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Interview: Jagwar Ma

Jagwar Ma, comprised of Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma, and hailing all the way from Sydney, Australia, are already turning out to be one of this year’s most interesting new bands. Their debut single ‘The Throw’ snowballed them into just about every platform of the UK’s music press with a blend of dream pop and acid house that instantly turned heads. With their debut album, Howlin, already turning heads, and having supported the likes of The xx and Foals on tour, the antipodean duo look set to only further their cause across the rest of 2013.

PlanetNotion caught up with one-half of the outfit, Jono Ma, to talk their crammed summer of international festival appearances, the isolation of Australia and avoiding dance music when you’re ill – Jono reckons classical is the only way to soothe a bad head…

PlanetNotion: How did Jagwar Ma form? How long have you known each other?
Jono Ma: Gab and I have known each other for years. We both played in our own bands in Sydney prior to us starting to collaborate. I started this side project called FLRL and asked Gab to join in for one gig, and that was the first time we made music together.

A few years later, we were playing each other respective songs we’d been working on, and Gab ended up singing on a track of mine. That was the very first Jagwar Ma song, and we then formed the band after we realised our skills were quite complimentary to each other.

PN :How does it feel to be acknowledged and celebrated across the UK’s music press?
JM: It really does feel amazing. We’d never imagined this sort of reception from the UK. It’s hard enough getting some recognition in our hometown Sydney, let alone the UK – one of the cultural epicentres of modern music.

PN: Did you imagine ‘The Throw’ was going to go down so well when you were writing it? Did you feel like it was a special track from the offset?
JM: We had no idea it was going to be so well received. We generally don’t think about that stuff when we write. It’s quite toxic for the decision making process I believe. It definitely felt like something good was happening as the song was evolving.

PN: You have been repeatedly compared to the ‘Madchester’ acid beats sound, is this purely accidental or was this something you wanted for your music?
JM: It definitely wasn’t intentional. We were initially inspired by loads of 50s and 60s R&B, soul, garage, particularly the old records from Chicago and Detroit. But, I really wanted to keep the production and programming side of things quite modern sounding. Somehow it ended up having a bit of a Manchester house vibe, which is fine by us, but wasn’t something we had set out to do.

PN: Australia is readily exporting a whole host of musical talent recently. Have you found the Australian music scene to be much different from the UK’s? If so, what are the main differences?
JM: Yes, very. It’s much smaller to begin with. It’s also much more fractured in that each city is so geographically far apart. It makes touring and cross-pollination difficult. I guess as a result there’s a sense of isolation in Australia as a musician, not only from other musicians in Australia but from the rest of the world. Being in the UK, there seems to be much more of a sense of inclusion and cross-pollination and a feeling of being connected with the rest of the world.

PN: What music are you listening to at the moment, new and old?
JM: At the moment, in all honesty, I’ve pretty much just been listening to classical. So, only old. It’s strange but I’ve never really committed myself to classical music and I’ve been quite sick lately and wanted to avoid electronic music and contemporary music for the moment because it made my mind so active. I’ve found some great classic compositions that just let my mind drift off somewhere else.

PN: Which new bands/artists are you rating?
JM: We love our fellow Aussies, Tame Impala: they’re pretty hard to look past aren’t they. We love Foals, of course. I need to get out and see some more new bands though. We’ve just been so busy touring and promoting.

PN: What kind of responses have you had from your album so far?
JM: It varies. Things like: it’s too long; it’s too short; very Manchester; sounds like the 90s; sounds like the 80s; sounds like the 60s; it’s great; it’s late.  It’s mostly been very positive stuff so far, though. We’re not particularly nervous about its release, more excited for it to finally be out there.

PN: Which festivals will you be appearing at this summer?
JM: All our live dates are up on our Facebook – I can’t believe I just said that. Off the top of my head: Glastonbury, Reading, Latitude, Pukkelpop, Ibiza Rocks, Calvi on the Rocks, Hulstred, Bestival, Summer Sonic… and some more that I can’t remember.

PN: Wow, sounds like it’s going to be a very packed summer for Jagwar Ma. What can we expect from your live shows?
JM: Lots of echo.

PN: What’s next for Jagwar Ma?
JM: The next natural phase for us is destined to be as guests on some sort of music quiz show in Australia.

- Catherine Elliott

Howlin is available from now on Marathon. You can grab a copy of it here.

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