The Jezabels Have It All Locked Up



The ideas of metaphorical imprisonment, romance, and loss weigh heavily in the music and lyrics of The Jezabels. Their debut album, Prisoner, was released in September and captures internal oppression and the emotional limbo that exists in interpersonal relationships. The Sydney-based band is comprised of lead singer Hayley Mary, keyboardist Heather Shannon, guitarist Sam Lockwood, and drummer Nik Kaloper, who met during their time at Sydney University. Their music is haunting and dark, with a shoegaze-y feel: Mary’s voice seems to carry the weight of the world, but with a feminine edge. The band has been touring with Hey! Rosetta during 2011, and has previously shared playbills with Tegan & Sara and Two Hours Traffic.

We spoke with lead singer Hayley Mary on being called a jezebel (by her dad!), the metaphor that made Prisoner, and what lies ahead in 2012.

ILANA KAPLAN: How did you guys form as a band?

HAYLEY MARY: The whole band formed in Sydney at Sydney University band conference in 2007. Heather and I had been playing music before that, like writing, together, originals but very different. When we met the guys, we started writing kind of Jezabels songs. That’s when we became a whole band. At the Sydney University band conference, we played our first show.

KAPLAN: Why did you come up with the name, The Jezabels?

MARY: Well, it’s kind of a long story, but I guess it’s a personal ongoing joke that I had with my dad. He always wanted me to be in a band called The Jezabels. He always used to call me “Jezebel.” When I went to Sydney Uni, I was convinced that the name should be “The Jezabels,” but I wanted to have a justification for it. Some people didn’t really like it. We sort of thought that it could be a feminist reclaiming of the word “jezebel.” It’s the idea that maybe Jezebel was a misrepresented figure in physical history, perhaps. I mean there are theories about her having been a much more virtuous woman than she was depicted in the Bible. Does that make sense? We thought, let’s just defend her in our name.

KAPLAN: What is Prisoner about, and how is it different from your previous albums?

MARY: Well, it’s an expansion on themes that we explored in the EPs, I think. Both lyrically and musically, it’s much more expansive and developed. We just covered the themes from the EPs, like romance and loss. Interpersonal relationships play a big part in it, but more fantastical than real ones. The idea of Prisoner, I kind of started getting fascinated… this is kind of convoluted, but the idea of your own role in your oppression. People are oppressed in several ways these days, whether it be materially or internally. I just got fascinated with the internal side of what brings people down or what stops people from realizing their full potential. I’m into the idea of being a prisoner of yourself. You know what I mean? Love being a sort of prison. Emotions being imprisoned, like love and hate, and all that stuff, rather than a literal prison. It’s a metaphorical prison that’s being explored.

KAPLAN: Can you tell me a little bit about the tour you were just on in North America?

MARY: We did a mutual swap with Hey! Rosetta. We headlined in Australia, and they supported us. We did the same in Canada. We supported them. In North America, we did a couple of co-headline tours.  Our New York show was actually just our show. They didn’t play that. It was good to be able to play some of their shows to get more people than we would be able to pull on our own on the stage. It’s been an awesome experience. Basically, we had just driven all day every day. All we usually see is the van, the venue, and the hotel room. It’s been a lot of really great crowds and really enthusiastic people at the shows. We always go out and meet people after we play. We found that to be definitely a place we want to come back to because people seem to be… particularly places like New York, Chicago, a couple of Canadian places like Toronto, we’ve gotten positive feedback, so it’s been good.

KAPLAN: Who are some of your personal influences? I know you’ve gotten comparisons to artists like PJ Harvey, or having the presence of Hayley Williams because of the emotional quality of your music. 

MARY: [laughs] Neither of those. Well, actually Heather does like PJ Harvey a bit, but it’s funny because we’ve never been influenced by her as a band.  I would say it’s amazing how many times we get told that, but I’ve never actually listened to her music, so that’s kind of interesting. Paramore is also a band we’ve never really ever been influenced by… actually, I’ve never seen them perform, so I can’t comment on whether we’re similar at all. But, I’m interested. I might look them up. Some actual influences for me, I suppose, are Kate Bush, Roy Orbison, David Bowie, and Freddie Mercury. I love ABBA as well. I’m pretty into old music, I haven’t really listened to much contemporary music. I wouldn’t know what we sound like, contemporary-wise. The other guys have really different tastes. The drummer is kind of into metal and technical-rhythmic drumming and thrash. The stuff that is technically-rhythmically interesting. Sam, the guitarist, is kind of into a bit of country. He’s into Gillian Walsh and Lucinda Williams. Heather was classically trained, so she mainly listened to classical music growing up, and a little contemporary stuff like Radiohead and PJ Harvey.  That kind of thing. Yeah, really quite different tastes. It’s kind of a mixing pot of those things.

KAPLAN: What do you think 2012 is going to bring for The Jezabels?

MARY: We plan to be basically be touring for the majority of 2012. We start out in Australia with the summer festivals and then we pack up and go overseas to the UK and Europe. We do a little bit of North America in April… I think it’s planned. Then we head back to Europe again. Then we go to Australia for June. Then, I don’t know after that. I think we’re hoping to do some festivals in the Northern hemisphere too. Basically, it’s just a lot of touring, to answer your question. We don’t really write on tour. We’re starting to experiment with the idea a little bit. When we write, we dedicate time to writing. We just go away into our studio and write. Right now, we’ve been touring, and we’re not really doing anything else. I’m not sure when we expect to write another album. Probably not for a little while.

KAPLAN: Whom would you love to tour with in the future?

MARY: I don’t think we have any actual objections. I think a couple of bands we all like, which isn’t very many because our tastes are all different. I think we all like The National. We all like Radiohead, because everyone does. I think those are ideal, but I don’t think we’re seeing them as a possibility. I’d like to tour with ABBA if they were on tour. It would be awesome. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.