Words by Emma Walklate
New Zealand’s unmistakeable post-rock soundscape artists Jakob have just completed a whistle-stop Australian tour in support of their long-awaited new album, Sines. It’s been eight years since their last album Solace was released, during which time they have toured with bands such as Tool, ISIS, Russian Circles and Cog. Each of the three band members have also recorded and toured with side projects, as well as dealing with debilitating injuries, and of course everyday life, as guitarist Jeff Boyle describes. “I work at a musical instrument store, Jason (Johnston – drums) is a builder and Maurice (Beckett – bass) is a joiner. The balancing act is hard work, we have families of our own and our children are always at the top of our priority list. So the balancing act between family, band and jobs is about trying to make enough time for the band while keeping our families happy and our bosses happy enough.”
But the band always knew there’d be a new album. “We had actually started to write for this album back in 2008 when we got back from a European tour with ISIS. So it has always been in the works since then. It has only been due to a string of injuries that have put us out of action periodically that it has taken this long to get it finished and released. ‘Magna Carta’ and ‘Harmonia’ were both written back then. ‘Emergent’, ‘Blind Them With Science’, and some of ‘Resolve’ were written in 2010, and ‘Darkness’, ‘Sines’ and the rest of ‘Resolve’ were written in 2012.” The band started the recording sessions at Roundhead studio in Auckland in October 2011, before parts were re-tracked and new songs recorded at Sisterlung Productions and at their own studio in Napier over the following two years. The lengthy process and injury setbacks didn’t affect the band’s dynamic. “The enforced time we had away from writing / jamming was never more than a year. We are all really good friends so we never lost any of our musical connection, for the lack of a better way of putting it. We did however write these songs over a long period of time and as a result they were all written in slightly different ways and with different mind sets. I think as a result the album has turned out quite eclectic musically, which I really like.” And Boyle is particularly pleased with “…how we managed to progress and evolve from Solace.”
Sines features some atmospheric, highly textured string arrangements woven carefully around the guitar, for example on the melancholic track ‘Emergent’. Having worked with award-winning New Zealand composer Rhian Sheehan in the past, Boyle tells of how Sheehan had a lot to do with getting the string sections together on Sines. “We work really well together and think very similarly musically so it was quite a seamless process.” Having used strings quite often, including on debut album Subsets of Sets (2001), Jeff spoke of the desire to feature strings more heavily in Jakob’s work. “We have always intended on utilizing strings to a larger extent but haven’t ever had the time or budget to do so”. In 2006 Jakob gave an interview with NZ Musician in which they described the Forma Nova festival in Denmark as one of the ‘best musical experiences Jakob has ever had’, and talked about the string instrumentalists Amiina (Iceland) that they got to watch and play with there. The influence of bands like Amiina is clear. “Amiina are an amazing musical act and are equally as amazing when they play strings for Sigur Ros. They, and bands like Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory for the Sullen were some inspirations for integrating the strings into Sines.”
Sines is a dramatic, expansive and beautiful soundscape album, and it’s hard not to wonder whether the stunning New Zealand scenery influences Jakob’s music. “We get asked this a lot. I don’t think it is a conscious thing to be inspired by our surroundings. But I’m sure that the fact that we have grown up surrounded by this amazing landscape has had some kind of everlasting effect on us that must come through our music.”
There are big plans afoot for Jakob in 2015, with an almost fully booked 3-week tour of the UK and Europe in April / May, finishing up with the Dunk! Festival in Belgium. Following this they’ll head to the US later in the year before coming back to Australia. Lead single ‘Blind Them With Science’ is out now.