In the latest edition of Vive Le Rock, we talk to JIM JONES & THE RIGHTEOUS MIND about their stunning debut album Super Natural. But they had much more to say than we had room for. So here you can read, in all its glory, Rich Deakin's full unexpurgated feature....
SUPER NATURALLY SUPER-CHARGED
RESISTANCE IS (NOT) FUTILE…
Jim Jones and Gavin Jay from The Righteous Mind cast a Super Natural spell over Vive Le Rock’s! Rich Deakin
When it was announced in June 2014 that the Jim Jones Revue were splitting up, it came as a huge shock to their fiercely staunch followers. Since 2007 the Revue had been tearing up venues across the UK, Europe and the US with their incendiary, high-octane live performances, typified by displays of sheer unbridled energy. The obvious question was why after seven successful years, countless gigs and three albums did they call it a day? Jay says “The same reasons most bands call it a day – we just weren't working well as a group any more. People weren't getting on, the eternal 'musical differences'. We also felt a little boxed in, painted as a rockabilly revival band which was never what the Revue was about. We wanted a fresh canvas. Nothing smells as bad as stale rock 'n' roll.”
Jones similarly states, “A general consensus that it was time to move on, partly a feeling that the band had said everything it could in its current formation, and to continue would have begun to be a self-parody... and partly that the process of constant touring was becoming too much for some of the members.”
That said, the band did one final tour, aptly named The Last Hurrah Tour. Culminating in a triumphal sold-out farewell show at The Forum in Kentish Town, London, the band were joined by special guests Nick Lowe and Walter Lure. After such a rapturous send-off Jones and Jay surely must have had second thoughts even if only fleetingly? “Of course,” Jones responds “...but at the same time I felt really pleased that everyone had agreed to do the final tour and how successful it had all been, and that we ended on a really positive note!”
Jay is matter of fact with his response and reflects, “I'm glad we could end it on a high point. Certainly not an experience I'll forget easily. Emotionally it was as mixed as you might imagine – I was proud of what we'd achieved, grateful for the amazing response, but also a little relieved that it was finally over. There was some sadness, as there will be whenever a chapter comes to a close. But by that point we were deep in writing and rehearsing for the Righteous Mind so I was too busy to waste time getting maudlin about the past. No regrets, no.”
Barely had the flames from that final ‘Last Hurrah’ at the Forum died down, when Jim Jones was back in the studio. Having brought along Revue bassist Gavin Jay for the ride too, Jones wasted no time in setting about forging a “sonic vision” for his new band, The Righteous Mind. Jones also enlisted drummer Phil Martini. The Revue’s keyboard player, Henri Herbert, was also initially involved, but says Jones, “[Herbert] left the party to pursue a solo boogie career that had suddenly taken off.” All members of the Revue have now subsequently moved on to other projects: lead guitarist Rupert Orton is now concentrating on promotion, whilst drummer Nick Jones has hooked-up with Henri Herbert’s new band.
It took several months for the band’s line up to stabilise. Making their debut with a handful of live dates in France in May 2015, the band subsequently underwent two more personnel changes before playing their first live UK show in London a month later. Jones explains, “Matt (Millership) and Mal (Troon) swooped in and saved the day. Matt was one of the piano players we'd been in touch with for the Jim Jones Revue when Elliot Mortimer left. Matt had been too busy then, but luckily was available for the Righteous Mind. Malcolm, we had known for a while – a gifted player and a former bandmate of our drummer Phil Martini, from many moons previous in The Tokyo Dragons.”
Jay can’t praise Millership and Troon highly enough either, “Matt and Mal are a monstrously talented duo and I anticipate their influence increasing as time goes on, although a good chunk of the album was actually written before their arrival. We had a few line-up changes before we settled on the current gang, but were incredibly fortunate to find Matt and Mal, who have more than stepped up to the mark. We certainly have more avenues open to us than we ever did with The Revue.”
For example Jay continues, “Jim had the idea of bringing a pedal steel into the mix, so Joe Glossop and Dave Page came on board to help out. But they were busy lads, so eventually we settled on the current line-up.”
Continuing this theme, Glossop was “poached by Tom Jones” says Jim Jones, “[but] still joins us from time to time if Matt can’t make it.” Jones further elaborates on those early personnel upheavals, “Mr Paul Seacroft was the first one to show us what the pedal-steel would sound like in the line-up, but was too busy with work to commit to a full-time position. David Page, a really talented player took over for a bit, but then he got dragged away too – off with Rick Rubin to record with the Ruen Brothers at Shangri-La Studios in Malibu.” Jones concludes “Thank God for Matt and Mal… I don't know how many more times we could get that lucky!"
