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Escape Velocity

Heading For The Sure: Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind Interviewed
Julian Marszalek , June 18th, 2015 10:57

After The Jim Jones Revue called time on proceedings last year, their main man decided he was ready for a new project, located somewhere between his old band's barnstorming rock & roll and dreamier territory. He tells Julian Marszalek about their "heavy lounge" before they make their UK debut

Photograph courtesy of Manon Nadolny

First appearances can be deceptive.

As the taxi rolls in from the airport through the outskirts of the port city of Bordeaux, the capital of the Aquitaine region in southwest France, the thought creeps in that the town famed the world over for its wine is little more than some kind of industrial hellhole. All around are the kind of cold and soulless modern steel and glass buildings that house banks and car dealerships, and the hotel where the Quietus will be bedding down for the night is a warehouse conversion that's located next to a vehicle repair shop.

Yet strolling down the avenues lined with trees through to the centre of the city, the beauty of Bordeaux begins to reveal itself like a flower opening in spring. Traffic is surprisingly minimal and the architecture of the city's buildings is a thing of wonder. The gorgeously warm weather and cloudless sky ensures that even by mid-afternoon many of the inhabitants are taking coffee and wine outside the brasseries and cafes that congregate around Bordeaux's heart, and there's much greenery in the shape of public parks and little squares.

Turning a corner on the way to tonight's venue, the Quietus is surprised to find a full-sized festival stage on the banks of the Garonne river, which is where Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind will be playing to approximately 4,000 people for what is to be only their fourth gig of the seven-date Le Premier Spectacle tour of France, as part of Bordeaux's ten-day maritime festival, Fête le Fleuve.

Yeah, first appearances can be deceptive. Wasn't this supposed to be a low-profile warm-up sojourn?

"Well, yeah," grins Jim Jones almost sheepishly as he greets the Quietus on the stage as the band's gear is being set up. "We told our booker to sort out some low-key gigs that would be like live rehearsals and instead we've got this. Not that I'm complaining!"

In fairness, the Bordeaux date is something of an aberration. The previous dates in St-Étienne, Nevers and Clermont-Ferrand have been compact club dates that have given the band the opportunity to finally road-test the material that's been worked on since before the demise of rabble-rousers The Jim Jones Revue at the tail end of last year. Though it may come as a surprise to some, the music that forms the backbone of Jones' new musical vehicle has been percolating in his head for some time.

"There was a certain amount of stuff during The Jim Jones Revue that just didn't work for that band for one reason or another," explains Jones as he discusses the origins of The Righteous Mind later in the dressing room. "There have always been songs where I've thought, well, I won't bring that to the band, or I tried something and it didn't really fit with the personalities. Not that it wasn't working, but I sort of knew that it wasn't the right thing to do with them."

The video release of '1000 Miles From The Sure' in April found Jones moving away from the bombast of The Jim Jones Revue into far dreamier and darker territories that wrong-footed the folk who were expecting more of the same. Yet the clues for Jones' new direction were already firmly in place on The Jim Jones Revue's final album, The Savage Heart, most notably on 'Midnight Océans & The Savage Heart' and the menacing tension of 'In And Out Of Harm's Way'.

"I don't think The Jim Jones Revue could've gone much further down that road without everyone going, 'Hang on a minute! Where's the ramalama rock & roll?'" says Jones of the differing musical ideas. "To me, they're like two sides of the same sword and they're both as intense as each other."

Mindful of the expectations thrust upon his old band - and its imminent demise - the only conclusion for the singer was to move on and try something new. Not that he's planning a complete musical about-turn.

"Musically, for me, things ebb and flow like the sea and there will always be a part of me that wants to go, 'Ramalama bamaloo!' but there's also a dreamy part musically that I love and I really want to harness that kind of thing where you find a back door into the dream world."

Former Jim Jones Revue bassist Gavin Jay has been on board with The Righteous Mind since the beginning, and his ability to play stand-up bass informed Jones' desire to move forward sonically. "I could see the orchestral sounding possibilities of an instrument like that," he says.

Finding new band members hasn't been the easiest of tasks given Jones' specific musical requirements of blending hallucinatory visions with hard-hitting rock. The Revue's erstwhile boogie-woogie master Henri Herbert helped out in the early stages of the band until the YouTube clip of him hammering a piano to within an inch of its life at St Pancras train station went viral and demand for his undisputed talents shot up.

"It was like, 'Who can play as good as Henri?'" laughs Jones. "It's hard to find good piano players and luckily I found Joe Glossop, and he's worked out great because he's got other elements that maybe Henri wouldn't have had; he's a bit more well-versed in some of the county chops and some of the soul organ parts."

Another vital element to the sounds going on in Jones' head is the pedal steel guitar, but the challenge for The Righteous Mind has been in finding a player with a high level of not only the necessary skills but also an ability to subvert what the instrument sets out to do. Enter David Page.

"Anything that anyone can do, I'm trying to reinvent it," Jones states. "You know, like using pedal steel and it's been hard finding someone who can play it. But then I want to tell them: 'Don't play it like a normal pedal steel.' You know, it's very hard to find someone who's spent a lot of their life learning to be that good at it and then telling them, 'I don't want you to play like that.' People don't really like that but David is an incredible player but he's also open-minded enough to go somewhere new with it."

