"On nights like these I love bein' a local"
A slouching 19-year-old nudges his mate and lets a faint leer slip through his grin as a gaggle of snow bunny stereotypes make their boisterous way past, into the deeper recesses of the front bar of the Jindabyne Hotel. It's getting towards the end of the Mobilenet Xtreme Sports tournament, a ten day event that's brought together Pepsi-MAX internationals for half pipe snow boarding at it's best.
The Hotel overlooks Lake Jindabyne, which is a picture of serenity in a good day, and a bleak, sparse grey gum landscape in poor weather. Tonight it's cold, but inside the Kids are in friendly form. Disapprovingly, Snowy Mountains pioneers stair impassively from an enlarged photo in what surely must be one of the few pubs in Australia where the dress regulations stipulate, "Remove your beanie before entering."
It's half an hour's drive away from any trace of snow, but Jindabyne has swollen from it's off season population of 2,000 to something closer to 20,000, as it does every ski season. And the town caters for the boom. You can go out any night of the wek in theses parts, and see something as weird as Tim Shaw playing travelling pub salesman, or Jebediah supported by New Zealanders Garageland and Perth band Sugarchild.
So at 8.30pm, the Hotel Jindabyne is packed, and Jebediah have brought the lovely ladies out of the woodwork. I'm at the bar, which is hopelessly understaffed, members of the four-deep queue amusing themselves by watching the surrounds, those who've already had a few gazing with gobsmacked looks at a couple of scantily clad cigarette girls in ever-so-tight red pants.
Meanwhile, Jebediah members Brett Mitchell and Chris Daymond are playing pool, the guitarist (Daymond) furtively sneaking peeks around a pylon at the 'ladies' between shots. About 50 metres away, the rest of the band lounge around a hotel room which looks like something out of a school camp - two double bunks, a queen and a single arranged around a TV, lots of wood panelling and a bare fridge - sharing a steady stream of joints as they watch the Thorpedo take a third gold at the Pan Pacifics.
Singer and guitarist Kev Mitchell bailed from the pub as the crowd thickened and Eskimo Joe's "Sweater" song hit the jukebox for the third time, complaining that things were getting "too intense". After moping around for the best part of the day, he's spent the afternoon in bed, doing his damnedest to get over the flu. He's uncharacteristically down. Even his bandmates are wondering what's up, as he's been inward ever since he missed the morning's breakfast call and decided to eat away from the rest of the group. His head pokes above the sheets as he tries pointlessly to sleep through the dull roar of his roomates and hangers-on.
It's a far cry from their last visit here, when they supported You Am I in early '97. The Jebs were new to the whole touring schmozzle then, they were playing first, offering Kev a chance to saunter out front of stage, start chatting, maybe buy someone promising a drink. A good night would end with Kev managing to cop a feel and an illicit kiss, before excusing himself to go "lug gear", never to return.
A victimless crime certainly, but one Kev's since outgrown. Not that the band's new single "Animal" would give that impression. It's an anthem for a night like tonight, where everyone's hopeful of getting lucky in unfamiliar surrounds with little risk of long term commitment. "I'm insufferable when I'm in heat," sings Kev in the chorus of a song he later explains is about, "being single and going out and wanting to be with a beautiful girl."
"Just kissing," I add, considering he's stipulated this already.
"Just having a pash," he nods. "It's about having a sex-drive."
"There was only a short period of time where I was single," he says later. "I'd never really been in that situation before, single, 18, travelling around in a band. I enjoyed it for the time it lasted."
In the main hall, the bistro transforms into a cloakroom as the punters file in. The windows drip condensation as stifling, sweat-soaked air collects on the icy panes. It looks a lot like a Uni band night, as fans eye each other off across the crowd.
Later still Kev admits, "I had one one night stand, and it was such a bad experience. The sex was BAD…"
"Whose fault was that?" chimes Brett.
"Well, I'm not gonna blame anyone," laughs Kev. "But the next morning when the alcohol has worn off and you wake up and you've got a stranger in your bed. You don't know them, and you don't even really want to know. It was nice, but for one night of pleasure it's not worth it. So that was the first and last time."
