Recently here at The RingMaster Review we came across a band and album that stopped us in our tracks with its majestic darkness and vibrant energy, as well as a creativity and theatrical presence that captivated deeply. The band was Canadian shock rockers The New Jacobin Club and their album This Treason. The album, their music and jaw dropping live shows show a band with a perfect grasp on originality, visual impact and insatiable impressive metal sounds. We had the pleasure to find out more about the world of The New Jacobin Club thanks to the band agreeing to and taking time out to answer some questions.
Welcome to The RingMaster Review and thank you for taking time to let us ask you about all things The New Jacobin Club.
So The New Jacobin Club, where, when and why?
HRD (The Horde) – The group began as only a trio in 1995, the original members a combination of inexperienced instrumentalists or from other existing groups of contrasting styles. The New Jacobin Club was a response to the mid-90’s holier-then-though attitude prevalent in Canada at the time within the underground punk and hardcore scene, bands signed to labels like Fat Records. We were politically incorrect and unafraid to incorporate those views into subjects of the occult, demonology and history. There was no scene for what we did. We created our own. We put up with a lot of hostility for being attention grabbers at a time when everyone was obsessed with the “message in the music” and how if you dressed for the stage and emphasized the performance you were somehow less of a musician.
We’ve always been based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is the dead center of Western Canada. Probably the most land locked place in North America.
For all those still not had the pleasure could you introduce the members of the band?
HRD – We have a large group, we rarely get every member on stage every time we organize a series of concerts, but the line-up that was on stage throughout 2011 has been:
The Horde – guitar/vocals, The Swarm – bass/vocals, The Fury – guitar, Vitruvius – synth/vocals, Poison Candy – theremin/percussion/vocals, The Luminous – electric cello, Rat King – drums
We see some shuffling of duties at the end of certain shows – Rat King playing guitar, or The Luminous picking up the bass. Our programmer and former drummer Eclipse (who played on Retake the Throne & Wicked City) also sometimes joins us onstage.
When did the current line-up get together?
HRD – After we finished 2 years promoting “Wicked City” in 2006-2007, we met up with 2 members of what would become the Angry Teeth in a short while. We put together a big carnival themed event with some other collaborators from a local burlesque group and realized we couldn’t go back, and that this was going to be expected of us again and again.
The beginning of our relationship with the Angry Teeth in 2008 was the beginning of a new band line up as well. We gained Rat King, replacing our previous longtime drummer who had just moved to the UK and Vitruvius on synth. Luminous and Candy joined during the long process of recording This Treason (2009 – 2010), although both of them had been indirectly involved with the band before that.
The band has had quite a few changes in personnel over its fifteen odd years, has this been something that in hindsight has improved the bands diverse sound over the years?
HRD – New members have always provided the band with a new angle on the material. The songwriting core has been largely the same for 10 years, but the interpretation and delivery of the music has always stayed exciting and new. Everyone has brought something unique to the table that puts an imprint on the band, and becomes part of the sound and style.
RAT – Each new member brings with them something different which the band can use to expand on its main theme. So basically the band changes when its members change. With a band that’s been around this long, “improvement” is relative. For a band to improve it has to evolve and continue to be a positive creative outlet for all involved. Each album and lineup has done this; therefore making every effort the band puts forth a positive addition to its continuing career.
Is losing a member something you can ever get used to, especially if they have been part of the band’s life for a fair amount of time?
HRD – When it’s someone who was responsible for a major musical component it can be frustrating. I now look forward to the mystery of what we’ll be gaining rather than what we’re losing. We’ve never had a member leave on bad terms, it’s just that this group can be incredibly taxing to be a part of, and we all completely respect anyone’s decision to retire. We all have responsibilities and careers outside of the group as well, sometimes they take us places the band can’t go.
LUM- Every new member is a growth, but every loss is a tragedy. It’s a unique part of the sound that won’t be present in our future endeavors. Luckily, we console ourselves by the fact that we are truly a “club” of sorts and old members are never far away and usually willing to come back and moonlight from time to time.
How would you say The New Jacobin Club has evolved most predominantly over its existence, in sound and live?
HRD – The music angle is weird, I think it’s the delivery that has evolved the most. The delivery is dependent on the diverse line up of musicians in the group. I tend to write songs with the group in mind, to play on everyone’s strengths and make the most of our instrumentation. So what we’re working on now will be sonically very different from what worked well with the line up we had for Wicked City, or the punky power trio that we were in the 1990’s.
