The Jezabels: Sydney, And Other Classic Tales Of Dystopia
Midway through what can only be described as one of their most spellbinding headline tours to date, we caught up the The Jezabels frontwoman Hayley Mary to chat touring, Sydney, and the beautiful toxicity of nostalgia.
How has this tour been so far?
Good! Really good. [Clears throat] Sorry, I think I had a cigarette last night [laughs]. Last night was the night of it being ‘our show’ in Brisbane, so it was very fun and awesome. We did a couple of festivals and shows, but there is something special about playing your own roadshow again. That’s something we haven’t done in a couple of years, so everyone feels a bit elated.
So you formed in Sydney and you met at the University Of Sydney – a lot of your social media shows you there, and one particular photo has you waiting outside of the Chemistry building…
Oh, that was just because Nik went there! He studied Science. To be fair, three of us actually met growing up in Byron Bay. Heather and I have been playing music for ages, but the band formed when we started playing with Sam, who I knew, but not well. And he met Nik at Uni, so I feel like we’re a Sydney Uni band, but with Byron roots. We went down there on the day for a ‘memory lane’ sort of thing.
What was your favourite memory from that time?
Well, I guess we’ve been reminiscing a lot recently. Since it was our first show – the Sydney Uni band comp – and it’s quite a good comp, quite a few bands have come out of it: The Laurels, The Vines, Cloud Control… We actually only came second. It was our first show, and we were the underdogs. And I think that’s something nice. I guess when you’re that age, you’re very excited and romantic…
About everything, yeah. So when we played there the other day as a secret show… We’ve always gone to Manning bar as our kind of warm-up show.
I saw you did that!
Oh, did you?
Yeah, I was halfway to work and I get this message from my friend, and he’s like, “The Jezabels are playing 1pm at the Manning Bar!” I was like, “It’s 1pm now, I can’t go back. What a mistake.”
Yeah, good. It was terrible [laughs]. It was meant to be a show that as few people saw as possible, but it was still public – as, like, a rehearsal, because we haven’t played in three years. We were like, “Fuuuuuuck!” We played mainly new songs, so it was kind of like a first-hand practice, hoping not too many people see it. Particularly if you’re a music journalist, I’m happy you didn’t see it.
I just want to come back to what you mentioned earlier: would you say you have a rose-tinted glasses view of that time?
Well, yes, in that I – and it’s kind of what I said then as well – then you have rose-tinted glasses, when you’re fresh in the world and trying things. I just moved to Sydney, and I was discovering a different culture, coming from a small town. But yeah, I think it’s very easy to romanticise the past as well. I think that’s the nature of romanticism. I used to be a big believer in that, like, that things used to be better in some by-gone era. But I don’t, actually – I’ve recently made a shift that I don’t believe that’s the case.
“Eventually, we’ll just be chocolate box centres with peripheries of social scavenging and poverty by the postcard image we have of this country.”
So you’re just pure cynicism now?
No, no, no! I think that things could potentially get better in the future, and that living in the moment is a very valuable thing… But the nostalgia that we’ve been about lately is about feeling emotional – returning to Sydney, which has a lot to do with our roots – and also playing shows again in venues, returning to the Keep Sydney Open campaign and feeling like it is a different city. I feel like it has hope, but there are some aspects our of home city that makes us want to romanticise the past a little. I still think it is a great city, and I want people to resist the forces that are making it harder for others and different cultures to enjoy themselves.
Would you say that you have a very strong connection those Sydney years?
Yeah, because they built up a lot of our identity. I know now that if we were starting out, we probably just wouldn’t exist now. Or we’d just be in Melbourne. Most of the venues we’ve played are shut down – particularly the small ones. I understand that there are still some, but it’s just a bit dead-er. You know, I used to live in the Cross and it was one of my favourite places, and now I feel like… I feel like everything is starting to just become tailored to yoga mums and property investors. It’s a really expensive life that they’re promoting – green smoothies and organic everything. I understand that the health revolution has its place, and that’s really good, but there should be more to a city than just having a perfect body and a perfect property. And that’s kind of where Sydney is going. I think police are specifically targeting certain cultural events like hip-hop nights, and stuff like that. You can tell there is like a vision of what they want Sydney to be: upper-middle class, probably white – they haven’t overtly said that, but I’m just guessing – with girls that aspire to have perfect yoga bodies and be pure and make wonderful little Australian rich kids…
2.3 standard kids…
Yeah! And like three-point-million standard homes [laughs]. That’s not a city, that’s a bubble. Cities are made of more than that.
Do you feel like you need to engage with that in your music? What do you see your role is in all of this?
Well, a lot of our early music was inspired by and about how inspiring Sydney was, coming from a small town. Particularly the gay and transgender community, and the different races. When you come from a small town, you see less multiculturalism, obviously. Like, trying different foods, and all the lights – it’s a nostalgic cliché, but it really woke me up. Now, I worry about being too Sydney, and not necessarily being woken up enough, because the streets are dead at night, the property is all schmick, and all you’re supposed to aspire towards is a house… Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe everyone just needs to move to Melbourne, but that will just push the Melbourne prices up, and eventually it’ll be the same as Sydney. Eventually, we’ll just be chocolate box centres with peripheries of social scavenging and poverty by the postcard image we have of this country.
I’ve been giving your audio commentary a listen throughout the week, and your song “No Country”- it was put towards having strong social undertones. Same with this new album.
This goes to the last question as well…
Yeah, sorry, I didn’t actually really answer your question!
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The Jezabels / Ali Barter
Wednesday October 19th – The Gov, Adelaide
Friday October 21st – ANU Bar, Canberra
Saturday October 22nd – Bar On The Hill, Newcastle