"It's not in my nature," says Brett. "You realise that with the sex, drugs and rock & roll thing you're lucky to get two out of three. As longs as it's completely mutual there's no problem," he concludes.
"Yeah, but it's so hard for that to happen, when it's a punter, who is basically a groupie, having sex with someone in the band," says Kev. "Because there's no way they're gonna wanna walk away from that without your number, or without seeing you again.
"So what do you do? To try and have a committed relationship is so hard, not only to maintain it, but also to find the person in the first place. But then to be with people as you travel around is just as bad and not worth it." So what do you do? Well, Kevin - having already had a couple of girlfriends while in Jebediah, the first a high school sweetheart a couple of years his junior, the other a member of a rock band which will remain nameless - has a new love in his life. She too will remain anonymous, but if the passion behind new tune "Love at Last" is any indicator, this is serious. Kev is even moving to Melbourne to be closer to her between tours.
In the meantime, Brett can't get into a one night stand mindframe and so will probably be stuck pursuing one of the hobbies he lists on the Jebs website: "masturbation."
Chris is busy trying to find a contact for Neighbours star Brooke Satchwell, so he can invite her to the band's Melbourne show. He saw her unscripted on Good News Week and rightfully concluded she's a bit of alright.
Guitar-tech Superdave (aka Dave Waldock) is putting a draft love letter together in awkward, child-like handwriting, as Chris makes suggestions. "Hey Brooke, I'd love to be your Neighbour…" he snickers, before blundering through a sonnet that rhymes Brooke with "hope you're not crook." Poetry it ain't. They decide to stick with a simple, cordial and formal invite, signed simply, "Chris." Will she know who is who? Good question. "If she thought I was Kev she might run for the hills," Chris laughs.
"I don't wanna freak her out," he says. "She probably gets all kinds of weird people contacting her."
Jebediah get all kinds of weird people contacting them, too. They're called fans.
"You get the occasional, 'Please come to my prom,' that kinda crazy stuff," says Chris.
"Photos of girls in their boob tubes and sports bras and shit," nods Kev. Kev talks of questionnaires, invites to parties, suicide notes. "All sorts of crazy shit," before he recounts a letter about a split couple getting back together over a live performance of "Harpoon".
"You don't think about that sort of thing," he says. "It's hard to think people are into us the same way I was into You Am I or Tumbleweed." And so to the rock. By all accounts this should be a dog of a gig for Jebediah. The lighting rig broke down on arrival, Kev's flu leaves him stuffy and head sore all day and raw throated in the bitter chill of night. And the gig itself is an anomaly in this national tour, a kind of stopover between weekend gigs in Sydney and Canberra where the band anticipate most punters will be less than familiar with Jebediah's music.
The energy level is nothing like that of their sold out show at Sydney's Metro three nights earlier. There Kev celebrated wearing his new op shop suit with a series of Tim Roger's style jumps, and the whole band attacked the last leg of the set. Tonight he's attached to his mic, still singing strong, his mouth so wide open you can see fair down his throat to his swollen tonsils under the in-house overheads. But there's nothing near the fire of Saturday. When they open with "Puck Defender" the tension they manage to inject belies the fact that they're playing on half power.
Kev dedicates "Harpoon" to crowd members who've been "trying to make babies" but have failed "either through impotence or because you're just too ugly," and a roar issues from the drunken boyo mass in front of the stage. But while the band play a fine and flawless set, Brett leaves the stage shaking his head and muttering about it "all going pear-shaped", and Vanessa walks straight out into the crowd, intent on getting back to the room ASAP. Eventually she returns, they play the encore, and the crowd disperses. Animal over and out.
For a young band, Jebediah has a long history together. Vanessa was 13 and friends with Chris's older sister, Jenny. At 11, he was the cute younger brother. Vanessa first met Kev at Leeming High School in Perth's southern suburbs, in a theatre production of "Annie".
"He was a real charming kid, this little white haired boy, singing and dancing his heart out," she recalls, speaking from the passenger side of a hire car, where the members of Jebediah are grilled in turn. "He was always a joker, always a personality. He's the guy who could work a crowd from the age of 15." "Chris and Kev always had a lot of charisma," she concludes. "They've always been charming guys."
