Midnight Juggernauts Take a Working Vacation

I’ll admit to having a bit of a bias toward Australian pop bands, but the black sheep of the bunch has always been Midnight Juggernauts. Both more electro and more rocking than most of their countrymen, but with just enough synth and drum machine to make things danceable, they’re really just three mates from Melbourne who like to jam out on stage. Their sophomore effort, The Crystal Axis, is out today on Siberia Records. Recorded at an Aussie beach house with a lot of new percussive elements, and some help from engineer Chris Moore (TV on the Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), it’s a melodic, borderline hypnotic trip that conjures everything from low-tech horror sounds, tribal beats, and the ’70s-era atmospherics of Frank Zappa and The Doors. Front man Vincent Vendetta called us from a recording session in Los Angeles to give us the lowdown on the new sound, as well as an impromptu concert they’ve got planned for dedicated Angelenos tonight.

MICHAEL SLENSKE: This new album has a more spacy sound than your last one, Dystopia. Was that what you guys were going for?

VINCENT VENDETTA: We’d just been touring for around nine months, constantly, across the world. We hadn’t been home and we wanted to go straight into writing the next album, and we were writing songs continually while we were on the road. I think playing live constantly really influenced the sound of this new record. It’s probably a lot more in sync with playing together in a room. The album has a bit more of a live, raw feel, and a lot of the songs came out of these long jam sessions as well, so it’s a different approach from the previous album.

SLENSKE: It also has this hypnotic synth sound.

VENDETTA: We like playing with all these synthesizers, and you create these atmospheric worlds while you’re writing this music, and you get lost and you forget how long you’ve been jamming for. You think you’ve been playing on a riff for five minutes and an hour’s gone by, and that’s the point where you realize, “All right, this is a song now.”

SLENSKE: What was it like recording at this beach house?

VENDETTA: It was pretty relaxing, because it was on the water, and every time you’d look out to the sea you’d see dolphins splashing by… It was also very dangerous, because we could have been out there for another two years. We basically just went out there and didn’t rush anything, and if an idea came we’d put it down and if it didn’t, we’d just lay out in our hammocks for a few more hours in the sun. It was kind of a working holiday, but I think that approach definitely gave the album a more relaxed, optimistic feel. A lot of the songs are, I wouldn’t say chilled out…

SLENSKE: Who are you recording with in L.A.?

VENDETTA: We’re jamming on songs with Solange and this guy Dev [Hynes], who’s in Lightspeed Champion. It’s pretty relaxed. We’ve got all this gear in the living room. It feels very similar to the beach house. I’ve just been traveling around California. I went to Neverland Ranch the other day.

SLENSKE: Really? How was that?

VENDETTA: It was interesting. I went there with Dev just to pay respects. I don’t like touring with a hard load so we try to have fun with each experience. Earlier this month we were in Brazil, playing Sao Paulo, and we made sure we had four or five days off to visit these islands called Isla Bella. We try to find more exotic places to play, like two weeks ago we went to Istanbul. I don’t think many bands go out there. One thing that’s weird about Istanbul is that they have beaches that are all rocks and we saw some guy just walking around with a rifle and a pistol and we thought, “This is really weird.” Then he gestured us over to show us his makeshift rifle range. There were all these little kids running around us, and every time they do that you have to put your gun down.

SLENSKE: What about L.A.? You guys playing out there?

VENDETTA: Not an official show, no. Every night here when we’re jamming we end up jamming like really bad ’90s song.

SLENSKE: Like what?

VENDETTA: [Laughs] I don’t think I should admit in public to what they are. Just things like Green Day and Blink-182, just like we’re a 15 year-old high school band or something. So we thought it’d be fun to disguise ourselves and do a gig somewhere in L.A. this week, but we’re not going to tell anyone. It’s just to amuse ourselves.

SLENSKE: Do you know where you’re going to do this?

VENDETTA: I’m not sure. We just sent out an email, but we’re going to get a bunch of friends to come out and jump on for vocal duties. It’s going to be really bad. We did a couple of Nirvana songs which sound really good to us. I think we’re thinking of doing a cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle.” Solange wanted to sing that one. We did a Crazytown song that sounded really, really bad. I’m trying to convince Dev to perform that with his top off, but he might need a few beers before that can happen. We’re coming up with a playlist now.

SLENSKE: And you’ll be in disguises?

VENDETTA: Yeah, just because we don’t want people to know it’s us. Actually, Dev has this wizard costume he’s been wearing. It’s this big white beard and big white hair, so he’ll probably wear that and I’m going to look for something as well. Maybe a poncho and, I don’t know, something.

The Crystal Axis is out today.