As for the live performance, I think it evolved hand in hand with the sound. As we grew as musicians and songwriters we began writing more and more elaborate parts. It forced us to concentrate more on our musicianship. We’ve all improved with age, and the comfort zone of our technical ability has widened, allowing us to put more emphasis and energy into the performance. You could say that as the music evolved, the side effect was a more commanding and confident live show.
How does the songwriting process work within the band?
LUM – It’s definitely a collaborative approach. A majority of the ideas both musically and thematically are put forth by
our founding father, The Horde, but everything is laid out on the table in raw form and all of us get a chance to add our own unique spin on the idea and we collectively morph it into what you see on stage and hear in the recordings. And as our avid fans can attest, we are never “done” with an idea. Our records show how our changes in line up and personal taste have driven us to re-vamp older tunes into something that inevitably comes “alive again.”
Your last album This Treason is where we came across you, a release that it has to be said left us open mouthed with awe and pleasure. How long was it in the making?
HRD – It started in late 2007 with one song – the title track. Then it turned into 4 songs that were linked together, for a possible EP. By summer 2009 we were performing half the album live on tour, and it helped the process a great deal. It was a year of writing and rehearsing and another year of recording and assembling the elaborate package that included the promo video, live show, documentary footage and concept artwork.
HRD – In 2007 the remains of a man who had been hung, drawn and quartered were found in an English abbey graveyard. Speculation was that it was a portion of the mutilated body of Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger, executed for treason n the early 1300’s. He was accused of sleeping with and manipulating King Edward II, “sowing discord” between the King and Queen. The story is so involved I don’t even want to start. It’s full of plotting, backstabbing and revenge, not a single character involved could be said to be any sort of hero, although we do make Hugh out to be a sort of sacrificial lamb for a world lost in its own wickedness.
Since 2007 there has been a lot of attention drawn to this enigmatic medieval villain. A fairly well received historical fiction novel was written about his family (“The Traitor’s Wife” – Susan Higgenbotham), which I was only made aware of when our album was about to be released. A UK writer, Jules Frusher, is currently working on a book that focuses more on the man himself, and I have corresponded with her on several occasions since we were both eager to exchange opinions on the subject.
Was this the first album to be made this way or did Retake the Throne and Wicked City also have a theme?
HRD – Retake the Throne and Wicked City both had unifying themes. Retake the Throne was about the evils of ruling political bodies and the ignorance of the masses to their oppression. Victor Hugo’s depiction of the urban masses in “Notre Dame de Paris” as well as the French revolution was the main sources of inspiration, but in no way did the album tell a story.
Wicked City was a little more of a concept album. It is about the western world as a theocracy, a ruling class using religion to excuse their brutalities and atrocities. We covered a lot of ground on that one, from the Russian Revolution to witch hunts in colonial America.
Is it different to write an album with a distinct connecting theme compared to one made up of unconnected songs, especially lyrically?
HRD – It didn’t seem that different, it almost seemed natural. It was like having a story first, then fleshing out the script. When we decided on a whole concept album and not just a 4 song cycle, it progressed incredibly quickly. I laid down the storyline as a sort of song by song narrative with what lyrics already existed and made booklets for each band member so we could finish the complex soap-opera like tale as a group.
The album as it unveils its tracks feels like an aural play, or maybe theatre is the best term, is that how you look at it?
HRD – This Treason is a tale told from the point of view of different characters, each with their own story – making it more of a rock opera than just a concept album. In fact, the way the songs describe events slightly out of order is kind of like watching Pulp Fiction – the stories all cross each other’s path but viewing them in chronological order would not make sense. We like to think that it is a larger story told episodically, which is how we treated it live, like a theatrical compilation of one person plays all tied together with a common background story.
The one description of your sound and band that is famously used is that you lie “Somewhere between the realms of mid-era Judas Priest in a straightforward rock/metal style and newer era Misfits vocally and visually.” With a sound that is vibrant with much more than that in our view how would you describe yourselves?
HRD – That was from an American magazine, Metal Mania or Metal Maniacs, around the time “Retake the Throne” came out almost 10 years ago. It’s probably time we stopped allowing ourselves to be described that way. I think the anthematic element in our songwriting and the way we deliver pop and rock sensibilities in a barbaric and colorful way is our signature. We have evolved far beyond “horror rock” to still easily describe ourselves that way.
