The Philadelphia Grand Jury sell themselves as ‘three of the most exciting performers in the history of popular music.’ That’s a pretty grand statement, but as I talk to lead singer Berkfinger I get the impression that they might at least be three of the nicest. First things first, I ask where on earth the name came from.
“Everyone thinks it has got something to do with some sort of Philadelphia grand jury being into priests and young boys, but it’s actually the first song off the new Fiery Furnaces album.”
No paedophilia or priest fetishes then, which, let’s face it, is probably a good thing. I suggest that the Philly Jays don’t really sound like the Furnaces, and ask Berkfinger how he would describe their sound.
“We’re trying to call it indie, punk and soul. That wraps up everything that we like and want to do.”
Maybe that question was too easy. I ask him to describe their sound without using musical terms.
“It’s kind of like what your teenage brother has been cooking up with his four track. You didn’t know he was so good and then he plays it to you and you’re like ‘fuck, you’re brilliant’ and it makes you wonder whether you’re the worse brother.”
That works. The trio claim in their bio to have had quite a colourful formation involving illegal firearms and bribery, but Berkfinger assures me not much of that is true.
“The bio’s all bullshit. The true story is that MC Bad Genius, who is our bass player, he used to do all of these DJ sets at really lame things like weddings and bah mitzvahs and all that kind of jazz. Dan Sweat, who plays drums, met him at one of these and he played a Sonix track and Dan was like ‘this is the coolest guy I’ve ever met’ and they got talking and that’s kind of where they got the idea for the band.”
Berkfinger was introduced, knowing Dan “because he was best friends with the guy who lived next door to my grandparents” and the three hit it off. Since forming, they’ve played with the likes of Sparkadia, The Mess Hall and Bluejuice and will soon be performing at My Filthy Riot festival in Sydney. I ask whether Berkfinger has ever been in a riot.
“In a riot? I’m the guy who never goes to the protests ’cause I think it’s all bullshit so no, not very active in any way. If Sydney did erupt into riot though, I would definitely go looting. I know the spots already, I’ve thought it through.”
The boutique festival takes over the Annandale from the 20th – 21st March. There’s an impressive lineup of fifty one bands playing over three stages, and Berkfinger is anticipating a good show.
“I’m totally psyched. As long as I get one free beer I’m really happy to be there with all those bands. Lots of them are really cool people. One of the members of Art vs. Science is Dan W Sweats, he plays drums for us. There’s gonna be some serious rivalry. I’m looking forward to the challenge of beating them ’cause they’re actually headlining ahead of us.”
It’s always good to set yourself a challenge. I wonder who might win between the two bands if things were to get heated.
“When you see us live you’ll see MC Bad Genius and you’ll realise that he can’t be beaten. He’s mental and mad. I’m kind of the brains behind the operation but he’s the muscle. And Dan Sweat, he’s got the looks for sure.”
Aside from touring like maniacs, the band has been working on some tracks for their debut album. They’re not lacking in inspiration either. Writer’s block hasn’t been a problem so far.
“Writer’s block? Definitely not! What I suffer from is not recording the things I write ’cause I write things walking down the street and then I forget them. I’ve got pages and pages of lyrics and we’ve got forty songs we’re working on that we’re trying to turn in to just ten songs for an album.”
It sounds like they’ve got plenty to keep themselves busy then. Before I go, I decide to quiz Berkfinger on the finer points of crime and punishment. They are a grand jury after all. I ask if they support the death penalty.
“Yes, definitely because it clears all those shmucks out of the prisons.”
Fair enough. What about good behaviour bonds for non-violent offenders?
“For non-violent offenders? They’re good because it’s good for moving forward in terms of the future of corrective services according to MC Bad Genius. The thing is he could very well end up there.”
There you have it. The Jury has spoken.