lasted an hour and half and the album’s an hour and a half long and it was really interesting to see how the conversation would bubble up and kind of like ride the rollercoaster of the music.”
“In some of the quiet parts people in the bar thought the album was over and then it would slowly creep back up into the mix and the conversation would get louder and it’s really designed… to be part of your environment.”
Despite his desire to create a cohesive album that works best in sequential unison, Jewel remained mindful that the extended demands Kill for Love places on the listener needed to be balanced with a palatable sound.
“I wasn’t sure if people were going to necessarily take to it or not, you know I think a lot of artists – the idea of, ‘oh people don’t get it’ or ‘are they going to get it’ or ‘they got it’; no-one ever says that if somebody doesn’t like your record, no-one ever says ‘Oh the got it and they didn’t like it’, everyone’s always like, ‘oh, they didn’t get it’ – you know what I mean,” laughs Jewel.
“It’s a convenient way for artists to view things but for me it’s my job to make sure that they get it and I was really pleased to see that… I succeeded as a producer in holding their attention and stretching the song in the right amount but not too far, in a way to have the maximum impact at key points to keep them hooked.”
“That was something I was really hoping for and the response in that sense was really, really great but it is odd and it is challenging and the thing that is also weird about it is that it’s necessary for it to be in sequential order; which because of mp3s, iPods and everything, people shuffle their tracks make mixes all the time where they just single out tracks so all the tracks are good, all those tracks are strong but they’re even stronger in sequential order.”
“So for me it was really important to try and be creative and find a way also with Soundcloud find a way that people were able to hear it in one long track, you know, like one long sitting; even if they’re working or have it on in the background just to hear it and digest it in that way was really important.”
Jewel and the Chromatics aren’t just meticulous about their music but also in what capacity and context their music is experienced live. In the past Jewel has spoken of his and the band’s selective nature when it comes to touring, playing purely based on desire rather than expectation.
Taking this into account, the Chromatics appearance at this year’s Harvest Festival becomes all the more special for not only fans but the band as well.
“The Chromatics have never been to Australia and Ida (No) and I were down there in 2008 with Glass Candy, we played the Modular stage at the V Fest and we had a great time,” Jewel’s recalls.
“From my experience there’s a lot of love for Italians Do It Better in Australia and I want to respect that and bring the show to the fans there.”
“There’s this kind of like underdog sensibility that I really relate to and I think the people there are, they know how to have fun… it’s a country full of music lovers; it’s really, really obvious to me, you know, from when we were there, it’s really touching.”
Kill for Love by Chromatic is out now.