Jabu recently stepped out of the Young Echo shadow to drop their sophomore LP. Self-released on do you have peace?, the triumvirate of Amos Childs, Jasmine Butt and Alex Rendall – Jabu’s debut album was written with just Childs and Rendall at the helm – have departed from the bleaker waters of previous outings, in favour of a sensuous and soothing sound.
Sweet Company is equal parts plaintive love letter and therapeutic healing force; a suite of serene meditations and transportive vignettes, rooted in dub-pop and trip hop traditions and imbued with shoegaze introspection. Amongst gossamer atmospheres, the poetic myth-making of British-Afro-Colombian artist Daniela Dyson add a further layer of mystique.
Liner notes describe the album as an “intimate and private-sounding work – the sound of life played out in a room, a bubble, a home, a head.” Sounds familiar, but while there’s a natural inclination to draw parallels between that and the typical lockdown experience, it was written in its entirety pre-pandemic. That isn’t to say, however, that Jabu haven’t faced difficulties creating and collaborating since its release. We caught up with the band to see how they’ve dealt with and overcome hurdles that were once the stuff of science fiction.
Hey guys, how have things like Zoom impacted the way you work together as a band in lockdown? Have you had to find new or innovative ways to communicate and work on new projects?
Amos: I think we were quite lucky with the timings of things in a way, we had spent so much of the last few years writing together that we already had a lot of material there. The album and the tape were all finished before the lockdown came in and it’s worked ok as a time to just focus on getting things out and starting the label.
Jasmine: I think by the time this lockdown is finished, we will be really ready to get back in the Studio together, but for now we’re using this time to listen to a lot of music, thinking and I know that Alex and I are starting to write again.
Alex: It hasn’t really to be honest, we’ve been keeping in touch over the phone and having socially distanced meets when when we were still able to. I don’t think we’d really vibe with trying anything beyond that over the internet in terms of writing.
Given the obvious logistical issues of creating together while living in different households, how have things like technology helped? Have you developed any innovative ways to communicate or trade ideas? Can you even jam together via something like Zoom?
Amos: I’m sure you can do loads of amazing stuff with technology nowadays, I think for us though we all like to be in the same room working on music in person, I think you can lose some of those spontaneous things / mistakes that happen when you’re together.
Jasmine: Yeah I agree – it makes a lot of difference to work together in the same room because it’s easier to pick up on the subtle things that make a tune interesting.. So many of our best tunes have grown out of one small experiment in the room. And I don’t think if we were sending things back and forth, we would have thought those moments were worth sending to each other as a solid idea. Also our internet connection is so bad in our house that if we tried to do anything live with Alex over Zoom we would end up making glitch music.
Alex: Couldn’t agree with the other guys more, although that glitch album could be fire. Being in the moment together is a crucial part of feeling our way through music, exploring each other’s ideas and moods during a specific time. It means a great deal to me that when we’re writing, Jas and A aren’t just trying to come up with nice noises and a rhythm, they’re telling me about themselves. It’s a very delicate communication and if it’s not treated as such it can easily fade away and you’re back to square one.
It must have been refreshing from a writer’s POV at the start of lockdown, but was it a struggle to maintain your motivation after a period of time?
Amos: Yeah we definitely had a big moment and then it kind of slowed right down again, it’s been a weird time full of changes – I think a lot of people are focussed on other stuff right now.
Jasmine: We are realising how much energy we get from putting on nights, playing shows, watching our friends play and getting inspired by that… The only thing that has stayed a constant is our radio show, and that still brings us energy and motivation but in a quieter sense… I think playing out hugely helps with motivation as it kind of cements why we are doing all this. Even when we used to play records together in the pub on a Sunday I felt motivated and energised – cause we’d all be stood around together chatting about music, and appreciating what people were doing on the records we loved. We can listen to records on our own and think about them in that way, and we do…. But I think that the effects you get from it are amplified when you are all chatting and getting excited about stuff like that in a group.
Alex: I’m always writing, in one way or another. I’ve been at work full time since I’ve been doing music, I’m a key worker so the pandemic hasn’t changed that. Despite the stress that can come with life and wanting the best out of myself creatively, I still genuinely love to write and express the things I feel deeply. Lyricism is always at the forefront of my mind, that kind of inner monologue has been with me for such a long time now, I don’t know how to live any other way regardless of what the world is doing. Those ideas don’t need to be crystallised as a finished piece until the time is right, I know they’re there.
Has being afforded more time at home impacted your creative processes at all?
Amos: I was only working one night a week before the lockdown for a while anyway so things were about the same for me – I know the others have still been going in though.
