Live @ Bristol Fleece & Firkin
September 18, 2005
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman


As I stood in the corridor of the Bristol Fleece & Firkin, waiting nervously and excitedly, for JJ72's Tour Manager to collect me, before taking me to meet the band for R*E*P*E*A*T's 8.30pm interview - many fond memories raced through my mind.

In particular, I remembered that the very first time I ever saw JJ72 play live, was at this very venue, almost 5 years ago to the day! Before that however, I had already been won over by the spellbinding singles, October Swimmer, Snow, Long Way South and Oxygen, and of course, by the band's self-titled debut album from which they came.

I was also thinking about some of Mark Greaney's early quotes, which still hold true for JJ72 to this day. I remember him saying, "Maybe it was just naïve exuberance at the start for us, but we wanted to go everywhere - we still do! We want to do confrontational gigs, where you have to win over as many people as you can, and I think a lot of Irish bands aren't prepared to do that… we were desperate to break out of the constricting atmosphere of our native city."

And, when talking of his band's purpose, he frequently unveiled, "I'm a firm believer that the whole reason we're doing this, is that there's not enough music for me, that has that special thing."

Admirably, with their stirring / guitar-driven arrangements, poetic lyrics, and Mark's emotional / falsetto vocals, the band's bittersweet and melodic songs, "veer from the fragile to the furious" - and in doing so, underline the fact that JJ72's music, clearly has that 'special thing.'

But of course, as times have changed, so has the band.

Not long after the release of 2002's classic sophomore album, the grandiose and epic, I To Sky, bassist Hilary Woods, chose to leave the band amicably (after fulfilling all of her touring commitments), in order "to pursue other interests."

This resulted in Mark and drummer Fergal Matthews, taking time away to reassess JJ72's future, with both concluding, "We created the band as we turned 15 and this means everything to us… we are very excited about the future and feel it is a new beginning." After auditioning many bass players, they eventually asked The Valves' (Canadian born) Sarah Fox, to join them in mid-2003.

So, 2005 has been somewhat of a comeback for the Dublin three-piece, with low-key tour dates, triumphant appearances at several Summer Festivals, and the recent singles, She's Gone and Coming Home, giving fans their first taste of what to expect, from the band's forthcoming, as yet untitled third LP.

At 8.25pm, JJ72's Tour Manager, Steve Roberts, introduces himself to me and says, "The band will do the interview on the tour bus now if that's ok?" He then leads me outside, and as we board the bus, I see Mark, Sarah and Fergal, awaiting my arrival. As one of my all-time favourite bands, this was such a special moment for me, and one which words cannot do justice. I'll never, ever forget it!

After shaking hands and sitting down to start the interview, I took a brief moment to let everything sink in. As a band, they look great together - Mark and Fergal appear calm and relaxed, just like the old Jesuit School friends that they are, and Sarah is very beautiful and graceful. They are also very friendly and humble!

As JJ72 fans know, Mark feels "that really simple guitar music, can have the same effect as classical music," and that for him, "it's important to leave something behind, that has a timelessness and substance to it."

On hearing the band's new material tonight, including Everything, Radio and Take From Me, and witnessing Mark, Sarah and Fergal, putting 110% of themselves into their scorching live performance, JJ72's return certainly won't disappoint…


1. JJ72 have been away for a couple of years, so how does it feel to have a new album finished, and to be back on the road playing live again?
Sarah: "It's great (smiling)! This is my first time on the road with the guys, but it's brilliant, and it's so nice to have all of that recording stuff done, and to be doing what we love best - which is playing live! It's great fun!"
Fergal: "Yeah, it's brilliant, because we were away for a while, and it took a while to get it all back together after Hilary left. Then, to find Sarah, that took a while, and settling into playing with a new member, changed the way that we had played a lot. So basically, all of the time that it took to get everything together - to record and to get back out touring again - it allowed us to feel comfortable within ourselves."

