Despite being a crew of scruffy Aussies who get the indie kids dancing, there are several ways to tell Midnight Juggernauts apart from their Down Under contemporaries. First, the Juggernauts have a penchant for using first names only (Vin, Andy and Dan — more on this later). Next, they are actually not on Modular Records. Third, and most important, with an aural aesthetic that combines elements of space disco and prog rock, they have more in common with ELO and David Bowie than with Daft Punk and Duran Duran.
Midnight Juggernauts’ debut, Dystopia, is an unforgettable opus, all moody dynamics, intergalactic intensity, and mysterious meanings. Played live, the songs only become more invigorating and intriguing. The band recently talked to us about the hype machine, why they aren’t on Modular, and the merits of Melbourne versus Sydney.
Tell us first about the U.S. tour.
Vin: We’ve been traveling from the West Coast to East Coast, so we’ve been seeing a lot of the country. This is our first headline tour in this country and Canada. We came here for the first time last fall supporting Justice — that was an amazing introduction for us. We had so much fun on that trip, but it’s probably better this time around because we get to do our own shows and have proper soundchecks. I’m enjoying it.
Andy: It’s been really cool. Starting off doing the Coachella festival was a pretty amazing experience.
Is Coachella the first festival you’ve played in the U.S.?
Andy: Yeah, it was.
Dan: When they announced the lineup, I thought it wasn’t the best, then all these other people kind of joined on and it ended up being really good.
Andy: That kind of landscape was amazing, but it does feel kind of fake in some ways. The fact that you see this big grassed area with palm trees that ‘s completely surrounded by desert.
Vin: It was good because we played on the first day, then we had three days to hang out. We made sure to keep them free so we could hang out and have a good time.
Dan: I really liked Portishead. We got to meet a couple of them, and they’re really nice.
Vin: Roger Waters was amazing. And Prince, when he wasn’t doing his 20-minute, self-indulgent guitar solos.
Dan: There were a lot of smaller bands that we saw that were really cool, a lot bands that we toured with.
Andy: We were worried that there weren’t going to be people there because it was early [when we played], but it ended up being a really amazing crowd, and they were pretty stoked with the show that we did. It was a really well-organized festival as well. They really look after the artists.
You guys have a really dynamic stage presence. Is there a certain vibe you try to create when you play live?
Vin: We like having a lot of energy when we play. It’s more of a rock show, I suppose, than something for the clubs. It’s more raw than people might expect — we kind of like to mix things up from show to show. Sometimes we might add tangents or outros that go into strange directions, because it’s important that it’s fun for us to play as well. We might swap instruments or do strange bridges here and there just to mix things up.
Are those sorts of things improvised or do you think about them a bit ahead of time?
Andy: There’s definitely a lot of planning involved, but sometimes there are sections of songs where someone follows someone else — you might not know where it’s going, but it keeps it interesting. We do try and make sure we aren’t doing the exact same thing every show. We want to make sure it’s different for us as much as for the crowd. It’s kind of a balance.
Dan: Personally, I’ve always liked when you go see a band and it sounds different to the record, or it’s different than the last time you saw them. So yeah, we try to make the live show as eclectic as possible.
Vin: As long as it’s in a good way, not bad!
Dan: But sometimes — the other guys might not agree with me — the shows where everything kind of fucks up are the good ones, because you come up with weird stuff.
Vin: Two weeks ago, we played in London and everything just cut out for a little while and we didn’t know what was going on. We ended up just jamming for like 10 minutes. We thought, “Is this a train wreck?” But afterward people were saying, “Oh, that was amazing. That long kind of prog bridge you did in the middle!”
Andy: We were dying during it! [laughs]
Dan: But it was good, that’s what I mean. And that was crazy, it was so packed — it was at this night called DURRR [Erol Alkan-affiliated weekly party in London]. It was great. People will remember us.
How does it feel to tour the U.S. in support of Dystopia before it was released here?
