“[Well] It is a long story…how long have you got?” Guitarist Joel Beeson (AKA MC Bad Genius – which Beeson later discloses to me is a result of his failed attempt at MC’ing) laughs over the phone on a Tuesday afternoon. He’s off work sick, and I’m probing him about why his band, Philadelphia Grand Jury, broke up nearly four years ago. My bad.
“The short version […] is that I can be a bit of a jerk, and Simon/Berkfinger can be a bit of a jerk, and when you’ve got two people that are very passionate about what they’re doing, and about the creative side of the band, you know, that was…it could be difficult at times,” Beeson offers. He then goes on to tell me that the fact that himself and Simon used to live together, on top of running the whole band and being crammed together in a tour van for months on end, does in fact bring on cabin fever, eventually likening being in a band troubles to marriage woes.
“It was like a divorce almost [laughs]. We had that separation period while we were trying to work out who would get the bass amp and who would get the vintage keyboard, they were like our children, you know? [We would] work out how long we had them for, and when they would change over custody to somebody else…it was a bit bizarre in that way.”
But the Sydney indie-pop/rock trio (one of which, Simon Berckelman, AKA Berkfinger, a play on Snakefinger, now resides in Berlin) are back together and ready for action, especially with the re-addition of Dan Williams (AKA Dan W Sweat – “Oh, that’s simple. Dan’s just a sweaty guy”) to the line-up, which Beeson tells me was essential for the band working again. “He left the band originally because of Art Vs Science […] I think his personality was really important in the band originally. Like, I think we might’ve underestimated how good he was at solving all our problems [laughs]”
And that’s not the only thing they’re repeating this time around. The band owns their own record label Normal People Making Hits too, which of course, they plan on releasing Summer Of Doom through. However, they haven’t just gone back to it out of convenience, they’ve gone back it as a bid at wanting to keep all creative control within the band – not at the hands of a label. “We were really keen to make sure we kept that control because we didn’t wanna dilute ourselves to please other people. That’s not who we’ve ever, ever worked or indeed how we ever want to work,” Beeson said.
“Summer Of Doom is a lyric from one of the songs. It’s kind of pervading sense that the world is not on the right track. You know, that each summer is a summer that’s closer to catastrophe. That’s the background, I guess, the background context for the whole album”
“[…] We only had about 10 days to write and record the whole album. So we went over there [to Berlin] with two songs that were actually kind of written, and the rest was like every morning we’d get up, have some breakie and then go straight into recording, into the studio and go, okay, where do we start?” The energy created by this slap-and-dash approach was also crucial to the way Summer Of Doom turned out, he said, noting that they wanted something immediate – which resulted in Summer Of Doom being just as dark-yet-light as they intended.
“Summer Of Doom is a lyric from one of the songs. It’s kind of pervading sense that the world is not on the right track. You know, that each summer is a summer that’s closer to catastrophe. That’s the background, I guess, the background context for the whole album”, he said of the inspiration for their second LP – which he admits is a near identical in theme to their previous LP, Hope Is For Hopers, making reference to their 2009 hit, ‘The Good News’: “[‘The Good News’ is] about your loved one leaving and you’re haunted by your shared past, but it’s such a happy song that everyone gets this big smile on their face when they hear it, and I think that’s the same with this album.”
The lyrics, however, were all lead singer Berckelman’s doing, a process which Beeson tells me is very secretive – resulting himself and Williams often making guesses at the subject matter and failing. While it all may seem like fun and games for now, though, Beeson is very quick to assure me that Philadelphia Grand Jury are here to stay. “It’s not about just satisfying fans that want a few more songs, and then they feel like they miss out. It’s more we realise this is something that we really value and we think that the three of us together is actually a unique combination that is something special, and we want to see where that will go.”
To finish things off, Beeson told me a little story about *apparently* getting naked and steering people’s lunch in New York at a CMJ showcase – and no, it’s not a lie – there’s photographic evidence and it is indeed legit.“Well we once played over at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York, and we were playing a lunchtime show for Sound Australia, […] so we played this lunchtime show there and I think that the organiser found Australia were pretty angry at us because we only had – they hadn’t given us enough time to play, we were meant to play four songs – so we just ended up playing for as long as we wanted.”
“…And at the end of the last song, Simon took over on the drums but in the process completely stripped naked and I climbed over all the chairs and just threatened people and Suzie who was singing that particular song went ‘round and grabbed people’s lunch and we just started shoving out faces with it. It was mayhem and it was lunch time, so it was like sun beaming through the window and all you could see was Simon’s pasty white skin. It was a pretty bizarre experience and then we kind of just packed up…well we didn’t just pack up, we just finished the set and walked out, and you know, everyone left and we came back and packed up a bit later so that no one could see our shame I guess.”
Summer Of Doom will be available on October 2nd via Intertia/Normal People Making Hits. Keep updated with the latest streams via www.summerofdoom.tumblr.com.