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Revelation is part of The Jezabels’ art. Three EPs have led us this far. The Man Is Dead. She’s So Hard. Dark Storm. Strange jewels dropped along their winding path to who knows where, each more lustrous than the last.
Did you see how they caught the light? Hurt Me broke the US charts, made iTunes’ single of the week. Easy To Love and Mace Spray were indie radio staples; Dark Storm an iTunes #1. AIR andAPRA nominations were lavished for records and songwriting.
Meanwhile in the live arena, maybe you’ve been shaken by The Jezabels’ cocktail of power and elegance, at one of their sold out headline shows around the world, or at any number of festivals that left critics gasping, from Oz inkies to UK glossies to Austin’s SXSW:
“Commanding…epic…brilliant…menacing…purring, roaring, soaring… intellectual ferocity…pyromaniac intensity…imagination and emotional rawness…thundering…threatening…exuberant rock’n’roll swagger…”
So much for peeking through the keyhole. With Prisoner, their debut album, The Jezabels are released at last.
“We love a bit of drama,” firebrand singer Hayley Mary makes clear from the outset. “The EP trilogy was practical as well as conceptual on our part. It helped shaped us internally, as well as how we were perceived.
“The themes we got to develop, the aesthetic of the design… they helped establish our world, our business, our creative realm. It was nice to feel like we were protected within the force field of the trilogy.”
In the force field of their hearts and minds, Hayley Mary and keyboard player Heather Shannon were The Jezabels long before they left the coastal paradise of Byron Bay for the bright lights and dark shadows of Sydney in 2006.
Guitarist Sam Lockwood recognised them in the corridors of learning. History. English. Gender. Rock. He signed them up for a band competition, conjured drummer Nik Kaloper from the mist. The battle was won. The first of many.
“It was a combination of four individual desires to play music and taking whatever opportunities we could find — which happened to be each other,” says Hayley. “From there the process has pretty much been one of reconciling musical differences. But we’re getting closer.”
Prisoner is a panoramic study of tension and emancipation, from the echoing stone cathedral of the title track to the sun-blasted morning of the first single, Endless Summer; from the cloistered atmospherics of the instrumental interlude, Austerlitz, to the chiming and climbing pop of Deep Wide Ocean and the quiet reflecting pool of Peace of Mind.
Like the EP trilogy, Prisoner was recorded during stolen hours by Sydney producer Lachlan Mitchell, whose passion for glittering pop divas and his nocturnal gig in blood-guzzling black metal band Nazxul helped define The Jezabels’ polarities of grandiose theatrics and gothic intensity.
“I was always obsessed with that whole Brontë-esque gothic melodramatic thing Kate Bush did,” Hayley says. “I love the performance aspect of people like Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Cyndi Lauper.
“Nik is obsessed with metal. He’s a perpetual ball of rhythm. He needs to drum so he doesn’t flip out. Heather is a classical pianist who has the advantage of not really knowing the rules of rock. Sam is the earthing element. He likes organic country-folk so he balances that theatrical, over- the-top, almost ‘80s thing we have…
“Between us it gets very intense but also very dynamic and awesome. There’s always someone with a great idea that you would never think of yourself.”
Between big ideas and spectacular hooks, dynamic and awesome is about right. The ecstatically swelling melody of Long Highway and stately grace and sky bound chorus of Rosebud bring immediate rewards, but between layers of sound and meaning, Prisoner takes time to fully reveal itself.
“The lyrics are set out as a letter to a prisoner,” Hayley says. “I’m interested in the idea of your personal role in your own oppression. To a certain extent the album explores the idea of looking at yourself as a prisoner and asking about the reasons for that. Are they external or are they internal?”
Perhaps related is the fact that The Jezabels have chosen to remain an independent entity for their debut album — in spite of a virtual stampede of label interests.
“The team we’ve worked with showed faith in us from the first show, from management to production to design,” says Hayley. “That’s a valuable thing, to have this internal strength of knowing it’s us against the world.”
World be warned. Prisoner is loose.