Singer songwriter, and Byron Bay frequenter Jez Mead has been writing and recording his own material since 2001. It hasn’t always been easy going, with Mead embarking on regular tours of the east coast of Australia to fund his musical lifestyle. September sees the release of his new EP, Sucker, and a quasi-national run of launch shows in support. Music Feeds cohort Daniel Clarke had a chance to catch up with Jez before he once again heads out on the road.
Music Feeds: So you just got back from America right? What took you there?
Jez Mead: I went on a bit of a holiday really, but also went there to make a film clip in Minneapolis. Bit of a holiday, bit of a film adventure. We did it on the Mississippi so hopefully it’ll look a bit different.
MF: For sure. You’ve been recording music since 2001, what got you into it?
JM: I’ve been playing since I was about twelve but didn’t make an album til 2001. I used to live in a little shack in Byron, pretty hermetic sort of life. Didn’t have power, didn’t have a toilet actually. I lived there for about seven years and made a couple of albums while I was there. I don’t know, the nights were long, no power, no telly. I thought I’d make some music.
MF: Was it a calling then?
JM: It’s definitely always been a big part of my life. I went to Uni in WA, did writing but all the while I used to play the guitar and write. I was writing songs but I never thought of myself as a songwriter. I just preferred the shorter format of poetry and songs to writing a novel. It sort of fit in to my lifestyle more.
MF: So is music for you a kind of outlet?
JM: I’ve always got music, I’ve written a lot of instrumentals. Most of my albums have got instrumentals on them and I guess that’s the most natural thing for me to do, because I’ve constantly got music flowing through my head. I’m different when it comes to lyrics. Because I went to Uni and did writing I’m a bit like the art school student who gets into a bit of a bind – instead of doing what comes naturally it becomes more cerebral. You start thinking about writing too much. My main goal is to write as naturally as I can, to try to not censor things too much. It can be a bit too laboured I think. The best songs I’ve written I’ve done in about five minutes, I’ve polished ‘em up a bit I guess but there’s other songs I’ve had going for ten years that are just waiting for the right riff or the right line. I’m really happiest when it’s flowing. It’s definitely an outlet; it wouldn’t be coming out if it didn’t need to.
MF: Being independent for ten years now, has it been tough going? Have you ever questioned whether it’s all worth it?
JM: Aw, many times, but I’m not living in East Timor or anything. I’ve had a very charmed life and met a lot of interesting people along the way. At times though it may feel I’m not getting anywhere, but I’m still here, I can eat and survive every day and I love playing music, so I’ve certainly got no complaints.
MF: Let’s try and put the new EP in perspective. Have you changed your approach for it? Has your writing changed over time?
JM: I’ve always been influenced by pop music. I’m a fan of particular artists and bands but I’ve always been very um… I don’t care who it is, if it’s Kylie Minogue or whatever. I love melodies and I’ve always loved songs. With this one I’ve tried to cut it down and not have anything extraneous. Every bit of music in there is just doing its job, which is something that comes with song writing maturity I guess. I still go on a bit live, some songs could probably be a bit shorter, but that’s still the part of me that wants to get people into a zone, which is what I’m getting into… I’ve had a lot of people say to me that when they’re listening they sort of drift off; they’re not even really thinking about the music either and I think that is one purpose of music, to allow people to do that.
MF: Tell me a bit about the lead single, Sucker. I read somewhere that it was a ‘tongue in cheek look at yourself?’
JM: I introduced it at the time as a song about my exes new boyfriend, the other sucker standing in… But it’s more about me just waking up and seeing what’s going on. Taking a good look at yourself after you come out of something really full on, and wondering how you got there. I’m very glad that I went through all that… It’s no different to what anyone else goes through. I would like to think I’m going in a positive direction.
MF: What’s with that weird Korg microsynth on the track Arms of the World?
JM: We were recording that song and the engineer was a really odd character. Extremely quiet gentleman. We were recording the song and he had that little keyboard next to it and just ripped off this solo while we were doing it. I just thought ‘my god, that is the funniest solo I’ve ever heard.’ It sounded like R2D2 exploding or something. I said ‘tell me you recorded that please’ but he hadn’t so we got him to do it again. So that’s the engineer, putting in his two bob. It’s my favourite part of the album.
MF: I noticed that Brian Campeau produced the track featuring Julia Stone on Sucker. Have you been working with lots of producers on the record?
JM: I produced this album myself basically, with the help of a very good engineer. There was that song we did with Brian which was more of convenience really because Angus and Julia were in Newtown and I had to meet them within a narrow time slot. This one I felt that I knew where it was going. The last one I did with James Cruickshank from the Cruel Sea and he plays piano on that as well. He’s really great as a soundboard and that. But this one I think I just wanted to try it myself. James is really strong on the brevity, getting rid of the rubbish that’s just hanging around.
MF: What kind of show can punters expect when they come to see you in September?
JM: Half the people say I should get a band and half the people say I sound like a band, and I much prefer the latter. I like to get a big sound, I like making people dance. I like bands like Talking Heads that play good music and still make people wanna move. I’ve had mournful moments, played mournful songs but at the end of the day I wanna see people dance.
Catch Jez Mead launching his new EP, Sucker, across the country in September.