Jagwar Ma Keep the Good Times (and Laughs) Rolling, Talk New Album 'Every Now & Then'
Jagwar Ma -- the Australian duo that tours as a trio -- radiate with goofy, fresh energy. They speak over each other, crack countless jokes, and above all else keep not only themselves but also those around them endlessly entertained. Vocalist Gabriel Winterfield tells Billboard that “music literally brought us together,” and after witnessing their tight-knit bond, it’s utterly evident they were all destined to meet.
Today (Oct. 14), Jagwar Ma released their sophomore effort Every Now & Then -- the follow-up to 2013’s Howlin, an album that gained attention from the likes of Tame Impala, The xx and Foals (all of whom Jagwar Ma have supported on tour). Winterfield says touring with Foals stands out as their breakthrough moment, though, as it was their first real opportunity to be seen and heard.
He says during Jagwar Ma’s performance a few years back at Big Day Out, a festival in Australia that no longer exists, Foals watched from the side of the stage and approached the trio immediately after to invite them on their European tour. “[Frontman Yannis Philippakis] was like, ‘Come support us, and come steal our fans.’ That’s 100 percent what he said,” Winterfield recalls with crystal clarity. “It was a break, it was a total break. I’ll be forever indebted for that.”
Jagwar Ma did exactly as Yannis had asked -- the tour largely helped them gain exposure and grow their fanbase. Their transition over the past few years is chronicled on the new album, as Winterfield says, “The record is ultimately about us working out what life is now, because things have changed so much since we did the first one.” He adds, “Little older, little wiser, and a little bit dumber.”
DJ/producer Jono Ma -- who at this point is laying on the table -- is quick to agree with that last part: "Today, definitely."
The night prior, Winterfield and bassist Jack Freeman accompanied Ma during his DJ set at The Lab in Brooklyn. The dynamic of Ma DJing as Winterfield hopped on and off the mic to contribute synthesized vocals at times granted insight on the inception of Jagwar Ma.
Jagwar Ma formed in Sydney, Australia -- which fosters a “very very tight-knit” music community, according to Winterfield. He says he, Ma and bassist Jack Freeman all met after high school, and were playing in three different bands at the time. Due to the community-driven culture, though, various bands would often head out on east-coast Australian tours together. Those trips to cities 10-12 hours away -- band members piled into cars since flying was too costly -- proved to be bonding sessions for the three.
“[We] played in some big empty rooms -- that brings you together,” Ma says. “We used to just have parties on the stage; the bands would just end up on stage in this weird mutated form.” That mutated form, though, is largely what inspired the formation of Jagwar Ma.
Winterfield describes the group’s formation as a “brokerage deal,” as he and Ma initially agreed to help one another with their solo work -- Ma would produce Winterfield’s music and Winterfield would sing on Ma’s tracks. “But then eventually it just kind of became the same thing,” he says.
The way in which they create their songs largely reflects the fact that they started as separate acts first. Ma says Winterfield typically handles the lyrical content, whereas he handles the beats, and from there he pieces the puzzle together.
“Despite the fact that I write the lyrics,” Winterfield adds, “the person and the voice that comes through [in the band] is not necessarily me, it’s not Jono -- it’s this weird hybrid between the two of us. And that’s Jagwar Ma."
Keeping things within their music-made family is a goal Jagwar Ma often try to maintain, best illustrated by the DIY aesthetic of their sound, which stems from the quite literal DIY environment in which they record. Ma helped build a studio in both France and Sydney for the band to use, which he says “afforded us the time to be creative residents in these spaces.” He adds, “Rather than having to spend thousands of dollars per day in some big grand studio, we just did it our way on our time.”
By and large, the trio is more than happy with the success and memories they have made thus far -- “We go to a lot of parties and shit and it always ends up the three of us just giggling in a corner,” Winterfield says. “There’s all these cool people everywhere and we just go to the corner and have a little laugh, I really cherish those memories.”
While they say they would love to have a No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- “What do we gotta do, who do we need to meet? What room are they in?” Ma jokes -- Winterfield says their ultimate goal is “pretty vague, but it’s a real one.”
“I think that goal is that we want to play to as many people as we can and just keep doing it for as long as we can; it’s not that complicated,” he says. “That’s what we like doing: We like making music and playing in front of people.”