Vin: We recorded the album in Australia last year. We put it out on our own label — we’ve always been like this underground DIY act — but it got a really good response. We always had aspirations to come to the rest of world and to the U.S., so we were negotiating for a long time for the best way to put this album and future albums out. A lot of people turning up to shows on this tour are Internet kids who just know us online. It’s an interesting test for us, seeing how far that music has traveled and what kind of exposure we’ve had.
Andy: In some ways it’s not ideal, but we’ve got a lot of fans over the last year, however they’re getting their hands on the album.
Dan: I think it’s better when you find out about a band before this big marketing push. It’s kind of happened that way, so it’s been good for us — rather than all this hype and then people pulling you down [with it]. We want it to happen slowly…
Vin: To be natural, not this marketing thing or calculated hype…
That said, there has definitely been a lot of buzz here about Midnight Juggernauts being the next big thing and “Justice’s favorite band.”
Vin: We totally ignore all of that, because we’re doing music for the right reasons. We’re passionate about music and we’re passionate about writing and performing. Hype —
Dan: Is such a fickle thing.
Andy: You kind of become unaware of that, because when you’re striving so hard to achieve and always have goals and you’re never satisfied, you never have time to stop and be pleased about whatever someone says about you. We’re always trying to improve ourselves and the band. I think you just have to have that mindset.
We’ve been experiencing a bit of an “Australian Invasion” recently with Cut Copy, the Presets, you guys, and others. Do you see that as a good or bad thing?
Andy: We really noticing it now, but we’ve always been doing our own thing. I think it’s great that there is a spotlight on Australia, and I think it helps us and helps a lot of other bands, but we never like to be lumped into any scene or movement or fad that’s around, because things change. We’ve always just continued doing our thing. These things come along the way. If they help you, great; if they don’t, whatever.
Dan: We never got here because of that anyway. We’re all good friends. We’re not a Modular band. A lot of people think, “You come from Australia. You must be on Modular Records.” But it’s definitely not like that, although we’re friends with and have toured with a lot of bands from that label. As Andy was saying, we’ve always tried to do things our own way.
Did you intentionally decide not to sign with Modular?
Andy: It had never been a conscious thing of, “We’re not gonna be on that label,” but we’ve always looked after our own interests and not wanted to do something for the wrong reasons.
Vin: It was never Modular in particular. We were getting offers from all the commercial labels in Australia as well.
Dan: More than that, really. Offers from all over the world.
Vin: We kind of got a reputation very early on as a DIY indie act, because we’d say, “Ah, no, we want to do things on our own label.” When we actually did it, we were very happy that we followed that path because we were allowed to forge our own direction and not have to worry about compromising.
Andy: A lot of people had thought that we were a band that didn’t want to sign to a label, but it was just that it was never the right kind of offer or the right thing for the band at the time. We were always just really particular about what we wanted, and then that changed when we finally did something that we really believed was the right thing to do.
Dan: And that basically was our own label. We did a license deal.
Vin: It’s just really important for us to remain passionate about the music we’re making. We’re in an amazing position right now where we can create the music we want to make and it will somehow get released. Whether people like it or not is another question, but it’s a bit of a dream run we’re on.
Dan: It’s good to work with other people sometimes — we’re not against that at all — it’s just having the freedom to say, “I want to work with that person,” and not, “I have to work with that person.”
What’s your songwriting process like?
Andy: I guess with the album, it would start separately in some ways. We’d all bring things to the other guys, then we’d work on it together in the studio. It keeps changing though. Now we’re on the road, we don’t have our studio — we have our computers to put sketches down and later on work on them. We all individually keep active with writing and then come together work out what everyone likes and what works.
What sorts of things inspire you? “Space” seems to be a recurring theme in your songs, for one.
Vin: That is one thing we love. There is an element of space just because we love that imagery. We just like mysterious imagery. It’s kind of a dark album as well, even though there are optimistic moods and euphoric moments. I guess it’s just like balancing light and shade, as long as it’s a journey that brings you to another dimension by the end.
On the subject of themes, what exactly is “Tombstone” about?
Vin: We’ve had messages from people saying, “’Tombstone,’ that’s about George Bush, isn’t it?” And we’re like, “Maybe, it could be.” I won’t define the meaning — we’ll keep it mysterious. There might be some political message in there, like “Vote for Obama,” but we’ll leave it to the audience to decide.