Jasmine: I’ve still been working over lockdown, but having more time at home hasn’t really impacted my creative process for Jabu as it’s always been pretty firmly rooted in this house. I’m sure it has for Alex though.
Alex: I can’t record and finalise things as much as I’d like but I will when the time is right.
Managed to learn how to play any new instruments or master any new technology in that time?
Amos: Have been moving things around in the studio, which is what I sometimes do when I’m stuck or in between projects – I don’t know if anything good will come of it though, ha – maybe its just a procrastination thing.
Jasmine: I was working with a synth company in the summer that sold blank PCBs and I ended up buying a lot of them… So I’ve been building some up slowly and playing around with some new effects modules like Mutable Instruments’ Clouds, Elements, things like that. I’m hoping to have a good bit of time to work with them over Christmas and play with putting vocals through them. I’m really excited by it cause Sweet Company all started with Al and I getting really excited by singing through this new delay from my main job at a synth company called Bugbrand… Hearing the sound of our voices washing over A’s loops was really exciting and it helped us to write a lot at the time. I’m wondering if that will happen again when we start experimenting with these new effects… To encourage us all to write differently and investigate new sounds…
Alex: I’ve just been watching films, reading poems and digging through tons of music on the internet. Also playing PS5 online, I’m obscenely competitive on NBA 2K21 with my brother Seb and our mate James. It’s probably the biggest social experience in my life at the minute, haha.
Did you rediscover any records that brought inspiration to your writing process during isolation?
Amos: A few things yeah, but mainly stuff by friends – all the Cold Light family, Bokeh Versions etc.
Did a show with Alamay & Skiimsk a couple of weeks ago – they were amazing. One good thing that feels like the virus has done is make it very clear to everyone how much we all need to support each other to all keep our heads above the water.
Jasmine: I’ve been listening to all sorts really – yeah like A says the main important thing is to stay in touch with what your friends are doing. We are pretty firmly rooted in a close group who are all doing exciting and very different things. It’s really healthy and inspiring to stay on top of what is going on around you – sometimes that’s hard cause so many people are putting out so much interesting stuff at the moment it can be overwhelming! But overall it’s really exciting. The main stuff I’ve been listening to recently is stuff like the Raincoats, Robert Wyatt and A.R. Kane. I think you can hear pretty much all the stuff that directly influences Jabu in our NTS show with Andy Payback – it’s like a smorgasbord of all the stuff that we’re getting excited about.
Alex: Westside Gunn, Leon Ware & Minnie Riperton, Bobby Caldwell, Grant Green, Freddie Gibbs, Jorge Ben, Bill Withers, Quelle Chris and Henry Mancini to name a few. Been listening to the new Manonmars album on repeat since it came out. A, Sam and of course Jack really made something truly special with that one.
How did you collaborate to write music and practice previously, and how has the pandemic affected your ability to do just that?
Amos: Like I said, it’s normally got to start with the 3 of us (or more if we are working with other people) in the room together – sometimes Jas or Al will take ideas I’ve made away and write, but that start point is very important I think. Some kind of psychic normalisation time where we all need to sync up so we are working towards the same thing – that maybe sounds a bit new age but I’m not sure how else to put it, haha.
Jasmine: I think these periods of lockdown kind of fit in with how we write well… We tend to all go our separate ways for a while and listen to all different stuff – 3 people going in different directions.. Then we come back into one space and try to piece our ideas together. It doesn’t always work first try and sometimes it takes a while to sync up but I have faith that next time we are able to get together and plug into the desk something interesting will happen!
Alex: Not much to add here really, we’re all quite similar in how we like to work on stuff.
Do you think that working as a 3-piece has thrown up extra difficulties and challenges a solo artist may not encounter?
Amos: Maybe, but I think there’s ups and downs to everything – I get annoyed with things I’m doing on my own all the time – I delete a lot of stuff I make out of frustration or just thinking it’s bad. Often Al and Jas will stop me and I’ll hear them sing on something I thought was bad and it will kind of save the idea for me.
Jasmine: I’ve never been able to work solo – I love working with other people… It can be difficult at times when people are pulling a project in a different direction to you but I think that happens in every good group, and it isn’t worth throwing away just because of a few weird patches. In terms of Jabu, we are family – and we help and support each other. If it wasn’t for A and Alex, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting up on stage and singing. They’ve helped me through a lot.
Alex: I think the pros are far clearer to me than any drawbacks, like Jas said, that support system is something we treasure. I’m grateful to have such strong bonds with individuals who I can make art with. These guys pick me up when I’m low and that’s everything to me.
Sweet Company saw you collaborate with Sunun and Daniela Dyson, but have you tried to work with other artists during the pandemic? If so, what difficulties have you faced logistically, and how have you tried or managed to overcome them?
