Exploding onto the guitar-oriented indie scene in 2010, Jinja Safari has continued to gain momentum and a reputation for “forest-themed indie rock stuff” (Marcus Azon’s own words) which is a cut above, with catchy hooks as well as intricate multi-instrumented rhythms.
After an 18 month hiatus, the latest single “Find My Way” does not disappoint those craving more of the band’s world music inspired sunny tunes.
Due to the vibe of their music, it should come as no surprise that talking to frontman and guitarist Marcus Azon was a thoroughly insightful, laid-back and fun experience. Calling from a cold meeting room in the State Library Victoria to a bandmate’s Chippendale abode, Azon and I discussed the music industry, Jinja Safari’s growth, his acting career and the difficulties of cat sitting when you have cat allergies.
Not only do Marcus and I share severe cat allergies but also a small city upbringing. Azon grew up in Hobart and moved to the “mainland” aged 17, to start an acting career. “Oh yeah?” I press looking for a scoop, “Shut up!” he jokes, before playing ball and admitting a “embarrassing” fact that he appeared on Home and Away for a few months. Although it was a short stint, this role was enough to make him recognisable and made him “no stranger to the fickle nature of hype” (in case you’re curious…sorry Marcus). This interesting time of his life helped him deal with the early fame that Jinja Safari experienced. Noting that many young Australian musicians and bands are thrown into the spotlight early by triple j Unearthed and other platforms, I am curious about how such hype shaped the band. Firstly Marcus states that Unearthed is “an incredible platform…nothing more, no sense of entitlement, arrival or security” and continues to say “if you have got the right people around you then you can turn that hype into a more sustainable commodity.” He mentions briefly the management changes that Jinja Safari have undergone. Last year, they signed with Wonderlick after parting ways with Universal. He admits that the business side of music making can get in to the way of momentum and he has written on that previously in an interesting piece for Medium.
Azon says that neither he nor the band misses the hype and says that they have been rehearsing four days a week over the last six months. Their enthusiastic commitment reflects their clearer musical intentions and stronger personal relationships. During their break, several band members went travelling, Pepa Knight and his partner had a new baby and Azon put more energy into songwriting and collaborating with other musicians. Refreshed by time away, they are now making music that they are increasingly proud of. Azon particularly talks of a new perspective on his role in the music world, saying he is “losing interest in getting attention solely on me or my art, which I never thought I would say as a younger person…it’s young man’s dream to be admired for your thoughts and for your opinions on the world.”
This humbleness underscores our whole conversation about the music industry. He talks of trying to survive off making music in order to focus on it without needing a day job. “It is the ideological issue that you face…being on stage and made to feel like a musician that has achieved their dreams and then going back to pedestrian life, same friends, same rent that you have to pay…that’s the strangest things for a lot of bands.” It may surprise some fans of the band, to know that Joe Engstrom and Alister Roach both work as bartenders in Newtown and “every now and then they get recognised…someone who has had a couple of drinks yelling at them telling them that they love the band, all very nice…but then they have to pipe them down and say ‘Okay, what drink do you want?’”
Don’t get the wrong idea though, Azon is most certainly not ungrateful for the experiences and success that Jinja Safari has had. In fact, when asked about the band’s onstage antics (such as Knight at the Metro Theatre in 2011) he endearingly describes how, “The whole thing, standing in front of that many people and goofing around, playing your music and telling your stories feels like a…naughty thing, you feel like you are not meant to be doing that, like you’re living someone else’s life. They are going to find out sooner or later…and say ‘hey mate, how’d you get up there? It’s artists only’ and its like ‘Well you can’t fucking get me if I am on the scaffolding or if I’m top of the speaker stack.” But surely, after playing so many massive shows and being as well respected as Jinja Safari is, they must realise that the band has kind of made it now? “Not really, not at all”, he responds honestly. Currently working on five other projects with new people and producing new sounds, he still comes across like an excited teenager who is just starting out.
It is refreshing speak to a musician who is as committed to live music as Azon, who says “if you want to be a live performer, you have to have an engaging live show period,” although he admits that is difficult for a lot of the electronic music that is popular right now. When he watches live music, he (and many others…like me) want to see accidents and the human element on stage because, “that will never die, live performance will always be there.” Despite expressing his respect for several young producers as well as musicians like Jamie XX, Shlohmo and Flying Lotus, he believes that a musician owes more to the audience than “coming in with two USBs and plugging them into each side of the Pioneer.”
Talking more about the band’s influences, Azon admits that the forest/tropical indie rock that they have been categorised as previously is “not a true representation of who the five of us are individually or a collective.” Earlier this year, Azon toured with The Aston Shuffle and he describes the Stereosonic circuit as an interesting experience. I comment that Jinja Safari and EDM don’t seem to fit in the same sentence, but he laughs, saying that he and the band listen to a lot of music, “I certainly don’t just listen to Jinja Safari” he quips. What differences we will be able to hear in their new music? He admits that the first album, Jinja Safari came out with a more indie guitar sound than they may have wanted, and the 25 songs that they are currently trying edit down into an album are more in the direction they are heading. This is more sample-based with sounds inspired by the popular world music from the 1980s. However it is in the live shows that this aspect of their music really comes out “when you have a sitar, guitar and a djembe you are gonna want to intertwine them and do some call and response…we finish a song and somebody just keeps playing and somebody else jumps on top of that and then another one and you find yourself at Womad all over again.” These jams, that Azon says will never make it onto the recordings, really push them as players as they have not been trained on many of the instruments they play. “It’s the way you learn” he says, “the way any kid who wants to be in a rock band learns. You get your mate in the garage and you fiddle it out and then you start playing riffs that you are scared to play and they get more comfortable.” This experimentation is what you can expect on the upcoming live shows like the “Find My Way” tour, where they have three new songs that they are interested in playing live, as well as some new riffs they’ve been trying out.
To finish our interview, I ask Azon more about the future of their music and live performances (although at this stage it’s up in the air, as many future plans rely on the success of the single, the shows, and then the album). Azon describes Jinja Safari’s new manager Greg from Wonderlick as an ex-roadie “with two full sleeves of tatts”. Greg’s extensive tour management experience is exciting to Azon, as he likes the idea that as a musician “you have a trade and you can just keep working it for years and years. It’s not about being on the front cover of a magazine or whatever. For me, that lifestyle sounds appealing.” Already incredibly well travelled, I ask where nationally and internationally he would really like to play? Somewhat embarrassed, he admits that although “cliche” he would love to play (or at least go) to Glastonbury: “Love the mud and I love gumboots” (a love not necessarily shared by our Jane as written here). He also hopes to make more trips to his hometown of Hobart – perhaps back to Marion Bay for Falls Festival. He admits the island state can miss out in a lot of band tours as “the Bass Strait freaks people out.”
In the modern music scene where music gets uploaded to Soundcloud at a fast and furious rate, Jinja Safari’s dedication to honing their sound and working on their live shows is admirable. Despite changes to the lifestyle of the band’s members, which may make it more difficult to tour, Azon says they are keen to start playing again and to show off the new tunes. For Melbournites keen to check out the jams, and hopefully catch some unpredictable on-stage antics, they are playing at Howler this Friday, 7th August.
Hometown: Sydney, Australia.
Latest Release: Find My Way single, out May, 2015.
Sounds like: Jungle Giants, Animal Collective, Ball Park Music.
Say what? Marcus Azon’s father is a preacher and when he travelled to certain places, “he would be like ‘yo I got a preacher for you’” and he would get a free stay that way.
Stay classy, Rosa.