Interview: New Jacobin Club, Theatrical Metal With A Hint Of Fire.
If you are into sounds of 1980s punk and like to keep your mind open to new experiences, then you definitely should check out New Jacobin Club. This six piece band straight from Saskatoon, Canada came to the UK to promote their fifth studio album entitled Soldiers Of The Mark. They have already been around for twenty years and as much as they love to perform, they do protect their identity by hiding behind cryptic characters. This gothic-punk-theatrical group consist of The Horde (guitar and vocals), Poison Candi (theremin, percussion and vocals), The Ruin (bass), The Luminous (cello), Mistress Nagini (keyboard and backing vocals) and Rat King on drums. They found some time in their busy schedule to talk with Edyta K before their London gig.
You have been performing together for twenty years, that is some time! Could you tell me a bit about the band history, how it all started?
The Horde: I was the one who started it twenty years ago. At that time in Saskatoon, in Canada, the music community was very “safe”. Everyone wanted to do what they saw on TV – everyone wanted to sound like Nirvana, Pearl Jam… And you know, everyone would say: You have to look like you don’t care. You know, dirty, ripped clothes and stuff. I was always into very theatrical looking bands, and nobody was doing that, so I really wanted to do this. I met one guy, a fellow drummer, introduced to me by another guy I was playing with, and that’s how we started the band. We were very unpopular. It was twenty years ago, we were playing in small clubs and everyone hated us. It was very bad [laughs] . But we stayed at it. And because it was so different than everyone else was doing at that time, we got a lot of attention…however good or bad.
You’ve just mentioned, New Jacobin Club started as a trio. How come it’s now a six-piece band?
The Horde: Well, the main reason was, when we recorded our first album there were already six people involved. Even though we were just trio, there were other people on it. There was a keyboard player, there was another guitar player, and so on. And after that first album with all our friends playing with us, we just kind of decided, let’s just go on and work as a band. So after the trio, there were five people in the band. It was like we put this new band on tour for the album that we recorded. And forever since then it’s been always five, six or seven musicians.
Do you ever think about extending your band, adding a new musician?
The Horde: No. We already did that. We went backwards.
The Horde: Yeah, yeah.
Poison Candi: [laughs] Yeah, a few years ago there was like eleven of us, I think.
The Horde: Well, there were seven instruments and then four extra people do the theatrical thing. So we’ve actually cut back. We’ve lost weight.
New Jacobin Club – it doesn’t sound casual. What is the meaning behind your band’s name?
The Horde: It’s about removing people from power who have been born to it. It’s a reference to the French Revolution.
I know as you’ve just mentioned, that the reason behind the theatrical part is your fascination with theatre and music performance because you want to be different. But I want to ask if anyone of you had experience in that area before joining the band?
The Luminous: I started playing the cello when I was four or five so now it’s been around twenty years and though I still don’t feel really comfortable on stage, I’m happy performing. I think you guys have much more experience than I.
Mistress Nagini: Oh yes. For me, it started all in dancing and in particular belly dancing. I was starting to do something more theatrical than classical belly dance. I was always trying to bring some more challenging elements into it. When I was doing belly dancing in modern dance venues, especially in small cities, I found I was not able to express myself. So I start doing more solo acts. It was more edgy, with sword balancing, sometimes including snakes which I own and adore. And that’s actually how I came to be in the New Jacobin Club. We performed together. I was opening for other bands and playing during their breaks. I went on stage with my snakes.
The Horde: That’s how we actually met her. And how she ended up with us [laughs].
Mistress Nagini : Yeah. So I came out of the performance angle and then working with the band I’ve found some of my old, childhood piano tendenies so I could also play an instrument with the band. As for now, we don’t have as many people doing theatrics and what’s really interesting, instead of being an outside member doing theatrics, I’m now actually utilised as member of the band. So that adds a level of precision and may I say – Trust?
The Horde: Yes, yes. A lot of trust.
Mistress Nagini: And that’s really amazing. Unfortunately tonight due to the age of the building and the restrictions I won’t be able to do anything that involves fire, I normally do a fire dance, but… We will be doing it at some other performances. And I already feel really excited, I love it !
The Horde: The stuff I usually do, I’ve learned from the former members. The stuff I do with fire I actually learned from them. And some of the new theatrical performance I’ve worked on with Mistress Nagini. My theatrical background has developed in the band. But originally, when we first started, we separated the theatrical part from the band. Now it’s actually part of the band.
So is music the most important part. Is that what comes first and the rest comes from that?