LUM – We’re a Pandora’s box. Untold horror, ecstasy and wonder are found within and will manifest differently depending on who does the unleashing.
What are the personal influences that have made the biggest impact on yourselves as musicians and the music you create?
HRD – There’s so much – it would be impossible to name any that I would consider a general influence on the band as a whole. Killing Joke is a big one for some of us; we even covered Love Like Blood live and on our 2008 Final Entertainment Show EP. Conceptually and musically I think they’ve been pretty important too. Canadian visionaries like Forbidden Dimension and Voivod are both also massively big influences in terms of inspiring our plans for a unified musical, visual and lyrical theme.
In addition to the traditional instrument set up there is the haunting and emotive sounds brought by the electric bass of Luminous and Poison Candy on the Theremin. Did the songs you were writing guide you in this direction or the decision to add them came first?
HRD – Luminous first joined us on stage in 2009 before we began recording. We had lots of orchestral arrangements planned for some songs and we wanted to see how having a live string instrument on stage would enhance that rather than just hear it through a synth or backing track. The theremin was originally written into the instrumental “Kronos Devours His Children,” but then we found a couple other spots for it so we could justify having it on stage when we performed the album live. Candy also plays some baddass tambourine and provides some backing vocal harmonies.
This Treason also contains a DVD combining a live performance with interviews and backstage extras, do you feel this was important to in a way make a personal connection with fans, showing the band as people and something all bands should do at some point?
HRD – Yes, and also to give fans elsewhere on the planet the chance to be at one of our shows. It was also almost a necessity, we aren’t just musicians in the studio, we are performers as well. We wanted to give people a live performance they could take home with them. I know a lot of bands are scared to do that sort of thing – to put their technical imperfections and personalities on display like that, but I think it does give the fans a sense of really having been there. I would hope that people watch it and not only think “I’d love to see this show in person” but also “I’d love to hang out with these weirdos.” Some of our biggest fans have turned into good friends over the years.
Your shows are events, more than just simple gigs they are a full theatrical performance. One assumes from the beginning it was different, so how and when did the shows evolve into the full experience they are now?
HRD – The band had toyed with theatrical bits on stage as far back as 2003. Our first shows with extra theatrical performers in 2008 were not true collaborations, the sideshow and burlesque dancers performed separately and not with the band. It was summer 2009 that we came up with the first unified stage show – the “Cannibal Circus Roadshow”, Rima and Firecrotch Jones call it a “psychodrama.” As the band expanded as well as the membership of the Angry Teeth, bigger and more involved stage spectacles were added. We needed big stages with proper backstage areas to safely perform, so it was a pain in the ass to tour with. For our stage show to promote “This Treason” in 2010 we had a dangerous number of people on stage.
For shows as you said you expand with the addition of The Angry Teeth, can you tell us about them? They were a completely separate troupe before the band or evolved because of and with The New Jacobin Club?
HRD – The Angry Teeth were a group that broke away from a larger act. They wanted to do more bizarre and theatrical things instead of just traditional sideshow tricks. They still do perform occasionally on their own.
How do you find first timers to your shows react with the combination of your music and energy being punctuated with the disturbing visuals of The Angry Teeth? How many leave in shock haha?
HRD – A surprising number of people that come to our concerts are there out of curiosity, and later tell us something like “that was WILD! When are you playing in town again?” And the coolest part is they are not there because they are fans of metal or goth or freakshows, they just came out because they heard it was a great show. I think the shock factor in what the Angry Teeth do lies in the reality of it. We have a saying that we like to remind people of – “Gwar is not real, we are” The machetes and swords are real. The syringes and sledgehammers are real. The costumes are real, the armor is real. The fire and torches and chains are real. And when someone bleeds, it’s real. I think the audience picks up on this and they aren’t cheering out of shock or awe, but in the same way you cheer on a fighter who refuses to stay down.
Watching the DVD that accompanied your album This Treason, the visuals the Angry Teeth bring onstage seem connected to the song that surrounds them, so do you all as one decide on what the girls bring to a gig at those points or do you trust and give their ideas full independent rein?
LUM – As can be imagined, there is no “standard” way that those girls do anything. They’ll bring forth an idea that they’re really excited about pursuing and we’ll try to work it into our set or we’ll express a visual that we want to convey and they’ll devise a way to make it happen. It’s always a work in progress making the different genres of art complement one another, but we really enjoy pushing the boundaries of “the experience.” At the end of the day, we aim to entertain. That’s what it’s all about.
