Laid back, sure, but lazy? Hell no: Australia’s Midnight Juggernauts have been living up to the latter part of their name, tirelessly criss-crossing the globe in support of their (just-released in the U.S.) second album, The Crystal Axis. Yet another North American tour kicks off Nov. 18 (complete tour dates here, as well as at the end of this article).
In addition to spreading its brand of experimental-electro-prog-rock all over the world, the bearded trio has been cramming all kinds of creative projects into that hectic schedule, from short films to a snazzy limited-edition double-vinyl record release, to the mega-awesome new video for “Lara Versus the Savage Pack” (shot frame by frame, then re-shot using more than 2,000 printed pieces of paper).
Here, Daniel Stricker, Andy Juggernaut, and Vin Vendetta (take a guess at which of those are not real surnames) to talk about out how making the second record differed from making the first, what it’s like to have rock/pop legends as fans, and why sleeping, shopping, and drunk-Facebooking have become favorite tour activities.
The Crystal Axis has just been released here in the U.S. How do you feel about the way it turned out?
Andy Juggernaut: We’re happy with it. It’s funny talking about it now, because we spent a lot of time working on it in 2009, so you kind of feel over the whole thing — you just want to move onto something else. But it was a really good experience, a very different process for us. I think it turned out really great.
Vin Vendetta: We like the idea of our sounds having maybe different chapters in the band’s history and this one definitely has a different personality to the first one. And the next one may be in another direction, and after that might be folk tunes from the Scottish Highlands.
That said, do you still think you’ll aim to keep some elements that are recognizable as the Midnight Juggernauts’ trademark sound?
VV: Yeah, there will always be some thread of continuity there.
Daniel Stricker: It’s not like 180 degrees; it’s more like evolution. I think with this album we just played so much as a live band in 2008 — we didn’t go home for eight or nine months — we approached the record from a more live perspective. There’s still probably just as many electronic elements going on. We did Dystopia kind of before the whole indie-dance thing was that big. We weren’t trying to go, “Oh, this is what’s happening. Let’s do that.” I guess when got to doing this record it was the same thing — it was just where we were at at the time.
Did you consciously want to get away from an “indie dance” sound?
AJ: I think it’s more interesting for us to take risks and experiment, and I don’t think we necessarily knew exactly what it was we were trying to do. I think that we’ve always tried — even before putting out the first [record] — to not be part of a trend or to just do what we want to do. It just happens the first album — not that we started anything — came out just as there was a big thing happening, and we kind of got swept into that.
DS: I think we still have our feet in that world — and many other worlds. Even on the first record we’d do a tour with someone like Justice, then we toured with The Flaming Lips. We don’t like to put ourselves in a box.
Do you have a favorite track from the new album, or does that change?
AS: I think it does change a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the album! I really like the middle section of the album — the great beyond and some of the weirder moments, kind of jamming sections — are interesting because they were more spontaneous kind of songs. They weren’t necessarily something you would have thought we would have made — kind of makes it more interesting that they turned out like that. You guys have any favorite songs?
DS: I agree with what you were saying, there’s a good flow right in the middle.
VV: You don’t have a favorite song. [Laughs.] It’s like choosing your favorite child.
Was the inspiration for this record much different from the first one?
AS: It was different in some ways because we had traveled so much. Not even touring – just the fact that a lot of writing happened while we were in different countries and that probably inspired lots of the album. The first one we were just kind of hanging out at home and we hadn’t really toured very much at all when we were recording that. With this one, we had a crazy two years of being all over the world, and I guess that had some impact on our writing. Us being together a lot more, being more comfortable playing together as a band — that probably influenced the writing a lot, hence the more organic, looser sound compared to the first record.
There’s a short film that’s been floating around online “by Cara Stricker and Midnight Juggernauts.” Daniel, is that your sister?
DS: It was music we had created in the studio late at night playing old analog synths and then footage we’d recorded on 8mm cameras and different camcorders over the last couple of years, just random stuff. We were getting everything tied together, and she does some film stuff, so we just asked her to edit it. That’s the thing — we’ve always done our own artwork and videos and stuff. Even the video for “Vital Signs,” which is the last one that we did — that was an idea we had and we all contributed to it, and then [got] our friends to direct it. It’s always friends and family getting involved and doing stuff.
I recently saw a video clip from The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne where he talks about his five favorite Australian artists, including Midnight Juggernauts. Was that a big deal for you guys?
AS: Well, we did some shows with them, and we’re big fans. It was just a funny thing that we came across. A lot of people have mentioned it to us.
VV: Something else happened last week: We were in London playing this festival called Lovebox. This guy came up to us and said, “Hi, I’m a really big fan of your band,” and started talking about our music. We thought, “Who is this guy?” Then we saw him walk to go onto the stage. Mark Ronson was playing, and he introduced Duran Duran to join him for a song. So we thought it’s pretty amazing how Duran Duran are Midnight Juggernauts fans. We went online and looked him up and he was blogging about us. It was John Taylor. He was also in the Power Station.
DS: It was really weird because we had no idea who he was. Like, “Who was that old guy?” [Laughs.]