The Horde: It actually comes at the same time.
Mistress Nagini: One falls into the other.
The Horde: Now we think about the music in terms of how the visuals will work with it. Like the last album we put out – it’s actually the first album we put out as this group, bearing in mind the possible visualizations – so we can add and accommodate some things. For example, this part can be linked to that, it can be shortened, or we can take it out. The songs are built that way.
Poison Candi: I actually don’t have a foundation in music, but have in visual backgrounds. I used to run a dinner theatre company in the small town I’m from, and I’ve studied a little bit of theatre at university before switching over to visual arts. So none of us have classical theatrical background.
All of you’re playing different characters while on stage. Did you invent your characters or you borrow them from some stories / books / movies?
The Horde: The characters? Well…
Poison Candi: My character was actually born at university, in a performance class and I brought her with me. She came up through a series of photos I’ve been working on in art class. So yeah, she was born elsewhere and she kind of moved into the group with me. She is a lot like me but a lot more eccentric. She can get away with a lot.
The Horde: My character has always been kind of this… You know, much like a traditional satan, sitting there, tempting and watching people doing terrible things and pushing them and laughing. I’m pretty loud on stage, and with her now (pointing at Poison Candi) for the last few years we have developed a little bit of a play on that.
There have been some points in the show where I’m looking scary and she just starts laughing at me. And that’s one of the best things this band is about. We can turn around and see that the things we are doing are outrageous. We don’t take ourselves seriously to the point of alienating people.
Mistress Nagini: And that’s very important for us. To invite audience to come along and interact with us, never to be too separated.
The Horde: Yes, we do talk to the audience during the show. We are not the unapproachable characters on the stage. We really want to be a one with the audience.
Are your characters just your stage appearance or you think about them more like yours alter ego?
Poison Candi: For me definitely an alter ego.
The Luminous: I don’t think it’s like that as much, I think it’s just another aspect of what we’re doing. But when it goes further it becomes a part of your own personality, as you don’t get that type of experience in regular life.
The Horde: It’s our excuse to be who we are. To be liberated.
Mistress Nagini: Especially in a small city, where everyone knows who you are.
The Horde: When you go out in a costume you already separate yourself. You separate yourself from who you are, from the audience by saying: Look at me, I’m not like you and I’m not going act like you, I’m going a act the way I want. And everyone is ok with that. Whereas a lot of times when you walk on stage and you are not presenting yourself as a theatrical component, and then you act a certain way, a lot of people will think “what’s wrong with you?”…instead of accepting it as part of what you do, part of your show, part of your art.
Poison Candi: I just want to add that she is my alter ego but she is like a lot of me as well [laughs].
How are your performances changing over time, are they changing from show to show or from tour to tour. Do you have a script to follow or you are free to improvise, who comes up with new ideas?
The Horde: It changes from tour to tour and it can change from show to show in small ways. We have little bits we can move around. There are people who saw us already on this tour on couple shows and they said “you didn’t play this song…”. You know, sometimes we look at the club and the people and we think what will work here. But yes – we do have a bigger plan and we stick to it. And obviously certain cities and certain places won’t allow us to use some things like fire. In Canada, it’s completely different. There it seems to be a challenge to do something that is not allowed. Like – do it! Whatever you want.
Poison Candi: They love it. [laughs].
The Horde: Yeah, so it’s like we’ve been encouraged to be crazy in Canada. While over here everyone is so careful and we have to change our shows for that.
You are now on tour in the UK promoting your fifth studio album Soldiers Of The Mark, and you already told me that the band evolved from trio to eleven-piece band and now it’s just six of you. Can you tell me a bit about the album, is it very different from your previous work?
The Horde: Well, it is and it isn’t. It is still the same group as the album before with one or two differences. The drummer and the cello and the guitar, well the four of us (pointing at himself, Poisoned Candi, The Luminous and Rat King) have been together for almost eight years now. That’s longer than most of the bands are.
And what’s different? For me it’s that what we played on the album, without any additions, is exactly what we play live. And it’s also that we wrote it together, where in the past it was one person who writes the song and teaches it to everyone. On this album we worked on the songs together, we brought them into one room and we worked things out together.
So these six people play the music much more like it’s our own. But if you watch the show and you can tell if any of the songs stand out like they do not sound like one of our albums, you can tell me. Because I think it’s difficult, it’s this group that makes them sound a certain way, not when they were written or recorded.
We talked about the songs how they were born and how you created the album, could you tell me how exactly the writing process works for you, who writes?