Chris grew up all over the place. His father was in the army, the family moving from the UK to Victoria, NSW, Brisbane, and to Perth when Chris was in primary.
"I liked it," he says of the nomadic lifestyle. "It gave me a bit of confidence, having to make friends a lot."
He remembers first meeting Kev when he joined footy. Kev spent the first practice pretending to be David Attenborough, talking in a Brit accent about 'the resilience of common grass.'
"That same training he managed to convince me he and a couple of other boys in the team from Bull Creek Primary had a band, and that they had a gig coming up at school," Chris laughs.
They both remember Vanessa. "Boy, she looked a bit different back then," says Chris. "This thing with big glasses and frizzy blonde hair and Doc Martins. You could just tell by the way she looked, she was a character." She still looks different. Vanessa is almost caricaturishly overstated. She's too sweet, with her slow, Ocker drawl, her wide-eyed stoner demeanour, her trademark stoop and out sized pants. With bright blue hair framing a porcelain, angular young face, she looks more like a character from a Manga comic than a real person.
Chris, on the other hand, looks like he can't decide between rock and pop, the Rod Stewart hair do and thick silver necklace juxtapositioned with the cute Japanese cartoon shirt and wide turned up jeans. He has an archetypal rock guitar, the Les Paul standard, but that Slash style rock pose is diluted by the sweet little stickers he's used to adorn it. Gregarious and open, he is the band rockstar. "As much of a rockstar as you can be in this band, which is not saying much."
Kev's harder to tell. The charisma his bandmates speak of is drowning under the phlegm, so we can't expect much exuberance. When we meet him he's wearing his op shop suit, but for the rest of the tour he's a wiry, undersize frame in baggy rock clothing.
Kev's voice, however ill, still echoes that distinctive nasal tone, a seemingly permanent affectation that harks back to the days when Jebediah were most influenced by Madchester bands like the Happy Mondays and their American guitar rock heroes, Archers of Loaf. It's the most distinctive factor about the band. If anything, the singing on Of Someday Shambles is a better indicator of the pop-punk holler which is Kev's live tone.
"The best description I've heard of my voice is that it sounds like a cat having his gonads stepped on," Kev laughs. "It seems to be becoming more of an issue the longer we're around, and it's starting to worry me just a tad."
"It doesn't worry me at all," Chris offers. "It's been the same since day one, and it's just getting better and better."
"You have to constantly explain yourself," Kev continues. "Why should I have to? As long as I sing in tune, there's plenty of people that like it. I'd rather sound different than sound like Eddie Vedder."
The best indicator we get of Kev's temperament is an affectionate description he offers of his brother (who explains that the fact that he sleeps through most of the on-the-road interviewing is due to tour conditioning). "Inside Brett is very sensitive and very caring and loving," says Kev. "Brett as a kid was ten times smarter than anyone his age in Year One and Year Two, so he was constantly taken out of class to Year Four and Year Five Maths and English and stuff. It was obvious that this kid was on a higher intellectual level than all the other kids. But he got teased shitloads, he got beaten up, he didn't have any friends, he was ostracised, and this turned him into a bit of a thug as well. He was a real trouble maker, he was kicked out of pre-school, he was taken to specialists and doctors to try and figure out what was wrong with him but they couldn't. He wasn't colour blind, he didn't have ADD. They tested him and he just went along with it thinking it was all quite amusing."
Kev's pleased to see him coming out of his shell in the band. The other band members admit they didn't even know Brett existed as Kev's brother until Kev begged him to step in when the original drummer proved unreliable. "I feel really proud that I pushed him in the right direction," he says. "He'd be working at WA Slavage still, just doin' nothing if it wasn't for this band. He's probably gotten more out of this experience than any of us." The oldest of the bunch by a year, Brett doesn't give much indication of a troubled youth. Rather he's dry, cynical, mature, funny and just a little reserved. Later he offers a quick synopsis on Kev, commandeering the voice of a mock officious radio ponce.
"The light is on. The spindle is rotating," he takes a breath. "So. Kevin Mitchell. Three years my junior chronologically. In other ways possibly more advanced than I. I've known him for many, many years now, as long as almost anyone. I love him dearly. I think he should lose the chin strap, but that's purely aesthetic, and I'm sure he has some views about me that are best left unaired as well. What can I say, it's a brotherly thing."