2. Your fans are renowned for being very loyal and devoted - even hardcore! What does this mean to you, and why do you think they have connected to you and your music, in such a passionate way?
Fergal: "Sure are (laughing), yeah!"
Mark: "I suppose it's because of the type of music that we write, and that we play. The way we record it, we put so much passion into it ourselves, because we believe so whole-heartedly in it. I don't know if we take a long time to do things (pausing), we've had a lot of delays in-between releasing things, because of record company problems - but it's also to do with the fact, that we're pretty hard on ourselves, regarding what we want to release. We want to make sure we (pausing), it might be Song A, which has a better melody than Song B, but Song B for some reason, just means more to us. That will always be more important than whether it's going to be a radio hit or not, because its got to be 100% for JJ72! But I think real fans pick up on that as well - they see that it is heartfelt! Sometimes in this band, we play live and we're patchy, but sometimes we're really great, because it depends if we hit our stride or not. It's really mood-based. We're not just a band who can get up (pausing), we're not Stereophonics - we can't get up and play 3 hours of the same sludge, over and over again…"
Fergal: "I think it's obvious, a good or bad gig for us. You can tell that we're not just travelling to the next town, and kind of getting out of the bus and going, "blah, blah, blah," which a lot of people do over time, and I can see why they do it - when they're 'Tour Zoned.' But we really put our all into it, and try to give a show every night you know?"

3. You've never really fitted into any particular music scene, at any time, and are almost thought of as a separate entity. Do you see this as a benefit, or as a hindrance?
Mark: "It's great if we're seen as a separate entity - that was the aim really. Because my favourite band is obviously Joy Division, and what I love about them so much, is that they're just (pausing), it's not even that they're a band you know? They're something separate. They should have their own subculture - they should have their own definition in the dictionary. Because they're not just a rock band! The feelings that they put across when you listen to them, are different to 99% of bands I think. So I would love it if we could be a band like that, where we just last through different fads and things. We got a lot of press when we started releasing things, 5 or 6 years ago, which was good, but we didn't fit into anything then, and we didn't fit into anything on the second album. We made a big epic album, when bands like The Vines and The White Stripes were in fashion.
*At the time, Mark jokingly considered changing the band's name to The JJ's*
And we don't fit into Maxïmo Park and Futureheads territory now. But we don't want to!"
Sarah: "You lose a lot, when you try to compromise to fit trends I think, and that's definitely not the band that I joined."

4. Artistically, I To Sky was a giant leap forwards for JJ72, but unfortunately, it wasn't a success commercially. This must have been very disappointing for you?
Mark: "Yeah it was. It was disappointing because we weren't playing music to more people, and the idea of making lots of money, has always been in our heads, which I think it is with every band. But, when it actually comes down to it, we're a strange band, because we haven't made money. But we've almost been our own worst enemy's, because for how hard we try to be financially astute, we always end up being about songs (pausing), I hate to sound cheesy like that. That's what happened on the second album - we could have recorded 12 Oxygen's, or 12 Snow's, but we couldn't you know? We just couldn't bring ourselves to do that. We had to make a big album, which we had ambitions to make, and we made it! But there's a really good journalist in Ireland, one of the very few good journalists, who described the second album as, "A Monument" which is in the middle of a park or something, or maybe just off to the left-hand side of the park. People walk by it, and don't really stop to take note of the detail of it, but it will always be there, and then maybe, in a few years time, people will stop and look at the detail of it. But I think it's a magnificent album, and I'm really proud of it!"

5. With Sarah now joining, you said that you've "taken some time to create a new energy and momentum for the band." Sarah, can you tell us why you think you were chosen, and what you feel you have brought to JJ72?
Sarah: "I've been playing music my whole life, and I think that it took us a while to join 2 musical energy's, because obviously they've been together (looking at Mark and Fergal), for what is it now, 10 years?"
Mark & Fergal: "Yeah."
Sarah: "The reason I think I was chosen to join the band, is because there was something in those 2 energy's, that matched. We were able to play music properly together, and it was great fun! But, having said that, there is a period of adjustment when you start playing with new people. It's like a relationship - you can't just dive in and get married, and do all this stuff - you have to go through the introduction and thrash it about. So that's what took time."

6. Do you still keep in touch with Hilary, and how is she?
Mark: "Yeah, we have been, although we haven't talked to her for about, I don't know, 6 months probably? Just because we've been touring and things like that, but she's fine - she has a one-and-a-half year old little girl, so she's busy being a mother."

7. Making music is obviously a very personal experience, and JJ72 seem to have a very close relationship. Would you say that you see the band as a three-way marriage?
Sarah: "Definitely (laughing)!"
Mark and Fergal: "Yeah (laughing)!"
Mark: "It entails all of the ups and downs of marriage (laughing)."
Sarah: "In an amazing way though (smiling)! Like it's great to be this close to people, because not very many people get to experience that level of friendship."
Fergal: "It gives a great insight into relationships you know? The way people react, and the way people come together and stuff. I think it's fascinating!"