The Horde: It depends on who writes it. In the past, I wrote ninety percent of the music and the lyrics. And then there were couple other members of the band who wrote the songs, but they will write a whole song and bring it in. Like a full, complete song. With this album me and Rat King we actually sent riffs to each other. Some ideas, parts, not always full songs. Some of the songs we are doing tonight are even not on the album. They’re newer than that. And on top of that, she starts to write songs too (pointing on Posion Candi).
The Luminous: I often forget which parts of songs I actually wrote myself and which I did not. We kind of all bring things in, then we play along and then it comes out. It is a collaboration I would say.
The Horde: When we first start playing the last album live we’d been using orchestra samples, and then I sat down and wrote it out for cello. Because I had done a music degree, I was able to rewrite the parts in a way that one cello could play them. And that’s how it started. And after that, she (The Luminous) started coming up with the counter melodies. A lot of how the cello and guitar play together is because of what she brings to it. So it’s really hard to say now, who writes what.
Poison Candi: And now I’m adding some lyrics as well and then he (The Horde) has to make them work somehow.
The Horde: We’re inspiring each other.
You’ve mentioned that you are a trained musician. Who else has a music degree?
The Horde: Well, two of us have Fine Arts degrees.
The Luminous: I’ve started cello lessons when I was four or five. I ‘ve studied classical music, but I haven’t done a degree at university, I studied when I was younger.
The Horde: The wonderful thing about this group is that people from different art disciplines have been pulled into it. It’s not just the music, not just the band, not just the performance. And I think that’s what makes us who we are. We have a background in dance, in visual arts, and some of us are classically trained.
The Ruin: That’s something very important for me. We all come from such a different backgrounds we can put a show together and create something unique.
The Horde: Lots of bands are very worried about what sort of equipment they’re using. What type of guitar they’re playing, the quality of their instruments and stuff like that. And for us, it’s there, but it’s not the most important part. They are tools. There is so much more to consider if you are a performer and not only a musician.
If the performance itself is so important, do you design your own costumes Do you make them from scratch or you just buy some clothes thinking – that will work?
The Horde: No, we kind of put them together. Some of the stuff we buy, but we buy them with the ideas how to make them work together.
Poison Candi: I actually do mine. Because I have a background in visual arts I do create them from scratch.
The Luminous: She actually shares the ideas and she constantly shows us new things. Like guys, look – I’ve made this, I’ve made that…
Poison Candi: Yeah…
The Luminous: And when we practise while I play, she (Mistres Nagini) will be sitting in the corner and constantly sewing something. It’s amazing.
Mistress Nagini: This band actually allows me to indulge in some of the things I’m very interested in. I don’t have an art degree but this band allows me work on my ideas and give them form. Which is a great thing, as I would never have an opportunity at my work to do this. It’s just magical!
The Horde: Ok guys, I should say that I will buy my costume. But they won’t. They all make theirs. [laughs]
You are now on a tour in the UK. It’s a long way from home. Is this part of a bigger European tour or is it just the UK ?
The Horde: No, we will be back home in two weeks.
Have you thought about touring Europe?
The Horde: Well, people have already asked us about Germany and France. So yes. We sell more albums in Europe than in Canada, and we seem to have a bigger fanbase here (in the UK) than in Canada. So we thought, it’s time to stop talking about it and just do it.
We now own our record company, we control everything. We no longer have any larger companies that distribute us. We had that in the past but it’s so much better now. And the music industry is different now. Different even than what it was five years ago. And we are doing better now, now it’s the right time for us. And everywhere we go we meet people saying: I can’t believe you finally here.
The Luminous: And so we are [laughs].
Mistress Nagini: That’s what makes this band so magical. I would say number one with people. Never mind the music industry. We are here for the people. And it will make us so sad, going back to Canada
The Horde: Yeah, we don’t wanna leave.
Then you need to come to the UK more often. So what’s next, can you tell me about your plans for the future?
The Horde: Well, we’ve been already talking about our next visit. And that will be probably next year, July. It will probably be a big festival.
The Horde: Not yet.
Poison Candi: It’s a secret [laughs].
The Horde: We’ve been here already a week and we’ve got all those offers to play. Some of the promoters have been asking even before we get here. And it’s overwhelming, because we’ve been telling our friends and fans – “we will see you next year in the UK.” But we’ve been saying that for years and years. And finally, it wasn’t a lie. We came.
Thank you so much for your time and I will see you soon on the stage at The Black Heart.
Interview and portrait photography by Edyta K.