Back from the equinox…
Since their eponymous 2012 debut, Finland’s Jess and the Ancient Ones development from a great band to an incredible band is more than apparent. Where their 2013 three-track Astral Sabbat EP (reviewed here) saw the heavy psychedelia and surf rock augment the band’s astral propensities, the 2014 two-track Castaneda EP (reviewed here) wove rock, metal, jazz, blues and psychedelia into something beautifully macabre and carnivalesque.
2015 arrived and we get two releases from the band, sort of. Appearing in June was the debut album from The Exploding Eyes Orchestra, a pastime turned real band that featured five members of JATAO. For more on that band and the album, you can read MR’s interview with Thomas Corpse here (we highly recommend that you do). And so, with 2015 almost at a close, on 4 December their long-awaited second album Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes finally arrived. Worth it? Read MR’s review here to find out (spoiler alert: It’s f***ing awesome!).
In the meantime, guitarist/writer Thomas Corpse took time out to talk to MR’s Jason Guest about the band and their development, the new album and its themes, the album artwork and the video for ‘In Levitating Secret Dreams’, touring with King Diamond, and all that the past, present and future holds for Jess and The Ancient Ones…
Hi Thomas. Thank you again for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes.
Hi Jason, what a sweet review you wrote. A golden heart you have!
Since your first album, JATAO have released two EPs, Astral Sabbat and Castaneda – both of which are awesome by the way! Why so long to release an album?
Well, time just flies doesn’t it? There was a decision to have a small break. We were kinda burnt out I guess, ‘cos everything happened so fast during the debut album, and we were really keeping ourselves busy with other bands as well. Needed to clear our heads, before we’d continue again with full speed. During the more silent period we went out to record The Exploding Eyes Orchestra albums with a bunch of JATAO mates. Tons of experience gained from there, and then we proceeded again with the Ancient Ones. Suddenly we got the call to join King Diamond for North-American tour, and thus were forced (by joy) to push the recordings further away. But we are here now. Back from the equinox.
Your second album, what was it that you wanted to achieve with it?
Musically speaking there was the need to bring the change. One should evolve in all areas throughout life. Here we are telling you of things we have seen, things we have learned and things we have felt. It’s all within those notes. The second album, like all albums, are captions of a time gone. You make them as immortal as you can. Only time shows.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted the album to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole thing take shape as it was being developed?
There were lots of experimenting with different pedals and amps. Each song has its own sound that is crafted especially for it. So we did not have only one rhythm guitar sound for all of the tracks. That would be a killjoy. Every guitar tone needs to be a perfect match with each passing mood. Also wanted the rawness of our live sound to be included on the album, so all the songs were recorded live as a power trio which consisted of a drummer, a bass player, and a rhythm guitar man.
What kind of progression does it mark since your debut and the two EPs?
It dwells into darker side of what could be a twisted brother of sunshine psychedelia and acid garage rock I guess? Lots of bluesy stuff going on, and the NWOBHM sound has grown aside. There is a lot more confidence within the group these days, and so we are pushing forth with faith in our doings. We truly feel that we have found our own sound, or at least the path that takes us there. Maybe. Will one ever reach the goal? Should one ever reach the goal?
How long were you working on the material?
Can’t remember for sure to be honest. Maybe something like six months or so? The songs came up really fast, but we concentrated a lot of our focus on the arrangements this time around. More than ever before I’d say! Wanted the album to have a really good flow throughout.
Did the writing coincide with the material for The Exploding Eyes Orchestra album, I?
Not really. It was full on Exploding Eyes for that period of time. After that the flood of JATAO.
What are the themes across the album? And where did inspiration come from?
The lyrics are taken from inside, as I just wrote them out from without thinking it too much. Even if it did not make sense at the moment, one knew that there be a meaning. There be a meaning to all. Of course I have been inspired by the words of many, and a lot have I learned from others. The most important thing I have realized, when in search of, is that one must truly understand that everything comes from inside. It is all there. Make your own way. Be free. Love is the answer. Enjoy this head trip brothers and sisters afar.
The artwork for the album is beautiful. Can you tell us about it, what it represents, and how it relates to the music?
