Hope is Important.
Joy is an Act of Resistance.
Happiness is a Warm Trombone.
Easier said than done, believed, enacted. Some of the greatest music ever made is down to heartbreak, rejection, misery and pain. In fact let’s go as far to say the majority of the best pop music is because of the aforementioned. To paraphrase Nick Hornby, are we miserable because we listen to pop music, or do we listen to pop music because we are miserable.
Melancholy and the lovelorn are the cornerstones of literally thousands of songs, but few master and harness it’s power to move, to console or to articulate everything you are feeling about the inner most thoughts and emotions that you find almost impossible to convey.
Enter Desperate Journalist .
Jo, Rob, Caz and Simon. Purveyors of the finest earnest, jangly guitar indie-pop in the great traditions of The Smiths, The Cure and The Cocteau Twins.
On a foggy February Friday, the band are launching their stunningly beautiful third L.P “In Search of the Miraculous”, the follow up to 2017’s “Grow Up”, itself a staggering noir-pop masterpiece, at Rough Trade East with an in-store set and signing. The day breaks into a surprisingly warm afternoon, the alley ways off the East End’s Brick Lane bustling with end of the week drinkers out in the sun, a queue is forming outside the shop as the band soundcheck.
The week before the release I spoke to singer and lyricist Jo Bevan to talk about the new record, what influenced her words and why this album is her own journey to search for the sublime and finally being happy.
The lyrics are broadly speaking based on a concept centred around the Dutch artist Bas Jan Arder, and his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to cross the Atlantic in the smallest vessel ever to do so. It was intended to be the finale of a triptych of performance art pieces that were all together called “In Search of the Miraculous”, the boat he used was called “Ocean Wave” which names a song on the record. The intention behind his crossing struck a chord.
“I studied art and conceptual art had always interested me, I liked the aesthetics and had a vague idea of the building blocks behind the theory of it and I read an article about Bas Jan Arder and the stills of a film he made resonated with me. It has a melancholic, sixties feel and I could liken the concept with how my personal situation was becoming more hopeful and the romantic notion of the search for the sublime and the impossible search for unreachable perfection. It can be a beautiful thing to attempt, to experience; it is still worth doing even if you fail. He’s a romantic figure, capital ‘R’ and lower case ’r’, and I am drawn to those figures. It helps me make sense of my anxiety and hope”.
Attempting to match and improve upon such an astonishing record as “Grow Up” it could have been a momentous task. “I didn’t feel pressure because the album is so different in tone, I didn’t think this album could be judged using the same yardstick as the last album. As there has been a change in my personal life, writing this was less cathartic and more exploratory in more hopeful subjects and I thought it would be good to involve other imagery and use a wider spectrum of things to sing about, hence Bas Jan Arder. It still is very personal but there are more abstract themes. I tend to listen to, read and watch films that are sympathetic to the sort of vibe of the album around the time of writing that affects the theme but it’s come more to the forefront of what the words mean as I have relaxed and the band has relaxed and I feel I can be more cinematic and wide ranging with how I write the lyrics”.
The result is perhaps more abstract, no more so than on “Ocean Wave”, its verses coming straight from lists of North Sea Shipwrecks, the alliterative and rhythmical nature appealing to Bevan’s nature. “I have always liked list songs, the words just sound good in them, like when I listen to the Cocteau Twins, which don’t really have any lyrics, I like listening to the sounds of words. Because I’m a nerd, when researching Bas Jan Arder, I found these lists of ships that have wrecked in the North Sea, the one closest to me, and I just found they had nice flowery, interesting sounding names, so I thought that would work quite well in this song, which is quite dancey, post-punky. I just thought it was a nice oblique lyric to a direct sounding song”.
Their strength has always been the core songwriting, the partnership between Jo and Rob Hardy. Whilst they may get tired of the comparisons, the strength and breadth of their output over three incredible L.P’s and two E.P’s draws the similarity with Morrissey and Marr. To say they sound specifically like The Smiths is lazy and inaccurate but due to the dynamic, Jo the lyricist and singer with Rob the guitarist and music composer, the speed that they connected and the arsenal of quality songs that are missed from a set list as new albums over take them in popularity. “It’s always been very easy to write with Rob, pretty much from the word go, we like the same music and similar world views which is, and he might deny this but a very intense romanticism tempered by intense nihilism so we both got on very easily, even when we first met. We just naturally fell into step from the beginning”.
“With this album we were very precise with how we wrote it. There were 16 or 17 songs, maybe 18 and then we could understand the shape the album should be, have an idea of the ebb and flow of the tracklisting and then we trimmed it down before we even got to the studio, so we were mathematically precise this time, which we weren’t with the other two. The second one we were a lot more decisive, the first we recorded everything we had written, this one we wanted to ensure it gelled, that it was a whole experience, as it were. There were spreadsheets and lists of everything in a very un-rock’n’roll way”.
As the rolling stone gathers its moss, so do the hordes begin to get behind Desperate Journalist, the fan base swells and the praise effervesces, but should this have happened sooner? “I don’t think I would have liked that at all. It is so much better that it has happened steadily. There is no money to sustain a bands at that level, when you first start. That would have given us way too much of a misdirected view of the music industry and dashed our hopes with the second album inevitably not being as successful and would have been a massive decline from then, especially with the state of guitar music in its popularity in this day and age, and also I think personally we would have just gone mental (laughs) and it wouldn’t have worked. I think it’s good that we’ve built up a lot of people who really love us and it’s snowballed so the band now sustains itself financially which, being realistic, is all we’ve ever really wanted, to make records we love and play gigs with fans that love us and who we love and see places of the world and play these songs we care about, we’ve reached a very good point by not being flavour of the month and then having a backlash”.
The album made waves in the Indie and Vinyl charts, the tour has begun to packed rooms and it is building to their hometown gig at The Garage in Highbury, but is Jo happy?
“I think this is the best thing we’ve done. The previous album, I was extremely proud of, and still am, but I think that the way this one sounds, I didn’t think we were capable of doing something that sounded so huge. We all play together so well now, it was easy and quick to record and everyone’s got exactly what they wanted from it, Caz has got the big goth thing, I have my cinematic, shoegazey thing, Rob has his wall of guitars , and Simon has a massive loud rhythm section over everything so everyone is happy with it and also I am very proud of doing something that is almost a concept album and also me being happy, and I didn’t think I could write anything good when I was happy, so it’s pleasing that I can”.
Where the miraculous has been sought and victories won, where to now? The seas and oceans were where they found hope. Next! To the sky? The satellite. The limit? They can eclipse them.