-By Conor Graham
I had the opportunity to catch up with Joel, AKA, MC Bad Genius from Sydney’s Philadelphia Grand Jury to discuss the upcoming tour and Scottish Hostels…
Afternoon Joel! For those who don’t know, how did the Philly Jay’s begin? Where did it all start?
It was actually underneath Berkfingers grandparents house, when his dad was a teenager he built this little studio space in his garage and we kinda took that over and we started jamming. Dan the drummer was actually best friends with the next door neighbour and he happened to be walking past and heard the music and came on knocked on the door. I think it was just fortuitous. He said he wanted to jam so sat down, played drums and we were a band in an hour. It was great!
Where did the name come from?
That one is an old track by a New York band called The Fiery Furnaces. It’s a wild seven minute indie prog track and I think to be honest the real reason was Simon (Berkfinger) had a big crush on Eleanor the singer and he never admits this but he really thought one day he would meet her and he would be able to say, ‘Hey I love your band so much I named my own band after your song.’ And once you’re known in your town, you’re stuck with it. I think the original song was all about the indictment of catholic priests and child abuse but we can’t change it now!
I’m assuming he never met her?
No, he’s seen her play but I think if he had met her he wouldn’t reveal that anyway!
After Hope is for Hopers you guys packed up and moved to London. What was the drive behind that?
Well we saved up all our money from touring all around Australia by driving and sleeping on floors and we really wanted to expand into another country. We hoped we could build a following over in the UK and Ireland so we could travel back and forth and have a yearlong touring schedule. We played around Oz so much, people were probably sick of us so we wanted to play to others! If we hadn’t made the foolish decision to call it quits we would have been bouncing between summers in the northern and southern hemispheres. Would have been a pretty sweet life!
As you said there, In 2011, you guys officially broke up! Tell us how you got back on track with the band.
There’s been some contact between us at all at different points and then over time we grew up and realised that the small things weren’t worth ruining a band and friendship over. Simon was touring with his new project, Feelings and the guitarist he had was gonna be in Europe so he e-mailed us out of the blue asking if we wanted to be a part of this. My first reaction was ‘what the hell! We’ve hardly spoken in three years, this is so bizarre.’ So I called up Dan and he said, ‘This is gonna be awesome. We gotta do it!’ That’s all the confirmation I needed. Once Feelings toured and it was the three same guys it was always a foregone conclusion that it would happen.
During the Feelings set, did you ever sneak in a little Philly Jays number?
Yea well the first time Feelings did a tour I was in the crowd and it was surreal to hear the Philadelphia Grand Jury songs. I had never seen another band play those songs never mind two members of the band I used to be in. It was quite fun but maybe a bit bittersweet as well. So when we toured as Feelings, we threw in a few songs and it fitted in well. It was a no brainer to combine them all by the end.
Due to the length of time it was between albums, had your writing style changed?
Yea definitely, I think we’ve all had different things we’ve been listening to since the last album, I think we were trying to keep the same feeling of three guys jamming in a room together. We realised transferring songs over the internet did not work at all! It just zapped any momentum or creativity. Painful would be a massive understatement!
Who did you grow up listening to and do you feel that has influenced your style of music. Is there a specific sound you guys aim for is it just how it comes out naturally?
Most guys would say here they’d grown up listening to their Dad’s records but I grew up in a family that was involved with the Salvation Army, I listened to pretty much only brass band music or talkback radio until I was 16! I missed out on all of pop culture in the 80’s, totally missed grunge and sort of still haven’t caught up with it. I don’t even know many Nirvana songs. I have gone back but don’t really get it cause I wasn’t part of it. From then I listened to a lot of jazz, funk and soul. I have had the joys in my 20s and 30s going back and listening to The Sonics, The Stooges and The Clash and being blown away by how perfect it is. From a musical sense it seems easy or childish in some way but it doesn’t matter cause it sounds so incredible. I’ll hear a band now and just get so into them. I’ve been listening to Wire a lot. They’re just this incredible band and I was talking to some people like ‘Hey man have you heard of Wire’ and they look at me like where have you been for 15 years!
