Interview by Gareth Ware
A longstanding festival staple, The Just Joans have a way with a wry turn of phrase and wistful melody. The results are less a collection of laments and more a series of national anthems-in-waiting for an as-yet undiscovered nation of winsome souls hung up on what-might-have-beens, culminating in 2012’s full-length, ‘Buckfast Bottles In The Rain’. Here, we talk about that record, all things since, The Magnetic Fields, and their relationship with Indietracks.
This is usually the point where I ask bands if they’re excited about playing Indietracks for the first time but if anything you guys – along with MJ Hibbett and The Smittens – are verging on being the resident house band. What’s it like to have such a long-standing relationship with a festival?
Our relationship with Indietracks festival has lasted far longer than any of our romantic relationships. Usually by this stage the sex has dried up, the conversation is dead and both parties are frantically looking around for someone/anyone else. It’s different with Indietracks. We still desire Indietracks sexually and we will always remain faithful…until T in the Park start responding to our constant text messages and booty calls (joke).
How do you feel that you’ve developed as musicians and songwriters since that first (listed) appearance in 2010?
Musically we haven’t. A few years back we tried to get Katie to play tambourine as well as singing. It was fucking chaos!
Now, I for one don’t think ‘Buckfast Bottles In The Rain’ got the attention it definitely deserved on release, so let’s talk about that a bit. Going back to its initial conception as ‘Last Tango In Motherwell’, did setting it in such a specific time and place prove a constraint or a point of focus?
Aww, many thanks Gareth, you old charmer you. A lot of the songs for the initial Last Tango in Motherwell album were written between 1998 and 2003. I didn’t really set out to write a concept album about leaving Motherwell and going to uni in the late 90s; that was just what was going on during that period of my life. Ultimately, I lacked the imagination to write about anything else. Say what you see…no matter how dull.
How did the decision to re-record/rename/re-release it come about, and what was it like to revisit the songs and give them a ‘makeover’ (for want of a better word)?
It was a bit of a weird period. The rest of the band were all pretty busy and focusing on other things. I had bought an 8-track and thought it might be fun to re-record Last Tango… and, initially, we thought about calling it 1996 Tears but Buckfast Bottles in the Rain won out in the end. Camila, from the late, great WeePOP! Records, was (as always) really supportive and we ended up releasing it.
Did you have an overall idea of what you wanted the re-recorded album to sound like and, having had time to reflect on it, do you think it met them?
Buckfast Bottles… is probably a bit of a disappointment for me. That’s maybe partly why we’ve never tried to record another album. I really like some of the songs on it but a lot of them lost something in the translation. Last Tango… was recorded on a 4-track and had a kind of naive charm. I wanted to hear the songs as if they’d been recorded by Stephen Street. It turned out that I’m not Stephen Street…I’m not even Janet Street(-Porter). In saying all that, it’s a lovely thing to have: the artwork (done by Katie) is wonderful, Camila did a great job of putting it all together and it is a faithful account of those awkward years between adolescence and adulthood.
Anyhow, you’ve done some other things since, most notably the ‘6.9 Love Songs’ EP/mini-album. Gloriously punsome title notwithstanding, in places it feels like a(n obviously) more Scottish Magnetic Fields. Is that something you’d agree with and was it conscious?
Alongside The Smiths, The Magnetic Fields are the band that have meant the most to me. I bought a copy of Get Lost when I was 18 or 19 and, since then, all I’ve ever wanted to do is write something as simple and perfect as ‘When You’re Old And Lonely’. 6.9 Love Songs was a clumsy love letter to Stephin.
Speaking hypothetically of course, the Indietracks team put together the schedule after a night on the tales and too many shandies have been consumed. There’s clash mayhem. Why should people go and see you and what can the uninitiated expect?
Hmmm, depends who we clash with. If it’s someone really good then I’d be tempted to recommend you go and see them. If you do decide to brave our set, then you can expect a well-known Britpop cover, a mystery surprise drummer and lots of sub-Magnetic Fieldsy songs of failed romance and drunken nostalgia. Also, Katie may throw an Ash frisbee which came free with a copy of 1977 into the crowd at some point. You do not want to miss that!
You guys have a habit of going dormant for a while and then springing a surprise on us – in order to counteract that what are your plans for the future and what are you looking forward to?
Well, we’ve got seven or eight new songs so I guess it’s nearly time for a new EP! There’s also been a wee bit of talk about releasing a compilation of the weePOP! tracks. Some of the early stuff is quite difficult to get hold of and there’s some unreleased stuff for the completists, ie our parents. It has the working title of For Those About to Weep!
Lastly, few bands are as fun to sing along to in cod-Scottish accents as yourselves. For those who have yet to master it can you offer some insight into the vocal nuances that make up the Just Joans sound?
Believe it or not, no one in the band is actually Scottish. It started as a misunderstanding which we were just too polite to correct. Before we knew it, it was “aye” this and “naw” that. It’s like The Talented Mr McRipley!