And here we have a glimpse of odd faces! To who might they belong to, one ponders. Might they be them influential characters, that have made an impact to our fellow Ancient Ones? Yes, that is truly the case here! Wanted to bring some great minds to be showcased, as this horde is responsible of… hmm… opening minds, and opening doors to others to walk through. Remember, one must always walk through by himself… others can only help you find them, to whisper you of them and their whereabouts. Where the doors lead will differ… but often they stare back at you. Throw you at yourself. Our music goes hand in hand with the lyrics. Cover art will complete this sonic trinity. We are really pleased with the whole outcome. It’s a perfect match. That’s an honest opinion.
Who’s the artist? Why did you choose to work with him/her? And how much direction did you give him/her in its design?
Johanna Levomäki is the sweet creature behind the art. She is a Svart-sent angel who came to our knowledge along with the highest of praises that were laid out from the mouth of an higher being (label boss), and thus was handed the work of JATAO. Again we wanted something else.
We enjoy working with a different bunch of people, as they always bring a varied angle to the table.
It keeps things interesting and fresh. I sent her a list of things I wanted the album art to have, and also sent the album for her to listen to. To drop into the mood. All the rest was up to her. She really delivered the goods. Bless her soul.
The video for ‘In Levitating Secret Dreams’ is beautiful. The story, illustrations and animation are by Costin Chioreanu who also directed the video for The Exploding Eyes Orchestra’s ‘Two-Zero 13’. Was it because of that video that you chose to work with him for JATAO?
Yes indeed. One knows that Costin can be trusted in all the levels needed. He is a titan of animations I tell you! Often you have schedule problems and all that. Costin never fails a promise.
Did you give him any direction in its creation?
Roughly, yes. The best is to send the song and the lyrics. All the needed info is there. Then let the artist do his job, as inspired by the sonic art given to him. He did fantastic!
We love the video, sweet!
How does the band approach composition? Do you write individually, collaborate in smaller groups, or jam ideas out together?
I write the music and lyrics back home usually, and do some small demo tryouts. Then, when I have a “backbone”, I take it to the band, and we start to jam it through arranging as we go. Everyone can make their own arrangements to the piece, as everyone is always able to keep it together, you know? We kinda see the goal together, as a whole, and work towards it. And it certainly is not a mess, as there’s always that backbone to guide the way.
For you, how have the band developed since the early days?
We’ve know each other better in many different levels, and therefore we are able to harness our experience more when working as a band. Know your limits, and know your strengths. Of course we have been practicing our instruments with passion, and fingers have run for thousands of miles through the fretboards. One has also learned a lot from one’s self. So you might say that our souls have grown a bit taller in the past years.
I must say, that there’s some adventure in all of us, as we keep on pushing forth all the time. We are excited to know what lurks beyond and after! Jess And the Ancient Ones will continue to surf into the heart of the universe. That’s for sure.
What does the creation of music mean to JATAO and its members?
Things must sometimes be written in the form of melodies ‘cos one can’t find any words to say them otherwise. There is a need to speak them out. I can’t say why it is so, it just is… and for me, it is the best thing in this eerie world. The only thing I ever really wanted to do. I think it’s the same with other JATAO members also. Music means the world to us. If the ability to make music would for some reason been taken away, then I’d head straight to the gallows.
Any upcoming shows? And will we be seeing you in the UK any time soon (please!)?
There are a good amount of club shows coming in Finland in the near months, and we are just checking our touring options in Europe. Hopefully we’ll be wiser soon, but if you want to keep up, then check them Facebook pages I tell you! I really hope we will end up in the UK. I miss that Big Old Ben.
What would be the ideal setting for a performance by JATAO?
An audience with an open mind is a good starting point. The venue or the location don’t matter that much, as we always bring our best energy to the stage. You bring yourself, we bring the music, and that’s a perfect set up for us.
What does the future hold for JATAO? Early days, I know, as the album has just been released, but is there more material in the works?
The work never ends, and never pauses, as new songs already make their way to daylight. We practice them every now and then, and try to figure them out, but main focus on the rehearsal is kept on the coming live set. There is a lot of older material also, that were left behind at some moment in the past. They’re not bad or anything (Or so I hope, hah), but just did not fit with the others at the moment. So there might be a sort of a lost tape sessions in the way at some point.
Maybe it becomes a constant thing? Release a series of seven inch vinyls that have them older songs captured within? Record them out after album sessions? We’ll see… as at some point we’ll start thinking about the third album of course.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
To all that have opened their minds to our sounds… thank you from the oceans of our hearts. I wish you all the best, and hope to see you someday, somewhere. Feed your minds.