8. Can you tell us about your new album, and why you chose to work with producer Ian Caple again?
Mark: "The new album is finished - it was mastered and everything, at the end of March, beginning of April - so its been finished for quite a while. We worked with Ian again, because he did our first record, and we wanted to go into the studio with someone who was pretty easy to work with, an easy-going guy. We knew what we wanted the songs to sound like, and we had all of the structures done, because we demoed stuff for a year pretty much. So we just wanted someone who we knew could record things very well, and we knew Ian from before - he did a good job on the first album. So we were like, "Why not use him?" Because we didn't want to spend a year, trying to look for the right producer. The sound of it, as a record, is probably a mix between the first and second album (pausing), it's probably our second album really, and our second album is probably our third album you know? It seems to me, that there's quite a lot of diversity within the album…"
Sarah: "Yeah, definitely."
Mark: "There's really heavy songs, kind of akin to Serpent Sky, and then there's some slower stuff as well, some pop songs. It's difficult to describe it, but it's better! It's better rhythmically and things, because Sarah's in the band, which is great!"

9. Mark, you've admitted to feeling "intensely possessive about JJ72's songs," and have also acknowledged, that you "believe your lyrics are written for a reason." Would you agree that your songwriting, has a lot to do with documenting the truth of time, and with honesty and romance?
Mark: "Yeah, it's the aim anyway. Probably more on the second album - this one took a step back, not in a bad way, not in a negative way - it's just that we got the music together, and then I put the lyrics over the top of the music. So the lyrics are really simple on this album, relatively speaking, and they fit in with the music more. Whereas on the second album, I was pretty much obsessed with getting some sort of truth across - even it was just my truth. So yeah, with the second album, I was trying to be as honest as possible, without making things boring, by just saying, "I love this girl called… but she doesn't love me." Because with honesty, you're obviously trying to make it beautiful."

10. Although your music at times can seem dark, it is optimistic, and by taking something personal and making it universal, you said that you "would like to connect with people, by tapping into the real depths of their emotions"?
Mark: "Oh yeah, totally! I mean a song like Sinking, was written for that purpose. A really simple kind of (pausing), we'll set it up like this, this is the structure: Mark feels this way, so Mark writes a song, but Mark needs to make sure that the song he writes, the way that he feels right now, also evokes those feelings to the listener. Or, taps into some deep well within that person's soul. Because at the end of the day, you know that people have the same feelings somewhere inside of them. That's what the song's about for me! It's not about trying to convince people or anything (pausing), it's like going back to I To Sky being "A Monument" - people will come back round to it at some stage, and it will make sense, that's what songs are for! It's not about who's wearing the coolest tie, or who's wearing the coolest shirt. Or are the lyrics too ornate? Or are they ornate enough? It will make sense at some stage. So when we're gone or whatever, if the band doesn't exist - the footprint of the album will still be there, for people who are interested."

11. How do you spend your time away from the band?
Sarah: "We actually do a lot of band stuff, when we're not touring."

Fergal: "We're pretty busy, yeah."
Sarah: "I think it happens to a lot of bands, that when you're not on tour, and when you're away from the band, you just kind of feel like an alien, so you end up congregating together anyway. So we just hang out."
Mark: "The band's extremely important to us!"
Sarah: "Yeah, we're like a little gang! What do we do (laughing + looking at Mark and Fergal)? I have fish that I take care of (laughing), Number 2 and Number 3…"
Mark: "Number 1 died."
Sarah: "Yeah (sad laugh)."

12. You all enjoy movies and books - do you have any recommendations for us?
Mark: "Movies, well there's one that I saw a long time ago, and Sarah bought it for me on DVD - The Swimmer, with Burt Lancaster - it's a great movie, fantastic!"
Sarah: "Books, it's a tough one, because I have so many books that I carry around with me. I think The Little Prince is my favourite book - I love that book! Or Jonathan Livingston Seagull - that's another one that my Dad gave to me, when I was kid, and wherever I've moved to, I've always kept that with me!"
Fergal: "You know those big books, with all of the little fairytales and short stories? Any of those I kind of like, little 6-year old girls' stuff…"
*We all laugh hysterically*
Fergal: "It's true - I like that sort of thing (laughing)! No matter how old or hard you are, they still get you (laughing)!"