The incorporation of pedal-steel guitar, and Jay’s deployment of upright bass, certainly adds a darker dimension to the Righteous Mind’s sound than the Revue’s. In fact, there appears to be a dark undercurrent running right through The Righteous Mind – from the band’s suitably macabre and occultish Kenneth Anger-esque promotional videos, the lyrics, and the cover art, to the title of the new album, Super Natural. Jones adds salaciously, “We're interested in all that juicy stuff! We try and absorb as much as possible and use what's relevant to us.”
Jay’s response is more measured, “I wouldn't call myself a believer in the occult, but I find the imagery and ideas that come from it fascinating. I like Alan Moore's notion of using rituals to open up imaginative spaces without necessarily following it as an absolute 'truth.' Anything that lets you step out of mainstream thinking and question societies morals and prejudices is a good thing in my book.”
Equally esoteric is the band’s name. Wasn’t it taken from a book about psychology? Jay confirms, “That is correct, although purely for the title and what it suggested to us. At the time we hadn't read the book, although I had encountered Jonathon Haidt's ideas before. It is an interesting read though luckily! And quite pertinent in these times of political divisiveness, as he gets to grips with the subconscious motives for voting the way we do.”
Jones proffers an explanation too, “The book is about morality and what motivates those feelings and beliefs in us… quite fascinating reading, but the truth is, I just liked the way the name looked. I always liked the term 'Righteous', and now, coincidentally, it seems to fit with the world we're living in at the moment and ties in with a sense of resistance.”
On the subject of 'resistance', Jim Jones is obviously very passionate when it comes to political issues too. He was an avowed advocate of populist Democrat Bernie Sanders during the Primaries in the run-up to the recent US Presidential elections, and more recently, closer to home, Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind, along with the likes of Paul Weller and Robert Wyatt, played a gig in celebration of and solidarity for Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive policies. So, what does he think of the current global political situation – what with the likes of Trump, Brexit, the rise of the far-right and the forthcoming UK General election?
“I'm not really in favour of any one party or movement, I'm more just against all forms of oppression and cuntishness, so I tend to stand with anyone who offers resistance against that. The current rise and acceptance of fascism is very troubling, it disturbs me to see my brothers and sisters so easily corralled into standing up for leaders who ultimately don't give a fuck about them by the corrupt mainstream media – the good old divide and conquer, it's been working like a charm for centuries. It would be so great to see the people get together and turn the tables on that shit... you know, in my lifetime!”
Bringing the theme of 'resistance' even closer to their music, in January this year the Righteous Mind threw their weight behind Independent Venue Week, with Jones quoted as saying, “In these times of continuously increasing corporate stranglehold, it's more important than ever to have places that strengthen the community... independent venues are the headquarters of the resistance!” If the band’s DIY proclivities are anything to go by Jones must also be acutely aware how this “corporate stranglehold” extends beyond venues and into the wider music industry. Since their formation in 2014, The Righteous Mind having increasingly moved towards keeping things in-house. Although they have employed the talents of renowned French illustrator and tattooist Jean-Luc Navette for the artwork on their ‘Boil Yer Blood’ single and debut album ‘Super Natural’, Gavin Jay is an artist in his own right.
“Like many rockers before me, I followed the traditional and approved route into rock n roll, via art college. The call of the bass was strong so I knew that's what I had to do by the time I left, but I kept my hand in with the odd bit of creativity here and there. It was whilst making the cover for ‘Heavy Lounge #1’ that I began experimenting with collage, and it's just taken off from there. I've always loved surrealism and occult imagery, with Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell being the most obvious influences on the work I'm making now. And I'm gearing up for my first ever exhibition in June, which is really exciting.”
As for Jones, he has already produced and directed one of the band’s promotional videos, and whereas Jim Sclavunos from Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and Grinderman produced the last two Revue albums, Jones has also produced all their singles, including the debut album Super Natural. This has also been released on their own label MaSonic. Given the Jim Jones Revue connection to Sclavunos, it might be argued that it’s hardly surprising that The Righteous Mind have been likened to Grinderman on occasion, but Jones insists, “None of our music is supposed to sound like that by design, but if it does have parallels in any way I would take that as a compliment.”
He then goes onto impress just how significant Nick Cave was on his formative musical tastes though, “From the first time hearing 'Big Jesus Trash Can' at age 15 or 16 I was a fan of the Birthday Party… there just isn't anything else as irreverently spiteful or aggressive. They had the opposite sound to rock ‘n’ roll but were more rock ‘n’ roll than all the posturing hair metal bands put together!” Jones concludes, “That first Grinderman LP came out and it was the best sounding record for miles. So when we got a chance to work with Jim Sclavunos and use his production experience with Jim Jones Revue we were thrilled!”
