To paraphrase the younger Bono, ‘there’s been a lot of talk about this album. Maybe, maybe too much talk’. Eskimo’s Joe’s sixth album, WASTELANDS, is only just landing, but has been lauded for some time now, from its highly successful Pozible crowd-funding campaign – an important part of the story, but not the whole story – to the early word that the band had gone… electronic?
Rest assured, there’s always more textures to any story, including this one. This ain’t Electro Joe.
“As far as our music’s concerned it’s more of an electronic album,” Stu MacLeod says by way of qualification. “There’s drum machines, there’s a hell of a lot of synths. But at the same time there’s a lot of organic grounding.”
“The synths are all analogue,” Kav Temperley points out. “The drum machine’s from 1980 or something. So it’s like, we have the technology, it’s just that all the technology is older than all the guitars we’ve been using for the last couple of years.”
“I don’t know if we’d be qualified to make an electronic album,” says Joel Quartermain. “We don’t know how to work the gear. Nothing is programmed, it’s all played.” “Put it this way, we’re not going to be up against The Presets in the ARIAs,” laughs Stu.
Even so, album number six from Eskimo Joe was always going to be about doing things differently. In 2012 the band left its long-time record label and in the course of writing and demoing were searching for direction. “We wanted to go about doing something with a really good bass and drum groove with vocals that had a bit more subtlety to them up the front,” Kav notes. “We decided to get a producer because we’re probably a little bit old and set in our ways.”
Enter Burke Reid, formerly of Gerling and a masterful producer in recent times for The Drones, Oh Mercy and The Mess Hall. “It was like we needed that third party to come in and give us permission,” Kav continues. “‘It’s okay, you’re allowed to do this’. We needed to let go and when Burke came in he was able to make that happen.” Reid, actually had to be talked into it, but it seems that initial uncertainty brought in the kind of objective voice the well-established Eskimo Joe was looking for. “When we first approached Burke he said, ‘I don’t know about that. I’m not really into your band’,” Joel recalls “And we respected that. But we sent him three tracks and he got back saying two of them were great and got him really excited. He’d made records that we liked listening to that sounded nothing like us. I think he has a reputation of being the guy who comes in when a band wants to change their direction a bit.” For his part, Reid utilised the trio’s strengths – innate chemistry and an ability to be frank with each other – while throwing curve balls at them. Hearing otherwise ‘good’ takes, Reid would ask for them to then be played backwards or in reverse, verily untangling expectations – both the band’s and, eventually, that of their audience.
In doing so, Reid found a voice that had been long unheard in Eskimo Joe, a naivety before the band’s sound began to cluster to the fact they were a road-hardened entity, writing albums in that manner for the next eight years. “We came home this time wanting to do something a little different,” Kav says, “but at the same time do something that we could all dance to.”
The band’s own preconceptions about its identity were cast aside. Songs didn’t have to be a certain way, not did there have to be certain types of (Eskimo Joe) songs. “We wanted to have fun and I think you can hear that,” Kav says. “There’s certainly an emotional content going on, but when the grooves kick in there’s a sense of fun, which I think is something you can hear on our first record (2001’s Girl).” Joel notes that the band had the luxury of eight weeks to record, which itself allowed more time to try out different instruments and takes and let that guide the album to where it would go. Unusually, the songs weren’t fully written in the demo stage, so blueprints were not in place and structures were often changed many times over. “Every time there was a change to a song it was positive,” Stu notes, “it was an evolution.”
Accidents. Spontaneity. Unlikelihoods. Some songs stood firm from the get-go and others seemingly arrived with passports and went on journeys. “The songs that survived from the early stage right through were Got What You Need and Disgrace,” Kav says. “Disgrace went from this Dusty In Memphis sort of thing to the ‘New Work Of Eskimo Joe’. Running Out Of Needs has become quite an important song, it’s quite fitting that it is the opening track. It takes you on a little bit of a journey, through old Eskimo Joe into this new place. It sets the flavour for the record. Sonically, it takes you from one place and invites you into this new world.” Having recorded the entire album in their own studio, for themselves and their fans, with music industry politics not in the mindset, Eskimo Joe have gotten back to the ethos that set them on this 16-year odyssey in the first place. “I think when you have a difficult record, where everyone walks away exhausted from it, that shortens the life a little bit,” Kav says. “This record was such a reinvigoration for everyone that it feels like the horizon is getting a little bit longer again. You can see further into the future”. “I think that is something we’ve managed to create for ourselves with WASTELANDS, which is a really positive thing.”