13. Mark, your fondness of bands such as Joy Division, Nirvana and the Manics, has been well documented - although you once said, "I don't have heroes, but somebody like Billy Corgan to me, is the closet thing to a hero I have." Why do you admire him so much, and would you like to see The Smashing Pumpkins reform?
Mark: "I would love to see The Smashing Pumpkins reform, the proper original line-up! I admire Billy Corgan, because I think his scope of songwriting is massive. If you look at Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it's almost like (pausing), he had to make a double album because he writes so prolifically. And the type of songs that he writes, go from one end of the spectrum to the other - from being very soft, almost lullaby type of songs, to really hard rock songs - and then, there's everything in-between. He can do it all so well I think, and I just admire the vision that he has. He made The Smashing Pumpkins implode, and then he set up another band, Zwan, and wrote a really good album with them, which has some great pop songs on. Other bands who get lauded in the press, and who have been around for years (pausing), I mean I don't think they've ever made a (pausing), I don't know, I don't want to name other bands, but I've never understood Teenage Fanclub. The press have always loved them, and think they're great. Billy Corgan writes an album for Zwan like that (clicking fingers), and it's much better than any Teenage Fanclub album I've ever heard. That's just an example, I'm not trying to pick them out you know? But then he decides that that's over as well, and then he decides to do something on his own. We went to see him do his solo show, and it was terrible, but it was almost like he knew, that he was pissing-off Pumpkins fans. But he's doing it, because he's in control of it all! I just think his presence (pausing), I've seen him loads of times, but I remember seeing him at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, and he came out and he's such a tall guy, and the guitar playing is just…"
Sarah: "Is he tall?"
Fergal: "Yeah, he's fucking huge!"
Mark: "He's about 6ft 5ins, 6ft 6ins?"
Sarah: "Wow!"
Mark: "I just love his whole vampiric thing, that he has going on."
*I ask Mark if the band have ever met Billy Corgan?*
Mark: "We haven't got to meet him, but he came to see us play in Chicago, a few years ago - and he loved the show, because he was talking to Flood on the phone, who produced our second album. He was saying, "I love JJ72!" And then, he invited us to go on tour with him…"
Sarah: "He invited us this year."
Mark: "He invited us to be his support band, for his solo thing around Europe, and we couldn't do it. Simply because our record still wasn't out, and our label wouldn't pay the money to help us go on tour."
Fergal: "Oh shit!"
*Fergal accidentally breaks a beaded bracelet that he's playing with, and the beads go everywhere*
Sarah: "It's ok (laughing)."
Fergal: "They're going in your bed (looking at Mark + laughing)."
Mark: "So (laughing at Fergal), it was terrible that we couldn't do that."

14. Sarah and Fergal, do you have any musical heroes?

Sarah: "I have a few, because I listen to a lot of classical stuff, as well as heavy rock. I'm a big fan of Handel and Beethoven, and of Debussy, because I'm a Harpist. But I also love Thin Lizzy, and I love The Smashing Pumpkins, Joy Division and New Order! There isn't one kind of definitive rock hero or anything, but I have a lot of people that I look up to for different reasons."
Fergal: "Probably Joy Division, because the stuff they wrote, I absolutely love! But you couldn't play it on the radio, do you know what I mean? I find that amazing, and I think to myself, how can I love that so much? Because it shouldn't really be nice on the ear, but it is. It's dirty harsh - it sounds like an instrument giving birth! But it's great!"

15. JJ72 were signed at a very young age, and you've unquestionably had to cope, with the many pressures of being in the Music Industry. What advice would you give to young bands seeking a record deal?
Mark: "I don't know now, because 2005 is very, very different, to the time when we got our record deal. Because when we got our deal, it was still in the land of, 'You sign a big record deal, and things are meant to work out for you long-term.' Whereas the bands now, seem to get smaller record deals, or, everyone at the record labels are so scared of losing their jobs, that they don't commit as much. I suppose my advice to a young band is - don't give in to trends too much."
Sarah: "Yeah, the more honest you are, the more it come across. You can see a band who's faking it a mile away, and you can tell when somebody's not doing exactly what they want to be doing."

16. What have been some of your personal highlights / defining moments, during the last 5 years?
Mark: "There's been many (thinking). We played London the other night, and it was a really interesting moment in the band's history, because we were a 5-piece for that gig, and from start to finish, the show just worked really well. We never lost it (pausing), like it didn't go mad at any stage, or it didn't get boring at any stage, it was just…"
Fergal: "A damn good show!"
Mark: "JJ72 just turned into this great machine for a night! This really strong, dark machine, spewing out some pretty cool melodies you know? And it's always how I kind of wanted the band to be. We lost our way a little bit after the second album, after Hilary left - we thought that we'd kind of lost our path. We didn't know if we'd taken the wrong path, and if we were doubling back or something? But, I realise now, that it was meant to happen, and I just feel that we're further down the road, than we were a couple of years ago, and that's great! I mean I could go on about when we toured with U2, that was good fun, it was - it was great fun! But the thing which is most important to me in this band, is when everyone is happy with what we're doing creatively. That's the most important thing, and it just felt great to be back! So let's just say London (smiling)!"
Sarah: "Yeah, it was great (smiling)!"

