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Pursuit Of Pop: Jo Bevan Interviewed
Patrick Clarke , June 21st, 2022 10:05

For Quietus subscribers’ Summer Solstice EP, Desperate Journalist's Jo Bevan goes solo in search of perfect pop, while Oh The Gilt, UKAEA and Ekoplekz provide masterclasses in the art of a killer remix. All of them speak to Patrick Clarke

Jo Bevan

“My favourite pop music has always been from the second album, the one where they’re just getting to grips with what they’re doing,” says Jo Bevan. “That moment where they’re thinking ‘what does this do?’ When they’re stretching ever so slightly beyond the capabilities of the technology they’re using, or their own skill. That, coupled with a really good melody or a really well written chord progression, is my favourite thing in pop music.” ‘Born Ready’, released today exclusively to Quietus subscribers alongside three phenomenal remixes, is in fact only Bevan’s first proper single as a solo artist, but it has all the same qualities she’s speaking about, that charming sense of early exploration, but with a superlative, irresistible melody at its core.

She is by no means inexperienced as a musician. As the frontwoman of the indie band Desperate Journalist, she has honed her skills over four albums since 2014. “I’ve always found it really easy to write poppy melodies, which works well in a band,” she says. With ‘Born Ready’, however, “I was interested to see if I could push that as poppy as it can go.” She had been experimenting with home production for years, first on GarageBand and later on Logic, until she arrived at her debut single, “literally just trial and error, figuring out what every preset does and how I can warp things. Now I’ve finally reached a stage where I’ve written an actual song!” For a time, she’d set herself exercises, trying to write in ‘the style’ of another artist, “like at art school when you’re told to copy a famous painter or something, it was like, ‘let’s see if I could do a Nine Inch Nails song, or an Underworld song, or something incredibly basic and poppy. I love putting blocks together and figuring out how stuff works.”

Bevan’s always had a playful streak when it comes to pop music. Growing up, her parents had varied taste, “which I’m really grateful to them for,” and as a child she’d bash around on an old Yamaha keyboard and write “dumb little songs” to go along with its pre-programmed melodies. Her work now “is really just an extension of that, I’ve just become slightly more accomplished than when I was eight.” In her 20s, “I had this little Argos toy keyboard that cost a tenner and was bright pink, and I would do these terrible sub-Daniel Miller covers of pop songs and post them on Facebook when I came home drunk from the pub, then delete them in the morning. It’s just something I found really entertaining.” About a decade ago she was in a short-lived synth pop band. “I didn’t write anything, I just sung, but I really enjoyed being able to produce my voice in a more varied way than you usually do with guitar music.”

Bevan’s solo excursions are undoubtedly quite different to Desperate Journalist, whose sound draws heavily on the tradition of guitar music rather than electronic pop. That said, there’s a forward-thinking streak in that group too. She says the band’s last album Maximum Sorrow! “is my favourite of ours because we’re trying to do something more interesting within the framework of guitar, bass, drums and vocals”. That record’s opening track ‘Formaldehyde’, for example – which tellingly was written by Bevan alone – is centred around dark, sinuous keys, rather than guitars. For their next record, the foursome have switched up their process to each make demo tracks on their own, a process Bevan is feeling “more and more confident with” as her solo work progresses. “We would never want to write the same album over and over again, because we don’t like other bands who do that.”

For Bevan, part of the joy of experimenting is the act of hearing her voice in different contexts – albeit a bit of inebriated fun, it was part of the genuine pleasure of her post-pub Facebook cover tracks. In her short lived synthpop project a decade ago she “really enjoyed being able to produce my voice in a more varied way than when you’re writing guitar music.” It’s for that reason that the three remixes that accompany the Quietus release of ‘Born Ready’ are so fascinating. Each is unlike the others; UKAEA mangles it into a fragmented, dubbed-out banger. Ekoplekz pulls at each corner until the song becomes a vast psychedelic canvas. Oh The Gilt take the pop at the song’s core and supercharge it, its second half stretching out gloriously into free-wheeling acid groove. “I love them,” Bevan says of the versions. “The Oh The Gilt one is a Balearic masterpiece! I don’t feel precious about the music so the main thing I was excited about was hearing what parts other people were going to pick up on as the most prominent, particularly if people really fuck up the vocals.”

For all three remixers, what stood out above all else was Bevan’s gift for vocal melody. UKAEA wanted “to make it slower and add some grind,” as the project’s main player Dan Jones puts it. “I was going for an acid dancehall ‘Tom’s Diner’ vibe,” he says, and used a generative patch to let a modular synth provide “an absolute binfight” of a rhythm. Ekoplekz’s Nick Edwards, meanwhile, who describes himself as “not set up for doing remixes,” deconstructed Bevan’s vocals entirely. “I kept the remix at the same bpm as the original so I wouldn’t have to worry about re-pitching the vocals. Everything else is built from scratch. The beats come from an old Yamaha MR10 drum machine, and I built up the rest mainly playing by hand onto multitrack. The end result doesn’t really fit any particular genre, but the main inspiration comes from dub reggae, chopping the vocal into bits and adding ghostly trails of echo and reverb.”

Oh The Gilt, meanwhile, which is a production duo consisting of tQ’s own John Doran and Manchester-based sound engineer John Tatlock, are thrilled they were able to do anything at all. “When I first heard ‘Born Ready’ on Soundcloud I was blown away by it and couldn’t stop whistling it to myself and tentatively asked Jo if it would be OK for Oh The Gilt to remix it,” Doran explains. “I was surprised when she agreed to be honest as the only time we met her together, at a night called Reeperbahn in London, we probably weren’t at our finest.” Having “got the dosage catastrophically wrong” on his way to DJ there, and almost failing to turn up at all “because I thought everyone on the number 73 bus was a vampire,” Doran says he “was so decimated I could only read my laptop screen if I held my head two inches away from the screen. But then – and there’s no pleasant way of saying this – I was sweating so profusely into my laptop that it broke permanently. I had to finish the set by borrowing CDs from Linn who ran the night and I just played OMD’s ‘Georgia’ on a loop until it was time to stop. I wasn’t asked back for a second set.”

For Tatlock, “the sole thing I recall was staggering outside for a cigarette then accidentally wandering away and getting completely lost.” (Asking a passer-by, who happened to be a Berliner on holiday, for directions to ‘Reeperbahn’ resulted only in the “longest and strangest set of directions I have ever received.”) For the remix they leaned into that sense of chaos, Tatlock says. “I feel that the latter half of our remix captures the essence of this experience.” Adds Doran: “Another important ‘vibe’ touchpoint for me is that a few years ago I went raving with our pal Richard Augood at Portmeirion and we were watching Justin Robertson play a set that was like acid house undergoing a Hawkwind or Acid Mothers Temple freak out. And I know that’s almost the dictionary definition of ‘punching above one’s weight’ but I hope we got some of that unhinged mix in there.”

All four tracks are vastly different to one another, but whether fragmented banger or acid bliss, all of them are testament to the potential contained in the exploratory, forward-thinking pop music that Bevan herself arrived at after years of Logic experiments. “I think it’s a bonus to be an amateur!” she says.

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