That’s was the same with me and ‘The Cure’. About a year ago someone gave the their greatest hits and I’ve been hooked ever since! It’s nice to experience it later on! It’s timeless.
Yea it still sounds fresh now.
As a fellow bass player I’m interested in who you would cite as you’re biggest bass heroes!
Well I think everyone at one point goes through a period of time when they’re in love with Flea from RHCP but I haven’t really listened to a huge amount of their stuff. Although I did see him do a pretty horrendous cover of the American national anthem at Kobe Bryant’s last game, that was atrocious! Haha. Apart from that I think maybe my favourite bass player is Larry Graham from Sly and the Family Stone. He makes some incredible sounds that people still try and replicate it. In my case I play for the song rather than focus on my playing.
You guys like to do things a bit different to the norm. For your first album, you released it by playing shows on the back of a truck in Sydney! How did you release the new one, Summer of Doom?
Well we did a listening party so fans could have a listen in full. We have seen a bands do that where they play it in a bar or a really sterile, non-personal environment. So we decided we would take the album and a few pairs of headphones and jump on one of the free buses that goes round Sydney all day and let people have a listen!
Did it go down well?
Yea it was great fun, a couple of people stayed on for a couple of hours and listened few times through and they were really stoked with it.
I’m sure it was a great way to meet fans.
Yea definitely, all those people if we bump into them we know them and we are able to say, ‘Hey remember that time we spent two hours on a stupid bus going round the city.’ Haha
You guys are out on tour at the end of the month! Are you looking forward to it?
Yea I’m looking forward to it cause it’s gonna be great fun but quietly scared too. It’s a daunting undertaking that could go wrong at any point.
Yea touring is either every bands favourite part or an absolute nightmare. What’s it like to be on the road with the guys, are they easy enough to get along with now?
Yea, yea it’s great, the only thing is we often try and tire Simon out as much as possible. We let him sleep in the back so Dan and I can do the bulk of the driving. That seems to work!
So I’ve been told that this is going to be a very special national tour…but with a difference. I see at Brisbane you’re going to be doing live karaoke.
Live Rock ‘n’ Roll karaoke. It’s a ridiculous concept. It could be great fun or tragically hilarious.
Can you tell us anymore about what we can expect at the shows?
I think the plan is on this tour we will be playing two sets. One will be a standard Philly Jays set then we’ll come back and we’ll have a short set list of Karaoke songs that people can get up and sing with us! It’ll be pretty off the cuff I think which is the scary thing.
Well I’m gonna come to the Perth show, I might come on up!
What’s your go to karaoke song?
Ohhhh… This Love by Maroon 5. I don’t know why, I used to do it all the time on holiday and now it’s just stuck. A trademark you could say haha!
That’s one we haven’t had yet, we’ll have to think about that one! haha
Got any funny stories from past tours? You’re allowed to embarrass them!
Em, there’s plenty actually but I think for me the funniest thing is when we played in the north of Scotland and we had to catch a ferry to an island off Scotland, the ferry had been cancelled the day before. So all the accommodation in the town was booked up. We had to drive for four hours to what we thought was a youth hostel but turned out to be an old Scottish Castle. We turned up at three in the morning and there were suits of armour everywhere. It was the creepiest thing ever. How is it possible Scotland has so many castles that you can rent a room in one for $15 a night!
Now I know this a boring one, but we want to know, post tour, what are the Philly Jays working on? Any plans for new music on the horizon?
Yea definitely, we are about to release a new single which is gonna be one of the tracks from the last album but we have re-recorded it to be a bit more danceable and singable. Then another one in a couple of months… it’s all systems go! Just trying to work out how to get Simon back from Berlin every time we want to tour.
Does he live in Berlin now?
Yea makes it a little bit difficult.
Cheers Joel, thanks for taking the time out to talk with us. All the best on the tour!
No worries, thanks Conor, see ya!
Catch Philadelphia Grand Jury on tour:
Fri 27th May – Brightside, Brisbane
Fri 3rd June – Transit Bar, Canberra
Sat 4th June – Jimmy’s Den, Perth
Fri 10th June – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney
Sat 11th June – Yah Yah’s, Melbourne
Photo Credit: Philadelphia Grand Jury