VV: We ended up researching his life. Like, The Power Station was also Robert Palmer, and the drummer from Chic, and we always DJ them as well.
DS: It’s funny how that stuff happens, especially when you do festivals — all the people you meet. You just realize how normal everybody is. Well, some people not as much. [Laughs.]
How did the summer festival season go? You guys were touring like crazy.
DS: In terms of the support, really cool. [In the U.S.] we played with HEALTH, and they were great — I’d been looking forward to seeing them for a while. They’re really nice guys, too. And Teengirl Fantasy. In Europe, we played a bunch of festivals with some great bands: Gorillaz, The Chemical Brothers, Faith No More, Yeasayer. They had this big festival in Serbia called Exit Festival, which is in this big old fortress. It was really cool, and we’d never been to Serbia. We saw Klaxons. They were good — we hadn’t seen them in a while.
VV: I always prefer playing earlier, if we can, at a festival, so we can relax and see other acts play. It’s really annoying when we play late. I just walk around kind of anticipating our show and won’t have a good time.
Being on tour so much, what three things can’t you live without?
VV: The laptop is No. 1. Second is laptop power cord, and third is laptop power converter.
AJ: Sleep! Well, we actually have been living without sleep. It’s like the one thing I’d like to have on tour.
DS: I downsized my luggage so I have less things.
AJ: That’s what you don’t take on tour.
VV: It’s dangerous: Whenever we go around he buys so much …
DS: I just like to buy a lot of, not necessarily souvenirs, not tacky souvenirs …
AJ: Kind of just like, crap?
VV: Japan is the worst, because then he’ll buy like little robots and gadget things that have no use but are going to make our excess baggage quite excessive. [To Daniel] Then you said, “OK, I’ll cut down….” So he’s not collecting as much. However, we went to the Guggenheim two days ago. They had a Guggenheim Lego set …
DS: It’s actually really cool …
VV: It’s the typical thing you’re gonna end up buying.
DS: I bought all these mini Japanese … it’s not Lego, it’s like a quarter of the size of Lego. You can build all these trees and stuff. It just reminds me of all the places we’ve been.
When I talked to you a little while back, you were toying with the idea of moving from Australia. Is that still something you’re thinking about?
VV: We’re still looking into it. I ended up moving out of my house like two months ago, so I don’t have a home and I’m living in hotels, wandering around wondering what I’m going to do the next couple of months. I think we’re gonna be on the road for most of 2010, but we’ve talked about maybe relocating to the U.S. or maybe Europe or something on this side of the world. We’ll see what happens.
DS: We need to all be in the same time zone.
You guys seem pretty into social networking, posting news from the road on Twitter and Facebook. Do you handle the updates personally or does someone from your label or management do them?
VV: No, it is us. It’s mainly Daniel, he started all these sites.
DS: Then you kind of took over.
VV: When I’m drunk and bored, maybe I’ll like Twitter every once in a while …
VV: Tweet! I’m a tweetasaur.
AJ: We’ll disappear for ages then we’ll get drunk and start writing stuff. It’s good to kind to get stuff that’s happening out there. I think people appreciate it.
So what’s up next for you guys? Any other projects on the horizon?
DS: Me and a couple friends did this thing for one of the big art galleries in Sydney called the MCA [Museum of Contemporary Art]. They had this weeklong thing where different artists got together. We did like an Iron Chef-esque cook-off, but while sampling everything and creating music out of it — like, contact mikes on chopping boards and overhead microphones where you could hear flames burning or whatever, and then we’d pitchshift it and make loops. We made a 45-minute piece of music, so maybe we’ll release that audio and video.
VV: I think we’ll get the next release out pretty soon — we don’t want to have as long as the previous two albums. We write all the time, so we just want to get into it.
DS: We have so many B-sides on this album. It’s going to be really interesting putting them all out there. There were practically two albums’ worth of material when we finished this one.
AJ: We’re just gradually putting them all out there so I’m sure by the end there won’t be anything left [for next album]. I suppose we’ve always written while we’ve been touring or doing other stuff for the band. I think next year we’ll definitely be able to have a new record.
You don’t find it hard to write music on the road?
AJ: I find it hard sometimes. Vincent’s really good at it. I get a bit frustrated.
DS: You get a bit frustrated by World Cup soccer.
AJ: No, I get frustrated that I don’t have my things physically at my disposal. You have a headspace that you like to be in. I guess the thing with traveling so much is that sometimes we are sitting around and we don’t have any other option, we can’t go sightseeing, so that is a great time to be writing. When you’re touring, it isn’t a normal existence — you have people looking after you and you have a tour manager and you’re always just being taken somewhere, so you don’t have to think about anything else. There’s no real responsibility to worry about other things, so I do think that makes it quite easy to write.
Fall 2010 North American Tour
11.18 Bogota, Columbia: Armando Records
11.19 Mexico City, Mexico: Lunario
11.20 Monterrey, Mexico: Escenica
11.22 San Francisco, CA: The Independent
11.23 Los Angeles, CA: Echoplex
11.26 New York, NY: Bowery Ballroom
11.27 Montreal, QC: The Belmont
11.28 Toronto, ON: Wrongbar
11.30 Chicago, IL: Empty Bottle