Indie Music

‘When we get into a room, it feels like it’s 1995’: Jebediah reunite after a decade apart

After nearly three decades as a unit, Jebediah know a few things about sticking together. The longtime rock mainstays weren’t long out of high school in Perth when their first single, 1996’s Jerks of Attention, broke out on Triple J. Released the next year, Jebediah’s debut album, Slightly Odway, became an instant Australian classic, imprinted on the psyches of many a late 90s teen.

Having remarkably sidestepped the pitfalls and petty feuds that ended countless other bands, Jebediah are still standing in middle age. This month they’ll release their first album in 13 years, Oiks – a pet name given to them by You Am I’s Tim Rogers.

“There’s a real vulnerability to making new music,” says their frontman, Kevin Mitchell. We’ve met at a cafe in Sydney’s inner west, where he speaks between bites of a pulled pork sandwich. “When we get into a room, the four of us, it almost feels like it’s 1995 and the outside world doesn’t exist.”

The four-piece took seven years to return to the studio after their fifth album, 2011’s Kosciuszko. Mitchell and his older brother, Brett, Jebediah’s drummer, had decamped to Melbourne, while their bandmates Vanessa Thornton and Chris Daymond were still in Perth. They reunited in their home town, where they booked a studio for just five days; the plan was to jam for a few hours each night, then work out the rest the next morning. “It was very much taking a risk on our chemistry still being there,” Mitchell says.

The fast and loose approach was untested for Jebediah. The result is a freewheeling duality: swinging between the no-frills, propulsive rock that fans expect and a newer, more experimental sound. Oiks opens unconventionally with the lavishly layered Bad for You – the first song that materialised when the band picked up their instruments. Another offbeat standout, Rubberman, was built around the “weird, rhythmic, rubbery sound”, says Mitchell, produced by his detuned guitar string. The album’s split personality is best captured by its final two tracks, as the cleaving, moshpit-ready guitars of Start Again give way to the delicate, Bowie-esque strumming of Aqua-Lung.

“I’ve lived away from Perth since 2008, so for 16 years I haven’t been part of Chris or Vanessa’s daily lives,” Mitchell says. “A lot changes in that time … I don’t think it’s unusual for your 40s to be a bit messy. Certainly in our 20s we were living in a very protected little rock’n’roll bubble and we don’t exist in that any more.”

Maybe part of the quintessential 20s experience is still alive: having dropped out of uni when Jebediah took off, Mitchell is now back completing a bachelor of arts, majoring in politics, which he plans to finish before turning 50.

Mitchell has also relaxed his position on keeping Jebediah separate from his Aria-winning solo act, Bob Evans. “When I put out my first solo record [2003’s Suburban Kid] I was really conscious of making sure nothing I did … could be perceived as taking advantage of the success we’d had as a group,” he says. But the boundaries have blurred: last year, he staged a tour – When Kev Met Bob – fusing his solo songs with Jebediah’s back catalogue.

His solo work has changed his singing too, allowing him to work through any insecurities about his voice – rarely described without the qualifier “nasal” in the past.

“I think so much of my early singing style was based around just competing against all the noise the band was making,” he says. “With Bob Evans, all that went away and I could go back to Jebediah having learned how to sing a little bit better.” On Oiks, his voice is at turns airy and melodic (Rubberman) and powerfully coarse (Don’t Stop!), giving the album an undeniable charge.

Our conversation ends with a trip back in time to Jebediah’s Jerks of Attention music video. Filmed in the “dilapidated little shack” that was Mitchell’s first sharehouse, the video captures the bandmates in all their gangly, youthful promise. Without realising it at the time, Mitchell muses, he’s left “street signs” to his life throughout Jebediah’s long and enduring run. “If my kids ever wonder what Dad was thinking or feeling when he was 18 or 25, all they need to do is find the record or the video and the answers are pretty much there.”

Kevin Mitchell’s songs to live by

Each month, we ask our headline act to share the songs that have accompanied them through love, life, lust and death.

The best year for music

1995: Blur’s The Universal, You Am I’s Purple Sneakers, Archers of Loaf’s Death in the Park, Supergrass’s Caught By the Fuzz, Massive Attack’s Protection.

The song I clean the house to

Lino by Jebediah.

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The song I wish I didn’t write

Twilight = Dusk, off Slightly Odway. It took space on the album that could have been used for better songs. We had them.

The last song I sang in the shower

I have this thing where I sing the lyrics from Blur’s Girls & Boys to Hold Me Now by Thompson Twins. They have exactly the same song structure. It’s fun, try it.

My go-to karaoke song

It’s been a while but (Just Like) Starting Over by John Lennon is good for me. It’s in my range but there’s a lot going on so you can show off a bit.

The song I loved as a teenager

That Ain’t Bad by Ratcat. Their EP Tingles was the first proper CD I bought and it introduced me to noisy, punky pop music. It was the bridge that took me from listening to top 40 music to discovering more indie Australian rock stuff.

The best song to have sex to

Anything by Massive Attack.

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