The Jacques – a reason to believe.
“I stopped listening to what I would call alternative music when I was about eighteen but I don’t know why that was.” Finn, The Jacques
Is it possible to remain an enigma when you are part of a scene that celebrates - however appositely - its own conformity? We’d like to think so, and perhaps the emergence of a band like The Jacques is evidence enough that the time-honoured tradition of kicking against the pricks is alive and well and living in a part of London you’re not meant to know about. The Jacques have been variously described as gritty, distorted, lush, dreamy, discordant, infectious, inventive, evocative, romantic and ludicrous, and everything from the “absurd” and “straight up grotesque” to the “tongue in cheek” - so good luck with getting to the heart of the matter. For the record - and indeed for the purposes of the record you’re subsequently going to refer to as “their awesome debut” – we like to think of them as one of the most original and exciting bands to have burst onto the British music scene in recent years, and one that refuses to be suffocated by genre classification.
Of course, the trick up their collective sleeve is a bunch of remarkable songs hewn from a range of tragically ragged, sweet and tender hooligan experiences you can’t quite believe have been crammed into such a slight number of collective years. But therein lies the rub: the Jacques may have unremarkable musical origins emanating out of the fields and towns of rural England - best visualized in that seminal British comedy This Country, with all the boredoms and eccentricities associated with the social isolation of such communities - but their personal journey is a unique tale of triumph over adversity and, like the best kind of drama – and theirs is quite definitely a drama - one of gain through loss. Think Casablanca. Or, if you want to drag things back to a more modern level of discourse – ha! - Jesus asking you to sell your possessions so you can give everything to the poor and find your treasure in Heaven.
Well, we did say, this was a drama.
“I was introverted as a teenager. I just shut myself in my room and wrote songs.” Finn.
Heralding from Bristol and London – guitarist, and singer/songwriter, Finn O’Brien and drummer/brother Elliot O’Brien were both born in London and brought up and schooled n Bristol, before subsequently relocating back to London - the Jacques formed in early 2014 and had already appeared live at the Dot to Dot Festival and GuilFest when a performance at the Hyde Park Festival - with The Libertines - changed their trajectory. Correspondingly, after briefly signing to Libertines’ drummer Gary Powell’s label 25 Hour Convenience Store, the band released their debut four-track Pretty DJ EP in November that year. At the time the band were described as “the bastard teenage love-child of cockney guitar pop and just about anything that came out of New York during the early ‘00s” and claimed to have been brought up on a diet of The Strokes, The Ramones, The Jam, The Lemonheads and Elvis Costello, although subsequent line up changes and an ever-evolving realised vision suggest a much wider sphere of influence. Indeed, in recent years the band has been compared to everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Gang Of Four and T. Rex.
The Jacques are Finn O’Brien (voice, guitar), Elliot O’Brien (drums), Harry Thomas (keyboards) and James Lay (bass), although it hasn’t always been this way. Past members include Jake and Oliver Edwards, Clint Trembath and Gabriel Ciechan, but the death of long-term bass player Will J Hicks in March 2019 hit them hard. Relations amongst the previous line-ups had already soured when Finn met Will whilst studying Art at Goldsmiths College in 2016. Initially, Finn and Will didn’t hit it off, but a blossoming close friendship ensued and, together with the addition of Harry on keyboards, a new fuller, less-guitar centric sound emerged. James had already started rehearsing with the four-piece until tragedy struck. “It was hard,” says Finn now. “We played so many songs with Will that meant such a lot. But we decided to carry on.”