Jay is similarly praiseworthy of Cave and Sclavunos, but equally quick to dismiss any similarities as coincidental, “I've been a big fan of Nick Cave’s music for many years and it was great to work with Jim Sclavunos, who also played live drums on a UK tour when Phil was away. But the songwriting I think comes from a wider range of influences. Jim Jones is like a musical archaeologist, digging up rare treasure that he'll bring into rehearsal for us to study and learn from. I think the biggest mistake a musician can make is to slavishly copy someone else. We definitely wanted to find our own voice and be as open as possible.”
They’ve certainly done that with Super Natural, which having produced it himself, Jones says, “I feel like I finally know what I'm doing in there.” A change of direction had already been hinted at on the Revue’s Savage Heart album, and in some respects this has been carried over into The Righteous Mind. But Jones agrees that guitarist Mal Troon and keyboard player Matt Millership have played a significant part in providing a completely different dimension and sound than that of the Revue, “Yes, you have these great players and it's important to use them. If you know you're working with a killer, then you need to give ‘em the knife and let ‘em get to work!”
Of course, Stooges and MC5 influences are never too far away from a Jim Jones album. But just how influential are they? Jones responds, “A huge piece of the puzzle... they opened the door in both directions; all the way back to the caveman blues, and far ahead to the future and cosmic travel.”
Jay can’t impress enough the importance of such influences, “I was blown away hearing The Stooges, New York Dolls and MC5 as a kid – utterly life changing. And that still stands, I feel that music is in my DNA, swooshing around in my blood. But there's a whole lot more in the mix too, and I think we're cautious about just being yet another tribute band to that genre.”
And to prove a point, there’s also been a distinct shift away from the more traditional rock ‘n’ roll boogie style that typified the Revue, towards a more straight down the line no-nonsense, heavy rock sound, which has even been likened to Led Zeppelin – especially on the band’s new single ‘Heavy Lounge #1’. Jones neither agrees with or refutes this comparison, but does offer an explanation of the inspiration behind it, “It's just your typical apocalyptic, existentialist blues and the sanctuary and redemption that comes from a lover’s kiss… the power of a thing that can take you beyond another thing… rock ‘n’ roll basically! Musically, the original inspiration came from a section in a Charles Mingus number that's been a favourite for many years called 'Better Git It In Your Soul'… our song is a punk rock version of that.” Jay agrees, and sums up, “I guess I was trying to channel a bit of that – intensity, heaviness, but also with a swing to it."
It also seems that Jones can’t stay off the road for too long. With tours of France and England just completed, the Righteous Mind are now returning to the continent for a series of festival appearances, including yet another date in France. The French, it seems, hold a particular affection for Jones. When asked why, he replies,
“This magazine is called Vive Le Rock! - there's a connection! I think there is something in the French and Spanish culture that goes with rock ‘n’ roll... a rebellious spirit to change things you don't like… cut off the heads of the aristocracy and establishment etc. Also, I think, generally, when you get outside of England there is an attitude of appreciation and respect for artists purely because they make the effort to be that. It isn't so necessary to be trendy like it is in the UK. You find people are much more open to enjoying something just because it's good on some level.”
Although the Righteous Mind already have several singles under their belt, it’s taken nearly three years for their debut album to come to fruition. But if the Righteous Mind have somewhat remained in the shadows of the Jim Jones Revue so far, the release of ‘Super Natural’ has now changed all that. Gavin Jay says, ““It's been a long, hard battle making this record happen, but I really think it's the best thing we've ever done, so it’s very gratifying to read [the] reviews”. He then goes on to explain just why it took so long for the debut album to come to fruition, “I think anyone making music in 2017 will understand the struggle, the main issue being the current dismal state of the music industry. There just isn't the money or support there once was, venues are closing across the country, and people stream their music rather than buying it. It's assumed you can just go out and earn money from touring but that isn't necessarily the case, often you're lucky just to break even. After The Revue ended we had no label, no money, but an album that knew we just had to make. The question was how to survive in the meantime. Low paid casual work and a massive credit card bill being the answer there. Glamorous it ain't, and blind faith in the music has carried me through on a number of occasions… and still does.”
After ever-dynamic live performances, and such a critically lauded debut album, how does Jones think the Righteous Mind will respond, and where will their ever accelerating trajectory take them? Jones simply says, “Keep turning up the heat, and take it to the next level!” Jay concurs, by adding “To step up it another gear, to hit the road hard and record as much as possible. We've already got a ton of ideas for the next LP, so getting on with that – we basically want to be workaholics."
I don’t think anyone will argue with that!
Super Natural by Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind is now available on MaSonic / Hound Gawd Records www.houndgawd.com
For details about Gavin Jay’s art exhibition go to www.gavinjay.co.uk