Because you recorded Dystopia a while ago, are you already thinking about follow up?
Vin: Yeah, we definitely are. We want to keep active and keep writing. We always have creative ideas buzzing through our heads. While we’re traveling we are putting down sketches for songs.
Andy: It’s funny, because I always thought that when a band’s touring it’s pretty hard to write on the road: You just tour,and then when you stop touring, you write. We’re kind of finding that there’s a lot of time sitting around doing nothing on tour, so it gives an opportunity to write. And it is an inspiration — you’re constantly driving through places you’ve never been before. I find it a really easy way to help me write, just having landscapes that I’ve never seen before.
Do you think the next album will be in similar vein to Dystopia?
Andy: I think there are definitely things we’ll want to try to make different. We always want to make sure we don’t make the same record again. To say we’ll make it different for the sake of being different… I think it’s more about developing on what we’ve done and what we’ve learned and to improve that and make sure it’s always something better.
Dan: Because we’ve been touring so much, the new stuff will probably be a lot more live-sounding.
How important is achieving international success to you?
Vin: We’ll see what happens, just because we don’t want to compromise the path we’re on. We’re really happy with the way things are going at the moment. It all feels really natural to us, what we’re doing. You get to travel the world, play shows, do festivals. We’re loving it, but if there’s anything where we have to, I don’t know, kiss a goat [laughs] to get a platinum record, I don’t know how willing we are. We hear stories about bands who do things…
What would people be surprised to learn about Midnight Juggernauts?
Dan: Our real names, but we won’t tell you them. Mainly because we’re running from the law.
Andy: We’ve got criminal records.
Vin: It’s because we’re argent magicians.
Dan: [out of nowhere] I have a bunny rabbit.
Vin: And he has carrots around his neck.
Andy: I can juggle. That’s quite a shocking statement, but it’s true.
Vin: And he’s vegetarian.
Andy: [nods] I’m vegetarian.
What’s up next for you guys?
Vin: We definitely want to focus on North America. Even though this is just the second time we’ve been to North America, we just love it here, so we definitely want to spend a lot more time. Hopefully in September we’ll get a proper big tour going on. We don’t have a home base at the moment — we moved out of our homes in Australia two months ago. At some point, we’re gonna get a base, maybe an apartment in Paris or somewhere, just so we could be located on this side of the world, because we can’t keep traveling back and forth.
Dan: Maybe we’ll move to New York.
Vin: New York is actually pretty appealing as well.
Dan: Maybe we’ll never go back home to Australia, although we will miss it.
Vin: I’m not homesick at all right now. We’re having a really good time.
I’ve never been, but I hear Australia’s a really beautiful place to live.
Vin: It is, but it’s so far. You feel so secluded.
Dan: It’s like a holiday destination, like paradise, and it’s a beautiful place to live, but it’s so slow. That’s a good thing too, because you’re kind of away from everything and you can do your own thing, like writing music. You’re so disconnected.
Vin: It’s big enough to have big, healthy music scenes, particularly in Melbourne. I don’t know about Sydney. [Note: Vin and Andy hail from Melbourne; Dan is from Sydney, which explains the friendly, faux rivalry to follow.]
Dan: Sydney’s just as good, if not better.
Vin: Sydney’s good for surfing.
Dan: It’s like this, Sydney’s more fast-paced.
Vin: It’s more artistic in Melbourne.
Andy: [Sydney’s] fast-paced: Yeah, there’s more cars there, but creatively it’s much slower-paced.
Dan: Oh, shut up! Don’t listen to a word they say. I like Melbourne too, don’t get me wrong.
Vin: We like Sydney, we just like to play around.
Dan: Melbourne does have like a better environment for creativity in some ways, but Sydney’s a way more beautiful city.
Vin: Sydney is physically beautiful, but not the people.
Dan: I agree with that and I am from Sydney, but I am not one of those people. It’s true, everyone’s really pretentious. Not everyone, but …
Andy: Don’t print any of this.
Vin: Melbourne is more beautiful on the inside.
Dan: Is this [recorder] still on?