Amos: We recorded everything for the record before all the lockdown stuff came in. We did have to shoot the video for the title track in lockdown and be careful – I think that’s why we did it outside and that’s why we are all standing around in the rain getting soaked.
Jasmine: I’ve been working with other artists for other projects, Been sending stems back and forth it’s very admin heavy. But sometimes it’s fun when you find your process – for example I worked on a few jungle mixes with my friend Anina. We wanted to create some interludes and textures to stitch our mixes together. We had this fun process where we would harvest a bunch of samples, then send the ones we found to each other (swap) then she would load some into her [Korg] Volca Sample and send me loops, then I would run those through some synths and effects… We came out with some really weird little bits that could definitely be made into tunes in the future. It was really nice to stay in touch so much chatting and sending stuff back and forth, and was really exciting to hear the sounds grow..
Alex: I’ve been working on a project with my friend Henry who produces under the name ‘Scutal’, Jas is on it and so is Manonmars. It’s a rap project with some spoken work elements to it. I’ve been mainly singing for a minute now but after I wrote a feature verse for ‘Hollow’ on Jack’s album I kind of went away and thought a lot about developing the Bogues stuff, that materialised gradually after Henry sent me some beats and now we’re almost done.
Some people suggest playing a musical instrument can keep you mentally balanced, but did this ring true for you during the lockdown? Has lockdown changed the way you hear your own sounds?
Amos: It definitely changed how some of the lyrics seem – a lot of Jas’ lyrics seem very virus-y in retrospect (!).
I think we were naturally spending a lot of time isolated from people when we were writing anyway so maybe that’s got something to do with it
Jasmine: We are definitely hearing a lot more video game soundtracks.
I heard that about musical instruments, I think it’s true. I used to work with people with dementia and sometimes people who had forgotten how to speak still remembered how to play the piano and it definitely made them happier and more calm when they did. Alex still works in care so knows a lot about that stuff too…
Alex: It depends on the individual I guess, I don’t think music is a cure-all for all people but I’ve seen music benefit some people a great deal. I don’t want to get into detail but I work with people who are in pretty bad shape sometimes, nearing the end in some cases. I’ve seen listening to music have a positive impact.
Your first album was a meditation on grief and loss. Can you feel the trials and tribulations faced throughout this difficult year influencing the themes and moods of the music you’re working on now?
Amos: I haven’t been writing loads for the last couple of months but I think it’s always hard to say about things like that when you’re in it – it’s easier to look back and read those kinds of general meanings/situations into things later I think.
Jasmine: Yeah I’m sure it will in lots of ways – but agree with Amos I think personally it isn’t natural to write with a specific intention… I sort of write sideways where I find my way through words that feel right and then looking back you can see those words were indicative of what was going on inside/outside my head…
Alex: I’m sure it will, but I doubt I’ll be able to communicate how exactly until I’m listening to it.
How have you dealt with the mental challenges that seem to go hand-in-hand with lockdowns and global pandemics?
Amos: I’ve been getting out on my bike a lot, trying to not drink too much, going for walks with friends etc.
Jasmine: Staying in touch with friends and family – resisting the urge to ball up and go silent.
Alex: Spending time with my partner Joanna and our dog Lola – she’s just had a litter of pups so we’ve got our hands full. We’ve had a rough year not counting the pandemic so it’s nice to have something like that to focus on right now.
How are you coping with the lack of gigs right now? Have you considered doing any streaming or explored any interesting ways to deliver live performance in a Covid world?
Amos: We’ve done couple of things like this – the Boiler Room was good, especially because of the setting.
Was so nice to look around the museum when it was empty. But I find that stuff a bit weird in general, more on just getting on with writing until we can play to people again I think.
Will you return to the way you used to work when lockdown ends, or has it changed your approach to music forever?
Amos: I think it changes all the time for everyone anyway, we are all changing all the time – hard to say anything too much about the future but I think one thing we’ve always felt is we don’t want to repeat ourselves, make the same album twice or anything like that so we’ll see.
Jasmine: I think our approach is always changing to be honest – the writing processes for the two different albums were very different and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find new ways of working together for the next one. I’ve learnt how vital and precious making music with friends is – so what I’m sure about is that when our local lockdown lifts we won’t stick with seeing each other so little – we miss all being together in the studio so much.
Alex: Like both Jas and A said, our approach is always changing, things can get stale if you stagnate and make music in the same way every time. It’s important to find new ways of expressing yourself with each new idea you have, otherwise you can set out to make something new and end up just making a 2.0 of the last thing, sometimes you have to go out of your way to find new tools.
Sweet Company is out now on do you have peace? | Buy it here