This is not a normal debut album. We wanted to get it right.” Finn
James subsequently joined on a permanent basis and the Jacques resumed professional duties as best they could, releasing a series of singles throughout 2019 including Alka Seltzer, Kiss the Pharaoh and finally, in December, I Never Want To Be Your Boyfriend, a reverb drenched slice of dream pop produced by Dan Swift (Snow Patrol/Ash) at RAK and Rockfield Studios. By this time the band had already signed to Modern Sky and all three tracks ended up on the four track Born Sore EP – together with Born Sore – released on 7th February this year. Born Sore, says Finn, “was the first fully-realized Jacques song rather than just me!” and it’s the first track you’ll hear on the Jacques superb debut album due for release in September. The song’s lyrics focus on the doctrine of Original Sin - ”my family is Irish and, I suppose, culturally Catholic and I use religious imagery quite often,” reveals Finn – and it’s hotly pursued by Kiss The Pharaoh - I Never Want To be Your Boyfriend and Alka Seltzer are not included on the album – which, according to Finn has an “anarchistic and a creepy, nursery rhyme thing going on.”
The album continues apace with Swift Martin (recorded at Rockfield and at a studio in Seven Sisters), a song not about a particularly efficient drug dealer or a hybrid of two common house-birds, but instead another song encouraging religious interpretation and featuring some of Finn’s favorite lines - including, “No one’s gonna take you to heaven.” After this, we’re treated to Do Me For a Fool, a simple paean to love and perhaps the most anomalous track on the album. “The lyrics aren’t very fancy or abstract and it has a soft, Motown-y feel, funky and sweet,” says Finn. There’s more than a hint of Orange Juice featured therein although such accusatory reference points are quickly forgotten once The Ugliest Look kicks in with more than enough discordant ease. The song is, if you will, an anti-cultural appropriation anthem and the similarities to Pulp’s Common People don’t end there. Indeed, just as Jarvis Cocker took down the Greek art student he met at St Martins and who asked him to take her on a social safari to see how poor people lived, The Ugliest Look mocks the pretentious social circles surrounding Finn’s time at Goldsmiths College. “Almost everyone I knew was ex-private school,” says Finn now, “and living in New Cross was like living in a fish tank, it just felt like everyone could see you and was watching you all the time.”
There’s more cute musical escapism to come, of course, and Count On Me Part One and Count On Me Part Two – kept apart on the record as only the closest bedfellows should be –are bluntly joint reminders, that the Jacques know how to write pop music like the best of them. “The lyrics make no sense,” says Finn, a sentiment he repeats when discussing Tiny Fuzzy Parasite that pops up next. “The song is supposed to be a parody and quite creepy,” suggests Finn. “The lyrics don’t mean anything and the backing vocals are my attempt to acknowledge the cheesy nature of my favorite Ramones or Elvis Costello tunes.”
The Jacques have so much more to reveal – and songs like Cradle – about each of us having our own versions of God – and Holy Mamacita - a love song with a twist, about letting someone down – are exemplary pop fests in themselves, but it’s perhaps Hendrik and Taste The Mexican Sun that showcase the Jacques at their most sentimental and their most playful: Hendrik is the oldest track on the album and was renamed to celebrate one of Finn’s closest friends who had always loved the song before he passed away; and Taste The Mexican Sun takes its title from a seemingly-meaningless caption Finn and Will noticed on a plastic cup whilst hanging out at a music festival. Remarkable enough in themselves, they segue effortlessly into the album’s closer, God’s Lick, a song that evokes bittersweet memories of endless jamming sessions when Will was in the band. It’s a beautifully poignant way to finish this emotional rollercoaster of a record.
In March this year, the Jacques set out on their debut UK headline tour, an excursion timed to celebrate the band’s cumulative success to date. Of course, it was a triumph until lockdown brought proceedings to an end but it won’t be a surprise to learn that the Jacques remain unbowed. Their advocates include BBC 6 Music’s Huw Stephens, Steve Lamaq, Don Letts and Huey Morgan and just about everyone lucky enough to have heard any of their exemplary musical offerings to date. Now, as the Jacques prepare to release their long-awaited debut album, you should be as excited as the rest of us. It’s what the world’s been waiting for.
© Jane Savidge July 2020