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Interview: Midnight Juggernauts

The Crystal Axis marks a bold and impressive change of direction for Australian trio Midnight Juggernauts, whose 2007 debut Dystopia was hallmarked by catchy, synthesised electro pop. Their sophomore effort is decidedly less dancefloor, more prog – the result of extended jam sessions at a beach house on the south coast of New South Wales and a new found penchant for 70s psychedelia. The synths are still there, but tracks like “Vital Signs” and “This New Technology” are proof of the band’s growth and new found confidence. Juno Plus called up NYC to chat with lead man Vincent Vendetta during their northern hemisphere summer tour.

Let’s talk about the Crystal Axis, your second album. Have you been happy with the reaction so far?

It’s been good so far. We had no idea how the album would be received, we took a quite different approach to it and I think this record has a very different personality to our first one. There is definitely not the same dance element to it. The new material has gone down really well at our live shows. A lot of people are not going to be into our new approach, but I think some people will like it too. We are happy to polarise opinion in that respect.

How did the change in sound and direction come about?

We played a lot of songs in the rehearsal sessions that were very 70s disco sounding, quite dancey. But we decided as a band that we’d rather release them separately, that was a different beast altogether, and we’ll have some more dancefloor friendly music coming out at some stage. The same thing applies to our live show, we like to criss-cross all over the board, and on the album we didn’t want to rely on four to the floor.

After your first album you were championed by the likes of Justice and were pigeon holed with the electro scene. Have you noticed a change in your crowds since then?

It’s a lot more diverse now, and I like that. Not that we’d ever reject any type of crowd, but it’s nice to see the dance crowd with the weird, anything goes crowd with the pop rock crowd. And we’ve got some interesting live shows coming up, we’ve toured with the Flaming Lips, now we are touring with Health and then it’s Chromeo in November, which means we’ll get to play to a wide range of people.

What were your influences during the recording of the album? What were you listening to at the time?

Lots of 70s pop rock and jammy prog I guess: lots of stuff from that era, and we’d end up with loose jam sessions. We packed all our drums, synths, guitars and pedals and went to a beach house to record most of it, and it was very idyllic, just south of Sydney on the edge of a national park – there were dolphins jumping out the water in front of us, all very natural (laughs). But it was the jam sessions that dictated the sound of the album, rather than any particular band or sound. It’s hard to define. Playing with Arps and Moogs was fun, but with some of them you make the sound once, record it, and it’s hard to get it back. That’s why we kind of have to take a different approach to playing live. We have the Mini Moog with us when we are playing live, but it’s kind of broken now. We were playing in Belgium and the sun was beating down on us on stage and the Moog just started going out of tune every five seconds. It was just wilting under the sun. So at the moment we are playing with lots of loop pedals and sample pads, where we can play one note and loop it. But we already use a lot of loops during our set and I don’t know how much more our sound guy can take.

“Lovebox was one of the most stressful gigs we’ve ever played. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…afterwards we went on the big slippery dip and that made us all feel much better”

Do you think you guys are a better live as a result?

Well we have been playing so much live, we are a well oiled machine now – malfunctioning Moogs aside! We go off on more tangents, and we are more confident extending intros and outros and bridges. I think that connection has influenced the album too; we really felt it in the studio.

You guys have been touring hard since the album was finished. You recently played at the Lovebox festival in London – how did that go?

Wow, that was one of the most stressful gigs of our lives. The morning of the show we were in Rome, and when we got to the airport we realised some of our equipment was missing. We were freaking out, be we figured we’d try and get some equipment when we got into London. Anyway we were stuck on the tarmac in Rome for two hours for some reason, and when we landed at Heathrow there was a broken down plane on the runway so we were stuck behind that for more than an hour. Then we got to the festival and an ambulance was trying to get past two trucks which were blocking the entrance, and by now we are meant to be on stage. So we played without half our equipment, no soundcheck and all I could hear was muffled sounds from the front! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…but it makes you appreciate the gigs that do go to plan. Afterwards we went on the big slippery dip and that made us all feel much better.

And where have you been before that?

We’ve been on the road for about a month, and have done a bunch of other festivals. There was Benicassim in Spain, Exit in Serbia, and an amazing jazz festival in Switzerland. To be honest I’m not sure where one tour ends and the next one begins. I moved out of my house in Melbourne recently, so I’m a bit of a nomad at the moment.

What kind of things do you miss about home?

The stability! Knowing where you are going to wake up in the morning, and having your own bed…But at the moment my main interest is following the sun, we are on a bit of an endless summer. I heard Melbourne had its coldest ever winter day recently so I’m pretty happy to be in the northern hemisphere to be honest. And then at the end of the year we’ll be back in Oz.

Before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like to share?

Erm (pause) … I’m looking to sell my old car in Melbourne. Actually no, I’ll just put an ad in the paper.

We’ve got not one but two free Juggernauts’ tracks on the go over at Juno Download. Get your freebie of “Vital Signs” here and “Get Connected” here.

Interview: Aaron Coultate