Photograph courtesy of Manon Nadolny

He continues: "It's the same with the use of piano. I'm trying to break it up and use it in a different way because it's kind of like a flavour that you work with. I was keen to have stuff that was just - in my mind - exotic. And piano is great; you hear it on all the greatest records, whether it be rock, jazz, roots music, modern music and it can be so versatile. It's so evocative and so percussive and it's such a great instrument.

"And with the pedal steel, I wanted something a bit more exotic than your average guitar. I wanted to get away from the gig where the drummer sits at the back and there's a guitar player who does this and the singer does that and puts his foot on the monitor and it's like: 'Wa-heeey!' I've got nothing against spit and sawdust rock & roll - it's in my blood - but I felt people were being a bit cheated by not offering them something more than that. I'm trying to create a bit more depth and take people on a journey and we can go a little bit further out into the deepest reaches of your mind."

The final piece of the jigsaw is former Tokyo Dragons drummer Phil Martini and the sum of all this talent is what Jones describes as "heavy lounge".

"Well, I love all that Lee Hazlewood kind of music," says Jones as he begins to elaborate on the concept. "Also, The Walker Brothers and Tim Rose have that lounge kind of sound, but there's a rock & roll element to it, and I love that connection that they all have to Nashville. It has that darker, heavier element to it; it doesn't seem so twee, and I'm really attracted to that and the whole romance that goes with it. And among the other things I grew up, there was Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy."

Warming to the theme, he goes on: "There's this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche - and I'm paraphrasing here - and it's that 'the artist is continuously trying to re-create the moment he awoke to something' and there's this sound that I've got in my head: it's a little bit tribal, a little bit Nashville, a little bit psychedelic; it's all those things and I'm trying to write songs that marry all those elements together. I'm trying to recreate several different moments that I awoke to into one whole thing.

"We've got one song called 'Shallow Grave' which came to me during a waking dream. I had the melody in my head and we had a rehearsal that day and three hours later we were playing it. It's great to have that sort of immediacy. It also allows me to be me and not stuck in some kind of mould and it allows me to dig deeper. The Jim Jones Revue was a real liberation and great rediscovery of my roots but this has been something that has been kicking around in the back of my head and I've been wanting to do it for ages."

Jones' new found musical freedom to pursue his singular musical vision has also led to the naming of the band: "I like to think that a righteous mind is someone who is doing something for all the right reasons and because they're doing it for the right reasons then it frees them up to go all the way and not be encumbered by any insecurities or anything."

With the sky beginning to turn from blue to a deep purple as the sun starts to set, Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind take the stage with a confidence that belies their short lifespan. By this time, the space in front of the stage has filled with thousands of people; some are fans of The Jim Jones Revue, others go back as far as Jones' first band, Thee Hypnotics, while others are here out of curiosity and the hope of a good time. And on that score, Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind deliver.

"Everybody say 'YEAH'!" yells Jones and as the crowd responds in kind, The Righteous Mind kick off with Glossop's rolling piano and the insistent percussion of 'Aldecide'. This is the kind of number that sounds like a logical progression from The Savage Heart, as Jay's low-slung bass rumbles out the bottom end and Jones growls: "I wanna know where you stayed last night!" It's all here: sex, menace and tension that are all released with an explosive chorus. By the time they reach the end of second number, the blues-gospel fuzz of 'Till It's All Gone', the reaction of the crowd has perceptibly altered from curiosity to movement as bodies begin to sway in time with the music as they move closer to the stage. Forthcoming single 'Boil Yer Blood' seals the deal. A filthy, swaggering rocker that circles in the same orbit as Grinderman, this is where Jones' vision of musical subversion comes into its own. Page's pedal steel is redolent of Public Enemy's boiling kettle effect and is as far removed from the Grand Ole Opry as Vladivostok.

Photograph courtesy of Kami

The vision of heavy lounge is brought vividly to life on the triptych that is made up of 'Shallow Grave', 'Save My Life' and '1000 Miles From The Sure'. As Jones sits down, Jay takes to the stand-up bass and draws his bow across the strings to elicit a series of haunting drones and notes that float over the top of Glossop's minimal piano tinkles. Behind them, Martini's maracas tap out anxious percussion and as the pace slows right down, Jones moves well away from the hollering that's made his name to sing in a higher register. A bold move, to be sure, but this is genuinely compelling stuff and not simply because Jones is doing something different; this works on its own terms of storytelling, songwriting and a performance that dances on a razor's edge.

Of the three, 'Save My Life' proves to be the most gripping. A narcotic waltz of sorts with Jones moving into the rarely-explored crooner mode, the performance ensnares the audience thanks to the haunting quality that floats from the stage like an intoxicating haze.

The chain gang a cappella of 'Hold Up' finds the crowd keeping time via a spontaneous outbreak of handclapping, which is then rewarded by the burlesque grind of 'Dream'. Considering this is only their fourth gig, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a band well into its existence and the reaction from Bordeaux is that the band has scored itself a major and well-deserved victory.

Back in October, as The Jim Jones Revue were about to take the stage for the very last time, Jones compared his future to the stunts of Evel Knievel: he was flying through the air but he didn't know where he was going to land. In light of tonight's gig, the Quietus wonders if he's still in mid-air or has he landed?

"I'm still flying through the air but I can see the landing strip!" he laughs. "I think I'll make the landing strip, but whether I make it clean or end up breaking bones at the bottom is still up for debate."

He pauses for a moment and then asserts: "Fuck it! I'm committed - I'm mid-air right now, but I'm staying righteous and going for it."

Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind play their debut UK gig at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London on June 30. Head here for full details and tickets