Let’s Go Swimming – Jape Interview

Posted January 13, 2015 in Music Features

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The now Malmö-based Richie Egan has grafted his way from hardcore pup with Blackbelt Jones, to gurning and grooving on the bass with seminal post-rock crew Redneck Manifesto, to now being an Irish indie music institution with his solo-project-cum-band Jape. His excellent new record, This Chemical Sea is a collection of crisp synth pop undercut with the weary wisdom that life’ll give ya. We picked Richie’s brains about the long gestation of this excellent new record and finding the sweet spot between simplicity and complexity.

How long were you working on This Chemical Sea?

I was working on the album a good long time, a couple of years. I wrote a hell of a lot of songs. I was writing a lot of quieter, acoustic songs as well, so I just had to sort out where each would go. My criteria for the songs on This Chemical Sea was that I had to be able to exhaustively listen to each track and have it not bore me, basically. So if I was listening to a track and it started to bore me then I just dumped it directly. It took a while to get 10 songs that I can really listen to.

You said that you were writing a bunch of acoustic songs – are any of them there in different formats?

No, they all still exist, but they’re not on the album. I don’t really know what I’ll do with them. Metamorphosis maybe started on guitar but the rest of the This Chemical Sea stuff was all written on bass guitar and synths. I just wanted to steer away from guitar – that was another criteria that I had. Bass was my first instrument and I played it in a lot of different bands and because I’d moved to Sweden, I wasn’t playing bass as much with the Rednecks, so I was really missing it, to be honest, and I thought I could incorporate it into the making of This Chemical Sea. And then, live-wise, I started to play bass with Jape. I don’t play keyboards or guitar any more, just bass.

The live set-up is you and Glen Keating and…

Paul Kenny’s playing drums with us now. The live band is always changing. We’re always changing the technical aspects as well. Playing electronic music live, it’s important for us to feel like we’re musicians rather than just pressing play and singing over the top of it. So we’ve worked hard to get a set that’s malleable for us, so we don’t have to have the same length of song every night, and also that can interact with more. And that’s actually taken years! That’s why it goes through so many changes, we’re trying something out and bit will work, and others bits don’t. It’s trying to get the humanity back into the electronic stuff, basically. That’s where we’re at with the live thing. Nearly there!

Do you have a laptop onstage when you play?

We do, but we just use it really for timing. If you’re triggering samples for an electronic song, you’ve got to be in the correct BPM, otherwise the samples will be out of time. So the laptop is the master/brain that keeps the tempos for each song correct. And we use it for triggering some samples too. It’s a complicated set-up we have. We’re using MIDI footswitches to trigger loops from hardware samplers as well as some from the laptop and playing over the top of that.

So it’s trying to divorce itself as much as possible from ‘the grid’ but still using the metronomic reliability of a computer.

That’s exactly it. Because whenever we jam tracks in the rehearsal room and we turn off the computer and just play, there’s an amazing swing to it that makes you feel like you’re a musician! I think it’s a challenge for a lot of electronic musicians to do something live that’s not just press play, it’s something that’s fascinated us for years. We’ve tried so many different ways of doing it. The main thing, it seems to me, that you need to be able to control how you’re playing when you get a feel from the crowd to go longer or whatever. If you’re stuck on the grid, it can kind of suck the life out of it.

I definitely felt from the record the absence of guitars.

There’s only one song with guitars on it, which is I Go. It was to give it its own sonic identity. For me, to make simple songs that have depth is quite hard, so one of the other key things was have songs that initially sound simple but then, hopefully, drag you back in and you can find depth in them, listen to them again. I was trying to find that balance between simplicity and complexity that would work, I’d say that why it took a long time. Also, I had a load of crazy shit going down in my personal life, a pretty mad couple of years to be honest. I kind of glad it’s all over now. Making an album always takes longer than you think. There was definitely times when I thought ‘This is never going to be finished’.

In terms of the personal stuff, was that to do with living away from home?

Nah, my mam died and I had a baby within two months of each other. And that was about a year and a half ago and I thought the album would be finished and coming out then, then all of that happens… so shit just took a lot longer. But in a way, having this crazy stuff in your life, one good thing about it, being a songwriter, is that that stuff is fuel for you. You feel things you wouldn’t feel, and that goes into your songs.

What immediately springs to mind is the song Without Life In The Way – you’re just trying to make music and then all this life happens around you.

Totally. As a musician, you know yourself, you’re just happiness when you’re making music. But there’s always loads of other things you have to deal with.

Is there a particular zone you have to get into to be creative? Or is it more get up at 10, head down the studio, start working?

Myself, I tend to work during the day-time, from about nine or ten ‘til about half three or four. That seems to be the time I get most shit done. In fact I get most stuff done before one, then I usually faff around for a few hours trying things. I find the morning time very productive. In terms of writing, some people need to exercise to turn their brains off for a few hours and for me songwriting is like that. Lyrically, I didn’t want to be thinking about them too much, so most of the lyrics just came into my head with being conscious about it, I think all the good stuff comes from your subconscious. If you sit down and think ‘I’m gonna write a song about this or that’ nine times out of 10, it’ll be shit.

Was there any kind of touchstone record you referred to when you were deciding on those delimitations on the album you mentioned?

I get kind of inspired by Johnny Jewel from the Chromatics, who has a very singular vision and works hard to create that vision. That’s what I’d be inspired by: go to the studio every day and make the best music I can make. I feel, personally, that I’m not one of those dudes who was super-talented by the time they were 17. It’s taken me years to get this point and I think I’m only starting to get good now. And that’s just through graft. That’s my vibe, I have to graft hard to get anything that’s even halfway decent. It’s shit in one way because it takes ages to get work done, but it’s good in another way because I reckon in about three albums’ time, I’ll probably be really good! [laughs]

Lastly, anything in particular that has caught your ear over 2014? Not necessarily that fed into the album, but just something that you loved.

Have you listened to the Hilary Woods EP [Night]? That just blindsided me. I read an interview with her on State magazine and thought she seemed cool, I’ll check out the EP and it’s amazing. Four tunes and they’re all savage. Nothing like my music… it’s like Mazzy Star meets Bill Callahan or something! A weird mix. But just beautiful stuff altogether.

This Chemical Sea is released by Faction Records on 23rd January. Jape plays The Academy of Thursday 19th February.


Words: Ian Lamont

Photo: M&E


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