17. You've always maintained that JJ72 "make the music that you want to make," and you believe that "it should come naturally, and be about pure emotion and the soul." But from all of your songs so far, which are you most proud of and why?

Mark: "I don't think I can really refer to anything off this new album, because we've played it live to people, but people don't have the album yet. So I need feedback from the people we make the music for as well, to give a song more credence. Oxygen and Sinking, are 2 tunes which I think are great! I'm so proud of Oxygen, because I wrote it when I was so young - I think it's a fantastic pop song, and I think if I heard it on the radio now, from a different band, I'd probably buy it, and that's not trying to be pompous."
*I ask Mark why Oxygen was originally called Pillows (Oxygen)?*
Mark: "It was about my girlfriend's breasts (laughing) - then I kind of changed it (laughing). Sinking, is just a really important song, because it's scraping the back of the soul really, it's a very honest song."
Sarah: "I think my all-time favourite song from the first 2 albums, is Brother Sleep. I have it on my iPod, and I'll be running or whatever, and it'll come on and it'll still make me cry - from the first time I heard it, until now - it's very powerful! But I love playing all of the older ones! I was a bit nervous at first, because I was a JJ72 fan, and I thought that it would be like playing in a cover band, and I didn't know if I would be able to identify with the songs properly. But it's really easy to play them and it's great fun!"

18. In the past, you were often quoted as saying, "JJ72 aren't the band we'd like to be yet." Are you now that band?
Mark: "We'll never get to the point that we want the band to be perfect, because then, it will be time for the band to split up."
Fergal: "It's nice to get a smell of it now and again though, isn't it?"
Mark: "We're always striving for it, and you feel you're getting close to it, and that's the reason for being in the band. You can look back on it a year later and go, "Jesus, we were nowhere near what we want to be." And that's it, it just evolves all of the time - it's always in a state of flux you know? When it feels like it's not in a state of flux, then it's time to put the guitars away (laughing)."

19. Lastly, chips or cream buns?
Fergal: "Chips!"
Mark: "Chips!"
Sarah: "What's a cream bun?"
Fergal: "You know - full of sugar."
Sarah: "Bring it on! Cream buns all the way (laughing)!"

A very special thanks to Mark, Sarah and Fergal, to JJ72's Tour Manager Steve Roberts, and to Ian Cheek, for all of their time and help.


Bristol Set List

October Swimmer
She's Gone
Coming Home
Take From Me
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Brother Sleep
Undercover Angel
Long Way South
Serpent Sky

*UPDATE* June 22, 2006 *UPDATE*


After 11 years and two critically acclaimed albums which have sold in excess of 650k worldwide, spawning a series of UK and Ireland chart hit singles including Snow, October Swimmer & Oxygen, JJ72 have announced they are to split up with immediate effect due to record company issues. Mark Greaney is currently in the studio working on a new project with more details to be announced shortly.


Reader, we are to let thee know,
JJ72's body only lies below;
For could the grave JJ's soul comprise,
Earth would be richer than the skies.

JJ72 was born during an Easter many seasons ago; today it dies on the cusp of midsummer eleven years later.

Mark Greaney, Fergal Matthews & Sarah Fox wish to express their deepest and darkest gratitude to all of those with impeccable taste who helped and supported the band.

"We remember everything, from mechanical birds in Japan to angels in arid Arizona, from broken bones and Berlin birthdays to predatory Portsmouth spiders. For those who disliked and perhaps despised (gasp) JJ72, thank you - how did beautiful photographs exist without a negative?!

We crafted two monuments of magnificence for the future aural pleasure and pain of all would be JJ believers and doubters....and for those who care not for the passing of the petulant yet powerful pup....shame on you! Thank you to Hilary Woods for being a dazzling damsel and thank you to all who played music in/with the band. You know who you are."

JJ72 decided it was the end as it did not want to undermine its achievements by continuing a ridiculous argument with a label that would not be able to support the release and touring of the third JJ opus - a label who lost funding from Sony/BMG some time ago.

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