I ask if, as the older brother, he had an occasion to pick on young Kev.
"We're supposed to fight? We did have one fight the other week. Some punches were thrown. Vast quantities of alcohol were involved, and I think a bit of an outlet was needed. It was healthy for both parties."
"He pulled me out of bed!" Kev chuckles at the memory.
"I take full responsibility. As the older sibling I should be responsible."
From the opening tune "Did You Really," it's evident that Of Someday Shambles is a different album for Jebediah. The energy is there, but even on a song like "Animal", which is all chiming major scale melodies and full speed upbeat, there's a dark quality.
It's an indication of the year the Mitchell brothers have had. Their father, diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1995, was in remission after going through a slash and burn combination of surgery and radio-therapy.
"As far as we knew, he'd beaten it," says Kevin. "And then it came back. Cancer's the most evil disease there is. There's hardly anything you can do. He went through the operation, got a section of the bowel removed, got rid of the cancerous part. We were hoping he was going through the process of getting his health back."
Instead, without much warning, he deteriorated.
"I was away when the family heard it was back," says Kev. "They didn't tell me until I came back to Perth because they didn't want me to be all the way on the other side of the country and have to deal with that. I came home, Dad came over to my house and told me about it."
"He wanted to tell you face to face," Brett interjects.
"That was October '97. He was gone by February '98."
That event sent Kev into himself. "On this path of deep thought, thinking about life, and I started getting into lots of reading," he says. "So, it was impossible for that not to effect the lyrics I'm writing. That's why a lot of the lyrics on this record compared to the last one are probably more painful.
"Once something like that happens, it changes the way that you think about everything. Not just about death, but also about life as well."
The song "Feet Touch The Ground" details Kev's feelings about the sudden change in diagnosis. "Dad died a lot sooner than the doctors predicted. It's mainly about that, being given expectation and being let down."
If Kev's forthright talk about his father's death is any indication, his period of introspection offered him some sense of closure. He's barred talking about the lyrics to the new songs, insisting he wants people to draw their own conclusions. But he'll make the occasional exception. "Did You Really" and "Please Leave" hark back to old family issues, circa age 16-17. "Love At Last" and "Skin" are relationship songs, the former most obviously so, a jubilant flip side to the album's darker moments. Country tune "Happier Sad" is a new tangent for the band, and it's wistful air makes a sweet mezzanine between the up-beat of tunes like "Angst song" Trapdoor and pop numbers like "Star Machine".
As Slightly Odway steadily sold it's way to 100,000 copies, Jebediah's stature as one of the Top of the Class of '97 was confirmed. Along with bands like Grinspoon and the Living End, who all made their first real forays into the Australian scene in that year, Jebediah are part of a new guard. And as such they're the first band to test their longevity with a second album. If Kev has fears of being all too quickly replaced in a competitive market where short attention spans rule, then he'll be able to take some solace in the chart success of "Animal" which debuted at Number 16 on the charts.
The band's upcoming return to Canada also makes a welcome divergence. The last tour went down well. "In Canada, everyone was saying how much they loved Kev's voice," says Vanessa.
As I leave them to their ANU show, they're looking forward to the last home stretch of the tour, to playing in Melbourne - where Kev will link up with his girlfriend, and Chris may finally meet Brooke - and to the brief stint the others will spend in Perth before they jet off to Canada. It could be a nice backdoor to the US market.
"When we took the Living End on tour - now we can lay claim to be the last Aussie band to headline over them - they promised us, 'We'll pay you back, as soon as we do our first headline tour of America we're taking you guys,' " says
Kev. "We're like 'We're gonna hold you to that'."
As for the new album, from this distance there's no regrets.
"We didn't want to put out Odway part II," Kev concludes. "We wanted it to stay natural, but at the same time there were so many things we learned after Odway, and we had all grown up so much, we all wanted to make a record that was heaps better than Odway, in every way, just to make a record that was more grown up, without losing anything that's inherrently us." If that's the aim, Jebediah remains on track.
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