Do you change the live show from gig to gig or play the same show across a tour or series of gigs as with for example, around the release of This Treason?
HRD – Typically we prepare a stage show for a series of concerts, like a touring theatre production. The more elaborate ones are conceptual collaborations with the Angry Teeth that usually see some sort of disturbing or enigmatic story unfold with the music. The “Cannibal Circus Roadshow” tour 2009, “Acts of Treason” 2010 and “Moral Adventurers” in 2011 were like this. A few elaborate shows are only performed once, like the infamous “Ragdoll Tea Party” show we did in late 2009 some of which appears on the DVD included with This Treason.
Home city is Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, not known for its musical heritage around the world. How is it for music and how has it if at all, helped shape your music and direction?
HRD –In a smaller more secluded community you stick out that much more. I think it trained us to be unafraid of making a spectacle of ourselves. Groups from bigger cities have such a conservative attitude about what’s cool and what’s not. We have absolutely no inhibitions. I would say that’s what Saskatoon gave us.
Our hometown did get some major press in Rolling Stone when the Sheepdogs (from Saskatoon) made the cover last year. They wrote an article on what Saskatoon was like and made it sound like a northern backwoods village full of drunks, prostitutes, hockey hooligans and really seedy bars with horrible music playing in them. Perhaps there are a few bits of truth in that, but the music and arts scene here is unbelievably vibrant. Bands from the bigger Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver often comment on how busy and diverse the scene is here despite our small size and population. Amigos Cantina, the club that we filmed “Inside the Cannibal Circus” at was named by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Council) as one of the 20 most important live venues in Canada.
With the size of Canada and vast distances between some cities how easy is it to expand beyond your home area through the country let alone into the world?
HRD – It’s tough. It sucks. Sucks sucks sucks. We are a 5-6 hour drive away from any city that would be considered “big.” Any band that tours Western Canada puts some serious mileage under their belts just to play a handful of shows. We have recently begun to be more aggressive with our online presence to balance that out.
You have shared stages with the likes of Nashville Pussy, Groovie Ghoulies, KMFDM, and VOLTAIRE, a distinct diversity of sounds. It is not a surprise your own diverse sounds fit such a range but how did the individual artists fans take to you?
HRD – Or did you mean how did our fans take to them? Haha…I’m kidding, sort of. The guitarist from Nashville Pussy is from our hometown; they’re loud and obnoxious and breathe fire, so we fit in fine. Interestingly enough, the only time I’ve ever heard that we didn’t fit well on a bill was with KMFDM. They’re more techno-based, and we were actually playing in front of a sizeable audience who had never heard of us. We have several different species of fans – the punks, the metal dudes, the goths, the garage rockers, the artsy types; our appeal to all sorts of different people is what gives us our healthy draw.
From the band and all its public face, the world only knows about you as musicians and the band personas. How important is it to you to have that distinct image and privacy too, or is it ‘merely’ another part of the drama and theatrical power of The New Jacobin Club?
RAT – For me, it’s an extension of the theatrical element of the band. I use it to separate my everyday self from the stage in order to achieve the best performance possible.
What has The New Jacobin Club got in store for 2012?
HRD – we’ll take some time in spring to write new songs and promote our new EP “Left Behind” with some western Canadian tour dates during which we will also be trying out some new material on stage. We always tour with new material before we record it. There are plans for a sort of 15th anniversary compilation, probably containing some new tracks, but it is still in the early stages of conception.
Thank you so much for letting us into the world of The New Jacobin Club. It has been a pleasure.
Before you ending would you like to leave a last thought or comment?
HRD – It is more than a pleasure for us to talk with you. We value our fans outside of Canada immensely. In the digital age we can easily monitor our popularity outside our country, and the UK as well as continental Europe has given us a lot of encouraging support.
And lastly how about giving us something to intrigue about the people behind the personas that make up The New Jacobin Club?
HRD – We are a multi-discipline artistic endeavor. We embrace everything. Within our group we have a painter and art teacher, a radio personality, a film director, a dance instructor, music teachers, a freelance journalist, a post secondary math instructor, illusionists, and the obvious performance artists that you see with the Angry Teeth. Members of this band also participate in other groups that play country and bluegrass, synth pop, experimental post-rock and Renaissance music.
Read This Treason review @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/the-new-jacobin-club-this-treason/
Read The Angry Teeth Interview @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/interview-with-raunchy-rabies-of-the-angry-teeth-freakshow/